Illustration by Jay Howell
The are many reasons people deal drugs, but they are generally pretty simple. Some do it because they don't have any other way to survive. Some do it because it gives them power, or it gives them the trappings of status, wealth, and control that can result from the hustle. A few do it because it seems easier and more fun than a "normal" job. But whatever the reasons, dealing—as well as our legal system's treatment of drugs—has a way of complicating lives and relationships.
An example: I was once friendly with a dealer who was selling weed and occasionally other stuff to help pay his way through school. Regardless of his self-sufficiency, he knew that if his parents learned about his job they would most certainly freak the fuck out. When he visited home wearing expensive new clothes and other swag, they began to ask questions, and he told that that he'd gotten hired to be a doorman at a fancy, membership-only traditional gentleman's club—a well-paid gig that my then-roommate actually had.
To convince his parents the job was legit, he'd take photos in our friend's uniform and send them to his parents. He'd also borrow anecdotes from the real doorman and invent stories about how much he was tipped to explain why his pockets were so heavy.
I'm pretty sure he got away a lot of it, but the layers of lies and occasional slip-ups made him anxious and distanced him a bit from his family. He still deals today, and has to continue lying to people (his landlord, for example) to keep his career under wraps.
'Breaking Bad' is probably the best known pop-culture example of a drug merchant's life getting turned inside-out, but it happens to ordinary people the world over—though maybe not with the same level of melodrama. When you deal drugs in America you risk arrest, but you also have to deal with strained relationships with people you're intimate with, being alienated from mainstream society (not always the worst thing), and possibly suffering from mental health problems or addiction.
What follows is accounts from dealers interviewed by VICE explaining how dealing complicates their lives, and how they handle the side effects of hustling. Because they are discussing illegal activity, all are anonymous.
Sold "Everything Imaginable"
I grew up really poor but ended up going to a very wealthy high school because I was smart—Beverly Hills High School (a.k.a. 90210). Affording a $5 [€4,5] lunch was a big deal for me, while all the other kids at school were driving luxury cars and living in mansions. I wanted a piece of that, and didn't have the best home life. My childhood was pretty rough—my mom had me when she was 19, my parents were divorced, neither of them finished high school, and my dad had mental illness. Dealing was very much about survival. For me, it was a way out of my then-reality, and into coolness and money.
I started selling when I was in tenth grade by buying one gram [of weed] for $10 [€9] (I didn't eat lunch for two days so I could afford it). Then I sold it for $20 [€18]. Then I had $20 [€18] and I bought two more grams, and it went from there. Flash-forward several years, and I was selling ten to 20 pounds [9 kg] of weed—plus various quantities of every other drug you can imagine—every week and was making thousands and thousands of dollars.
At first, I didn't have to hide anything from my family. My best friend lived three blocks away from our high school in a really nice house. We kept our stash, money, and whatever else we needed to hide in his basement because his dad was cool and didn't care that we were dealing. I'd get dropped off at his house in the morning, get high, go to school, then go back and get higher before we started selling drugs out of the mansion. It was like a rich-kid trap house.
Things became obvious when I'd show up at home wearing nice clothes. My mom was literally working five jobs and I was making more money than her. I didn't even have to lie about dealing because it was so clear that I was high on drugs all the time.
That being said, she didn't know the extent of our operation—one moment sticks out when I think about how dealing fucked up my already fucked-up relationship with my mom. When I couldn't keep my stuff at my friend's house, I had a stash box at home. It was one of those Gateway computer speakers that were made out of five parts, and each one of those parts was filled with like weed, cash, coke, MDMA, etc. In California, you get what's called a "grower pound," which is when you buy from a grower and you get seven to 12 extra grams. I'd shave the extra off the pound and keep it as my personal supply.
One time, I had hid the pound in my room under a T-shirt and kept my personal stash on top of the shirt out in the open. My mom called me while my friend and I were driving around slanging, and told me she found my drugs. I freaked out and immediately went home, thinking she found the whole pound or looked in my speakers or something. When I got there, she was holding my tiny personal supply up, thinking that little Ziploc was the extent of my stash.
I immediately packed my shit, grabbed the pound, grabbed what was in my speakers, and bailed. That was the last time I lived at home until I stopped dealing. My dad ended up passing away during the peak of my career, and my mom never found out the scale of my operation until pretty much the time I stopped selling. It's been over five years since then, and my relationship with my family is very good today. I talk to my mom almost every day.
Sold Prescription Pills
In high school, I used my parent's health insurance to see a psychiatrist so I could be prescribed pills like Adderall and sell those to my classmates. I totally abused the opportunity to see a shrink, and ended up with a substance abuse problem myself. My dad ended up finding out about the dealing and my addiction, and I was sent to rehab.
When I got out, I tried to see the psychiatrist again to get back to selling. By then, my dad had caught on to my lies about why I was seeing a psychiatrist and knew I wasn't using it for therapeutic reasons or self-improvement. Every time I called my doctor, he would immediately hang up the phone the moment he heard my voice. I tried calling a million times, but no reply.
I later found out my psychiatrist was avoiding me because my dad had called him and told him to hang up immediately if I ever tried to book an appointment, or else there'd be consequences. I'm pretty sure he threatened the guy. I ruined the opportunity to see an expensive therapist, which could have been good for me. But that's how it goes when you're doing everything on the low, hiding your life from the people around you.
It's easy to convince someone when they don't want to believe the worst of you. But it was right in front of her face. A lot of parents are in denial.
Sold LSD and Weed
I come from a middle-class family and grew up in the suburbs. I got into doing drugs around age 13 and quickly progressed to dealing. I saw it as a way to get high for free and later as a way to make a lot of money. I sold LSD and marijuana for three years as a full-time gig. At the peak of my career, I was making upwards of $20,000 [€18,000] a month.
I have a good relationship with my parents today, but it was rocky during my teenage years because I was high all the time and lying to them all the time. They had their suspicions, but they didn't want to believe that their baby boy was selling drugs. It's a tough pill to swallow for parents. They always want to believe the best of their kids.
I gave my mom $10,000 [€9,000] once and asked her to hold it for me. I wanted her to have it, but she wouldn't take it because she thought it was drug money. I told her I was paid to introduce a friend to someone else involved with drugs, but I wasn't involved myself. I convinced her to "hold" the money for me, though I had no intention of getting it back.
My mom looked surprised and even bewildered when I told her I made ten grand by hooking a friend up with another friend to make a drug deal. She wanted to believe that I wasn't involved, and I convinced her I wasn't. I told her I "technically" wasn't a drug dealer—I just made some introductions between people. It's easy to convince someone when they don't want to believe the worst of you. But it was right in front of her face. A lot of parents are in denial.
She wanted to crack the whip on me, but she knew I would bounce at the first sign of adversity from her. We had an unannounced mutual agreement: She didn't ask and I didn't tell. The story was very basic, but she bought it. She had to in order to maintain our relationship.
I eventually got arrested, charged with LSD conspiracy, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. It was fairly obvious what was going on because of the newspaper headlines and news programs focusing on my case, so not a lot was said among my family. They wanted to help me, but I had put myself in a situation where they couldn't and that made them feel powerless.
I am pretty open with everything now. It was just a chapter in my life that I have moved on from—just like prison. I have no problem being honest today, but there are still certain things that aren't appropriate to discuss with mom about my past.
My dad is an entrepreneur himself, so it was pretty amusing to see how he acted once it was all in the open. We would have long talks about how I should launder my money…
I sold weed for about three years. I was doing food delivery and messenger work, and selling drugs was a natural progression—especially once I saw I could live comfortably doing it three days a week. I won't go into specifics, but I was making considerably more at the time than any of my peers who were working five days a week and paying taxes.
My relationship with my dad is good. He is an understanding parent and doesn't abide by society's norms for the most part and can get behind less-than-conventional ways of doing things. When he was suspicious at first, though, he gave me this doomsday talk about how I was putting myself in a world of trouble: one of those speeches like, You're gonna live in a van down by the river!
Once he saw how self-sufficient I was and that I was able to fund my own personal projects, he seemed to look the other way. By the time I got around to telling him, it wasn't a surprise. He respected me enough to trust that I could weigh the risks smartly. My dad is an entrepreneur himself, so it was pretty amusing to see how he acted once it was all in the open. We would have long talks about how I should launder my money, and he would take on that commanding tone when you're getting dad advice, making it clear he had forgotten the nature of the topic. I have always had a hard time lying to people, so I had a better relationship with him—and less anxiety or guilt about dealing myself—when I knew he was in the loop.
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