Casey making 2C-D in 2001 in the back of a school bus he lived in for seven years. All photos courtesy of Casey William Hardison
In the grand scheme of things, Casey William Hardison didn't have the worst time in prison. "LSD, 2C-B, DMT, pharmahuasca, research chemicals, kratom, cannabis, home-brewed alcohol-I did a whole bunch of shit in there," he says. "Drugs are more available in prison than they would be for the common man trying to find them on the street. And the British prison system is fairly gentle-it's pretty damn civilized."
Casey, a 43-year-old American, was released in May of 2013 after spending nine years in as many British jails. Originally sentenced to 20 years for running a psychedelic drug lab in Ovingdean-an English village near Brighton full of cottages, sheep, and senior citizens-he's now campaigning for reform of the Misuse of Drugs Act. But it's been a long process for the man dubbed a "drugs wizard" by the UK press to get to where he is today.
Born in Washington state in the summer of 1971, Casey began wrestling his "psycho-spiritual" demons at an early age-as in the kind of age where your mom's still deciding what shoes you wear to school. "Alcohol and cannabis were basically the only drugs I could use at that time," he tells me over the phone from his home in Victor, Idaho. "I first smoked cannabis when I was about five, when my brother got me high by shotgun. I fucking loved it in my early childhood."
As Casey soon found out, problems can arise when you use weed and booze to battle whatever demons are marauding around your mind-the main issue being that both substances usually end up weaving their way into every other facet of your life. That, of course, is not exactly an ideal situation for anyone to find themselves in, let alone a teenager in the throes of puberty. So in 1985, at the age of 14, Casey declared himself an alcoholic and signed up to both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
After "delving headlong" into AA's 12-step program, he made what he describes as his "full recovery" during Halloween of 1993 while drinking spiced wine (with the alcohol removed) as part of a ritual ceremony.
"As we journeyed through the ritual, I pondered the rigid way in which I'd insisted on having the alcohol removed from my 'sacrament,'" he says. "I'd recalled seeing a heart-rate monitor flat-line. Life had pulse-it had cycles-and a flat-line meant only one thing: death. In a flash, I realized the most important insight: Life is transformation. Life is a cycle of death and rebirth, renewing itself each day."
It was soon after this that Casey took LSD for the first time. His friend John, whom he'd met at an AA meeting in Yosemite Valley, California, came to visit him in Idaho. On a cold night in December, they went to Blockbuster and rented a VHS copy of Stephen Hawking's The Making of 'A Brief History of Time.'
Casey at the Crowley Hot Springs, California, with John (seated), circa 1992
As the video began to play, John mentioned he had some liquid LSD on him, made by a "mad, old-school chemist" called "the Lorax."
"I knew the Lorax, and I trusted and respected him," says Casey. "I'd also heard a few stories of people having spiritual adventures with LSD, not least from the Deadheads I'd met on a Grateful Dead tour. I also knew that Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA, had consumed LSD with spiritual intent."
Casey took 250 micrograms of acid and, within the hour, was "losing the plot a little." Which is understandable, considering 250 micrograms is the equivalent of six to seven hits of the standard street acid you'd get today.
"I covered myself in gravel while I was tripping my brains out and felt one with all there is, and with nature," he recalls. "My mind just got still, yet exceptionally fast at the same time."
At around 3 AM, the bells of the local community college began to ring and Casey had a revelation that he should go back to school. "At that point, I'd dropped out of high school and was on another path, but then I went to North Idaho college for nearly three years and got a natural science degree, before going to the University of Idaho to do biochemistry and botany degrees. That's the great thing about LSD-a lot of people have trips and have these insights, but then attempt to forget or run away from them. But if you translate them into action and do something about it, you can have a greater life."
Casey in February 2000, at a Mayan temple site between Guatemala and Mexico, holding a magic mushroom picked out of the lawn.
Of course, everything's better in moderation; in the summer of 2000, Casey ended up taking so many psychedelics that he thought he was God.
"After that summer where I completely blitzed my head, I got some emails from a guy who made [the hallucinogenic drug] 2CT-7," he says. "He asked if I wanted a lab. I graduated to making 2CB, and then MDMA, and then I was suddenly in a position where I could go out into the world and figure out where my path in life was-and my path wound up in England."
Moving around a number of towns before settling in Ovingdean, Casey wasn't worried in the slightest about his income relying on very illegal activity. He openly bought the necessary chemicals from suppliers, purchasing them in his own name, with his own credit card.
"I wasn't hiding it," he says. "I just wasn't telling them what I was doing with the chemicals."
During his trial, the judge accused Casey of making and supplying drugs for his "own greed." While he acknowledges that he did make money selling drugs-it would be pretty hard to deny, considering he bought his dad a £30,000 [$48,000] boat-he maintains that it was never as much as the prosecution made out, since he reinvested a lot of the profits into lab equipment, and mostly just sold to his friends.
"I wasn't selling to anybody I didn't know and didn't hang out with," he says. "But I also knew and hung out with a lot of drug dealers."
In February 2004, Casey was at the Sanctuary Cafe in Hove when a man walked up to him, touched him on the arm, and placed him under arrest. When his case came to trial and he was charged with three counts of drug production, two counts of possession, and one of exportation, Casey decided that he would represent himself.
"I felt there was absolutely nothing wrong with what I was doing," he says. "I thought: There's no way that a law can make me guilty by statute for an act that was intrinsically innocent. That said, I certainly wasn't delusory about the idea that they were going to try to punish me for what they thought I'd done wrong."
The last photo taken of Casey before he was arrested
Despite his attempts to persuade the court that illegality is in the eye of the beholder, Casey was sentenced to two decades in jail, prompting the Brighton Argus front-page headline: "Drugs Wizard Gets 20 Years."
His punishment was one of the most severe sentences ever handed out for drug offenses in Sussex, but then his lab-where he'd produced millions of dollars worth of illegal narcotics-was also reportedly one of the "most complex… found in the country in the past 25 years." And, according to the internet, the most prolific LSD lab in the history of Brighton's drug busts.
Fortunately for Casey, life in prison was made more bearable by the ready availability of alcohol and drugs, as well as the fact he could study.
"It's not brutalized like the American correctional system, where the oppression of the officers turns to the oppression of the inmates, who then oppress other vulnerable people," he says. "I was single cell most of the time, so that was a godsend. I had a toilet with a lid I could put down. I had hot and cold running water. I was living better than two-thirds of the planet.
"There were times when there was emotional and psychological suffering, but not very much. For me, I thought it was an awesome opportunity. Once I accepted the powerlessness of not being able to alter my prison sentence, it turned into this extraordinary opportunity to study and understand myself-to go within and basically find my peace in that environment. I got to study physics, law, and mathematics, watch the BBC, and read the Times, the Economist, and New Scientist every week."
While he wasn't studying, Casey kept himself busy sampling the psychedelics that made their way around the various prisons he was held in. "I had some of my finest psychedelic experiences in prison-and I've had a lot of psychedelic experiences," he says. "Even locked in my cell, on psychedelics I felt the freest I've ever been, just learning through my experiences, accepting where I was, and just experiencing the extraordinary myth of being alive."
Casey and his wife, Charlotte Walsh, during a road trip around the western United States after his deportation from the UK last year
Despite the fact he was a victim of the UK's drug laws-and now campaigns for the reform of the Misuse of Drugs Act from his home in the States-Casey believes law in general is actually a "beautiful instrument."
"One of the best things I ever learned is that I have faith in law," he says. "We are the process. We are the system. The idea that the system is separate from us is total bullshit. My forefathers made the system and said drugs are bad, but if you use law and the system correctly, you can unlock that. The law's just been poorly run by the [government]-they're trying a one-size-fits-all prohibition policy."
Casey's belief is that the current laws are regulating people, not the drugs themselves. And it's a fair point, coming back to the old assertion that nobody should be able to decide what we do with our own bodies, as long as whatever that is doesn't harm anybody else. Ahead of his trial, Casey argued that the UK government was unable to prove that the regulations applied to his particular activities were "necessary in a democratic society," as human rights law requires, pointing out that the same regulations don't apply to other harmful substances, like alcohol and tobacco.
Before he hangs up the phone, he makes it clear that this is still very much his mentality. "Our rights should go far beyond any moralization of whether alcohol is good for you, or tobacco is good for you, or LSD is good for you," he says. "What right do they have to [dictate how we] alter our mental function?"
Follow Michael Allen on Twitter.