02/21/23 Richard Van Wickler

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Richard Van Wickler
Law Enforcement Action Partnership

Richard Van Wickler (Ret.) is author of Freedom's Guardians. RIck began his law enforcement career in 1987 and served as the Superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections in Keene, New Hampshire, from 1993 to 2019. Van Wickler is a former adjunct professor of American Corrections at Keene State College, where he taught for 14 years.  

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07/12/21 Richard Van Wickler

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Richard Van Wickler
Law Enforcement Action Partnership

Former Executive Director and now a board member of LEAP, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Richard Van Wickler (Ret.) began his law enforcement career in 1987 and served as the Superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections in Keene, New Hampshire, from 1993 to 2019. Van Wickler is a former adjunct professor of American Corrections at Keene State College, where he taught for 14 years.

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04/22/20 Richard Van Wickler

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Richard Van Wickler
Houston Harm Reduction Alliance
Law Enforcement Action Partnership

Richard Van Wickler Cheshire County jail Superintendent & David Duffield of Houston Harm Reduction Alliance + Remembering Dr. Albert Hoffman LSD explorer

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April 22, 2020

Cultural Baggage

Richard Van Wickler


HOST DEAN BECKER:I am Dean Becker your host our goal for this program is to expose the fraud misdirection and the Liars who support the Drug War, empower our terrorist enemies and riches, barbarous cartels and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent U.S. gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is cultural Baggage.

Hi folks, this is the Reverend Dean Becker. Thank you for joining us on this edition of cultural baggage a little bit later. We'll hear from mr. David Duffield with a Houston harm reduction Alliance, but first up I folks our next guest is Richard Van Wickler. He began his law enforcement career back in 1987. He's been the superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections there in Keene, New Hampshire since June of 1993, Rick as like to call him his friends is also an adjunct faculty instructor of American Corrections for Keene State College. And with that I want to welcome Richard Van Wickler. How you doing Rick?

RICK VAN WICKLER: Good morning Dean. We're doing okay, but you know this played in April we shouldn't have snow and we woke up the snow today's that's disappointing.

DEAN BECKER: All right, I hear you. Now the heck of it is we by that I mean our membership and law enforcement against prohibition. We're well aware of the Essential nature of our work they're talking about doctors and nurses and even garbage men etcetera being essential workers in this time of the covid-19 pandemic, but you can't get by without those corrections officers tending that the cells can you.

RICK VAN WICKLER: nor Can I tell you how incredibly wonderful they've been at our facility, you know when you and I speak I can only talk about our jail and our local Criminal Justice System unless we talk about a broader thing, but when you talk about covid-19 and our community the ability that these people have to go to work every day knowing the importance of what they do, especially the importance of trying to prevent this disease from getting inside the walls of the Department of Corrections is not lost on them and they work very hard on it. I couldn't be more proud of them. They've really stepped up

DEAN BECKER: well and and even here in Houston, you know, we have a massive. Civ jail, I think eight or nine thousand people in it at the county level and as I understand it, I think there are some 65 staff, you know counselors and psychiatrists Etc who now have this covid-19 and about about 50 something of the prisoners as well. It's a scary situation.

RICK VAN WICKLER: yeah. I mean, this is something we've never seen in our lifetime Dean and Hope we don't see it again. You know, everybody's focus is to try to get through it. And of course, you know, there's some unease about continuing with the strict Protocols of distancing and and you know, our way of life has been turned upside down for everybody and hopefully we can weather it without being careless, you know, and getting complacent.

DEAN BECKER:Well, one of the perspectives I've developed working with leap and it's good members is there's a phrase that you hear quite often that you mean to say. We need to lock up all these people because we're mad at them rather than because they're a threat to us and and that perception that understanding is starting to bleed out in general that why indeed are we locking up all these minor drug users? Why are we filling, go ahead sir?

RICK VAN WICKLER: Well, I was just going to say that's exactly right. I mean it was probably 20 years ago when I was appointed to a governor subcommittee in New Hampshire to address the overcrowding situation that we had in New Hampshire. And one of the questions I proposed way back in 20 years ago is we really need to look at who is in jail And why are they there because in my experience I had days where I was processing contractors who were pulled over for a motor vehicle violation and then consequently arrested for having marijuana in plain view and on the very same day booking somebody for a triple homicide and it was such a dichotomy for me. I didn't understand it. And that's when I said 20 years ago. Are you putting people in, to enforce your morals because you're mad at them or are they really a threat to the public and that's what we need to examine. That was 20 years ago.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and it does thank God is being brought more in Focus. We have this round and round and not just in Texas, but I think around the country. People talking about the need for bail for all these minor minor charges for people being locked up losing their car their job their apartment, you know Etc because they can't make these with minor jail amounts and it's also bringing the with just a throw-in. It's also bringing to bear that most families around the country do not have a reserve stock pile of cash are not flush despite all these quote tax breaks that we've been given and I guess where I'm going with this is that you know, we have to realize that we can't afford to be so Draconian anymore way what your thoughts are Richard?

RICK VAN WICKLER: Well, I think that's absolutely right. I said about this pandemic early on that. It's a reboot or a reset not only for our for our economy, but for our way of life and how we view things are quality of life these things hopefully will not retrograde back to the way we used to do things. This covid pandemic is the first instance where it was back in early March when I appeal to our County prosecutor and my medical department and I asked the medical Department look at the entire population and tell me who's at significant risk. I want to know who's over 60 years old, who has asthma, who has diabetes, who has COPD, who may be pregnant, you know, do they have a heart condition? And the medical Department gave me a list of these folks and I went to the county attorney said how many of these people can we reconsider to get out of the Department of Corrections and we were we were successful to be able to do that what I mean by retrograde is if we can do that today, why can't we do that always if somebody is not a threat to the community, why do they need to be in jail, you know, this has been LEAPs position since the beginning of time. It's been my position for and I really hope that we don't retrograde back this would significantly reduce our jail populations. It would also reduce the need for jail construction or other country. It would also reduce the need for having to hire so many Correctional folks and and let's do something else that's more productive and better for humankind rather than locking them up.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I had the privilege has now been two years ago. I went to Portugal.l I got a chance to meet their drugs Czar, dr. Zhao G’Lao, out toward some of their hospitals I had some great sit-down interviews and dinner and a couple of meals with him and I learned that you know in the more than 20 years that they've been doing this, you know there they've learned that you don't have to put people in a cage to help redirect them. They send people to a dissuasion committee and eventually maybe it works, but they never have to throw them in a cage to make that change and some folks are just determined- they're going to do drugs and they eventually leave those folks alone because because you just you just can't keep barking up that same tree forever, right?

RICK VAN WICKLER: That's true, you know, and in a case of Portugal where you know, there are program of decriminalization has worked well economically for them and in a Humane sense, you know, but the bottom line is it's still illegal. I mean if they still catch you with it and you know, there's an opportunity to do something about it. They'll fine you or something like this, you know, we need to get to a point where if this is the kind of behavior that citizens want to do. They want to Recreation their mind in a particular way and they're not harmful to other people. We need to find a way to manage that we need to come to the point in time where we realize we cannot control this conduct. So let's manage this conduct and you know would Portugal has simply said is you know, we're not going to pursue you the way that the rest of the world is pursuing you and the way that we use to pursue you are not going to do that anymore. But technically it's still not okay. It's still not okay to do and so, you know, if I had a magic wand for Portugal and the rest of the world, it would be let's not just decriminalize. Let's legalize.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, let adults make their own decisions and and let them you know chips fall where they may because it's a personal decision. I think about this that you know, another aspect I harp on all the time is that because of this prohibition. These drugs are made by semi trained chemist and jungle labs or Afghan caves there then smuggled across the countries across countries and then these days nearly always cut with fentanyl- elephant tranquilizer. If I remember right that is killing 60, 70 thousand people a year. I just hear in these United States it, It's more wrongheaded than well, it's just wrongheaded, isn't it?

RICK VAN WICKLER: Well, and we push them that way the way that our culture is designed the way that our pharmacies are designed our physicians, you know, the federal government has leaned on positions that says you can only prescribed pain medication for so long. What does the federal government have to do between a doctor and a patient and that's the first thing because when the federal government mandates that a doctor end their pain treatment at a particular time and they have to do it or they're going to face legal ramifications the person who still experiencing pain has to go where? To the illegal market, we've created that and as you say that illegal Market doesn't do it in a clean fashion at all. Let's take a look at our County for example, which is very small compared to you all in Texas. Our County only has 73,000 constituents in it. My jail can hold 230 inmates were we've been successful at decreasing our population to about 80 on average. But let's look at the statistic, which is horrible. I'm sure that your audience and you know, what a recidivist; is a recidivist is somebody who's caught in the criminal justice Merry-Go-Round and they're in jail. They're out of jail and they're in jail and they're out of jail our correctional officers and myself. We develop a relationship with these folks that is not adversarial. We're there to help and do the best that we can so you can't help but somehow become connected on a human level with these people and what's happened to us in this small community that in the course of 24 months, 58 recidivists who we've known have died- been released from jail the threshold their tolerance threshold has changed and they go back and they score that bag and they're not suicidal and they do what they think Is going to be safe opportunity to recreate their mind in the way that they want to do it or relieve their pain and they die, 58 in 24 months, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: That's just outrageous

RICK VAN WICKLER: and and and every single one of those deaths impacted us the correctional officers walk around and you know, kind of mopey like they just lost a cousin and it's not that we're you know, exceptionally close to these people, but they're human beings and when they've come in and out of our facility a few times we get to know them they get to know us we even get to know their families. We know their parents. We know their siblings because they come to visit bring them things and they're gone and and that's it's just outrageous that that many people could die and it's created from a system really that we Foster as a society in terms of you know, limiting the number of medications that Physicians can provide for treatment and what I talked to addicts, like I do all the time in our facility, you know it always Begins by treating either physical pain or emotional pain. My female unit. All the females are there for heroin use heroin addiction and 80% of them have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence and oftentimes the the first person that turned them on to a drug was probably an abusive lover or perhaps it was a friend or a sibling who was trying to medicate the emotional pain that they were in and when you sit them down and say do you want to be an addict oftentimes most of them will say I really don't and I've talked to people who got out and we're sober and wanted to make a good go of it. But because of the way our system is they couldn't get a job the way our system is they couldn't get an apartment the way our system is they couldn't get away to Transportation. They can't get anything. They don't have credit. Nobody will hire them because they have a record and so even though they're a good person deep down even though they're trying really hard at a second opportunity. Like they can't do it. So why do they go back to heroin? Because they're trying to escape a hell that we've created for them. And that's the sobering reality of the situation and until we all acknowledge that we're part of a problem. We can't solve it. And as long as we continue to think we can control it. We're going to get more of it. We have to. We have to understand it and we have to manage it.

DEAN BECKER: Wow, some wise words from my friend the now former executive director of My Band of Brothers Law Enforcement Action Partnership formerly known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Mr. Richard Van Wyck. uh, Richard. I know you're retiring next month after 20, how many years as a supervisor of that Corrections Facility.

RICK VAN WICKLER: while I have been a superintendent for 26 years. I've been in Corrections for 32. It's a very surreal feeling for me to think that I will be leaving this business and leaving the great employees that I've been able to recruit and retain but it's time. You know, it's 32 years is a long time and 26 is the superintendent. I never really sleep. Well because in the back of my head, I'm always expecting that 2 a.m. Phone call or a particular crisis writing new policies writing new procedures directives and then of course, you know that's Personnel issues when you have so many employees you've got Personnel issues that you have to do is so rest is something that has eluded me for a very long time and I'm looking forward to catching up on some of that but I am retiring at a time when I feel good that I'm leaving our institution which I consider to be a role model for what American correction should I'm leaving in a very good capable hands and I'm confident that it will go forward and continue with the philosophy that we've been able to establish and Foster.

DEAN BECKER: Well, very good Richard. I wish you great fishing or hunting or whatever your retirement may bring for you and my hat is off to you for your essential work. Thank you, sir.

RICK VAN WICKLER: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it's always good to talk to you Dean.


HOST DEAN BECKER: It's time to play name that Drug by its side effect;

clammy Skin, pinpoint pupils, shallow or absent breathing, dizziness, sedation, loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, weak or absent pulse, heart failure, death, thousands in debt, time's up; designed to sedate out old elephants. This drug is 100 times more deadly than fentanyl 10,000 times deadlier than morphine a portion smaller than a grain of salt can be fatal the drug lords dream fulfilled car fentanyl.

Okay, folks once again, we're going to talk about Harm reduction specifically this time in the Houston area, but I think much of what we talk about will apply around the country. We're going to be speaking with one of their main actors if you will. Mr. David Duffield who is with us now.

DEAN BECKER: Hello David

DAVID DUFFIELD: Hey Dean, how you doing?

DEAN BECKER: I'm good. David, Let's talk about well what's going on with this covid-19 what's going on with drugs? And and I don't know the Subculture, so to speak what are some of the important factors that need to be discussed.

DAVID DUFFIELD: So one of the biggest takeaways is they projected like 60,000 people would die from the covid yet 70,000 people die from overdose every year and yet it's you know, we want to be conative that one of the things we're looking at is that lately, I mean just as a side note lately fentanyl, which is highly causes overdose greatly, especially when It's produced locally that, being added to other drugs that normally it's not there and there's an increase in overdoses. So we've had time to during this shutdown time to kind of take a look at some of the research and we're seeing major increases in overdoses from fentanyl being added to methamphetamines, which usually pretty overdose free and cocaine which is usually pretty overdosed free the is a sharp incline in that so it's kind of like if people are using you want to warn them which is what we do with our outreach is warn people what we see when we meet them on the street right now. We can't meet him on the street so much. So we're going to use your platform as a way to and I thank you for letting us talk about these things

DEAN BECKER: and they look that's the whole point that the government distributes Mis-information as far as I'm concerned and we have a situation during this covid as I understand the The borders are not so busy. The traffic is not so active as it has been in the past and that it's getting more difficult for some of these cartels to sneak their drugs in and which brings to mind the fact you're talking about the Fenton all being mixed in with the cocaine and the the meth and I guess that's that's to give it more of a boost or to stretch the product or however, you might want to put it but it's just So following the iron law of prohibition, the more constraints you put on a drugs the more dangerous they're going to become, right?

DAVID DUFFIELD: right. Well and then also it they'll locally Source it. So the fentanyl right now is being in Houston is being pressed and they even do it in storage units with these they get pill pressors. But the problem about that is that they have got the Sciences they're doing uneven pressing. And so the the fentanyl levels are very high so you can be very high or very low. They're doing it because they want to pump up the fact that their cocaine and methamphetamine is not as good as it used to be. So they're looking for other ways to make it more enticing but what that does is it crosses the boundaries were them people who normally wouldn't be doing opioids heroin or fentanyl are starting to desire it more because it's a highly addictive thing. Right? So it's just another version of our internal cartel that's been going on for a long time, especially in Texas with the methamphetamines that have been you know, so badly produced here lately. So so that's one of the things that we're doing, you know our outreach for because of the covid our outreach to the streets has been reduced dramatically. We've had to come off the streets because out there right now in the places that we use to do our street Outreach. We stand out like a sore thumb because people are not supposed to be collect, you know Gathering or out right.


DAVID DUFFIELD: So, we don't we don't want to jeopardize our standing in these places some of the places with that we do our kind of your commercial Ventures, so we try to stay under the under the radar and we feel like we'll be really exposed, now. We don't want that especially with the police we work well with the police in these areas, but we don't want to jeopardize that so we pulled off the streets.

DEAN BECKER: well and look in that to be truthful. It complicates the lives of those folks out there that are using still it jeopardizes their safety in that they don't have the The needle exchange and or the advice and and just the support that you guys bring on a weekly basis. Right?

DAVID DUFFIELD: Right, and and of course using doesn't stop because of something like this it actually probably increases people are even more susceptible to loneliness and isolation that will lead to some use, you know, unless they're doing Recreation of course, which we all support. So I mean, so we've been looking at using this time as an Outreach is Harm reduction. We're trying to figure out how we can best pick up the slack. And so we're looking at trying to get more HIV- get more hepatitis A and B, which is really rampant in Houston, A by the way, it's easily transmitted and it's the same thing going to clean your hands just like covid clean your hands. There's other guidelines that I can go over with you that we're kind of following when it comes to outreach but

DEAN BECKER: really, please David share those so this is this is a message for the folks out there that are still using

DAVID DUFFIELD: Oh, yeah, so the best thing is minimize you need to share supplies. If you're sharing bombs or pipes are joints or nasal straws. You have to be careful. You have to try to try to not share and do that. You have to practice harm reduction with your supplies wipe down the mouthpieces with alcohol swab before sharing. Are you separate mouthpieces, but using smoking and snorting injection equipment into bio buckets or people who use like plastic ties. Or something like that throw that stuff in there. We'll pick it up from you. Just give us a call. You can call our website or our Facebook page and we'll come pick up the stuff. We got rid of a hundred thousand used syringes this month alone, which is that we have picked up over six months in Houston. So we're real proud of that. They're...

DEAN BECKER: David- David share that phone number and share that website right now.

DAVID DUFFIELD: Okay. So the website is and the same thing for our Facebook page is Houston Harm Reduction Alliance and our phone number at our offices. You can leave a message for us is 832-623-7074, let us know we'll come pick up your stuff man. And we've got we're doing deliveries, so Dean, we're doing deliveries. We-if anybody calls or something, we'll do deliveries. We protect our outreach worker Casey he's doing them. He's been on it like crazy doing a good job. We maintain a lot of our stuff is do delivery and drop-offs type stuff and we maintain that and then we have our own ways to protect ourselves as we collect used syringes, but we're giving out clean syringes Narcan or naloxone fentanyl strips and stuff. We've been sharing our fentanyl strips with the University of Texas that the heroes program that does a lot of good work about because they know that a lot of people have become an back to suboxone and during this, this time that they'll be back on the street. So we're trying to make sure they check their dope for fentanyl. We're trying to get the fitness trip to the dealers as best we can but we're still picking up. So if you want us to come and drop some syringes off, all you have to do is give us a call and we'll we'll come to you we just can't meet you on the street right now.

DEAN BECKER: Well David as well as we're wrapping up here in the email you sent me. There's a point we haven't addressed as yet and like many places you guys are still looking for masks, to hand out for, hand sanitizer Etc. Let's talk about that.

DAVID DUFFIELD: So our last order that we got in everything's been back backordered. So we don't have hand side at Heiser we've got soap where we changed our Outreach where we're adding more sanitation, type stuff have pipe covers things like that, but we cannot find masks. So if anybody is willing to donate Masks, we can give to our participants to our clients. We've got some for outreach workers, but we really want to try to remote this out there and I'm telling you people they're using just don't have the wear-with all or the inclination to take care of these things sometimes so we want to help them remind them to do that. So if you have masks, hand-wipes, sanitizer that you're willing to to give to us, we'll be glad to take it in and we'll spread it out. We'll get it out to all the people that are using it we're connected to and we'll do the same and time comes we get ours and we'll hand those out to somebody else, we will pass it forward. So we're waiting for ours to come in. Thanks Dean for reminding me now

DEAN BECKER: and David, we got to wrap it up. But one more time that main website where they can learn more is


DEAN BECKER: and again folks we've been speaking with mr. David Duffield, a very essential worker. Thank you David.

DAVID DUFFIELD: Thank you Dean.


DEAN BECKER: We're going to close out on a lighter note of five years previously. He had discovered this commodity. But as of this April, it was 77 years years ago that Albert Hoffman did the first dose of LSD. The following is taken from “Hoffman's potion” produced by the Canadian film board:

----Clip Hoffman’s Potion ----

In the 1940s. Dr. Albert Hoffman discovered a substance that had a profound influence on the way science viewed the human mind.

D'Lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD

ALBERT HOFFMAN: I think there's a possibility to, to have psychedelic experience is inborn. These psychedelics very similar compounds are in our brain and all the compounds which you find in the plant kingdom. All these psychedelics also closely related chemically to these brain factors, which we already have we speak about the paradise of childhood when I have vision and beautiful experience as a child, no worry, is because we have these compounds already in our brain. There smoking and Beautiful May morning suddenly. I stopped and I had the feeling everything had changed the mood was beautiful, Beautiful green and at the feeling that I saw the world as it really is and that's the feeling that I would be included by it at the land feeling of happiness. I had never had before. If you have open eyes, you may see the world in a different way as if I mean in the, you see it as it really is; Wonderful.

----End Clip----

DEAN BECKER: Thank you. Dr. Hoffman just enough time for a presidential pronouncement.

DONALD TRUMP: I love the poorly educated

DEAN BECKER: again. I remind you because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful drug truth Network transcripts are stored at the James A Baker the third Institute, more than 7,000 radio programs are at and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.

11/27/19 Richard Van Wickler

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Richard Van Wickler
Law Enforcement Action Partnership

Richard Van Wickler past Chairman of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Lindy Clapp of Harm Reduction Service, Kristian Karas of DanceSafe, Sera Davidow of W. Massachussets Recovery & Author of Unbroken Brain Maia Szalavitz

Audio file



NOVEMBER 27, 2019

DEAN BECKER: Hi, my friends. I am Dean Becker the Reverend Most High, and this is Cultural Baggage. We have got another great show lined up for you with some great interviews I conducted while in St. Louis at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Reform ’19; the world’s largest drug reform conference.
It is still Day 1 on a Wednesday here in St. Louis, Missouri. I have seen a lot of my old friends along the way including the group I like to call by their first name which was Law Enforcement against Prohibition, they are now known as Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP). I am speaking with the former Chairman of the Board with LEAP, Mr. Richard Van Wickler. He is still running his jail and speaking at colleges. He has stepped down as chairman but he still speaks for LEAP. Am I right?
RICHARD VAN WICKLER: I am indeed. Dean, thank you so much for having me back on your show and thank you to your listeners and especially for the work that you do in this very important cause. Since we last talked a couple of years ago one of the big reforms that have happened in corrections is medication assisted treatment. Probably better than half of the people who we get who are incarcerated have what is known as O.U.D.s or S.U.D.s (Substance Use Disorder or Opioid Use Disorder).
Traditionally what corrections did was put people in a cell and the suffered and detoxed that way.
DEAN BECKER: And sometimes died.
RICHARD VAN WICKLER: Well it was a very difficult process and fortunately I didn’t have anybody die from detox but it was an awful thing to watch.
DEAN BECKER: Not saying that you did. You are more –
RICHARD VAN WICKLER: It is an awful thing to watch so Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is really relative because what we are learning about addiction is that long term heroin and fentanyl use do change the brain and it is a medical condition. What courts are ruling across the country right now is that for a jail to not provide MAT would rise to a level of failure to provide adequate medical care and that is a pretty significant turn of events in our country which is a very good thing. I am very proud to say that in Cheshire County, New Hampshire we are among the first to employ a MAT in our jail for our offenders which had the full support of the Commissioners in our delegation. There is a county out in New Hampshire right now whose commissioners are refusing to provide MAT and the bottom line is it is because the public is unaware of addiction, and they are unaware of how MAT can help. This is a new thing and we need to educate the public about how important it is so that when they elect people who vote in favor of providing MAT, it is seen with a positive point of view rather than a negative one.
DEAN BECKER: When I indicated that some people die undergoing withdrawal I did not mean you or your facility. I am just saying that I read the papers and it does happen. It is those who probably have less knowledge and awareness of that potential problem, or who could care less because they believe that drug addicts have got to suffer if they are ever going to learn. What is your thought there?
RICHARD VAN WICKLER: Unfortunately that is true. There are a lot of people that think that if you are suffering then you got what you deserved. You made a decision and this is the result of that decision so you deserve it. My point of view is that is not okay. If criminal justice were a job that is one thing but the three prongs of criminal justice which are police, courts, and corrections or arrest, conviction, and punishment really should have attached to that the academics of professionalism. We are America, and we are Americans. We should give a damn about suffering and we should not want people to suffer. We should have compassion, empathy, and understanding and not fall victim to our personal bias or our confirmation bias. This is a difficult thing for me since I run a small jail. I am not the L.A. County jail, or Chicago, or Dade County – I am a small jail and I have to have 84 employees view this the way that I view it and that is difficult; but they do. I set and enforce limits and say that this is the way that we are going to do this or you have to work somewhere else and I imagine that is a significant challenge in our larger jails in this country.
DEAN BECKER: Folks, we have been speaking with my long-term friend, associate and ally in ending this stupid drug war, Mr. Richard Van Wickler. Do you have any closing thoughts, Richard?
RICHARD VAN WICKLER: We are here at the Drug Policy Alliance conference which we do every couple of years. You and I were talking earlier off-record about how we always learn something from this and we bring that home with us and we reflect on what we learned and we try to make a difference in our community. So the challenge should be that every citizen go out and learn something and convey that which they learn to somebody else. Ask them to challenge their confirmation bias and get over this nonsense and show compassion. Let’s be who we truly are as Americans.
DEAN BECKER: Who we’ve been pretending to be all the while.
RICHARD VAN WICKLER: That’s right. Thank you, Dean.
DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Richard. Last I recall there were 170,000 members and supporters worldwide in support of LEAP. Has that number grown?
RICHARD VAN WICKLER: It has grown significantly. As you may or may not be aware when I was the board chair I was a very strong advocate and it was an unpopular thing to advocate that we change our name and that we broaden our speaking points. There was a time in 2007 when a police officer would say that marijuana should be legalized it was accompanied with shock and awe. That is not the care anymore. You can pretty much pull any police officer aside and tell them that marijuana should be legalized and they would chuckle and agree with you because it should be.
The other part is that we do fantastic work. Law Enforcement Action Partnership does fantastic work and what we need in order to do that work is money. We need supporters and people who are on the front lines of the drug war to come onboard and help us fight this. My view was that we either change as an organization or die. What we have done is increased our membership surpassing 67% new members which is beyond what we projected. Our revenues are significantly beyond what we projected because we are actively recruiting federal prosecutors, federal law enforcement officers, and law enforcement officers that are still on the job. If you will remember Dean, I was one of the only people who was still on the job and a member of LEAP.
DEAN BECKER: The guy in Canada –
RICHARD VAN WICKLER: David Brasser in Canada was on the job so he and I made two in two different countries. So I am still the only guy in this country at that time. Right now we can’t say that. We have got a lot of people on the payroll who are exercising their first amendment right on this issue and that is because we have broadened our talking points. We are making a difference and that is why we had to make that change and I am glad that we did.
DEAN BECKER: Okay, folks, if you want to learn more about Law Enforcement Action Partnership, please go to Thank you, Richard.
RICHARD VAN WICKLER: Thank you and thank you to your listeners.
FEMALE VOICE: My name is Lindy Clapp, I actually have a medical degree but I am not practicing medicine now because I didn’t feel like that was really reaching the people in the proper way. I work as the Linkage to Care Coordinator for Choice Health Network in Knoxville, TN., which is a part of our harm reduction program that offers one of the first four needle exchange programs that started in Tennessee in 2018.
DEAN BECKER: Needle exchange. Most folks know what that is but what does it accomplish?
LINDY CLAPP: Our particular program not only provides clean syringes to people and offers them the opportunity to dispose of their used syringes, we also offer testing for HIV, and Hepatitis C. We also offer referrals if anyone asks for it for anybody who has any healthcare needs including pregnant women. We connect people with HIV to care as quickly as possible and try to refer people with Hepatitis C to places in the area where they can get help whether they are insured or uninsured. That is a big problem right now because in the state of Tennessee the laws are still very prohibitive for people who are still using drugs. Any state-insured people must have some level of sobriety that is monitored for six months. Providers are less willing to offer uninsured people Hepatitis C treatment.
DEAN BECKER: Your work also coincides with helping pregnant women because often times if they are using drugs they can get themselves in to some terrible situations. Would you talk about that work, please?
LINDY CLAPP: Sure. Before I started this work in 2015, I worked for a different non-profit organization in Knoxville and at that time there was a law in east Tennessee that pregnant women who were using drugs could be convicted of a crime. That law actually doesn’t still exist but there is still a very high level of fear among women who are using drugs as evidenced by the people we see at the needle exchange about seeking help or prenatal care and we have more than one person right now who is still very reticent to seek care because she is afraid of the backlash or what may happen.
DEAN BECKER: Being at this conference is uplifting and it also reminds us just how scary and out of control a lot of things still remain. Do you have any closing thoughts or a website for our listeners?
LINDY CLAPP: You can go to, or Both of those are the same organization. At this point in time I think that legalization or decriminalization of drugs is the best way to make substance use a health issue rather than a criminal issue and it is vital that we do that if we want a healthier society.
It’s time to play Name That Drug By its Side Effects. Shortened attention span, hyper activity, obesity, diabetes, diagnostic diseases, kidney failure, heart disease, hypoglycemia, tooth decay, and death. Times Up! For the answer look in every bag of Halloween candy and in damned near every product we buy: Sugar.
FEMALE VOICE: My name is Kristin Karas, I am the Director of Operations at DanceSafe. DanceSafe is a 501(C) (3) Public Health non-profit that promotes health and safety within the electronic music and night life communities. We are a chapter based organization comprised of volunteers. We currently have 26 chapters in North America with 25 of those 26 being U.S. based and one based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. At events you can see DanceSafe providing a number of services coupled with educational literature and peer-to-peer education along with water and information about heat stroke, safer sex tools and information about consent; earplugs and information about hearing damage; and factual unbiased drug education coupled with drug checking when allowed.
DEAN BECKER: This is something that is stymied and objected to. It is called in to question at times in some communities despite the attempt and hope to save lives and create a better medical situation for the community. Tell us about some of those objections and what you have done in regards to those objections, please?
KRISTIN KARAS: Absolutely. I think that some of the objections are policy based. First and foremost something that often comes up in our line of work and if referenced is what is referred to colloquy as “The Rave Act”, which was passed in the early 2000s and it was an expansion of the 80s crack laws cut down on events where the selling of substances was taking place. Since then we have supported the Amend the Rave Act Campaign that was originally founded by Dee Dee Goldsmith who has since stepped down and passed off Amend the Rave Act to us so that is something that we seek to spread awareness about. In addition to that another policy piece that is a barrier to the implementation of DanceSafe’s services. In certain states drug checking kits are considered to be paraphernalia we have begun to get involved in trying to make changes in these states because it does at times interfere at times with our ability to sell drug checking kits at events as well as provide drug checking services due to concerns of event producers. We are happy to announce that we have just received a $15,000 grant from the Drug Policy Alliance to expand our Test Kit Program, which is centered on drug checking to include this advocacy initiative and building out a toolkit that the community will be able to use at a grassroots level for organizing. Beyond that I think that something that we continuously see as a barrier as does the rest of the harm reduction community is stigma. The behaviors that our community are engaging in are terribly stigmatized and that inherently creates a barrier to the provision of our services. There is a misconception that harm reduction is drug promotion which is not true. At DanceSafe we neither condone nor condemn drug use, however, we recognize that people will choose to consume substances regardless of prohibitionist policies in place and is in fact better for us to be grounding ourselves in health and human rights.
DEAN BECKER: Kristin I want to thank you for extoling on the ramifications, perceptions, the means and the goings on with all of this because it is very complex in its own way and it is also very simple in that it wants to save lives. Looking at The Guardian and The Observer out of the U.K. and I am see that they are beginning to recognize it. Their kids that are dying of MDMA (Ecstasy) at these raves and it doesn’t have to happen.
KRISTIN KARAS: In the United States it is common and there are headlines that are depicting situations in which there are MDMA overdoses which are actually misnomers because in many cases it is actually heat stroke that has been the result. In the U.K. there is this proliferation of high-dose pressed pills to circumvent drug laws so that is actually true.
DEAN BECKER: Kristin I do appreciate your thoughts. Once again we have been speaking with Kristin Karas, she is with DanceSafe based in Denver, Colorado. Kristin do you have any closing thoughts for the parents and the kids out there with regard to what they should know and maybe what they can do?
KRISTIN KARAS: Absolutely. I think for all of the parents out there the thing I would encourage you to do is to begin educating yourself. At the end of the day you can’t control what someone else is doing with their body and it is much better to be talking about these things in the open because in so many circumstances the stigma that is perpetuated and keeps people from speaking is what ultimately contributes to them getting in riskier situations in the first place.
I would share a similar message with all the kids out there. I understand that a lot of the drug education you have had is likely from untrustworthy sources or someone that you just don’t have trust in. I would recommend you look up DanceSafe and start your education there. You can reach out to us on social media if you have any additional questions about your choice in health behaviors.

FEMALE VOICE: My name is Sera Davidow and I work with the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community. We are a community of people who have all struggled ourselves. We have psychiatric diagnoses, we have lived without homes, we have had problems with substances, and an array of challenges that have interrupted our lives and that we have learned from. So we developed our community around the idea that those struggles bring wisdom we can use to support one another as well as ourselves to get our power back and move on with our lives in the way that works for us.

DEAN BECKER: Some people point back to Ronald Reagan and his idea of doing away with treatment being available for citizens and leaning more towards jails and prison. In the years since jailing and imprisoning people just doesn’t help a person with any mental problems, does it?

SERA DAVIDOW: No. I think that a lot of people end up struggling with problems with drugs, hearing voices, wanting to die and array of things because they lose their power and they lose control. Things like imprisoning people takes that power away even more and adds trauma which is not what helps people change their lives for the better.

DEAN BECKER: The drama and the trauma of modern life seems to be forcing people to present themselves more perhaps than in years past when the economy was better. What are your thoughts?

SERA DAVIDOW: I think that we are in a really fast paced society and the more it speeds up and the fewer resources there are available people get desperate and they do get exposed. If you have a lot of resources you can be eccentric, you can be different. If a person doesn’t have a lot of resources then they are the person that we don’t want to see; we want to shuffle them off somewhere. The more that our society spins and gets chaotic; the more people can’t fit in anymore which leads to more people wanting to see them shuffled off somewhere so that they can feel “safe”.

DEAN BECKER: If your art is so poor you might be considered dangerous. It is crazy.

SERA DAVIDOW: This idea that we can stop bad things from happening and that we can identify who is and is not dangerous is an enormous myth because who gets to decide who is dangerous and what is considered violence is being decided by those who are in power.

We are in a society where more and more people in the general community are saying tell me I am going to be okay and that my family is going to be safe. Meanwhile, those in power are trying to create these illusions that they are doing things and those things are often harming people more. People in general don’t know that or they don’t want to know that. I don’t know how they could not know that things are getting worse if they really think about it. It is easier just to allow people who are responsible for the society to say that they are making it better and go on with our lives.

DEAN BECKER: Yes. We will wrap it up on that note. We are here at the Drug Policy Alliance Reform ’19 Conference in St. Louis, Mo., and you touched on it a bit but can you please give us the connection of your organization and this event?

SERA DAVIDOW: Sure. Our roots are more in the world of emotional distress which is where our original funding has come from, we have since expanded. What people don’t always understand is that the people who end up in psychiatric hospitals, hearing voices, contemplating killing themselves are often the same people who also end up homeless, have problems with substances, and find themselves incarcerated because so much of all of those things have their roots in environments that are full of systemic oppression where there is not enough resources to go around, where people’s basic needs are not being met and people are experiencing trauma. So if they look at things like the adverse childhood experience and study all of the different research that is out there, it actually says that there aren’t these different boxes. The people with problems with substances over here and then the people with psychiatric diagnoses over here…all these different boxes that we create with our systems. Those are all fake; we are all the same people. The way that we can all make some sort of relative change in society perhaps is to come together and recognize that we are the same people and come from a harm reduction approach so that we can all try to figure out how to get our voices back.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. In closing, I am sure there is a website where folks can learn more about the work that you do.

SERA DAVIDOW: Sure. The Western Mass Recovery Learning Community can be found at

FEMALE VOICE: I am Maia Szalavitz, I am a journalist and author most recently of Unbroken Brain, which looks at addiction as a learning disorder.

DEAN BECKER: Your writings appear in many editorials and correspondence giving focus in newspapers and other periodicals around the country bringing focus to bear on the futility of this damned drug war. Am I right?

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Yes, you are correct. For the past 30 years I have been trying to get people to understand that addiction is a medical problem. It is not something that you can stop by punishment because it is defined as compulsive use that continues despite negative consequences. If punishment were going to fix it, the condition by its very nature would not exist in the first place.

DEAN BECKER: Well it certainly would have done its job by now you would think.

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Look at the people who are the most oppressed by the drug war. They should be the most drug-free and having no problems whatsoever but no, because oppression does not help anybody.

DEAN BECKER: Right. We keep getting ugly results and situations that should make us wake up and realize that this is not working. One of the most recent things that grabbed my attention is a situation that happened just south of Arizona in Mexico where a three-car caravan was ambushed and burned by a cartel who thought they were part of another cartel. Three mothers and six children –

MAIA SZALAVITZ: One of the kids actually lived. There was a baby that was in one of the vehicles for approximately six hours. I was just reading about this and it is just so awful, and Trump goes on about how we just need war, more soldiers, more fight. No. We have been doing that for the last 100 years. You cannot stop this by force. The way to stop drug problems is to treat people like human beings and recognize that all human beings like to alter their consciousness. We do so in various ways and to say that one way is good not a drug, i.e., caffeine, alcohol and your way is bad i.e., marijuana, heroin, and cocaine is a drug. This just creates a black market and one of the features of a black market is that it cannot use the legal system to deal with disputes so you end up encouraging this horrific violence. We haven’t seen a shootout by alcohol dealers probably since the end of prohibition, and that is not a coincidence.

DEAN BECKER: The evidence is there so why are we having such a difficulty in recognizing it and changing our ways?
MAIA SZALAVITZ: I think there is an important thing to keep in mind which is that drug policies really are not about drugs. They are about keeping down particular groups of people and until we understand that it doesn’t matter how many rational arguments we make about reducing violence and spending, or that you would have more people able to function and all kinds of wonderful things. Until we get at the fact that these laws were made for racist reasons and they continue to be enforced in a racist manner because people have this idea in their heads that the FDA or somebody sat down and said that alcohol and tobacco should be legal because they are safer than sugar, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin and that never happened. It was not a scientific weighing of the facts. It was a series of racist moral panics or often anti-immigrant panics as well. Once we get that, we have to look at the drug war differently and realize that one of the ways that we are going to change this is by recognizing that it works perfectly for what they are trying to do; it doesn’t work perfectly to deal with drugs and addiction. If we want to deal with drugs and addiction we have to let the public know about the history of the laws and the fact that even though you think our laws are made rationally all of the time, sometimes they are made for really stupid reasons and then exploited by politicians who want power. If we want to actually help people with addiction I think we are in a situation where because this current thing is framed as white, we may actually be able to improve policy because when we see drug users as us and not them, suddenly harm reduction becomes a nice thing. Suddenly harm reduction becomes a phrase that you can say in public rather than something if you want to get your grant. As this happens and the rhetoric softens where we realize that we cannot jail our way out of this we have to understand why we were trying that in the first place and recognize that it has failed. We now need to use the evidence that we have for what works and move the money that way so that we can teach people the real truth about drugs and addiction.
DEAN BECKER: Again, Maia Svalavitz. I am sure there are a thousand places that you could reference but where might folks go if they want to learn more about your work?
MAIA SZALAVITZ: I do have a website that someone happily keeps updated with my articles and you can find that at:, and that usually has all of my stuff.
DEAN BECKER: And I urge you to visit Again, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.

Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are currently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.