Yesterday, prior to my trip up the river to visit my old friend Michael Alig, I posted a status update on facebook: “Off to visit Michael Alig in the joint….. Oooh it makes me wonder.” The ensuing firestorm of comments of support, disgust and dispute continued all night and into this morning. The concept that “clublic” enemy number one, the notorious party monster, will once again walk amongst us evokes serious emotional reactions. Michael told me that he will most likely be released sometime between this August and October. Comments on my facebook page ranged from “Thank god” to “God damn him to hell forever.” Many reported the facts of the case, many chose to remember a Michael before the drugs and infamy. I have been on this emotional roller coaster for many years. Michael has, before and during his incarceration, been a friend and a betrayer, a partner and an enemy, someone to admire and someone who disgusts me. I was joined in the visit by Larry Seidler, who flew in from San Francisco to meet me and mete out tough love to our friend in that tough prison.
My last visit to Mike coincided with a drug relapse and a web of lies that left me angry and more than disappointed. I am always asked how I can still believe in this person, after putting so much faith and effort into him, only to be betrayed again. Larry and I talked about this during the three hour drive through scenic New York. Those of us who knew Michael “from before” remember the brightest kid around.
I have met a lot of people–movie stars, stadium level musicians, fashion gods and CEOS. I have hobnobbed with aristocracy, broken bread with serious street peeps, listened to real live wise guys speak of the way things work. I have seen many creative types whose energies have shaped our culture. In all these years, and after all that exposure, I have never met anyone with Michael’s creative vision. Yep, I just said that. Those who knew him, before the drugs and silly power games ate him up and spit him out–and half the scene with him–knew a brilliant young man who rivaled Warhol in his vision of shaping a society through a creative movement. This was all wiped out long before Michael’s murder victim Angel Melendez was. The whole affair has been documented in books and films and all have been somewhat accurate, except for what it was like to converse with him. Macaulay Culkin at times hit him on the nose, but the intelligence of Mike never made it to the screen.
Michael gave “good meeting.” He was as sharp as anyone in any room. He was charismatic, fun and absolutely on it. Larry and I, and those who have written or visited him over the years he has been incarcerated, are always worried about which Michael will be there when he finally hits the street. We, and others who have been more involved than us, hope that Michael will re-enter society with a desire to give back to it and be a positive influence.
Those of us who stand by him seem to fall into two categories. Those who remember him when and those who follow him in a creepy Charlie Manson/Squeaky Fromm like way. The cultists have over the year been a driving force in his life. There were times when only they stood by him. The letters, some money and the spiritual support they offered him helped him survive thousands of lonely and horrific days.
Larry and I discussed with Michael yesterday that the best thing he can do for these people is to let them know that the Michael that they worship and that so many of his detractors hate is long gone. As I sat with Mike, now in his 40s, it is evident that he is now a man. We spoke of distancing himself from some of the core values of the club kid movement, without squashing the creativity at its core.
Michael is a living example of ‘what not to do.” Drugs destroyed so much of him, took away so many years of his life, not to mention the destruction he wrecked on others. The heinous crime and the fall from grace happened 14 years ago. Michael has never used a computer or a cell phone. Yesterday, Larry and I explained how they work, and about facebook and the new world he will be walking into. He is obsessed with the iPhone and how you use your fingers to move the screen and access information. He is obsessed with reality TV and the state of our creative culture. He has had little or no access to the technology of the 21st century.
Michael has a job and a place to live with responsible adults when he walks out. In his last months in the can he is deep into self-help programs. AA, NA and therapy are part of his daily routine. He is drug free. He is smart and aware and getting in shape. He is unbelievably remorseful. This may have come late but it has come. He cannot forgive himself for what he has done. He is so saddened by the pain he has caused. He seeks to devote a great deal of his time to helping others. He doesn’t want to be the leader of the club kids or be involved with drugs or any of that again. He is no longer a kid, but, indeed, a middle-aged man with a bald spot like mine. He hopes that doing good deeds will make people accept him in society again. He doesn’t expect or seek forgiveness. He doesn’t know what to do or say to the family of Angel Melendez, knowing full well that words will not bring back his victim.
He spent a long time telling me that back in the day, when he was cooperating with the Feds, he did not try to tape record me saying self-incriminating things. Michael was trying to “flip” me, get me to testify against Peter Gatien. Without my testimony Peter would indeed beat the drug conspiracy rap, which was then wrapped around me. Sure, I’ll believe Mike. He has told me a second by second account of the murder, the details of the drug binge that followed, the cutting up of his victim and the attempt to cover it all up and then avoid prosecution. If he would tell me all this, why, at this point, would he lie about that? Either way, I forgive him. I understand first hand the pressures he was under to help the Feds. He was a different person then than he is now. I am a different person. We are all different people…except for Angel who never had a chance to change, to grow, to be rehabilitated and reconsidered.
I have climbed out of the abyss. I have changed and been changed by my ordeal Michael has changed. He isn’t the cute kid from before, or the drug crazed demon, murderer and manipulator. A judge ruled a long time ago that he would serve a long sentence in a horrible place for what he did. He has served this sentence and during this time has had his ups and downs. We, in the perfect world, have also had our ups and downs. In the joint things can get exaggerated, escalate dramatically. Now it’s almost time for the world to embrace one of its lost souls again. Those who choose not to forgive must be respected, but those who will give from themselves and find forgiveness must be respected as well. I will be there when he walks out into the sun. I will give him another chance. There are many things that have driven me to this decision. One of the reasons is that so many of you have forgiven me, have supported me and helped me create a new life for the guy who used to be Steve Lewis.