From Globe-Trotting Deadhead to Super Max Inmate
Just the title alone is enough to grab your attention but it’s the true story of Joel Blaeser. In the summer of 1984, 15-year old teen Joel Blaeser took advantage of a local Milwaukee radio-station promotion that advertised discounted concert tickets and transportation for a band coming to play soon at a nearby popular outdoor venue. Though he’d never heard of the band, The Grateful Dead and assumed they were probably some kind of heavy metal group, he seized the opportunity to take a girl he had his eye on for a date. On July 7th, 1984, Blaeser arrived at Alpine Valley for his first experience with the Deadhead culture. His life would never be the same.
“Laughter and happiness rang out and people all around were hugging one another, singing and playing instruments. Some were even blowing bubbles”, recounts Blaeser. “Women swathed in long, flowing dresses and skirts twirled through the crowd, the flowers in their hair bouncing as they cavorted like elusive forest sprites. It was safe to assume we were not at a heavy metal concert.”
Blaeser attended 101 shows in eight years, spanning the USA and Europe, before his incarceration for selling LSD at several of the shows to fellow Deadheads. Because of the mandatory-minimum laws pertaining to drugs in our country, Blaeser was sentenced to 151 months as a 23-year old, first time, non-violent offender, and sent to serve his time at USP Marion, also home to some of the most notorious criminals of our time, including John Gotti, Bruce Pierce and James (Doc) Holliday.
Blaeser, who had such a strong affinity for the culture of peace and love that permeated The Grateful Dead tour scene, documented the nightmare of racism and corruption that defined his horrific prison experience in his new autobiography, Letters from Marion: A Deadhead’s Journey from Peace to a Super Max Prison.
- The ways in which Blaeser’s experiences traveling with the Grateful Dead impacted his prison experience
- The overall appeal of touring with the Grateful Dead
- Stark comparisons between the tolerant, peaceable cultures of the Grateful Dead and the hostile federal penitentiary system
- Stigmas and common misconceptions of drugs that are tied to race, economic status, gender or sexual preference
- How the landscape of drug laws have changed in the USA in the two decades that have passed since the “Crack Law” prison riots of the mid 1990’s
- The devastating effects of the failed war on drugs and mandatory-minimum sentencing
- Blaeser’s favorite Dead concert venues and why.
- And much, much more!
Here’s a sneak peak:
Unknown to me as I opened the door, there were two DEA in front of the building with pump shotguns . . . ‘surprise, surprise,’ one of them said when I answered the door. As this was happening, my whole life started to pass right in front of me . . . I opened the door, an automatic 45-caliber gun was put to my forehead while simultaneously being pushed backward all the way down to the ground, during which, this gun barrel was firmly pressed to my forehead . . . As he cuffed me, he asked if I was Joel Blaeser, after I made a unintelligible sound of assent, he sat me in a kitchen chair and threw a nineteen count federal indictment into my lap.
Since his release from prison, Joel Blaeser, a native Chicagoan, has owned, restored and sold 38 properties, made and lost millions and eventually went bankrupt in 2009 as a result of the housing bubble burst. Currently, Blaeser volunteers full time at the Los Angeles Mission as a public outreach specialist and sobriety coach, helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society. Blaeser also consults with private clients about the finer points of real estate development and old building restoration. Letters from Marion is Blaeser’s first book.