Illustrations by Ben van Brummelen
This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
One day in 1988, border police stopped my father at the French crossing into Belgium. My dad rolled down the window of his dark gray Volvo, and two officers asked him for his papers. He handed his passport to the most suspicious-looking one, who briefly checked it. "Could you step out of the car please, sir?" he asked. My father's heart was pounding, but his face didn't show his fear—he knew how to handle this; he'd prepared for this kind of situation.
What he hadn't prepared for was the officer holding up five small paper squares with stars printed on them. They looked a bit like tiny postal stamps, but that didn't fool the officer. He knew my dad had accidentally left five tabs of acid in his passport. What he didn't know yet was that all nooks and crannies of my dad's Volvo were stuffed with LSD.
"What are these, sir? They fell out your passport." My father tried to laugh breezily and told the officer they were his five lucky stars. "I got these from a guru when I visited Goa on holiday in India last year. He said they would bring me luck," he told the man. The officers sat him down in a chair on the side of the road while they thoroughly searched his car. My father felt a knot in his stomach—he wasn't looking forward to a stint in a French prison. But then the guard returned and told him he could go on. "But please leave your lucky stars in Goa next time."
My dad's criminal career started in the mid 1980s, when he suddenly decided to move to Amsterdam from London, all by himself. I wasn't born yet, but my half-brothers were—they were nine and seven at the time. My dad was a very successful dentist in London and had his own fancy clinic. He had a wife, two sons, a nice house, cars, and a motorcycle. One day, he left all of that behind to become an LSD trafficker in another country. Because I never entirely understood what happened, or why, I recently decided to ask him about it.
He started off by telling me about his first experience with acid: "In 1971, an American friend of mine called Toby came to London with his girlfriend. He brought along 10,000 tabs of acid, which he'd stuck on two pieces of cardboard he'd tied around his legs. He'd worn thick socks over them and walked straight through security and customs. Drug trafficking and airline security weren't taken as seriously then as they are now. Toby sold the drugs in London, bought a white convertible, and threw all these wild parties where people took a lot of drugs and had sex. His parties attracted a bunch of cool people and artists—London was a great city in the 1960s and 70s."
At one of those parties, Toby gave my dad and his then-wife some acid. "We had no idea what it was. My wife had a great trip; she saw beautiful colors everywhere," says my dad. "I had an extremely dark one—that first one was the worst of my life. Afterward, I've often had flashbacks to that gruesome trip, especially while doing very mundane stuff—like filling cavities. As unpleasant as that particular experience was, it did awaken some deep desire in me to live a different sort of life. Still, it took years before I actually left everything behind and moved away."
In a traumatic turn of events for my brothers, my dad left them, divorced their mom, and moved to Amsterdam. But once he arrived in this bright new city, the first thing he did was open a dental clinic again. Unsurprisingly, he found that the work didn't interest him anymore. "Being a dentist didn't suit my new life in Amsterdam. There were interesting people to meet, Dutch ladies to date, joints to smoke. I wanted to immerse myself in the freedom of the city."
In 1985, he met Tony, an American actor, in one of Amsterdam's coffee shops. Soon after befriending him, my dad found out that Tony was in the drug trade. "After a while, he asked me if I'd ever considered earning money trafficking LSD." Shortly after that, my dad planned his first drug business trip. "It seemed so exciting—the criminal world was new to me. And I didn't have to justify anything to anyone; I lived alone."
"I started with small drug-trafficking trips, and for the first two years, I had some quite insignificant successes. After that, I started earning pretty good money. On one trip to Spain, I had brought along a big bag of vinyl. In that bag were records by the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Bob Dylan—all double LPs that had a total of 22,000 tabs of LSD hidden in them. It was Christmas Day, and there were only a few people at the airport. The officers at customs were very happy they finally had something to do, so they grabbed my bag to take a closer look at my records. During the inspection, they turned to me and said they were huge fans of the Stones and the Beatles. They just handed the bag back to me. I later found out that I could have spent at least eight years in prison for that."
My dad was pretty comfortable in the world of LSD production and trafficking, and often traveled to the US in the late 80s. "The businessmen I had to deal with there all dressed in Hawaiian shirts and picked me up at the airport, waiting for me with signs with my name on them. Back in those days, they weren't hiding it much. Those guys called themselves Rainbow or Sunshine and always took me to beautiful villas brimming with art, surrounded by big gardens. I thought people in the LSD trade back then were generally very nice, interesting people—not the dodgy criminals that were involved with other kinds of drugs. At least, that's how it seemed to me."
After a fair few years of trafficking acid, however, the police started an investigation into my father and gathered enough evidence to arrest him, in 1991.
When I talk to my mom about my dad's shady career change, she tells me she had no idea. I believe her, and if you knew her, you would, too. She has worked as a civil servant since she was 20 and is the kind of person who never runs a red light. "We had a very free relationship at the time—we only saw each other a couple of times a week," she says. "He frequently said he was going on dentist training or business trips abroad." She found out about his criminal side when a newspaper ran a cartoon on the front page of a dentist giving his patients tabs of acid. The case against my dad didn't go by unnoticed by the media—the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant went particularly big with it at the time. "Looking back on it, I should have wondered more about him being away so much, but my mother was terminally ill back then. She was my main concern."
While my dad was facing pre-trial detention, my mom found out she was pregnant with me, which was rough for her. My dad eventually spent a year in prison, and that obviously was a dark time for him, too. He told me he taught English to his fellow inmates and had convinced the guards that he was claustrophobic, so he had permission to leave his cell door ajar a bit. In prison, my dad discovered an aptitude for drawing, and so after his release, he became a artist. He says he never turned to crime again.