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Being a Customs Officer with a Drug Habit Is Stressful

At work I'd be confiscating drugs, outside I'd be taking them. As you can imagine it made me very depressed.

by David Benge
30 March 2016, 12:00am

Ecstasy pills, this customs officer's drug of choice. "At work, I would be confiscating drugs, and outside of work, I would be partying." Photo via YouTube

Ecstasy pills, this customs officer's drug of choice. "At work, I would be confiscating drugs, and outside of work, I would be partying." Photo via YouTube

This post originally appeared on VICE Australia and was told anonymously to David Benge.

I grew up in small town New Zealand. Nothing out of the ordinary. I liked to skate. I liked to draw and paint. Drugs weren't really a thing when I was a teenager. I didn't even smoke weed. I was just a regular run-of-the-mill, well-behaved kid.

When I was 17, I applied for a number of different jobs. The first place that got back to me was the Bank of New Zealand to be a bank teller. On the first day, I was driving to work when I got a call from the New Zealand Customs Service. They offered me a job that seemed better than the bank one, so I accepted on the phone, then walked through the doors of the bank and quit. I was going to be a fucking customs official.

I was 18 years old, and I moved to Auckland to start out on the front line at the mail center. Our main aim was to try and find drugs. At this stage in my life, I'd still never had a drug experience, so I guess I was kind of removed from the whole process. Essentially, this shit was racial profiling. If the package was addressed to an Asian name, then we'd open it looking for amphetamines, or precursors to make amphetamines. If it was to a heavily populated European area, we'd be looking for ecstasy or MDMA. It felt pretty strange opening personal mail based purely on the simple profiling criteria supplied to us. But it was early days, and that was the job, so I did it.

Naturally, in the mail center ,we found a hell of a lot of porn. Most of it was just shitty tapes of shitty porn involving ugly people. Every now and again, there was something more fucked up though. Once I tagged a package as possibly suspicious. We were all huddled around the screen watching the usual ugly fat dude, banging some girl from behind, when from out of nowhere a blade appeared and slit her throat open. She collapsed, and the screen went black. To this day, I cannot get that image out of my head.

New Zealand Customs Service Container Inspection Unit at Auckland Port, photo via Wikipedia

I graduated from the mail center to targeted inspections at freight companies like DHL and Fedex. It was a nine to five gig. I didn't realize it at the time, but it turned out this was the best place to be. You don't have to deal with people, there's no real face to anything, and it's not personalized. That's where we got the big hauls. We'd look through large shipping containers, searching for something. Anything. You'd seize upward of 100 kilograms of meth at a time. It was a whole different ball game to the mail center where maybe you'd find a couple of grams here and there, hidden in between the pages of a letter.

Around this time, I met Sarah at a party. She was fiery, drop dead gorgeous, and a drug dealer. I didn't take drugs for the first couple of months we were together, but eventually, I started. At first it was cheap speed, a line or two here and there, and then it was MDMA.

At work, they really drilled into you that taking drugs ruins lives. By seizing drugs and preventing them coming into the country, I was contributing to the greater good of society.

As I moved further up the ranks, I had to do house raids. Nothing can quite describe the feeling of being part of a drug raid. In some ways, it's exactly like in the movies. Kicking someone's door down and chasing him down the street, with small children in the house, crying and freaking out. It wasn't until that point that I really made the connection between what I was seizing and the fact it was having an impact on real human lives. Breaking up real families. Fucking with real people.

By day, I was breaking into people's houses and seizing drug shipments. At night, I was taking the drugs that had slipped through the cracks.

Meanwhile, I was turning up to work coming down from the night before. I had begun to hate my job. I was getting high to cut off from my professional existence. By day, I was breaking into people's houses and seizing drug shipments. At night, I was taking the drugs that had slipped through the cracks.

One night, Sarah had a friend staying from overseas. He didn't know what I did for a job. He was leaving the next day and suggested that we help him finish off his MDMA before he went. It turned out it wasn't MDMA at all, but 2CP. After a couple of lines, I got dressed up in my work uniform, high as balls. No one thought it was as funny as I did.

Living this double life began to take its toll. At work, I would be confiscating drugs, and outside of work, I would be partying. I would stay up all night on ecstasy and then turn up to work without having slept to try and stop drugs coming into the country. I began to get seriously depressed. I was a complete and utter wreck, strung out, and on edge. I would have been the first to be profiled if I'd come off a flight and had to clear customs as a passenger.

I quit my job, and my life began to improve immediately. I also broke up with Sarah and started taking a lot fewer drugs. I still dabble on occasion, and I still enjoy it. I guess I'll never know whether it was the drugs or the job that was really destroying me, but the one thing I'm certain of is that the combination of the two nearly drove me fucking insane.

The most frustrating thing was that it just didn't feel like what I was doing made a scrap of difference. Having the worst case scenario of meth addiction shoved down my throat on a daily basis by my bosses, I guess whenever I seized meth, particularly in the beginning, I felt like I was making a difference. But people getting arrested and locked up for bringing in precursors to be able to make the drugs, well, it just felt like it was the wrong approach. It all felt pointless.

There's just so much money spent on customs. It feels like you're trying to build the most intense secure gate for a horse that has already bolted into the next paddock. The way it works at the moment feels like you're constantly pushing shit up hill, and more often than not arresting the wrong people. Spending that money on rehab and drug education would be a much better use of resources.