How would you feel if you were sentenced to five years in federal prison for a few ounces of marijuana? Angry? Bitter? Vengeful? Whatever your feelings, it would change your life, as it did for Bruce Rubenstein who walked out of prison with enough inside information and contacts to become a prize-winning, best-selling, True Crime author. His book, The Family That Couldn’t Sleep at Night and Other True Stories of Murder and Mayhem, is a well-written, spell-binding compilation of eight of the hundreds of articles Bruce has written over several decades.
When you read this book, start at the end, because the ninth story—Bruce’s personal story—is just as captivating as the others. I don’t know how Bruce made prison seem funny, but “A Note On My Sources” is a mostly hilarious recounting of his prison years and a good introduction to the tight, wonderfully descriptive stories that fill the rest of the book.
Bruce was a protester/hippie in the 60s. A party in a hotel in Mexico ended with a little extra marijuana. The hotel had just been vacated, perhaps by Timothy Leary who was in Mexico looking for psychedelic mushrooms. Bruce thought about throwing away the marijuana but decided he “…didn’t want the fiesta to end.” Without that admittedly bad decision, we wouldn’t be reading stories by Bruce Rubenstein and, perhaps, four men in Chicago would still be in jail.
Asked later by a friend why he didn’t just wade across the river to enter the U.S., Bruce had no answer. But when the customs man said “step over here” Bruce knew he was in trouble. He was taken to the Webb County jail in Laredo, Texas and charged with violating the Marijuana Tax Act, possession and smuggling. As the days went by, Bruce grew hopeful that he would just be tried on the Tax Act charge and get off with probation. But no such luck. Five years for a few ounces of weed.
Bruce was given thirty days to get his affairs in order before having to report to federal prison. There were no direct flights to Minneapolis so he connected through Chicago. As they were landing, suddenly the engines revved and the plane climbed. The pilot announced that there was “a little problem with the landing gear.” Bruce saw his chance.
“A woman began sobbing a few rows away. The man next to me had our mutual armrest in a death grip. I silently rooted for a crash, from which I saw myself emerging miraculously whole, swapping wallets with the smoldering remains of one of my fellow passengers and running for dear life.”
No such luck—the plane landed safely. Thirty days later Bruce surrendered to U.S. Marshals, was led away in chains, and was transported to the Federal Correctional Institution at Sandstone, Minnesota. A few ounces of marijuana had resulted in hard time.
Bruce’s account of prison life is studded with the names of people who became the sources for his crime investigations. Joe Valachi and confederates of Jimmy Hoffa and Sam Giancana provided fodder for a writing career.
“The Milwaukee Avenue Massacre” was first printed in Chicago Magazine and tells the story of four Mexican immigrants convicted of a homicide they did not commit. Bruce’s investigation led to them being freed and Bruce receiving an award from the Chicago Bar Association. A tale of modern-day piracy and murder, “Danny’s Boat” involves one of America’s oldest and wealthiest families and a double agent for the Mafia and the CIA. And Bruce writes about one of Hollywood’s most dangerous stalkers in “Star Stalker.”
I was captivated by Bruce’s writing and amazed at the famous names that were part of the stories. The Rolling Stones, Sam Giancana, Fidel Castro, Meyer Lansky and Olivia Newton-John are only some of the cast of characters. Remember those few ounces of marijuana? The stories in the book are amazing, and so is Bruce’s.
Bruce did his time with a remarkable outlook filled with humor, and he passes that along in his writing. His story-telling left me wanting more and hoping that there will be another compilation from his hundreds of stories. Have fun with The Family That Couldn’t Sleep At Night. And after you read, please go back to Amazon and give it a review. Those are gold!