Face to face with Charles Manson

Canoe, Canada/December 9, 2010

Calgary - Marlin Marynick was in deep and he knew it.

He had cleared security, boarded a visitors' bus and headed through the gates of Corcoran State Prison. He was escorted into a visiting area where a guard pointed at a set of doors and told him to sit down at a table and wait.

But when he approached the table, he saw the prisoner already waiting for him. And Marlin Marynick came face to face with Charles Manson.


"I'm sure I was caught way off guard," Marynick says in an exclusive interview. "I greeted him, we shook hands and sat at a table. I remember watching how he moved, and checking out his hands. He almost seems to have some salamander qualities - he doesn't get a whole lot of light.

"I remember just trying to be cool with everything. I actually think he was trying to put me at ease. I didn't feel threatened or intimidated or anything at all. I've met and worked with people way more intense. Plus, the guy is 76 years old. I also wasn't confronting him and I wasn't pushing him or trying to get anything out of him."

The visit lasted five hours. There was a lot of small talk, but also questions about politics, religion, his emotional well-being, the fragile state of the planet and the girls from Manson's infamous "family," who had been part of a murderous rampage that left seven people dead in 1969.

In his book, Marynick says Manson was energetic, and even charismatic, but "rarely completely at ease," given to sudden unprovoked outbursts. At one point, Manson brought his face to within inches of Marynick's, and hissed at him, "Do you know why I'm so intimidating?"

For Marynick, a registered psychiatric nurse who works with violent offenders and the mentally ill in Regina, meeting Manson in person was the end of a long journey - a story he has captured in a new book, Charles Manson Now.

Marynick stepped into the maze that led to Manson in 2005, when he had a chance meeting with Donald Taylor, who sold Manson memorabilia on the Internet and claimed a personal relationship with Manson himself. Marynick started getting unsolicited letters from a Corcoran inmate, a friend of Taylor's who also claimed to be a friend of Manson's. He enclosed a photo of Manson in one letter and eventually asked for Marynick's phone number, saying he could arrange a call from Manson.

Marynick describes what he heard when he answered his phone on Nov. 8, 2008, and heard a computerized voice:

"I have a collect call from ..." There was a pause, and then a single word: "Charles."

The monotone recording returned. "... an inmate at California State Prison, Corcoran One, in Corcoran, California. To hear the cost of this call, dial or say, ‘nine.' To accept, dial or say, ‘five.'"

I pushed five, held my breath, and waited a few seconds for the call to go through. After a momentary click, I was connected. And Charles Manson was on the line."

In that first call, Manson renamed Marynick "Walking Hawk," they talked about his environmentalist theories, and discussed the anti-psychotic drug Thorazine. Their talk went well enough that many more followed, often more than once a day. After nearly a year of these 15-minute conversations, and as Marynick built relationships with Manson's small inner circle inside and outside Corcoran, he earned Manson's trust, and they agreed to meet in person.

Some of the contacts with important roles in the visit - and the book - included a man named "Graywolf," Manson's closest friend outside prison, whom Manson suggested help with the book.

Still, despite his growing relationship with Manson and those other connections, a personal encounter seemed like an optical illusion - as he approached it, it receded into the distance. Marynick had filled out all the forms repeatedly, and even made the trip to Corcoran, but had always come up empty because of red tape, prison politics and Manson's unpredictability - he was notorious for arranging visits and then refusing to follow through.

"I really didn't think ... we would actually meet," Marynick says. "I'd heard (he) often refused to see people anyway. Just getting past the guards would be one thing, but actually having him follow through would have been another thing.

"I was aware he hadn't seen anyone for about a year, but once I got off the bus, that's when I started thinking ... things were moving in the direction where I was actually going to see the guy."

Truth in the madness

Still, Marynick says he did not start his relationship with Manson expecting to write a book, nor even wanting to. When Manson began their first phone call by asking Marynick, "What do you want from me?", and Marynick said, "Nothing," Manson countered by saying, "Come on. Everyone wants something. You wanna interview me because you're writing a book? What do you want?"

The idea for the book came later, during that first prison visit, Marynick says, because Manson expressed an interest. And, as the process continued, he says Manson changed.

"Once the relationship developed, I was dealing with a different person," Marynick says. "I could see the progress from our first few phone calls, where, really, he could have been talking to anybody.

"The way he was able to express himself and his situation was very appealing to me. He's never tried to convince me about anything, and I never sensed I was being manipulated. A lot of time, the way he spoke was brutally honest and I wasn't expecting that from him at all.

"Once we started to know each other, he started sharing his thoughts on things - it seemed important to him for me to understand how he got to where he was: the voices inside his head, some of what he endured during childhood and he's enduring right now."

The result, Marynick says, is "a very candid, personal look at the guy and his beliefs. Part of our agreement in doing a book was that I wouldn't cut up any of his words, and that I wouldn't analyze anything he said or twist anything around. His dialogue is all exactly what he said.

"I work in psychiatry - that's what I've done for 15 years. Although the stigma still exists, there's a lot of truth in mental illness. There is a lot of truth in the madness."

Mind control

Marynick says his own traumatic and troubled childhood - his mother committed suicide when he was nine, and his family had issues with depression, abuse and alcoholism - helped him develop empathy towards Manson, whose upbringing included his teenaged mother swapping him for a pitcher of beer.

"When I ... had the idea to do this book, I tried to go back to the earliest remembrance of him and how I came to know the guy," says Marynick, who remembers Manson haunting him since he was a curious 10-year-old reading Helter Skelter, the best-seller by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi.

"I went into my childhood and I saw some parallels with Charlie and trying to understand what ‘crazy' was - the idea of isolation and straightjackets and cells and concrete ... that kind of set the tone. In hindsight, it's easy to look back how there was an evolution into (a career in) psychiatry. I've always had an interest in how the mind works.

"If you could imagine who's the craziest person you could think of, that person would be Charles Manson. Once I got established in psychiatry as a career, having the opportunity to meet someone like that, it was a given I would take it."

Marynick was particularly interested in the aspect of Manson's story that many others also found compelling - his seeming ability to exert his will onto others, and get them to perform horrific murders.

"The whole thing about mind control and not having free will - that stuck with me from when I was a kid," he recalls. "I remember reading that and being really shaken up ... how he could command people to do things against their will is fascinating."

Going all the time

As someone with extensive experience in the Canadian penal system and dealing with mentally ill prisoners, Marynick also had a professional interest in Manson's "astounding" will to live in a harsh prison environment.

"I don't want to sound like a sympathizer, and I wouldn't say I feel sorry for him," Marynick says. "But I was curious to know how this guy has managed to survive. What drives him and how does he get out of bed each day?

"He's been in the prison system for 64 years - most of that in isolation. The whole idea sounds horrific to me."

While Marynick tried to enter the writing process without preconceived notions, he acknowledges some expectations were altered.

"Before I met him, I always thought he hated everybody and just wanted to destroy people. I think the biggest misconception about the guy is surrounded by the fact he actually has friends and he has people who care about him. Even though he's in a prison cell, he does what he can - he tries to stay active and do art (including spectacular knotted string art - spiders and scorpions made of thread unraveled from clothing and underwear) and play music. The guy is totally vital - he's going all the time.

"In the end, he'll be the first one to tell you that he's done a lot of bad things ... but I am completely amazed that he's still alive. I really am."

Sick, mean, vile side

For all his personal and professional interest, and the relationship built over his visits, Marynick says he thought numerous times of scrapping the book because Manson was just too difficult to deal with.

"Yes, there were times, and there are times, when dealing with him is extremely difficult," Marynick admits. "I've seen a caring, passionate side, but I've also seen a sick, vile, mean side of him.

"Once I got to know the guy, he reminded me a lot of the people I work with who suffer and struggle with mental health problems.

"Our relationship almost seems liked a client-health professional relationship at first. It's easy to label someone ... as if that can somehow describe someone as complex as Manson. I personally believe he's schizophrenic, (so) I have to be sensitive to those issues and I believe the way he deals with it is quite remarkable.

"He's paranoid, so sometimes he's very confrontational. A lot of times, he'd accuse me of trying to ... take advantage of him, and say that he shouldn't have opened up his door to me. He'd call me specifically to tell me I'm stupid, and say I'm in over my head ... things like that. He hasn't spoken to me like that for a while, but he's still condescending and grandiose. He's easily the most grandiose person I ever met."

Nobody gets close

Marynick still speaks with Manson at least a few times a week and he knows his life has changed forever.

"I don't think I could call him a friend, because he doesn't have friends in the traditional sense. I know that nobody gets this close to the guy. It's a weird relationship, but he still phones me, so we have a relationship."

As for Marynick himself, his life is about to change drastically. His book was released on Tuesday, and he leaves for New York next week for several major media interviews, including CBS's Early Show and Entertainment Tonight.

Because the book, published by Cogito Media Group of Montreal, delves extensively into Marynick's own background, he recognizes there will be people in his own life he would prefer didn't read it.

"I'm struggling at the moment, because there are people who I don't want to read it, because it is a very personal account. My co-workers have no idea about my childhood and my involvement with Charlie, and I don't know how it's going to play out.

"I wanted to throw it all out there. I thought if I was going to do this ... honesty is the only way I could make it happen."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.