Happy Medium

From Merlin to Charles Dickens, the spirits of the late and the great are all present at the party in magician-channeler Lawrence Furman's head

Furman felt something altogether different inside him as his uncle and mother drove him -- after consulting a psychiatrist -- to a nearby state mental hospital. He saw unreal beings floating by in another dimension, heard voices popping in and out of his head. Once at the hospital, no one told him he was being committed. After he found out, he tried to escape, at which time five orderlies jumped him and carried him away down the hallway.

"He was crying and screaming, 'Mom, why are you doing this to me?'" his mother remembers. "It just broke my heart."

Eventually he was transferred to a fancier private hospital. On his first night there, he was placed in a room next to a patient who was receiving shock treatment, and something went terribly wrong. As Furman lay scared in bed with the curtain closed around him, he heard a wild commotion nearby as the middle-age patient went into convulsions. Suddenly the man broke out of his restraints, lunged through the curtain, and fell on top of Furman.

"His tongue was hanging out, his eyes were rolling around, and he was bouncing on top of my chest," Furman recalls. Lawrence screamed, but his body was so immobilized by fear and shock that no sound emerged. It was an inward scream that no one ever heard, and the terror of that night drove him further into himself.

His horror at life inside the hospital only mounted. He stayed for months each time he was admitted, but even all the Thorazine and other antipsychotic medications could not quiet his fear of what was being done to him, particularly the 30 or so shock treatments he underwent over the years. After each he awoke wracked with pain. "I felt they were killing me piece by piece," he says.

When Furman turned eighteen, hospital authorities determined he was ready to be released, and he moved to Cincinnati to take up the semblance of a normal life. He enrolled briefly at a university there, meeting girls and doing odd jobs. But Lawrence Furman had visions inside him that made normal life almost impossible.

The breaking point came after he decided to enlist in the army, seeking to realize his vague ambitions to be a doctor by receiving training as a medic. After completing basic training, he went to an armory in Chicago, expecting to get his medic instruction there. When he arrived the commanding officer bluntly told him he wasn't going to receive the training, and ripped up his papers with sadistic glee. Furman went berserk. He isn't sure what happened next A he believes he may have tried to throw someone out a window. However, when he awoke he found himself in a straitjacket, face down in the rear of a paddy wagon, being brutally clubbed on the head and legs by an MP. He prayed to God for help. Then something truly magical happened.

He felt himself leaving his body and flying into the comforting arms of an angel. In his mind he was crying over the horrible scene below, longing for the help of his parents, yet he felt no physical pain. "Learn to call on me," the angel whispered to him. (It was that same angelic presence, which called itself Clarisse, that he encountered years later during his meditation in Hawaii.) "My safety," he realized at that moment, "isn't in this world."

With a sudden snap, almost like a stretched rubber band hitting a book, he returned to the real world and felt the pain all over his body. Later he was flown, handcuffed, to a military prison hospital at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. He spent many long weeks inside, writing desperate letters to his mother asking for help in getting released. She reports receiving letters that were so heavily censored she had no idea that anything was wrong -- or even where he really was.

He was the lowest of the low in the army's hierarchy, a barefoot mental patient with PRISONER stenciled across his pajama uniform, a sitting duck for any soldier who wanted to scare the wacko by pulling a gun on him for fun. He prayed to God for help in getting out of there, and one day he got it.

It all started when he decided he was just going to walk out of the place and get some apple pie, one of his favorite dishes. Early one morning, when everyone was going to the mess hall for breakfast, he slipped out of line and left the building. He ended up standing next to one of two chainlink fences topped by barbed wire. He started climbing. In between the two fences was a narrow path reserved for the dogs that usually patrolled the perimeter. By pushing off the first fence, he was able to leap the small distance to the second one, and began climbing down. This was 1969, in the middle of Texas during the political frenzy over the Vietnam War, and here he was, shoeless, in his prisoner pajamas. "If anyone had seen me they would have shot me," he says. "I just started walking."

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