OK's top drug warrior in the 80s was called 'partly insane' and waged a war on weed
On January 10, 1982, subscribers to The Oklahoman newspaper awoke to the first of two Sunday feature stories about the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control and its then-director, Warren Henderson. The second installment was published on Sunday, March 28, 1982.
In an editor’s note appended to part one, The Oklahoman described how reporter Paul Scott Malone embedded with the bureau for two weeks. What followed was a narrative that framed Oklahoma as a war zone.
The bureau relished it, and so did Malone:
“‘Even when I go to church every Sunday, I take my gun,’ said one young agent called ‘Blue,’ a graduate of a Baptist college. ‘You never know who you might run in to.’ Such a life induces a ‘sort of moral desolation,’ said [senior OBN agent Fred] Means, adding that the divorce rate among agents is high, and the incidence of alcoholism is probably greater than they care to admit. ‘How long do you keep sending these guys back in there when you know they could get killed at any time?’”
I’ve peeled myself away from the cannabis news cycle to get into this state’s history a little more. History has a bad habit of repeating itself. More so, the axiom that never leaves reporters: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Prison capital of the world
Bless America’s library system. I have a Tulsa library card and use it with conviction. I wanted to study and research more deeply into Oklahoma’s past relationship with the Drug War but dedicated the first several months of this site to the legislature’s reactions to legal medical cannabis.
Now I’m stepping back. Kris Steele was and is right. The liberal-leaning Oklahoma Policy Institute has done great research around this. The state’s leading conservative think tank, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, has also done a lot of great research and writing around this.
I know Oklahoma’s lawmakers roll their eyes when people start talking about what voters initially were transmitting to them with State Questions 780 and 788. But y’all saw those margins.
There isn’t a ton of survey data on this. My sense, however, is that voters here had all been touched by the Drug War in some way. It’s still a state of fewer than four-million people. We all know each other. Even if you leave for years, people still know you and your family.
“Hey, aren’t you George Schulz’s son? PwC?”
“How’s he doin’?
“He went on to work at the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which I’m still pretty proud of. He helps me with my taxes every year, too. Vietnam vet. Stays connected with those guys and rides motorcycles. Hell’s Accountants. His biker name is Audit.”
In Oklahoma, we’ve lost a loved one to cancer who couldn’t keep their food down. Or we’ve lost someone to life in prison or years of probation or parole that would trigger a new violation and land you back behind bars.
Over and over.
And it cost us a physical and figurative fortune.
The Henderson show
Oklahoman reporter Malone begins describing in the first installment of his series how OBN Director Henderson and his drug-warrior cowboys would go about recruiting criminal informants. A better way to put it is Oklahoma drug warriors would threaten people with life in prison if they didn’t snitch.
Pretty effective strategy when you’re looking at life in an Oklahoma prison:
“The pilot, a rotund narcotics agent sometimes called ‘Bird,’ slipped off his headphones and fired up a cigarette. ‘Is that him?’ he asked the agent sitting next to him, as a white-haired man wearing dark glasses stepped from behind a fence at the edge of the field and strode, warily, across the airport's taxiway toward the plane. Over each shoulder he threw a glance, checking what was behind him. ‘This guy's got a heck of a story to tell,’ answered [OBN Chief Henderson]. The man [was] wearing a white-leather jacket and bedecked in jewelry, two rings, one the size of a commemorative-postage stamp, and a watch -- all bubbling with diamonds -- was playing a role in the sinister game of crime and detection.”
The sinister game of crime and detection.
Sound like a Steven Seagal movie yet?
The Reid Manual
There’s an interrogation handbook. It’s called the Reid Manual. The earliest lines in the manual warn not to use the techniques unless you -- as a law-enforcement investigator -- have evidence first, with which you can then make a sound, constitutional arrest.
You want suspects to confess to avoid an expensive public trial at the cost of taxpayers. You already have the goods on them, is the idea. These techniques are not supposed to be used when you don’t have existing evidence first.
But for generations now, that’s how the Reid Manual has been used in the Drug War -- railroad people, so you can go to church on Sunday and be the crusading lion of public safety.
Oklahoma bled itself sending people to prison over weed and every other drug for decades. What we needed to do was be there for our community members, our neighbors, our loved ones, our own family members who were suffering. The world doesn’t need another drug-probation officer or juvenile-justice center. We have enough of them already.
What reporters see is politicians competing with each other to be tougher on crime. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn understood this. The byline here is Carrie Johnson. But me and an old reporting partner had some good sources in Coburn’s office. He didn’t mind that we were crusading journalists. We didn’t mind back that he was a crusading GOPer. He was honest, and his people were honest, and we respected that. I can talk now about it, because Coburn is deceased.
The second installment
Oklahoman reporter Malone literally didn’t know how to open the second story on March 28, 1982:
“Warren Henderson. Let's see now. He likes to laugh. His beard is graying, and he now wears ties to work sometimes, but he still likes to laugh. And tell jokes. He usually laughs at his own jokes. ‘I mean, you only live once,’' explains Henderson ... ‘I mean, hey, if you can't laugh, life's not worth it, you know?’' Then he goes into a weak impression of Groucho Marx or Henny Youngman saying something like: ‘Now take my wife. Please, take my wife.'’ He chuckles. … He howls. ‘I love it.’ His eyes dart back and forth to see if you're sharing his moment of hilarity.”
Malone writes on:
“Here's a picture of ‘Buzzy,' as he was called then, catching a pass in some high-school game. There's a letter from a college coach trying to recruit him. Here's another photo of him in uniform at the University of Tulsa. Look at this — an essay he wrote his sophomore year at Ardmore High School about the makeup of an intelligent man. ‘Hey, I was pretty deep back then,' he muses. ‘I wonder what went wrong?’ Henderson laughs.”
This post is dedicated to Cynthia Fairchild, Alex Fairchild, and Mathew Dustin Schulz. Love y’all. We’re still writing and fighting.
Listening to: 13th Floor Elevators “You’re Gonna Miss Me” Reply with an email or sign up to receive alerts. Follow Green Country Monitor on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. If you appreciate this work, consider leaving a tip.