The Entrapment of John Sinclair

Editor’s Note: John Sinclair, poet, musician, manager of the MC5 and founder of the White Panthers, died this week at 82. Here’s his friend Ed Sanders account of how John Lennon and Yoko Ono came to learn about Sinclair’s incarceration in a drug entrapment case that landed him with a 10-year sentence for the possession of two “thin” joints. –JSC


By the fall of 1971 I had just gone through two very intense years writing my book on the Manson group, The Family.  I was upset that my friend the poet and cultural leader John Sinclair had been in prison in Michigan now for over two years, sentenced to ten years for giving a couple of joints from a cookie jar in Detroit to an undercover police officer who’d been posing as a hippie.  I decided to raise my voice in protest.

While researching my book, I had been on the staff of the excellent alternative paper, The Los Angeles Free Press, writing articles about the Manson family murder trial, which I attended for a number of months.  In the early fall, as The Family was being published, I wrote the long poem, “The Entrapment of John Sinclair,” which a Free Press staff member printed in its entirety.

John Lennon read “The Entrapment of John Sinclair,” and decided to do something about Sinclair’s very very unjust sentence, “Ten Years for Two Joints.”

Meanwhile, that same set of weeks  Lennon and Yoko Ono had decided to move to New York City.  John Lennon’s great song “Imagine” had been released in early November.   

One afternoon John and Yoko visited John Cage on Bank Street in Greenwich Village.  The drummer Joe Butler lived next door, and somehow John and Yoko learned that Butler’s storefront apartment was for rent.  The couple decided to take the place and soon they moved in.

Miriam, I and our daughter Deirdre were living in the Village about three blocks from Lennon and Ono’s newly rented apartment. I was feeling a bit burned out after a full two years investigating a creepy group of murderers and their cult.  Shortly after Lennon moved into Bank Street, I began to have problems with my home phone.  Often when I tried to make a call,  I heard a male voice with an English accent on the line.  I was investigating a creepy English cult at the time, so to hear a English voice on my line was not pleasant. The matter was soon cleared up.  The telephone company claimed that our lines were accidentally crossed with John and Yoko’s, and so we soon each had our own separate numbers.

It was around that time that Lennon read “The Entrapment of John Sinclair” in the underground newspaper and became interested in the case.  I went to a meeting with Lennon and Ono at their new apartment, where among the things discussed was doing a series of concerts across America to help Sinclair get his release from jail; also possible activities for peace at the Republican National Convention, then scheduled for San Diego in the summer of 1972.  Jerry Rubin attended this meeting.

Plans began for a major concert to demand Sinclair’s release.  On December 10, at a packed Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor which sold out in four hours, John Lennon sang a new tune, “It Ain’t Fair, John Sinclair.” Also on the bill were Stevie Wonder (with a wondrous version of “Superstition,”)  Bobby Seale,  Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, Archie Shepp, and others.  I read a section from “The Entrapment of John Sinclair.”

John was released just a few days later.  Meanwhile the infamous Division 5 of the FBI sent out a memo calling for 24/7 surveillance of the new Lennon/Ono apartment on Bank Street:

“It has come to the….. attention of this office that John Lennon, formerly of the Beatles, and Yoko Ono Lennon, wife of John Lennon, have intentions of remaining in this country & seeking permanent residence therein…. this has been judged to be inadvisable and it is recommended that all applications are to be denied. Their relationships with one (6521) Jerry Rubin, and one John Sinclair (4536), also their many commitments which are judged to be highly political and unfavorable to the present administration….  Because of this and their controversial behavior, they are to be judged as both undesirable and dangerous aliens…… Your office is to maintain a constant surveillance of their residence…..”

The government began a big project to toss Lennon from the United States.  They bugged him, and I heard they also rented an apartment across from their Bank Street place, to keep tabs on them.   John Lennon may have been a hero to 100s of millions, but the henchmen of Richard Nixon hungered to force him to undergo a political perp-walk.

For the next few years the Nixonites did their best to deport him, but, with the help of his many fans, and good lawyers, Lennon prevailed, and now his “Imagine” is played as an international anthem just before midnight for the millions watching the New Year’s ball drop on Time’s Square.

And John Sinclair still thrives.

Here’s my poem:

The Entrapment of John Sinclair

If justice ever
comes to Michigan
the people will
tremble with rage
when they hear
the tale

how a hunk of
lunatic vomit-gunge
named Lieutenant Warner Stringfellow

of the Detroit
police     narcotics    department
undertook     a scheme     lasting several months
in late 1966
in order     to entrap     John Sinclair for
smoking the peace.

In this entrapment
John gave
a bearded undercover cop
and his simulated wife, also a
undercover cop,
two thin joints
after they had begged
John for weeks
please John
please give us
some grass

John got 10
years for these
two joints
rolled as a gift.

three long years

harassed, harangued
& hated

set John up
for three arrests

in a hideous neuralgea
of events

  all for his poetry
  all for hiero-hemp
  all for his leadership
  all for his friendships
    into the face of racist
    Lieutenants twisted into

It began in ’64
John had graduated
from the University of Michigan
with a B.A. in English
class of 1964.

In the early fall
same year
enrolled in grad school
Wayne State U, Detroit
where he was writing a masters

thesis on
William Burroughs

On October 6, 1964
he was arrested for
“sale and possession of marijuana”

In those
days of October 1964 there was a laughable
State Law in fair-shored Michigan
that dealt out life imprisonment
for sale and possession of the
yellow-flowered herb.

John pled guilty to a reduced charge
and was put on probation
for two circles of the sun.

While this hassle
was shrieking,

John and friends were getting together
in the frontiers of modern music and

On November 1, 1964 John and 16 fellow
musicians and poets
formed the
Artists’ Workshop
in the city of Detroit.

It’s simply not possible
to list the
  100s of poetry readings
  100s of concerts
of tracts
    & books
& leaflets

produced by the Artists’ Workshop
in ’64 & ’65 & ’66

They soared aloft
to Charles Olson’s
Projective Verse

    and Don Allen’s anthology
The New American Poetry

  and the music of Sun-Ra and
Coltrane and Archie Shepp and
Pharaoh Sanders and Marion Brown

Picked up
that word
    in the chamber of commerce: freedom
    filled their lungs
    with freedom

wrote freedom

played freedom music

fucked in freedom
when guilt corroded the eyeballs
staring in the supermarket

hated the friendship
black and white together we shall not
be moved
    Artists’ Workshop
Hated the confident humans
puffing on
prairie peace fires
above the round
yellow screens

He hated the
free concerts

Hated the
Thursday night
poetry classes

Hated love?

Hated the
share pot
        of leaf
        pot of food.

John wrote this
in 1964

to tell of their intention
to put down radical roots
in a Michigan city

“…a conscious community of artists and lovers who
live together, work together, share all things—
    smoke dope together, dance and fuck together, and
    spread the word together everyway we can— through
    our dress, our freedom of movement, our music
    and dance, our economy, our human social forms,
    through our every breath on this planet.”

Leni & John got married
in June of 1965

In July John read
at the Berkeley Poetry Conference
at the U of California

He was the music editor of
the Fifth Estate    newspaper    Detroit

He wrote two books of poems in ’65
The Workshop grew

and Stringfellow kept
up the pressure

On August 16, 1965
after a so-called “three week investigation”
directed by Lieutenant Stringfellow
25 policemen waited outside
for a signal from a brave undercover agent

that he had been able to make a buy
of an herb used medicinally
by George Washington and
    Thomas Jefferson

After this second arrest
Lieutenant Stringfellow
was all over
the papers
issuing quotes against
John’s influence
among John’s fellow young.

      a judge
      at the Recorders Court
      gave him
      6 months
  at the
Detroit House of Corrections
  aka DeHoCo

even though prominent people
rallied to his support with
letters and pressure.

      On August 5, 1966
    John was released from the
Detroit House of Correction
& right away
resumed his frenzied activities
for poetry, socialism, pax-herb
& song-dance
not to mention

12 days
of his release
he had printed
several magazines
& a book of
his poems called
& he was off
to N.Y.
for a visit.

Enter Stringfellow.

In late Aug
or early Sept
a 41 year old    narcotics
under    cover   officer   named
Vahan Kapagian began to grow a beard
upon the orders of Lt. Warner Stringfellow

in order to try to entrap
distributors and users
of the far-famed Leaf

On October 5, 1966
Lieutenant String-penis, or whatever
his name is,
was sneaking around at night in the buildings
housing the Artists’ Workshop
on John Lodge, a street in Detroit.

John Sinclair’s apartment

He hadn’t seen John for a year.
Was two years to the day
since the String   had first
arrested him

His language was schizophrenic.
The newt-nark chuckled asking John:

“When are you gonna write
a story on me, John?”

ha  ha

And later spewing hate upon his
poet victim:

“I know what you are—
and when I get you again I’ll
drown you, you worthless prick.”

Right away
John wrote


which was
published as a book
by the Artists’ Workshop Press
2 days after Warner’d
honked into John’s apartment

On October 7-8, 1966   John and Leni and
lover-friends began to give their time and co-
operation to the rock and roll and dance
events at the Grande Ballroom,

in Detroit.  There they could
speak to people by the thousands
which must have agnewed-off the
good Lieutenant.

They sold their publications there.
They ran the light show.
They held benefits.
Began to inspire local rock bands.
In a plan to try to send out
a few harmonic quiverings
from the Iron Flower.

By the middle
of October 1966
the undercover cop Kapagian    aka

had grown a sufficient beard
& hair to look for
trusting marks.

He was hired to work
at the Candle Shop

on Plum Street,
an area of Detroit— in common
with most American cities— where
there were established those incense,
candle, dope-pipe, poster and record
shops replete with psychedelic gew-gaws.

Temporary zones of revolt and freedom.

freshly-bearded Louie the Candle Shop nark-punk
was assigned by Lieutenant Stringfellow
to attend on October 18, 1966

a poetry reading!!!
given by John Sinclair
at Lower LeRoy Auditorium
on the campus of
Wayne State University.

In his testimony at Sinclair’s trial,
Louie the Nark dredged from his ill-witted
mind that the meeting was “mixed” — as
he termed it, containing both “Negro and
white” listeners—

which must have shocked the
heroin-white Lieutenant.

On October 28, 1966
Louie the Candle Nark went
to the Grande Ballroom
      “to become part of the group of
      youngsters who were attending these
      dances”    —as he testified.

Enter a woman nark.

Jane Mumford Lovelace, aka Pat Green —her under
cover cop name— had been a Detroit Police Dept
officer for three years.  At the end of November
1966 she was assigned to the narcotics division
and was given the heroic task of infiltrator-informer.
Jane Mumford Lovelace aka Pat Green posed as
Vahan Kapagian (aka Louie the Candle Creep)’s wife,

and together
they strove
to lure John
Sinclair to sell.

Lo!  around November 30, 1966
there was an ad in an issue
of the newspaper  Fifth Estate
for a LEMAR meeting the following week

to be held at the Artists’ Workshop
plexus of community buildings
Hot Dope!  —they thought.
we can find us some set-ups
so on December 6
Louie and Pat

gamboled in tandem
to a meeting called by
John Sinclair himself to

begin a Committee to Legalize Marijuana
8 or 10 people sitting discussing planning

around a table
at 4863 John Lodge.

Kapagian wanted to see if
Sinclair would recognize him
since Kapagian had had a hand
in arresting him
in the past.

But Louie passed
the weirdness test
& he and his wife
were accepted

Sell us some grass John.

The Artists’ Workshop
Trans-Love Energies
in late ’66
Sell us some grass John.
Kapagian and Lovelace infiltrated LEMAR
assisted w/ typing
putting together booklets
sweeping up the place

saw Sinclair maybe
6 times

as time oozed.

They even attended Trans-Love communal dinners
on Sundays
One time they even brought along
some fried chicken.

Sell us some grass John.

On December 20, 1966
was helping
to type
at Trans-Love

“The person (not John) who seemed to be in charge” —
  according to Louie’s testimony
  requested that Louie come back
  on the 22nd
  to type some more
  on grass tracts

      & Louie the Nark learned that day
      that John was residing in an apartment
      up above the LEMAR meeting place.

Sell us some grass John.

On Dec 21
Kapagian again visited the Trans-Love

      & mentioned that he
      was going to go somewhere
      in order to cop hemp.

The Day of the famous
gesture of friendship
that got John   10 for 2
was 12/22/66

Lieutenant Stringfellow
and the two undercover hippie cops
along with another officer named Taylor
in the late afternoon
drove directly
in unmarked police vehicles

from police headquarters
Narcotics Bureau
to Trans-Love Energies
at 4863 John Lodge

where Stringfellow secreted himself
in an alley
4 houses west of the
Artists’ Workshop
& Taylor was stationed in another cop car
across the Freeway
facing the

Pat the Nark
remembered at the trial
that on 12-22-66
she wore
black leotardsblack mini skirt
blue sweaterblack & gold blouse

All Patrolman Louie
could remember
was that he
was clothed

The two undercover hippies
were wired to
Lt. Stringfellow’s unmarked car
in the alley
by means of a Port-A-Talk Unit
stashed in their fake hippie threads

Thus the Lieutenant
      could cop some thrill-gasms
  listening to the set-up.

Off marched Louie & Pat.
Their purpose:

Sell us some grass John.

They entered
Trans-Love to type
at 5:40 p.m.
John arrived around 7 p.m.
He said hello

John asked Kap
if he had gotten taken care

And the narcos said

Give us some grass John.

At 7:20 p.m.
John picked up his saxophone
& went to the storefront
next door to
practice with the band

& shortly thereafter
Kapagian told Mumford
to go next door
to flirt for dope

She interrupted
John who
said that later maybe
he could fix her up
then resumed the tune

& Jane went back
to the other office
to help the other cop
to type for LEMAR

An hour and 1/2 later
the hippie cops told
John they had to leave.

Give us some grass John.
Somewhat reluctantly
he took them upstairs
into his house

where Jane and Louie
sat on a cot in the
kitchen feigning

John reached up
on the shelf
& grabbed down
a brown porcelain
sugar bowl
full of Gentle.

Sinclair rolled a j
handed it to Kapagian
who handed it to Mumford
who put it
in a Kool Cig Pack

Sinclair rolled another
offering to smoke
but Kapagian
in an example of his
slovenly, crude manners
refused— some jive
about it making him dizzy

Then the two cops
with their port-a-talk unit
& alley-way monitor
told John they had to
split to the West Side
& this they did
at 9:10 p.m.

upstairs into
the new quarters
on John Lodge

still trying to buy.

On Dec 28
the cop tried again
to buy mj
from John
but John
threw that
old donut into
the air

On Jan 24, 1967
John was arrested
w/ 55 other people
in a

“campus” grass raid—
33 days after
John oped the brown crock
to give.

John brushed aside
the snarls
of nark-hate

fell back into his usual
pale blurr of total frenzy

after he was bailed out
and the months passed

He wrote a book
Meditations: a Suite for John Coltrane
in February 1967

Their beautiful daughter
Marion Sunny Sinclair
was born in May 4th

In August ’67
John began to manage
the rock band MC5

His friends
tended to forget
about the pot charge
over his head

That was the way he
wanted it— why worry.

Trans-Love moved
with the assembled families
to Ann Arbor in June of 1968

John and the MC5
were the only rock band
to show
in Lincoln Park
to play during the
Democratic National Convention
in August 68.

founded the
White Panther Party
in Nov

serving as Minister of Information.

Most of the cases
involving those arrested in the
same campus raid back in ’67
were thrown out of court.

When John
was finally tried

during the week of
the moon walk
1969 July

The charge was possession
and the penalty
was a possible
one to 10 years
in jail

On July 25     the jury found him
guilty of     possession!
      of the mandible’s quantity
      of hemp

then Judge Columbo
the fascist churl
held him over in
jail without bail
pending sentencing on
July 28, 1969
2 1/2 years
after his arrest

& in an atmosphere
of hostile publicity
given to him by
the local newspapers.

It was a fascist’s Monday
July 28, 1969

  when the trial judge
  Robert J. Columbo
  a name to remember

  sentenced John to
  jail with these words:

“John Sinclair has been out to show that the law means
nothing to him and to his ilk.  And that they can violate
the law with impunity and the law can’t do anything
about it.  Well, the time has come.  The day has come.
And you may laugh, Mr. Sinclair, but you will have a
long time to laugh about it.  Because it is the judgement
of this court that you, John Sinclair, stand committed
to the state prison at Jackson or such other institution
as the Michigan Corrections Commission may designate….”

remember his name
remember his name

“for a minimum term of not less than nine and a half nor
more than ten years.  The court makes no recommendation
upon the sentence other than the fact that you will be
credited for the two days you spent in the county jail.”

Then the judge denied bond which
would have set him free
pending appeal

& John was gone
from the set.


Putting someone
under surveillance
is easy enough

if you want
to play the
game of nark-hate

& many hours
of glum contemplation
I’ve spent

thinking of putting
Warner Stringfellow
& Judge Robt Columbo
under surveillance

to see what they
really do
with their time

buy a few black market
xeroxes of their
bank accounts

run a credit check
and property check
and a greed check

because there’s
something laughable
& sadistic going on

especially when
heroin is sold like candy
in Detroit

& drug wars
leave people shot dead
all over town

while the chief of under
cover assignments
Lt. Warner Stringfellow
    chases down a poet.

If John Sinclair
were a thug
selling heroin to grade school children
& paying bribes to police and public officials

he’d be a free man today

If John Sinclair
were a pilot for Air America
dumping polyethylene bags of opium/heroin
in the Gulf of Siam

he’d be a free man today

If John Sinclair
were shaking down bar owners
in Pontiac
forcing mafia juke boxes down scared throats

he’d be a free man today

If John Sinclair
had bayonetted Vietnamese women
or smashed off their face-skin with
bamboo mallets

he’d be a free man today
Two years after
his sentenc-

it curses our miserable death-trampled
that John should still be
enslaved in the mind of

And that’s what it is
where John lies buried
in boulders & steel

o subtle currents of power
o rainbow humans roaming like Blake-folk
set him free
set a gentle
man free.

The only answer
is pressure

and a solemn declaration
before the
boundless universe:

Love & public               & a huge screaming mob
tranquility                     outside the homes
& sharers’ bliss             of every official
for those who                who keeps
help him free                 John Sinclair in jail.

—Ed Sanders


Ed Sanders is a poet, musician and writer. He founded Fuck You: a Magazine of the Arts, as well as the Fugs. He edits the Woodstock Journal. His books include: The Family, Sharon Tate: a Life and the novel Tales of Beatnik Glory.