Harvey Job Matusow's

Cockyboo & the Stringless Yo Yo

an on-line autobiographical experiment

The Death of Wilhelm Reich

To many, Wilhelm Reich was one of the great minds of the 20th Century. He headed the Freud Institute in Vienna. His work with children was distinguished and respected.

He fled Hitler's Germany where all his books were burned. Settling in pre-war Norway, he fathered that country's psychiatric movement. He escaped just prior to the Nazi invasion and received sanctuary in the USA.

After World War II, the Food and Drug Administration began to harass Reich for his work with orgone energy. Reich claimed that this energy form was there, even though no one had ever identified it or measured it. He successfully used this energy to build a "cloud-buster" rain-making machine, which was tested with astounding results in Arizona. He also build and sold "Orgone Accumulator," which were used as part of his psychiatric work. The Eisenhower Food and Drug Administration brought him into Federal Court, attempting to gain an order to have Reich cease and desist from advertising or selling the accumulators.

Reich had withstood attacks from Stalin, Hitler and Quisling, and refused to accept the non-scientific, legal community as competent to judge his scientific work. He was held in contempt of Court. The government got its injunction by default. All Reich's books were burned, and it was illegal to print new ones. He was sent to the Federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, which was where I met him.

The first time I ever heard his name was on the day the poet Dylan Thomas died. I was in The White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street in The Village. A few of us were lamenting the passing of "The Greatest White Horse Drinker of Them All" when someone came in and announced that Barbara's cat had just delivered seven kittens in one of Reich's orgone accumulators. I discovered Reich that night.

Years later, my first meeting with him was in the prison library where he checked out my books, two volumes of work by Dylan Thomas. I asked him how he felt being surrounded by all those books, knowing his my never be among them. He just smiled and said,

"It's not the end of the world."

But, it was. Reich died at the Lewisburg Penitentiary when the moon was in Scorpio. Thirteen hundred men went hungry and missed breakfast on the morning he died.

"Count time!" shouted the hack for the 7 a.m. count.

"Count time!"

The count wasn't right.

"Recount." Prodding the cell block with subconscious hope that one had escaped. Be different this count time -- break the monotony of always being there. Be different so we can keep them locked up while we find out how, why, and who?

"Recount" echoed down "C-1" cell block.

"Recount" a fourth time. Recount with a difference. Opening each wooden cell door, wood laminated on steel cell doors, more like a monastery than a prison. They opened Reich's cell, light on still body...

"Hey, Lieutenant, this guy's sick..."

Closer examination. "No! He's dead!"

"He's dead, get a doctor!!!"

"Get a doctor, get a doctor, get a doctor..." Over and over in my head that morning, "get a doctor." Didn't the fools know, Reich was a doctor. They didn't know. To them he was a mad scientist. And when they cleaned his cell his prison notebooks were thrown away. The cell had a new occupant that night.

Reich had no friends in prison; he kept to himself. Small talk in prison had him as a con man who got rich people to sit in strange boxes that allowed them to make love better. To others he was the flying saucer man who would stand in the exercise yard every day at lunchtime, looking directly into the sun. Just looking, and saying to the few cons who'd stand nearby, "They're coming, can't you see them, they're coming." Cons would smile, turn to one another, smile some more... mad scientist in prison, just like in the movies. And they signified on him, or was it he doing it to them?

Sometimes a couple of cons would get close to him on the book check-out line, and make believe that they were talking to each other, but making sure he could hear them.

"Hey, man, have you had contact with the saucers?"

And the other would respond in kind. The jailhouse signifying game. Clever cons playing mind games with a master who just smiled and stamped their books with a two-week return date.

Reich was always good for dining room small talk. A few cons even had news clippings from the National Enquirer regarding Reich.

New man just out of A/O nudged by an "old timer,"

"Hey, man, see that mother with the red nose?"

"Yeah, what about him?"

"He's the Sex Box man!"

"What the hell is the Sex Box man?"

"Whatta you mean - you don't know? Everyone knows about the Sex Box man. It was in all the papers. He kinda made a big wooden sex coffin, and a guy and a chick would crawl into it. They'd have to make love for an hour before he'd let them out. It was a big porno raid. Everyone read about it."

"Come on, you're full of crap. You're having me on."

There was a Sex Box story for every hour and every day.

One day Reich walked into the dining room with Sam Roth. Sam was doing time for pornography, his second sentence in 30 years. His case became a Supreme Court landmark case. The juxtaposition of Reich and Roth created a whole new concept for the story.

But, Reich was dead, the count was delayed. I scribbled a poem while waiting for the cell door to open. I was thinking about the paper work that would have to do down with a celebrity death like this...

	The officials
	meeting officially
	on official business
	read official reports
	on official behavior
	and official doings
	officially adopted
	the official report
	on official attitudes
	toward future official attitudes
	toward future official policy
	of officials
	acting in an official way
	when one of the officials stood up
	addressing the other officials
	in a most official manner
	officially inquired

Reich's death caused "panic" in the officials. The greatest fear that prison authorities have is the spotlight of publicity, press comments which they don't control. When William Remington, former government official, and one of the first victims of McCarthyism was murdered at Lewisburg, all hell broke loose. The prison authorities didn't know whether it was an anti-communist plot by some super patriotic prison who'd fallen for the McCarthyism line, or just a jail-house beating which had gone too far. The latter turned out to be the case, but when it happened, they weren't sure.

They immediately assigned a guard to stay close to Alger Hiss, who was about to be released, and Harry Gold and David Greenglass of the Rosenberg case. With Greenglass they had another problem because he had testified against his sister, Ethel Rosenberg. This was a cardinal sin in the minds of many prisoners, who didn't normally take on a posture of moral judgement about other prisoners. There were countless times I heard hostile comments about Greenglass, "Oh him, he put his sister in the chair."

Finally, when we did get out of our cells on that day, I listened to the conversation of a number of guards and some of the cons. One guard said to me, "With all the panic around here about Reich, it reminds me of the day Richard Lidner left here. You've heard of Lidner?" he asked.

"Yes, he wrote Rebel Without a Cause," I said.


u know he was the staff psychiatrist here."

"No," I answered, "he was a psychologist."

"Oh, yes, a psychologist," the guard said. "They didn't like him up here in the hospital. Warden couldn't stand him, you know."


"Lidner, you know. The Warden couldn't stand him and the head doctor too. He was always helping the cons and they couldn't stand it. Forbade them having a going away party for Lidner the day before he left. The only man I've ever known who left here who was on the staff who didn't have a farewell party given by the staff, either hospital or otherwise. Never happened before or since. There were people who wanted to give him a party, and there were a couple of ones down town, but the top brass, the politicians of this place, they didn't want it.

"I'll never forget it, the day he left, when he was officially out of the prison, when he walked through the old front gate, when he got through the first door, and was in the Sally Port, they moved. By the time he set foot on the other side of the Sally Port into the outside of the wall, one of the Lieutenants and two of the hacks were in the hospital. They grabbed his inmate clerk, who hadn't done anything, and physically dragged him downstairs to the hold in order to feel they'd done something. The charge against him was that he'd violated some minor regulation -- which he probably had -- mainly, he'd taken some of the notes from Lidner's dictation home (from the hospital to his cell) and technically he wasn't supposed to do that. So they put him in the hold, and kept him there for a week.

"But they're worried now because they've got to issue a press release; it'll have to be approved in Washington, the teletype already send word down, and the press release is coming back. The telegram has to be sent to his girl friend -- did you see that beautiful young girl who used to come to visit him? Were you ever out there on a visit when she was here?" the hack said to me.

I'd been half listening and said, "What?"

"Oh," I said.

I don't know, he just talked about Reich. I really wasn't listening. My own mind went back to the few exchanges of conversation I'd had with Reich. I'd heard of Wilhelm Reich before I'd gone away, but really, I didn't know Wilhelm Reich. I was a non-hip hipster when I got to Lewisburg. If Reich had been a politician, I'd probably have been able to give you his life history, but he wasn't. The only think I knew about him was that he was doing time for contempt of Court, refusing to obey some Court order regarding his work.

"Well, his wife, you know, she took a place up here in town, outside of Sunbury, so she could come in more frequently."

The day after Reich died, a con came up to me and asked, "Hey, Matus, are you really a spy?"

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