Trouble in the Underground
Jim Hogshire is homeless. Up until last month he had a home -- an apartment in Seattle he shared with his wife and several birds. He was preparing for the upcoming release of his new book from Carol Publishing. Jim Hogshire is a writer, and has hacked it out for everyone from the Florida tabloids to Harper's, Esquire, and GQ. He self-publishes the pharmacological zine Pills-a-Go-Go, and is also the author of witty, anti-authoritarian books like How to Sell Yourself to Science and Opium for the Masses. His reputation is sound in the often-fickle underground publishing scene, tirelessly chronicled by San Francisco's Factsheet Five magazine. But he and his wife have recently been evicted by their landlord, after a ninja-clad SWAT team stormed their home, waving copies of Jim's writing and looking for a nonexistent drug laboratory.
Letters, faxes, and e-mails of support circulate through the publishing community, listing folks from the Wall Street Journal to Playboy and Carnegie Mellon University. And while America's book industry prepares for the upcoming American Booksellers Association convention next week in Chicago, the topic on many minds is how someone's home could be raided by armed police, based only upon what that person writes for a living and an informant's letter full of confusing, contradictory information.
According to court records, the chain of events began on Feb. 10, when a writer named Bob Black stepped off a plane in Seattle. Author of several underground books, including The Abolition of Work, Black was on assignment from a New York magazine to write an article about his publisher of many years, Loompanics Unlimited, based in Port Townsend, Wash. Loompanics owner Michael Hoy had arranged for Black to stay in Seattle with another Loompanics author, Jim Hogshire, before continuing up to Port Townsend.
The evening at Hogshire's home did not go well. The two got in an argument, which ended up with Black being kicked out of the apartment. According to Hoy, Black has a long reputation for belligerent behavior: This night, Hoy contends, Black got drunk and acted like a total asshole.
Two days later, on Feb. 12, Black contacted Hoy for an interview but Hoy refused, having heard about the incident at Hogshire's home. Black returned to New York with no article. On Feb. 21, Black wrote a letter to the Seattle Police Department which began, "I am writing to inform you of a drug laboratory I learned of during a recent visit to Seattle." The letter referred to a process of manufacturing heroin from Sudafed, a pharmaceutical impossibility, and directed police to the Hogshires' apartment, listing an incorrect street name, street address, and apartment number.
Loompanics Editorial Director Dennis Eichhorn calls Black's correspondence the "all-time snitch letter."
Six days after posting the letter to the police, Black also wrote a friend, saying he had "seen to it" that Hogshire would regret his actions. Then, on March 6 at 6:44 p.m., Jim Hogshire was sitting at home, reading a book. One minute later there were two dozen masked SWAT officers in his apartment screaming, "Police, get down! Get down!" One officer shook a copy of Pills-a-Go-Go in Hogshire's face and said, "Do you publish this?" The apartment was ransacked in search of the nonexistent drug lab, and police ended up seizing books, tax records, a small collection of legal firearms, and dried poppy pods, still wrapped in cellophane from the flower shop.
Hogshire's wife, Heidi, returned home from work, and both were arrested and handcuffed. Before they were taken down to the police station, one SWAT member, shotgun across his lap, looked at Hogshire and asked, "With what you write, weren't you expecting this?"
After spending a few days in jail, the Hogshires were released on $2,000 bail each, and soon were charged with possession, with intent to manufacture or distribute, "opium poppies," which are legally available at florists throughout the United States. The two have racked up more than $20,000 in legal costs and face the threat of years in prison.
As for Black, he is rapidly losing his books' publishers and distributors. Loompanics has severed all ties with its former author.
"I don't want to be involved with the guy in any way at all," says Michael Hoy. "He did this deliberately. He thought it out and calculated it out for days, and then executed his plan to get Jim thrown in prison for getting in an argument with him, basically."
Black has offered an alternative version of the case, circulating a smug account through the zine community titled "My Date With Jim Hogshire." Black describes the scene in the apartment this way:
"He drew me into an argument ... and lost, as has everyone who's ever argued with me. Pardon my pride, but it's just fact." Black's account does not mention his letter to police, the alleged drug lab, or his reasons for writing to the cops.
Black did not respond to requests for an interview.
"He's in total denial about it," Dennis Eichhorn says.
When Jim Hogshire's case went before a judge in April, the judge immediately dismissed it for lack of evidence to support the state's charges. As of this writing, the prosecution vows to file new charges and refile the old ones. Hogshire's wife is due to appear in court later this month. She has taken sick leave from her job at the Merck pharmaceutical company, and Jim is looking at an offer from Little, Brown to publish an anthology of his writings. At this point, neither has a place to live.
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