My radicalization story


Chuck Stovall with Dr. Sunil Kumar Aggarwal, on the day he helped me move

If you were to ask me if there was one particular spark or catalyst that finally led me to do the open investigations and health advocacy that I have done thus far with cannabis and banned botanicals in general, I would have to say yes, there was indeed.  It came about as I was progressing through stages of coping after a seemingly amicable informal employee relationship in my life ended abruptly with violent threats in a typewritten letter left for me on my kitchen table about compromising my academic standing and my ostensible ‘free person, clean record’ status by presenting to relevant authorities (professors, police) a Volcano Vaporizer cannabis flower heating instrument that had been stolen from my house in my absence by the letter-writer.

I had purchased the vaporizer online to personally explore non-smoked cannabis delivery methods, as I found occasional cannabis consumption to be beneficial to my overall health and well-being, and had previously shown the device to this person and had utilized it once to help an ailing elderly acquaintance of his at a moment’s notice.  The letter-writer also referenced his 50 caliber gun, suggesting that he would come by to “show it to me” some time, a reference that could easily be interpreted as a threat of armed violence.  The man who made the threats also stole some cannabis flower material and related accoutrements that I had in a drawer, and I was concerned that he may have stolen some of my home movie tapes that I had also kept in the same drawer which had footage of, among other things, myself and college chums consuming cannabis privately and sometimes discussing lofty philosophical and mystical ideas which sometimes involved claiming ourselves to be “chosen prophets” and other such classic self-empowering talk.

When queried, this man who made these threats one or two days later verbally agreed over the phone that he had also taken some of those tapes, and I believed that he may have for many months, until I finally mustered up the courage to go through and view my several hours long tape collection and was not able to find anything missing from what I remembered to be there.  Nevertheless, over several scattered phone conversations with this individual asking to at least get my tapes back, he reacted angrily and said that he was going to burn the tapes (which he in all likelihood did not have in fact).  I lived for many months with the threat that videotapes showing my private cannabis use occasioning easily-misinterpretable spiritual-mystical insight could be possibly exposed publicly if this man wanted to try to possibly “smear me”.  This was in additional to the armed threat, police “rat-out”, and academic standing threats in the letter, and it made for a very difficult, painful, personally challenging, and emotionally and psychologically draining process of coping and recovery which heightened my paranoia and sense of lack-of-control in my life over my safety, freedom, well-being, and at times even tested my sanity…

Who was this man who was able to direct such violent threats to the very core of my being?  His name was Chuck Stovall.  We met for the first time when I was moving from my old house in Seattle and had posted an ad on craigslist for someone to come and take one of my halogen torch lamps for free.  He responded and came and picked up the lamp which was sitting just outside the house next to the room I was in.  He later noted that it was the fact that I had extended my hand through the horizontal glass slit window to shake his hand as a completion of the “free pick up” transaction that led him to his act of generosity at our next meeting.  A few days later, I called up someone who had posted on craigslist a ‘services offered’ ad to do moving and hauling with their truck to see if I could get some help with moving furniture.  It turned out (coincidentally) that this ad (out of the several posted) that I was responding to was placed by Chuck, the same guy who had responded to my ad about the free lamp.  When he made the connection after I called, he agreed to come and help me move some of my furniture over to my new place, and he even brought his kids, his three daughters, with him.  He didn’t actually want any money for helping me with the move, and he said this was because I had been generous and cordial when I had given him the halogen lamp, even though he told me it was not exactly the kind of halogen lamp that he was looking for (he wanted one for painting).  When he was dropping off the new stuff, I proposed that perhaps I could hire him to do some other work that was going to be needed in my new place, such as the installation of a garbage disposal and the installation of a dishwasher and a the building of a platform for it.  He was quite agreeable to this and was insistent that we talk about compensation some other time.  Over a series of weeks and months, we had trips to Lowe’s, we had periods of long work sessions in which he variously did electrical work, plumbing, and carpentry.  Everything went pretty well with the quality of work, with the exception of one time in which a plastic stopper was not removed inside the garbage disposal leading a veritable water overflow to occur when the dishwasher was run on a high setting overnight, ultimately leading to some water damage occurring to the ceiling of the unit below mine in the building.  This was luckily able to be rather inexpensively patched up.

As time went on, we came to know more about each other’s backgrounds and personalities.  I learned that Chuck was from Montana, that he was part-Native American (Cree tribe), and that he had worked various maintenance man jobs over the years.  He sustained a pretty severe fall while doing some roof work a number of years before and sustained some kind of bilateral calcaneal (heel bone) shatter injuries since he landed on his feet when he fell.  He wore special springy orthotic shoes, he suffered from chronic pain, and he sometimes had a bit of a passive-aggressive edge about him.  I felt like I could trust him some, because it turned out one of my best study buddies and friends in medical school, Jonathan Griffin, had a wife who actually knew of Chuck via Chuck’s sister from their days together in Billings, Montana.  Ashley, Jonathan’s wife, knew Chuck’s sister from her childhood and maybe even had her over at her house once or twice.  So I figured this man wasn’t a complete stranger, as there were in fact only a few degrees of separation between us.

So, I lent him my key to do work when I wasn’t home, I eventually let him on to the fact that I enjoyed cannabis use, but definitely wanted to keep it quiet due to fear of authorities.  I even eventually offered some to him.  We consumed this together on one or two occasions.  Once, I even read aloud from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States about the mistreatment of the Native Americans historically, as I was very keen on such intellectual endeavors when I enjoyed the calming and sharpening effects of cannabis.  He found that to be extremely amusing.  Over time, he started making on-the-spot demands such as one time asking for $100 to buy some materials for the home projects.  I eventually agreed, but I was confused by what he was trying to purchase.  Later, he started asking me to find some cannabis to purchase, and later still, he drove me down the street in his truck and asked me to be involved in some kind of inter-state cannabis trade deal with his buddies in Montana.  I vehemently refused this.   He started to talk about some prior anger management classes he had taken, and he started to talk about him and his wife possibly divorcing.  Eventually, he told me that he was going to leave town for several months.  He said that he could do a little bit of work to finish up the home project.  When I came home one evening, I found my key on my kitchen table with a copy of the type-written letter.

I later realized that I should have been much more forthcoming and clear about giving him some money for his labors.  It probably appeared to him that was “stiffing” him – perhaps he didn’t have the courage or manners to directly ask me for it, and his anger over this may have percolated.   Not that this type of reaction that he had is in any way justified or a normal reaction to what he may have been feeling; however, this is possibly how he got to issuing the threats and stealing from me.

I don’t think he ever got any of my videotapes after all…but he really did send me into a bit of an emotional tailspin and a huge amount of paranoia and sense of out-of-controlness about my ability to be safe and free in the world with some modicum of control over my destiny.  I constantly fretted about this.  I began to sometimes believe that I saw his red truck driving by and would try to hide.  I worried that there was some kind of malicious messages that were being sent to me in spam emails that I was receiving.  I was concerned that an attempted vandalism of breaking one of our windows in the basement and defacing of the keyboxes at the front door were somehow connected to what was happening to me.  I sometimes conceived that a kind of psychological “reign of terror” was being foisted upon me.  I had the lock on the door to my apartment changed.  I had the misfortune of being randomly selected to participate in the National Crime Victimization Survey, some annual survey conducted by a federal government agency.  I felt yet again the helplessness of not having any legal recourse for what happened to me because I knew that the “crimes” against me could not be “reported” on a government survey because they could somehow end up criminalizing me.  I had a more than a few very negative “trip” experiences with high dose cannabis where I felt that I was being followed and even one time, that an outside force was psychologically torturing me!  These types of experiences truly did border madness!

In thinking about why this violence was inflicted upon me, I started to think more about the violence that people inflict upon each other in the world in general and I began to become interested in this as a kind of research topic of human pathology.  Eventually, one day, it may have been a New Year’s Day when I was taking an air flight somewhere with my sister – I had the epiphany –the violence that I can study is that related to the drug wars…. I resolved to open up this as an area of inquiry and study.  I resolved to have some modicum of control over my predicament by making strides to question and ultimately challenge this social framework in which I felt that I was trapped.  Eventually, this brought me to studying cannabis, in line with my prior interests in endocannabinoid signaling, green botanical medicines, violence, and health…

More than a year after the incident, I was in the mood of recalling what may have happened to Chuck Stovall.  I had already done a tremendous amount of personal psychological work in moving towards “letting go” of what had happened to me, to the losses and vulnerabilities that I felt I had experienced.  After I googled his name on the computer, I was dumbstruck—several months prior, according to an article I found in a local newspaper, Chuck had died in a freak automobile accident while driving in inclement weather.  There was a fund set up for his children.  There was talk of how he was loving and honest and all the rest.  It was unbelievable.  It was finally over.  It took me some time to really believe that this was actually true.  I found that it had also been printed in the Billings newspaper online.  That helped to legitimize it for me.

Scanned copy of Chuck's letter