Around 1969, Michael Gira moved to Paris with his father, where Gira began hanging out with hippies, panhandling (though he didn't need to), and taking drugs. At one point he was jailed for several weeks in Amsterdam (as a minor) for vagrancy, abandoned by his father in hopes of teaching the young boy a lesson. After a stint at a tool factory in Germany which he chose over a prestigious school in the Swiss Alps, Gira ran away, hitch-hiking through Greece and Yugoslavia until arriving in Israel at the age of 15, selling hash first on a collective farm, or kibbutz, and later (after a near-bust) a hostel, where he was finally taken into custody by Israeli police.
Gira was incarcerated for a month and a half in Jerusalem without formal charges before a civil rights lawyer found out about his case. Released without bail, he hung out in Jerusalem, mostly panhandling or selling his blood before his trial, in which he was sentenced to another two months in an adult prison, where he depended heavily on his luck and quickly acquired shrewdness to avoid being gang-raped. Gira recollects, "Total time was only about three months, not much really, but enough to get me thinking later about TIME (one's own control of it) being the most valuable thing one can possess..." After his release, he spent nearly a year in Israel working twelve-hour days in a copper mine before being tracked down by his father with the aid of Interpol agents. Deciding he could no longer deal with his son, Gira's father sent him back to his mother in California, who was now living in the working class community of Torrance. He tried his hand at working at a plastics factory, roofing, and plumbing before jumping back into formal education. After passing a high school equivalence exam, he went to junior college to study art; later, he attended Otis Academy Art Institute (where he first met Kim Gordon, who would later go on to join SONIC YOUTH in New York), and later began publishing NO MAGAZINE with Bruce Kalberg, featuring band interviews, stories and pornography.