It was strange not to hear from Darin about the gig. Musicians can be flaky, and 20-year-olds even more so. But Darin was a pro. Literally. So despite the fact that none of us knew him especially well, his non-responsiveness over a period of several days was surprising.
It turned out that Darin was in jail, a case of dubious choices and a futile “War on Drugs” combining very nearly to permanently derail a promising young life.
He started with drugs way too young. Marijuana was first, at 15. Booze and LSD at 16. Psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) a year later. He was interested not in simple pleasure but in mind expansion—the same drive that turned him on to books by Aldous Huxley and David Wilcock. An interest in Christianity followed, though he was unsatisfied with narrowmindedness he found there.
“I grew up without going to church, and I always knew that I was searching for something,” he recalls. “That became the Bible for a while and Christ, but then I tied in the use of drugs—psychedelics—into spirituality. Before I ever experimented with it, I remember praying to a source or a higher self or God, saying, ‘I know the Bible isn’t all there is, that there are lies that are easily mistaken for truth.’ […] I remember reading all these things and trying to share them with my pastor, who was a conservative Christian. And I just remember him saying, ‘No, this is not right. Here’s why’—and showing me the Bible. I learned from then on that I had to keep these things to myself.”
Feeling that psychedelics helped him not only with his emotions but even with his studies, he began turning fellow Long Beach Poly classmates on to what he had found.
“[Psychedelics offer] a great possibility for altering your perception of how society is, what we’re told to believe, and how things operate in this crazy world,” he says. “And I wanted to share that with people.”
Darin’s first brush with law enforcement came during his junior year, when he got busted for misdemeanor possession of cannabis. His parents were upset. “Don’t blow your education just for getting high,” his father told him.
Although he didn’t stop using, Darin graduated high school with a 3.86 GPA and was off to major Christian university on a partial music scholarship. But despite the school’s religious bent, there was no shortage of people interested in drugs, and soon Darin was dealing psychotropics. He viewed doing so as a sort of public service. “I was trying to help people out by giving them these sacred substances,” he says.
He was making $100 to $200 per month, before the day in early April when he arrived at the university-owned apartment where he was living to find Campus Safety conducting a search. “Someone expressed concern” is the justifying phrase Darin remembers. And when the search turned up not only marijuana (for which he had a doctor’s recommendation), psilocybin, LSD, and DMT—substances he admits to dealing—but also cocaine, Norco, and Xanex (substances he says he neither dealt nor really used, but was obsessed with “collecting”), the police who later arrived told it to him frankly: “You’re in big trouble, buddy.”
Darin was taken to jail and waited alone in a cell until he his 3 a.m. interrogation. Impressed with the officer’s forthright manner (and a big beard that made Darin think of Deadheads), Darin agreed to speak without a lawyer and admitted to everything. At 5:30 a.m. he was released on his own recognizance, despite the fact that he was looking at multiple felonies.
A week later came the interview with Campus Safety. He gave up the names of a few people to whom he’d sold pot, hoping this might save him from expulsion. It didn’t, and Darin regrets the move now.
“I thought I was covering my butt,” he says. “[Now] I think giving the names was selfish, because I was thinking of my own self.”
Expulsion was soon the least of his concerns, as his court case began winding its way through the system. He spent $2,500 to secure an attorney, and he began attending Marijuana Anonymous meetings. Yes, Darin says, he thought the court might look favorably upon such a move, but he also felt his usage of cannabis has escalated too highly over the last three years.
“[Marijuana] was constantly taking my money,” he says. “And also—let’s face it—marijuana can be addicting. I finally came to terms with it.”
Despite the obvious difficulties, Darin says he found a sort of liberation from his getting busted. “I was happy and sad that everything got taken away,” he says. “I was sad because I got in trouble for it, but I was happy because it kind of felt like a burden was lifted. One of my friends at church said, ‘You may feel this was Satan that did this to you, but it could have been God, you know? Because maybe He was trying to save you from yourself.'”
Darin had already stopped doing LSD after a bad trip last November, which included the incredibly reckless choice of getting behind the wheel of a car.
“I thought I was driving intro infinity,” he relates. “All of a sudden I had a thought that I was in someone else’s body. Then I thought I had woken up in a different place—I was, like, in Bombay, I was in London or something. […] I wandered into [an] abandoned building, went up this staircase, and I came to this doorway at the top. I thought that if I walked through a door, I would go to hell.”
A year later he was facing a much more tangible hell, when his attorney advised him to accept the plea deal being offered by the district attorney, even though it meant a sentence of 180 days behind bars, only 80 of which he’d actually. Otherwise, the attorney said, Darin was looking at something more along the lines of three to five years.
And so, on November 6 Darin pled no contest to possession of LSD for sale, possession of psilocybin for sale, and possession of cocaine. To his and his lawyer’s surprise, the judge ordered him immediately into custody, and before he knew it he was an inmate of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility. He knew he was going to lose his job at Starbucks when he didn’t show up for work that weekend. But he had more immediate concerns, and Darin says he prayed to Archangel Michael for protection.
Whether it was divine intervention or dumb luck, Darin’s stay in jail was far less traumatic than it might have been. Darin describes his cellmate, a 54-year-old black man (his ethnicity noteworthy in context, considering that it was immediately apparent to Darin that the prison population was highly segregated), as “really nice,” and after six days Darin jumped at an offer that he perform 120 hours of community service in lieu of his remaining jail time. He’s extremely grateful for his good fortune.
“I would have missed Thanksgiving, I would have missed Christmas,” he says, shaking his head. “[…] The place was more than dirty: it was contaminated. […] It would have been brutal [to have stayed in jail longer]. What they were feeding us was bologna and, you know, fake bread, fake peanut butter, fake jelly. […] One guy kept trying to take my stuff. My celly was like, ‘Hey, watch out. Don’t give him an inch.’ […] You could see people trying to start fights in there. […] I believe in guardian angels, and when I got out I thanked my guardian angels for watching over me while I was in there, because if I’d gotten in something like a fight, I could have been in there another six months.”
Darin says his misadventure is “definitely a wake-up call for my life. […] As my good friend said, ‘[From now on] you’ll be dealing the Holy Spirit,’ instead of selling chemical compounds that control, confuse, compromise, and contradict the workings of the Holy One.”
But as we sit across from one another at a coffeehouse on a mid-November evening, I can’t help wondering whether it’s enough. Darin is a sweet kid, and he shares his story with admirable openness. But it’s not clear that he fully “gets it.” Whether he’s referencing God or the books he’s read or his own experience, he strikes me as someone who is perhaps a bit too impressionable, who takes too much on faith, particularly his own understanding of things. His eyes have that slippery look you sometimes see from heavy use of psychedelics, and he concedes that he might have been better off not having started with such substances so young.
“Yes, I think so, because I would have taken a different road, definitely,” he says. “And I might have been a little more along the lines of what society wants—go to college, get a degree, don’t do drugs, maybe have a drink every once in a while. But the road I’m currently on is kind of the ‘warrior’ route—you know: ‘I’m not going to conform to society.’ That’s had its positives and its negatives.”
When asked about whether he has any misgivings about having introduced his brother—three years his junior—to such substances around the same time he was first experimenting with them, his answer is even more ambivalent: “Yes and no. […] He could go down the path I kind of took.”
But he falls back on his faith. “I know that God has a plan,” he says. He admits to still drinking a bit and smoking pot—though far less than he did formerly—as well as having discovered a new “sacred substance.”
“My new medicine is ayahuasca,” he says, having been turned onto the plant by an older musician friend. “It was very healing.”
Perhaps it’s salient that ayahuasca has reportedly helped many people make major life changes—such as kicking drug addiction—because Darin says he wants to make changes in his life. “It’s hard to make changes,” he says, “but it’s definitely worth it.”
One change Darin says he’s already made: he’s done with dealing—not only for fear of more legal peril, but because, despite his best intentions, he can’t be sure everyone he’s turned on to psychotropics have benefited from them.
“I’m portrayed as a criminal, even though I was trying to help to people,” he says, before admitting that to some degree his good intentions may have been misguided. “Because of me giving them that door, I don’t know what they’ve done with their life since.”
Anyone who has taken an genuine look at the lay of the land understand that the “War on Drugs” is a failure and programs like D.A.R.E. are a farce. Darin (that’s not his real name, by the way) was a product of D.A.R.E., and the “War on Drugs” can’t keep drugs out of prisons, never mind college campuses (religions and secular alike).
But while honest and pragmatic approaches by the government and schools might yield better results in keeping kids off drugs, ultimately everyone is going to have to choose for himself. Darin does get one thing: he’s made some bad choices.
“It was difficult to share at first, but I knew that in sharing there is a sense of recovery,” Darin says as we conclude our sit-down. “A first step to breaking a habit is admitting. I admitted to you these things that I am proud of and not so proud of. I hope my story inspires others to learn, to wait, and to realize that we have our whole life to do drugs.”
Or not to do them. Of course, in American society, where we’re surrounded by alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and prescription medication—not to mention illicit substances—almost no-one goes that route.
That’s okay, too. Or it can be. It all comes down to individual choice. And no-one is going to stop you from making bad choices but you.
Just ask Darin.