In 1959 a revolution took place in Cuba, the Cold War was in full throttle, the Eisenhower era was drawing to a close, and I moved to San Francisco where I would soon find myself in a hellish world of imprisonment and torture.
Born and raised in Brooklyn 27 years earlier, I had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. After a two-year hitch in the Army, I managed and sold real estate in New York City and southern Florida for several years. Despite a poor record, I continued working in real estate in San Francisco.
A few months into my new job, things began to change for me-more internally, at least at first, than externally. Like so many of my generation, I was highly conventional in thought and lifestyle, and my goal in life was material success-I was a '50s yuppie. But I began to discover a new world within myself, and the mundane world seemed, comparatively speaking, drab and unfulfilling. I lost interest in my job and, not surprisingly, soon lost the job itself. Thereafter, I spent long hours reading and reflecting on nonfiction books that I found in secondhand bookstores and at the public library.
The book that influenced me most at that time was An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas K. Gandhi. I adopted for myself his principles of nonviolent resistance, his interest in religion, and his practice of vegetarianism. In that book and other writings of his, Gandhi referred to the works that had helped shape his life. I was soon reading The Bhagavad Gita, the New Testament, Henry David Thoreau's essay on "Civil Disobedience," Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You, and the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In keeping with the subtitle of Gandhi's autobiography, I started my own experimenting, and this led to a complete revaluation of my previously held values. Toward this end I broadened my reading to include, among many others, the Old Testament, Lao-tzu (Way of Life), William James (Varieties of Religious Experience), Henri Bergson (Two Sources of Religion and Morality), Joseph Campbell (Hero with a Thousand Faces), and the writings of Abraham Lincoln, Carl Jung, Arnold Toynbee, and Abraham Heschel.
The learning acquired during this exciting, wonder-filled time advanced my selfawareness and my understanding of the world. During this transitional period, however, my parents, who lived in Manhattan and visited me several times in San Francisco, became concerned with the changes they perceived in me. That I was living on my meager savings and not "gainfully employed" upset them. Perhaps more important, my newfound spiritually centered beliefs and vegetarian practices challenged them in ways they couldn't handle. We were at loggerheads: if one side was right, the other had to be wrong, and neither side was willing to compromise.
The situation seemed to call for a parting of the ways, at least for a time. But my parents weren't willing to back off.
They attributed the rift between us to my having a mental disorder. The changes I regarded as positive they regarded as symptomatic of "mental illness." They urged me to consult a psychiatrist. I had done some reading in psychology but, while finding a number of valuable ideas, had rejected its overall approach as being too narrow-psychotherapy was not for me. For more than two years the struggle between my parents and me intensified. Eventually, because I wouldn't see a psychiatrist, my parents decided to force the psychiatrists on me. The way that was and still is being done in our society is by commitment, a euphemism for psychiatric incarceration. I was locked up at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco on October 17, 1962.
During the same week that the world's attention was focused on the Cuban Missile Crisis and the possibility of nuclear war, two physicians in a San Francisco hospital were focused on me and the possibility of my being mentally ill. They decided I was and gave me a "tentative diagnosis" of "schizophrenic reaction. …