This fast-paced sequel to Smuggler's Blues is a harrowing and at times comical journey through the criminal justice system at the height of America's War on Plants.
Captured in the lobby of the Sheraton Senator Hotel at LAX following a fifteen-year run smuggling marijuana and hashish as part of the hippie mafia, Richard Stratton began a new journey. Kingpin tells the story of the eight years that followed, through two federal trials and the underworld of the federal prison system, at a time when it was undergoing unprecedented expansion due to the War on Drugs. Stratton was shipped by bus from LA's notorious Glass House to jails and prisons across the country, a softening process known as diesel therapy. Resisting pressure to falsely implicate his friend and mentor, Norman Mailer, he was convicted in his second trial under the kingpin statute and sentenced to twenty-five years without the possibility of parole.
While doing time in prisons from Manhattan's Criminal Hilton to rural Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, and New York, he witnessed brutality as well as camaraderie, rampant trafficking of contraband, and crimes by both guards and convicts. He first learned the lessons of survival. Then he learned to prevail, becoming a jailhouse lawyer and winning the reversal of his kingpin sentence and eventual release.
Kingpin includes cameos by Norman Mailer, Muhammad Ali, and John Gotti, and an account of the author's friendship with mafia don Joe Stassi, a legendary hitman from the early days of the mob who knew gangsters Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Abe Zwillman and has insights into the killing of Dutch Schultz and the Kennedy assassination.
Kingpin is the second volume in Richard Stratton's trilogy, Remembrance of the War on Plants.
Richard Stratton is also the author of the cult classic novel Smack Goddess and an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. He was a writer and consultant for HBO’s Oz and the creator, writer, and executive producer of Showtime’s Street Time. He is a court-certified expert on prison culture, prison violence, and international drug trafficking. As a journalist, he won a New York Press Club award for his magazine article “Godfather and Son.” He was the founder of the magazine Prison Life and an editor and publisher of High Times. He lives with his wife and children in New York City.
"Stratton’s latest book . . . details his treacherous trip through the federal prison system with an unfiltered voice and a knack for finding humor in the most desolate of spaces.”—New York Post
"Richard Stratton's powerful memoir Kingpin is a sharp reminder that 'Orange' in not the 'New Black.' There is nothing romantic or exotic about a trip through the criminal justice system and federal prison. Stratton's page-turning account takes us through the mendacity of the criminal justice system, with its relentless drive to turn him into an informer, and into the arbitrary and casual brutality of prison life. Spoiler alert: Stratton refused to snitch and emerged with his principles intact. But he paid a heavy price for fighting the war on drugs."—Ronald L. Kuby, civil rights and criminal defense attorney
"“There is nothing abstract or contentious about Richard Stratton's Kingpin, an indictment of America's severely flawed and corrupt system of criminal justice. He has experienced it all at firsthand, spending eight years on a journey through the squalid prisons and politically tainted courts, from Los Angeles to New York and points between. His story is told in the first person and present tense which gives it an immediacy and pace that catches the reader early and won't let go. At one point, recounting his harrowing experience, Stratton writes. ‘But then, just maybe I will make it through and live long enough to write about it. That is my secret desire, my solitary plan.’ He has fulfilled his desire, accomplished his plan, and succeeded brilliantly.” Convicting the Innocent: Death Row and America's Broken System of Criminal Justice." —Stanley Cohen, author of Convicting the Innocent: Death Row and America's Broken System of Criminal Justice
"Stratton's portrait of prison life is unsparing . . . This prison memoir stands out due to Stratton's elite criminal status and also the quality of his writing, which tends to be observant, mordant, and sometimes hilariously vulgar. A pulpy, well-crafted recollection of time behind bars packed with unsettling questions about society's embrace of mass imprisonment and the drug war.” —Kirkus Reviews