|Cliff Silliman, July 2012|
It was on Telegraph Avenue, the main street in Berkeley, that I encountered Holy Hubert, a bold street preacher for Jesus. He told me daily, as I passed by, that I was going to hell and that I was not only destroying my life but others lives as well, and that God was going to hold me accountable. I laughed. I was raised as far away from church as possible. Holy Hubert quoted any passage of the Bible from memory—he actually had the whole Bible memorized. It seemed like a complete waste of time to me.
My organization consisted of me, two body guards, a driver, a courier, and a woman named Linda, who had flipped out on an LSD high and thought she was a frog for about seven months. We drove around in a VW van painted with red and white stripes down the sides, and a blue top with white stars. I wore a leather fringed jacket, a purple shirt, and bell-bottom jeans. In June of ‘69 our house was raided by a newly formed federal drug task force. During the raid an undercover police officer was shot by “friendly fire” while he was shooting at me. When the dust cleared, my two bodyguards and I were in jail awaiting trial, and Linda was loose on the streets.
No one knows how Linda ended up at the Baptist Student Union, a fraternity house a few blocks from the University of California, Berkeley campus. The fraternity brothers came home from a Bible study and found Linda squatting like a frog on top of the kitchen table trying to figure out what to do by throwing I-Ching cards, an old Chinese fortune telling trick. The fraternity president said, “I rebuke you in Jesus’ name.” The result was that Linda got instantly healed, no longer thought she was a frog, and came into her right mind. A month later, when I was finally able to get out of jail on bail, Linda’s story was circulating on streets, but I did not see Linda for another nine months.
As soon as I got out on bail, I went straight back to dealing drugs, adding cocaine to my inventory. My daily drug use increased to at least five tablets of LSD and up to three grams of coke a day to stay high all the time. Sometimes I’d take more to party in the evenings. We mixed the powdered LSD or “acid” with Kool-Aid and drank it—never knowing how strong it was. These parties were called Electric Kool-Aid Acid Parties. Once I tripped out on 21 tablets of LSD and three glasses of Kool-Aid acid, and went to a Terry Reed, Ike and Tina Turner, B.B. King and Rolling Stones Concert at the Oakland Coliseum.
I was arrested three times, but I always got released. The police had made errors in their strategy every time. Finally we made a deal where I would plead to lessor charge and could possibly get up to two years in jail. When I went to court the judge scolded me about how I was a menace to society, but then he suddenly switched and put me on probation to the dismay of everyone in courtroom. (I now know this was the hand of God!) I got out of there before he could change his mind. When my mom found out she was shocked. My old friend Jimmy, that first turned me on to drugs, had just come back from Vietnam. We celebrated my release and Jimmy’s homecoming with sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Purple Earthquake was the live band at the party—they were also our LSD connection.
In December of 1970, fed up with hypocrisy and dishonest dealings, I decided to retire from drug dealing and move to the backwoods of Oregon. I had found out my connections were stealing from me, so I wanted to do one final deal and get back at those guys and rip them off in a big way. I got one group to front me a literal ton of marijuana (100 pressed bricks each weighing a kilo) and another group to front me the money to pay for it, but instead of doing the transfer I took the money and the pot and took off.
As I drove north up Highway 101 in Northern California, in my brand new tan V.W. bug, I happened to stop in Petaluma to get gas. I had heard Linda became a Christian and moved into Zion’s Inn, a Christian discipleship house for women. She had converted my friend, Jimmy and he moved into a guy’s house called Berachah House. As I waited at the gas station, I realized Linda and Jimmy lived in Petaluma somewhere with some Jesus People. I asked the guy at the gas station if he had ever heard of Berachah House. He just happened to live next door and gave me directions.
I showed up at dinner time and was invited to stay. Jimmy and Linda announced they were getting married on Saturday. They asked for my help so I delayed my move to Oregon. I was in turmoil because of the light in them and the darkness in me. No one witnessed to me about their new-found faith, probably because they were afraid of me. Restless, I decided to drive around the San Francisco Bay Area for a day and a half not staying in any place long, since the drug dealers I ripped off would be looking for me.
I stopped for gas in Martinez. An off-duty policeman I knew came over to say hello to me. I told him I was retiring and moving to Oregon. He said, “I probably will not see you again, so I need to tell you something. God told me that I was to protect you since He had plans for you. This is why I applied to be the lone beat cop on Telegraph Avenue.” I was dumbfounded. The inner turmoil in me could not cope with the information that God had plans for me! After driving back to Petaluma on Friday morning, I had finally calmed down enough to deal with being around these Jesus freaks. I did not know that when I left they began praying around the clock and for 36 hours they had prayed for my salvation.
While eating breakfast at Beracha House, I saw a newspaper on the coffee table called “Right On” put out by Christian World Liberation Front. Down in the left hand corner on the cover was this highlighted box that said, “If you are not sure if Jesus is real and died for your sins, ask Him. If He does not answer you, go on your way. If He answers, give Him your whole life.” I noticed that uncomfortable feeling again. During the course of the day as I helped Jimmy and Linda move their stuff into an apartment, I continued to feel this weird stirring inside. While Jimmy and I drove up Highway 101, on December 11, 1970, I decided to pray and do what the newspaper suggested. I decided if Jesus showed up, I would want to get to know Him better. So I prayed quietly in my head, “If you are real, Jesus, be real to me.”
Immediately, my heart was flooded with a peace that passes all understanding, quite different than any drug high I had ever experienced. I knew that Jesus was real for nothing could duplicate what I was experiencing. I quietly said to Jesus, “I am Yours.”
About ten minutes later, still driving north on Highway 101, Jimmy realized that this would be our last time together before I left for Oregon. He shared with me about his faith and “the Four Spiritual Laws” (a pamphlet he had memorized). Jimmy asked me if I wanted to pray to receive Christ.
I said, “I already did that about five miles back.” God’s peaceful presence has been my constant companion these 41 years. Jesus has always been there for me, in good times and bad. The turmoil was replaced by peace—peace everlasting.
|Jenna and Cliff Silliman, July 2012|