There’s nothing quite like a searing flash of regret to make you absolutely hate yourself. You will know that feeling well, I’m sure. Your day is going alright – fine, even! – and suddenly a memory intrudes: the time you drank eight pints to “calm your nerves” before a job interview and ended up starting on the HR rep. Or, you know, similar.
Imagine, then, if your entire career was grounded in one big regret. A survey of 243 drug dealers found that 61 percent regretted their decision to get involved in their line of employment, with stress the most stated reason for that regret.
But what are the other reasons? I reached out to some drug dealers, current and retired, to suss out the roots of their regret.
Luke, 30, Cleveland, USA – former psychedelics, MDMA and Xanax dealer
My biggest regret was an incident where my friend overdosed on heroin and died. At the time I was only dealing psychedelics and MDMA, so I didn’t supply the drug, but did supply the contact. The police traced it to me and I ended doing time for involuntary manslaughter. At my trial, the judge said I was culpable for a series of events where four people went to prison and one person died. Pretty harsh.
Fortunately, I’m lucky that I don’t blame myself, and I don’t think my friend would want me to. I most regret it because I’m now finding it almost impossible to get a job – I was only 20 when this happened, and was naive about how the judicial system would treat someone who just “supplied the contact”. Now, I’m really distrusting of authority and have had five job offers retracted this month after background checks. I’m hoping to not have to start selling drugs again, but I will as a last resort.
Niko, 32, UK – former cocaine, MDMA and weed dealer, now author
I've been stabbed, scammed and robbed… but I don't really regret those. They’re all part of the game. My first regret is that, looking back, I wasn’t always an honest dealer. I was ignorant about what I sold. There was a huge MDMA drought around 2008 to 2011, but I still sold “MDMA”, not actually knowing what the contents were. I wouldn't risk my customers' lives like that now. Later, when I got a feel for things and became better connected, things like quality started coming into play. But in the early days it was more like, “I'll take what I can and be glad this coke isn’t 100 percent baking flour and speed.” Then worry about how I was going to sell it.
My second regret is the effect prison had on my family and personal relationships. It came as a total shock for my family, as they had no idea what I was doing. Also, when you’re in prison, it's like you’re dead to the outside world – life goes on but you're stuck in Groundhog Day. Once I’d got out, everyone had already moved away and started new careers. There was this girl I had an unrequited crush on. Just before I'd gone inside she broke up with her boyfriend. I thought about that constantly, and by the time I got out, after just over a year, my sense of reality was twisted enough for me to think we might get into something when I got out. You can probably guess that we didn’t.
Thomas, 23, Midlands, UK – former cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine dealer
My regret now is that I’ve given up, but I’m still struggling to get myself out of the bubble. I’ve got two-and-a-half years on probation and have a business now, but I meet girls round where I live and I’m still just the “plug”. I was fortunate growing up, but I just got caught up in it all. I never wanted to be the plug – I just wanted to be friends with people.
Ash, 21, south-west England – weed dealer
Weed is a passion of mine – and my preference for luxury product led to me getting involved in selling it. I bought designer, dispensary weed from America that cost about £90 to £100 per eighth. As the costs got higher, it became easy to buy more and move some to friends, so I could smoke for free. So, my main regret is how I’ve spent the money I earned – for the most part, all the profit went back into smoke. In nine months, I spent about £50,000. Since then, I’ve started buying cheaper product and have spent about £10,000. But for the money I’ve spent I could have kitted out a nice home studio with some top end secondhand kit.
Brad, 32, Australia – former MDMA, methamphetamine and heroin dealer
During the earlier days, my biggest regret would have been not keeping more profit for myself – I paid so much to the middle-men who did nothing, while I took the risks. It seemed like little profit for risking ten years in jail, while the Bandidos [motorcycle club] took 90 percent of profits. That said, they also offered protection and financial loans.
As I moved up the supply chain, the thought crossed my mind many times about how many individual lives I am directly impacting. I used to justify it in my head – that these street dealers would be getting it from someone else if it wasn’t from me. However, I think that justification was just to mask what my heart was feeling.
I have the most regret around the effect the dealing had on my family. I put them through two police raids, and have given them a lifetime of worry for my safety and that of my family. That feeling doesn’t really go away for me, even though I’ve stopped.
Billy, 21, Australia – cocaine and magic mushrooms dealer
I wouldn’t say I have any regrets regarding selling. I work hard in a hospitality job during the week, then make a fair bit of tax-free money outside of my rent. I was frequently doing drugs when I was going out anyway, and they cost so much in Australia – where cocaine sells for $300 to $400 per gram (£165 to £220); MDMA $160 (£90) to $200 (£110) – that I figured I might as well go out, get on and make money.