"I have so much anger towards heroin. I've lost a lot of friends to it."
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For the past five years, 27-year-old “Nate”—a computer security professional in the Philadelphia area —has been a confidential informant, helping local police take down heroin dealers in and around the city. Working with his handler “Bill,” a narcotics detective, he participates in undercover controlled drug buys and feeds cops information about dealers, some of whom, he figures, wouldn’t hesitate to put bullets in him if they knew he was dropping a dime on them. Here’s Nate’s story in his own words.
I was driving with my friend and got pulled over for speeding. I was 22. The cop immediately wanted to know if there was weed in the car—my friend set me up. The cop who pulled me over was a jerk, but Bill showed up and talked to me like I was a human being. He was cool. I didn’t have enough weed for a dealing charge, but did get a possession charge. Bill was like, “Hey, we can work together on this…,” you know, become an informant to get out of charges. I was like, “No, I’m not into that. I don’t want to do that.”
I took the charge and ended up getting probation. Later on, Bill called and asked me to come down to the station. Once I got down there, he wanted information. He said he didn’t care about weed; he was after the heroin and opioids. Some of the guys I knew, they were dealing that stuff. He saw I was friends on Facebook with a lot of the guys he was looking at. He knew what was up. He pretty much just needed somebody on the inside to really get these guys. I told him from the beginning I wasn’t going to set up anybody who just deals weed, but I was onboard with heroin.
I have so much anger toward heroin. I’ve lost a lot of friends to it. I’ve had people who were friends all my life that got hooked on it, and their downfalls were so quick. I was hooked on opiates for a while, which were prescribed to me a while back for back pain. I quit cold turkey. It was hard. Weed definitely helped me with the withdrawal. I could have easily ended up going to heroin like my friends, but I never went down that route, thank God. That’s the biggest problem our community has, the heroin and the opioids, so I wanted to do something about it.
I told Bill I wouldn’t set up any friends, and I wouldn’t wear a wire. He was cool with both. I had good information. Everybody pretty much knows and trusts me around here. Nobody would suspect me of anything. I’ve had a lot of friends who are heroin addicts who would pretty much tell me everything. It would come up in conversation, and a lot of times out of my own curiosity I’d find out who’s selling what and who’s really into the game.
I was a little nervous doing the first buy, but I knew that dealer was trash, so I didn’t let it get to me. You have to conduct yourself in a certain way. Dealers will pick up on even the littlest things. But I know how it’s done because I’ve bought drugs plenty of times. That first one was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I was on his porch, I smoked (weed) with him, did the (heroin) buy, and took off. That’s pretty much how it works. I trust Bill to watch my back. I do the buy and then walk away and keep walking until somebody comes and picks me up. Then my job’s done, and it’s up to the cops to make their case.
Sometimes it’s been really intense. One guy, I had it all set up, the cops were there, I was waiting outside his house like 40 minutes, and he was in his room getting high. He wouldn’t come out. I didn't know what to do. I wasn’t planning to go inside. But his mom came out and said, “Why you waiting out here? Come in.” I probably shouldn’t have, but I did. The uncle comes down the stairs, and he had a gun and was freaking out, screaming, “Who’s this guy? Who’s this guy!?’” He was messed up, and I really thought he was gonna shoot me, but I talked him down, and then the (dealer) came out of his room and was stumbling around. He didn’t even have a bag for my heroin; he just dumped it in my hand.
Times like that, your heart is racing. You feel it in your chest. But you can’t show it. I try to laugh, crack jokes, lighten the mood. But it can go wrong in a hurry. I’ve had a friend go into somebody’s house (to buy drugs), and they put a gun to his head and made him smoke a lot of crack to prove he wasn’t a cop. That could happen to me, but I’m a good talker. I will say anything and everything to get out of it. I try not to think (of excuses) ahead of time because that takes you out of the moment, and it’ll be suspicious. I try to go with the flow.
It’s an adrenaline rush, and I love an adrenaline rush. It brings up a lot of different emotions you’re not used to feeling—nervousness, excitement, that sense that something can go wrong at any point. It’s like bungee-jumping. I’ve been bungee-jumping a few times in Africa. Over there it’s a little crazy—there aren’t the safety regulations like here, so it’s like, ‘I dunno if this rope’s gonna snap or not…’ It’s a calculated risk.
I don’t take it to heart being thought of as a “rat.” I’m doing good for my community. I’m not doing this to get out of charges. I’m not putting my problems on somebody else. I’m not getting paid for it. People are volunteer firefighters, right? It’s basically the same thing. I can’t be a cop. I have a (criminal) record, and I don’t like guns. And I don’t like cops. Bill’s the exception. I just don’t want heroin in my community. Even when (dealers) knew I was trying to get off opioids they would text me whenever they got new product. They’d push it on me because if I were to ever use, I'd be a hell of a customer for them. It’s like, OK, you’re going to ruin my life because you wanna make some money off me? They’re the bad guys, not me.
My friends don’t know I do this. I guess if (dealers) put two and two together, I could be in trouble. If I keep doing this, eventually I’ll get to a point where I’ll start getting nervous and paranoid, and then maybe I’ll have to stop. But I’ve never slipped. I feel confident I haven’t done anything to give anyone a reason to suspect me at all. If it happens, and someone wants to take me out, it sucks but that’s life, and I gotta take it like a man. I’ve done my part. I know there’s risks involved, and any outcome is on me. I accept that 100 percent. I’m not afraid to die.
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