Life’s A Joke

INDIVIDUAL: agent Charlie Vurmin
GROUP SIZE: Approximately 56 million
NATURE OF GROUP: The people of the state of California vs. Charles Twain Clemans AKA Charlie Vurmin
INCIDENCE: Life’s A Joke


Chuck in 2001 – 6 years into a 28 year prison sentence. Inscription on the back of photo reads, “To my friends at the Institute! Although I may look like a 43 year old drunk I.R.A. terrorist, I’m just a nice guy who got loaded and shot four people, oops…  Love Charlie Vurmin 2001.” Photo credit: California Department of Corrections


Circa 1995 IS stickers Chuck screenprinted for IS

Charlie Vurmin was a notorious early ’90s Pacific Beach punk in San Diego, California and one of the first dozen Institute of Sociometry agents. Chuck came into our circle through the pernicious influence of skateboarding. On a sojourn to a famous grade-school playground skate spot in suburban San Diego Chuck made a lasting impression on us, and everyone at the playground – from “hardened” suburban skaters to dads-and-daughters out shooting hoops – by taking a broad daylight bowel movement on the concrete embankment.

Not long after, he taught IS how to screenprint the “I Have Been Institutionalized” bumper stickers for our first tranche of IS agent starter kits. The screenprint lesson turned out to be prophetic as two years later Chuck would be sentenced to a 28 year with no possibility of parole prison stint. Now, 20 years into his sentence, Chuck is a fully reformed and sober member of the California “Human Storage Warehouse,” serving out the twilight of his sentence at the Norconian, a former luxury hotel and current minimum security prison in Norco, California made famous on the cover of the terrible Eagles album Hotel California. Chuck has routinely supplied the Institute of Sociometry with illustrations, including handdrawn birthday cards for all 300+ agents for circa 2002’s birthday gift distro.

The illustrations in this report are Chuck’s.


One of 300 hand drawn birthday cards Chuck donated to IS in 2002

Chapter I: Life’s A Joke!

This is a reprint of agent Vurmin’s 1998 letter telling IS the story of how he ended up in prison:


My name is Charlie Vurmin and this is my story of how I ended up in prison. I am 28 years old and curently serving a 28 year sentence for four attempted murders and various gun charges. It all started in 1995 when my soon-to-be wife Julie was seven months pregnant and I had a fine job as a silkscreener for a prominent skateboard clothing company. I had a nice house, two dogs, a car, and many friends. Little did I know all of these things and more were about to disappear like a turd being flushed down the toilet.

Things were going very smoothly both at home and work; but, being faced with the intense responsibility and pressure of raising my future child, I accepted a lucrative business opportunity that was sure to increase my earnings three fold. This was the first of many mistakes I made while steering my boat into a “Bermuda Triangle” of disasters. At first it seemed my new business venture was a success because I had earned $3,000.00 in just two weeks, but this was the first and the last of the money I would see from my new “job.” Needless to say, it was foolishly spent on a new stereo.


It is absolutely phenomenal how this drastic chain of events would come crashing down on me within the next six weeks, leading to my quick demise. Having squandered all my money with rent coming up, I was under a considerable amount of stress. Things at home became tense and the soon-to-be wife and I began arguing quite a bit. My car was the first thing to go, after my job, because it was unregistered, and the nice Mr. Tow Truck Driver was more than happy to relieve me of this burden. Then, my two dogs, whom I loved very much, escaped from my yard. Like my car, they were unregistered and the animal control wanted several hundred dollars before they would release them from their compound. At this point, I still had a little money but not enough to liberate both the car and the dogs and to pay rent.

This is where the home front became so filled with daily arguments that my soon-to-be wife decided it would be better if she sought other residence while I tried to reverse the effects of the dominoes. The day my rent was due had come to pass. Being overwhelmed by the current events, I realized this only when that ugly “pay up or move out” notice was taped to my door. At this time I had achieved eighteen months of sobriety from alcohol. This was the next, but not the last, domino to come crashing down. Never assume things can’t get any worse, because no matter what they can and will! I decided if it were ever Miller Time, now was the time for a Miller. One beer led to another until a few weeks had passed and I was reduced to a sponge-like blob, absorbing any liquid I suspected of containing alcohol. Consuming your own weight in alcohol every day is no easy task, so I turned to my friend crystal methamphetamine for help. She is a cruel bitch, but she did a supreme job of helping me wage my war against reality. I was so completely disgusted with myself by now that I was almost beyond help. With my “still” soon-to-be wife’s advice, I went to a state psychologist and requested to be “institutionalized.” He asked me if I was going to kill myself or others, and the answer was no; so, he couldn’t do anything more than prescribe an antipsychotic that was not to be used with alcohol. Seeing as how I was obviously drunk when he gave me the prescription, I didn’t take him seriously and figured it wouldn’t hurt to toss back a few coldies with my new pills. Bad idea, believe me, antipsychotics, alcohol, and meth being the most lethal combination of drugs currently known to mankind! It should be no surprise that this made me feel more psycho, warranting the need to up the daily dose of the innocent looking pills. With my alcohol and crystal meth intake also on the rise I was like a choo-choo train two choos away from a disaster.


One dark and grim night, the 2nd of October, 1995, I was completely inebriated on the aforementioned combination of drugs, plus about seven valiums to add effect, when I stumbled upon a party. I quickly sniffed where the keg was and asked for a beer and was promptly beaten up and ejected from the party. These unsuspecting people could not have picked a worse person, at the time, to beat up. Getting beat up lit my fuse and sent me into a temporary psychosis that resulted in me going home to get my RIFLE and returning to the party to shoot the four people I thought guilty of attacking me. Luckily, I didn’t kill anyone.

To make a long story short, I was arrested fifteen minutes later and eventually sentenced to 28 years in the state’s “HUMAN STORAGE WAREHOUSE.” PRISON! My release date is “2019” and good time does not apply to me because of a neat new violent predator law. I write you this story not because I seek sympathy, but because it is a clear example of the fact that when you masturbate with the hand of fate expect the worst because life is a JOKE!



Chapter II: Mr. Ivanov & Chapter III: Return To Sender have previously been published on this site as separate reports. Though they are a digression from this central narrative they certainly open a window into how one can still be creative and have some fun as an imprisoned is agent!


Chapter IV: Still waiting for the punchline…

This is a reprint of agent Vurmin’s 2016 letter updating is on his Life’s a Joke philosophy:

Greetings faithful Institute agents and pedestrians. The provocative agitators at is have requested a follow up, 18 years after my original report. So yeah, I’ve been in prison now for 20 friggin’ years straight, for my abominable crime of attempted genocide.

Let me tell ‘ya, it’s really all just one big blur of similar memories; wake up, go to chow, go to the main yard, go to job assignment, go back to the chow hall for dinner, watch a little T.V., go to bed and repeat. The odd thing about this mundane routine is that I do all of this with gang members – Bloods/Crips, Skinheads, Mexican Mafia etc. – drug addicts and dealers, sex offenders, the mentally ill and other discarded trash from society. So, things don’t always go smoothly. Just walking to chow can result in tear gas, pepper spray, and shrill war cries from whatever competing group is trying to kill another. I’ve been through a lot and there’s something in my survival skills that prevents me from really dwelling on how insane my reality is. Instead, I just shuffle along and try to make the best out of each day and the limited resources available. Of course I’m not a mental ninja so I constantly slip into the, “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” syndrome and obsess on all the things I’ve missed; my daughter growing up, my wife who fell apart as a result of my arrest, daily “free people” life that I used to really take for granted, and on and on and on. Daydreaming about everything I’m missing in life is like an itchy rash on my leg. I’m not supposed to scratch it but it feels intoxicating when I do. It’s quicksand, the more I think about what I don’t have, the more I don’t appreciate what I do have.

So, let me share some of what I do have. First and foremost, I still have my sanity, sorta’… I’m a bit of an anxious/nervous wreck but I can handle it… I have my health and I have 16 years of sobriety. I have an amazing relationship with my daughter and father, and more friends than I deserve. I learned how to play guitar in prison and I cherish that as a medicinal healing tool of soothing sound waves that I enjoy everyday. I learned how to draw and tattoo in prison and that’s also a good outlet. Most unexpectedly, I fell in love with the Native American spiritual path. All of my life I’ve been a militant atheist to the extreme. All the major religions are just embarrassing when they claim to have facts, when clearly they are all man-made fabrications of their primitive and limited imaginations. At the same time, in all my atheist ramblings I’ve always been in awe of nature and physics and science. I love real explanations, that’s comforting to me. But, some things have yet to be explained. Like when I touch an old tree, why do I feel a vibration of energy? I don’t even want an explanation. I just dig it. So, when I started poking around the Native American sweat grounds, as an atheist misanthropic white man, it was a bit awkward and uncomfortable for everyone, especially the Indians.


At the surface, I still do adhere to my theory that “life’s a joke.” I really do. I also pride myself on the acceptance that my opinions are always in flux. My opinions will never be fully refined and ready for shelving. So, currently my opinion is that my life really does seem to be a joke in that it’s a grueling drudgery of mundane routines. We are all balancing on a slippery slope and it seems that most life on Earth is this quick cycle (consume, reproduce, die…) and along the way, you should try to enjoy the show. I’ve come to realize that even bacteria is a miracle and lucky to be alive and so am I. It’s just a quick fleeting spark when anything gets to experience life. Some do it in Beverly Hills, some do it in the slums of Tijuana eating garbage, some do it as a single cell protozoa amoeba. All life is a miracle and even my seemingly worthless existence is sacred and with purpose. I am not clear what my purpose is, but my current plan is to be a good earthling, respect Mother Earth and all living things, slow down and pay attention to what the vibrational energies of the universe are communicating. Maybe one day I’ll figure out my purpose and then life won’t seem like a joke.

In 2017 Charlie found out he will soon be eligible to be released to a half-way house to serve the remainder of his sentence. To be continued…


This report was written by agent Charles Twain Clemans. A version of the 1998 letter was published in 1999 as a zine in an edition of 25 and featured at Sociometry Fair 2000 in Denver, Colorado. The 2016 letter is published here for the first time.

Chapter I and IV of this report were most recently published in is EMANCIPATION a 130 page book with 2-color letterpress covers printed and hand-bound with a Japanese stitch in an edition of 200. is EMANCIPATION is a 21 year anthology of art intervention and prank collective The Institute of Sociometry edited, designed, and partly authored by Peter Miles Bergman and edited by MCA Denver Curatorial Associate Zoe Larkins. 


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