Charles Manson Today: The Final Confessions of a Psychopath

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Charlie gets up in the morning, leaves his gray concrete cell, goes to breakfast, grabs a bag lunch, comes back, naps, eats his lunch, takes another nap, paces back and forth, maybe plays a game of chess, goes to dinner, has to be back in his cell by 8:45 p.m., has no specific time for lights out. "I like my cell," he says. "It's like that song I wrote. I called it 'In My Cell,' but the Beach Boys changed it to 'In My Room.'" Manson makes this claim about "In My Room" fairly often, which is kind of ridiculous, since the song came out in 1963, four years before his release on the parole-violation conviction, but obvious fabrications like these never seem to slow him down. "Like all my songs," he continues, "it's about my heaven is right here on Earth. See, my best friend is in that cell. I'm in there. I like it."

Even so, he worries constantly about the prison's ventilator system and swears the air is killing him. He's afraid that the guards will put garbage in his shoes, just to mess with him. He says he always has to be on high alert. He has never been held in general population, always in some kind of protective-housing unit, where it's supposed to be harder for inmates to get at him, especially the fame-seekers. Even so, back in 1984, at a different prison, a guy doused him with paint thinner and set his head on fire. Right now, he has only about 15 other prisoners to contend with, among them Juan Corona, who murdered 25 people in 1971; Dana Ewell, who ordered the murder of his own family in 1992; Phillip Garrido, the rapist who kidnapped 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard and held her for 18 years; and Mikhail Markhasev, who was convicted of killing Bill Cosby's son, Ennis. So far, they seem to all get along just fine.

Charles Manson in 1980.
Mirrorpix/Courtesy Everett Collection

Manson doesn't watch much TV, although he used to like Barney Miller, Gunsmoke, and Sesame Street in Spanish. He plays his guitar and sometimes offers musical advice to fellow guitarist Corona, the serial killer. "I'm not a teacher, but I show him how to make chords and progressions." He'd listen to an old Doors or Jefferson Airplane album if he could figure out how to get his CD player working. Sometimes he'll have to leave his cell while sniffer dogs search for contraband; during a recent visit, the dogs found nothing but did leave behind a single turd, delighting Manson. He gets thousands of pieces of mail a year, more than any other prisoner. Sometimes he will send out autographs signed, "Hippy cult leader made me do it." During his time behind bars, he's committed 108 infractions. The last time, in 2011, he was caught with an "inmate-manufactured weapon" – in this case, a sharpened eyeglass stem – and thrown in solitary for a year.

In the late afternoon, he saunters over to the wall where the telephones are. His phone calls are recorded, but he can make pretty much all the calls he wants, collect only, 15 minutes at a clip, and he makes tons. I know this, because I have been on the receiving end for months now. He calls while I'm at the movies, while I'm driving, while I'm at cocktail parties, while I'm walking my dogs in the park, while I am everyplace he'll never be again.

Here's how he has begun some of his recent conversations: "Hello, hello. Are you ready? OK. There's seven steps from the death chamber of holding to the death chamber of release." "I forget – was you mad at me or was I mad at you?" "Would you come and swing upon a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar?" "Why don't you go ahead and say what's best for you, and then I'll go along with it and meet you later over on the beach." "I've got something important I'd like to explain."

Mostly, he wants to discuss the environment – "The end is on the way, baby bucks" – and what should be done about it. Once, when he was talking to me about the rightness of killing to get more air, he said, "Whoever gets killed, that's the will of God. Without killing, we got no chance." He paused, then went on, "You might want to keep that out of your paper and say to yourself, 'How can that work for me?'" At the time, I didn't think much of it. It took a while for what he was suggesting to sink in. 

Sometimes he seems lonely ("Star, Star, nobody comes to visit me but Star"). Sometimes he'll give props to Neil Young for once saying that the Manson musical style was pretty good. "He didn't play no games on me, didn't try to steal a lot of my stuff like Zappa and them others. He's a straight-up dude." And sometimes he'll try to con me.

"When we were talking once," he says, "you promised me half of it."

"Half of what?"

"Whatever you could give."

"Well, half of nothing is nothing."

"Well, half-and-half is still half. Like one and one is still one. See, you've been confused, honey. You didn't know you was my wife? I recognize you."

I change the subject, the way you sometimes have to do with him, bluntly, with no social niceties, and tell him I'm suffering from a bad case of poison ivy. He brightens right up and admonishes me to go soak my blisters in apple-cider vinegar. "I had fungus on my feet and tried everything and nothing worked until Star sent me this apple cider. It's some miracle stuff, man!"

Then he'll get irritated about something and start shouting, "I'm an outlaw, I'm a gangster, I'm a rebel, I'm a desperado, and I don't fire no warning shots," which always makes me smile, because it's a pretty comical thing to say about yourself.

You may not want to know about his sex life, but he'll tell you anyway. "You think I'm too old to jack off. You think, 'He's too old to fuck his pillow.' But I'm not. I'm still active with my roscoe. I'm still me."

Vincent Bugliosi
AP Photo

He reserves a goodly amount of venom for Bugliosi. "He knows I'm too stupid to get involved in something of the magnitude of Helter Skelter. So how could he convince himself of that for all these years? He made the money, he won the case. He's a winner! He got over! He's a genius! He took 45 years of a man's life for his greedy little grubby self. And he's going to go to his deathbed with that forever on his conscience? Is there no honor in him at all?"

And then he'll go on again about how he has no sympathy for any of the Tate­LaBianca victims, especially not Sharon Tate. "It's a Hollywood movie star. How many people did she murder onscreen? Was she so pretty? She compromised her body for everything she did. And if she was such a beautiful thing, what was she doing in the bed of another man when that thing jumped off? What kind of shit is that?"

Finally, he'll pull out the old time-tested Jesus trope and say, "I don't think you understand the gravity of the situation, man. How can you interview Jesus when He's dying on the cross?" Or he'll say, "Don't ask why they crucified Christ, ask why are they crucifying Christ." And if I scoff at that, he'll get all puffed up again and say, "When you come face to face with me, you're only you. I don't give a fuck what you are. I'll take you. Put you in the grave. What're you going to do about that, jitterbug? Who's protecting you, sweetheart?"

This is how he spends his days. This is how he will spend them until the end.

"Well, I got to go," he says. "Get back with you later."

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