Two years ago, a slew of books and movies, all focused on the same subject, were released.
That subject was Manson. Charles Manson.
2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the crimes the world would come to know as the Tate/LA Bianca murders. That year I read and reviewed a number of those newly published accounts of life with the hippie cult leader –HERE , HERE and HERE. And now comes another.
Author Edward George was Manson’s jailer for eight years of the career criminal’s incarceration. Beginning first at San Quentin Prison in 1975 and then following Manson when he was transferred to Corcoran Medical Facility, Edward George supervised Manson’s cellblock, read and censored Charlie’s mail and talked to him almost daily.
At both locations, George, whose unique background includes having been both a navy fighter pilot and studying for six years as a seminary student, was in charge of the lockdown unit (what he refers to as the ‘cuckoo’s nest’) – the section that housed prisoners so crazed and violent they couldn’t even coexist in a society made up of their criminal peers.
Against his better judgment, the author describes developing a rapport with Manson to the extent he began to feel the self-proclaimed guru’s words and ideas flowing through his brain at night, even as he slept. George says he used Manson – who he describes as being animated and entertaining (when he was in a good mood) in a not dissimilar vein to Jack Nicholson’s ‘McMurphy’ character in the 1975 movie ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST – to get through his workday, perk him up, amuse him, make him laugh and make him angry.
“In retrospect, I needed a guy like Manson to keep me sane. Prison work is dull and boring. Charlie’s wit engendered a subtle excitement. Manson was the buzz of the day, my daily rush. Many afternoons I sprung him from his cage and escorted him free and unshackled into my office. We sat like boyhood friends and shot the breeze, sometimes for hours”.
George confesses that a prison unit psychiatrist was among a number of people who warned him to stay away from Manson and not get pulled into his mad charismatic aura. The author describes dancing around the fire of madness but not being singed by its flames was an exhilarating experience.
“Before Manson arrived at San Quentin, I found the prison routine stifling redundant. Of all the murderers, sociopaths, psychos and gangbangers I managed over the years, Manson was the one who always made my day.”
At one stage Manson had attempted to convince George he should quit his job and join Charlie’s ‘Family’. Amusingly he writes, ” Sometimes, absurd as that was, I have to admit it was tempting. Especially for a man going through “Middle Age Crazy”. I ended up buying a motorcycle instead. Whew!”
The book recalls in vivid detail the daily grind of Manson’s imprisonment; from endless tirades that saw him repeatedly set his cell bed on fire or attempt to clog the sink and flood the floor to him tending to and ‘raising’ a pair of cockroaches.
Manson seemed to take particular delight in toying with and confounding prison psychiatrists. Some of the recorded and transcribed conversations sound more like comedy routines than psychiatric evaluations.
DR H: “If you had only one wish, what would you wish for?”
MANSON: “More wishes.”
DR H: “How are your spirits?”
MANSON: “Right here.”
DR H: “How do you see your future?”MANSON: “I don’t see any”.
DR H: “When was the last time you wished you were dead?”
MANSON: “I haven’t found out what life is yet.”
DR H: “When did you last think of suicide?”
MANSON: “When you mentioned it.”
In the book’s epilogue, George recounts this defining exchange with Manson –
“Why did you do it” I asked him a thousand times in a hundred different ways. “Why the celebrity slaughter that rocked the entire world?” He offered a dozen different answers, depending on his mood at the time.
By way of summary, the following passage is probably as good as any to capture the essence of the author’s Manson experience –
“For nearly a decade, Charlie entertained me and my staff. I visited him daily. I befriended him, knowing full well who he was and what he had done. He could be Saint Francis one minute and Satan the next. I experienced the bipolar mind control throughout my personal association with him. There was no doubting his powers.“
Former Miami News reporter Dary Matera (1955 – ) is the ghost writer of CHARLES MANSON: CONVERSATIONS WITH A KILLER. He is the author of 14 books, including John Dillinger – The Life and Death of America’s First Celebrity Criminal.