What Fracking and Oxycodone Taught Me About Life Choices

What are the small transgressions that turn nice people into criminals? To find out, we asked a fracker turned convicted drug dealer.

by Charlie Braithwaite
Apr 14 2015, 12:05am

Illustrations by Michael Hili

I read a lot of tabloid crime. Not for the gore, but because I find something captivating about the idea of a downwards slide. You know, the slide that transports nice but directionless young men (almost always young men) from small crimes to big crimes and then jail. And I always wonder, is there a common junction where people go astray?

To find out I spoke to a guy named Josh. He went from getting high at his miserable fracking job, to peddling prescription opiates through West Virginia full time. Now he's about to do two years in federal prison. To understand how he hit bottom, I got him to look at his decisions on the way down. Here's what he said.

If you can't work without drugs, get a different job

I started college studying Graphic Design. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with my life so I just kind of fucked around, doing a semester, then taking a semester off and working different jobs. In West Virginia, natural gas drilling really took off in around 2009 and I got a job repairing fracking machinery. On a daily basis we would bill the petro companies anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, so I dropped out of college to do that full time.

I was on my feet 10 hours a day, lifting heavy stuff and generally just doing physical work. At one point I ended up working over 40 days in a row without a day off. It was hard work and kind of brainless so I started getting high.

The job didn't require any drug tests, so I would usually start my day with smoking weed, snorting half a Xanax and smoking two oxycodone 30s, also known as perc 30s. I'd get my pills from this guy from Miami we called the nomad. He didn't have a home, he'd just get a script filled because it was easy to get down in Florida, and then he'd drive up to WV and sell the load.

Notice when you're becoming an addict

I once told the other guys I was going to go take a shit so if anyone has to use the bathroom they better go now. Everyone just laughed and said they were good, so I went into the stall. Later my boss wanted to know what the smell in the toilet was. Everyone else knew I went in there to take a shit so they started joking around. My boss said "Nah, it doesn't smell like shit. It smells like burnt marshmallows. Were you guys making s'mores or something?" So I tried to play it off like "Yeah I smelled that when I was in there too, I don't know what it could be." I was definitely too scared to try that again, so from then I just did my thing before work and always have a 30 and Xanax crushed up, mixed together and waiting for me to snort when I got home.

Stick to resolutions

After a while I realised I needed to quit. I've always thought that college was what I was supposed to do. My parents went, my brother and sister went, and I felt like a failure not finishing. So I went back around the same time I started to hustle with some guys from Philly. At first I'd just drive some guys who came from Philly to sell. I picked them up from the bus stop and they'd throw me some cash and a few pills. But then I started driving them to and from Philly and I became completely addicted. That's when I dropped out of college to sell.

Trust your gut

I eventually got caught because someone I thought I could trust wore a body camera on me. He'd got caught selling pills and told the police I was dealing. He made three buys for the cops and when he was trying to make the fourth I was getting kind of paranoid. The camera was on his belt buckle and he was sitting in a weird position to get me on camera. I noticed the buckle and thought it looked weird. So to test him I told him to wait at a gas station while I went to get the pills. When you take off with $300 of someone's money, they're usually antsy. They'll be texting and calling after 15 to 20 minutes like where the fuck are you?But after I got the pills I didn't give them to him, as I wanted to see how he'd react. After an hour he hadn't called, texted, or anything. I knew it was a bad sign but still I didn't leave town.

Your conscience will land you in jail

Two weeks later I got a call from a number that wasn't in my phone. It was the cops. The state police, the DEA and the FBI all had buys on me and if I wanted to get time knocked off my sentence, I needed to make buys for them and wear a wire. I told them I couldn't do it. I've always believed that if you mess up, that's on you and not someone else. I've already pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of oxycodone so I'll be sentenced at some point this summer. I'm probably looking at anywhere from 12 to 30 months in federal prison.

The power of "fuck it" is very strong

I wouldn't have considered myself an addict while I worked the gas job. Maybe mentally, but I wasn't physically addicted until I started selling. I didn't want to become an addict, but when I started messing around with the Philly guys I felt like college was a scam. I didn't want to work in fracking, and I didn't want to waste my time at college. I wasn't doing what I wanted to with my life, but then I knew what I didn't want to do. So I just decided fuck it, I'll do this as long as I can, as well as I can. The power of fuck it is very strong and not to be underestimated.

As told to Charlie Braithwaite. Follow him on Twitter

Illustrations by Michael Hili