It may be helpful to shift levels of presentation, now moving from statistics and speculations on their significance to something real, the case of a dealer. In thinking of those I knew whose development was in the mainstream, I reflected quite naturally on those who are, in a dramatic sense, interesting people (not "classical" cases). They summoned themselves before my mind's eye, a roster of seekers, sad sacks, respectables, and rogues; and their faces there serve as reminders that, for all of the effort to weave a consistent fabric of the data, dealers are a variegated lot.
Let me speak of Lobo, a Yacqui Indian who became a United States citizen, now a dealer in a border town and a federal fugitive. As he said,
I was on a work party outside Leavenworth's walls one day and 1 fell into this river passing by. Try as hard as I could, I couldn't swim upstream and next I knew it carried me here across the border again. That's not escape, is it? That's fate.
Lobo is almost 70, uneducated, born and raised in abysmal poverty but of good Catholic parents whose other children are straight as Yacqui arrows (the Yacqui, by the way, are cousins of their Apache neighbors to the north). Lobo began using drugs and earning a criminal livelihood in his teens. He has never done anything else, and for all his smiling dreams ("Ah, if only I could find an honest job") he is in dealing for the rest of his life. He knows nothing else, and besides he enjoys the excitement and loves the freedom—when he has it, that is. He has served two prison terms and is now in a Mexican jail for marijuana sale and possession (a charge arising, ironically, after a drunken brawl in which he had the egregious poor taste to hit a Mexican policeman, who—even though in Lobo's pay—would not stomach insult to his machismo or a bloody nose). Lobo probably does not have the tenacity to put up with the irritations that go along with straight work. An addict, to be sure (although he depends on no particular drug and gets in trouble mostly when he is drunk), Lobo must be a part of the drug world in order to supply his own needs, which are compelling ones.
But Lobo is far more than a reasonably competent drug dealer, suffering from a pervasive dependency on drugs. He has been a rip-roaring bandito in the old border tradition—one third Robin Hood, one third Pancho Villa, and one third Al Capone. Among his men he is a stern and commanding figure, even awesome. Among his Yacqui people he is respected for having been to the outside world; but among them he is primarily a medicine man, a knower of herbs and of the gods who dwell within. (See Castaneda, 1968.) His knowledge of plants is broad, his folk-healing skills are much admired, and the breadth of his interests and self-taught knowledge—botany, folklore, politics—is impressive.
But for a picture of Lobo the dealer, imagine a dirty side street in a small Mexican town near to a larger one which is a major border point. Lounging around, chatting and smoking, are his friends and colleagues. Occasional tourists come by; once in a while a pair of Americanos in their twenties stop and chat with one of Lobo's crew and then disappear with him to make a buy. Lobo stands straight, stoney-faced, a revolver in his pocket, watching that all goes well; in his hands is his reading material for the morning, last week's New York Times. Lobo would have done better at another time and in another place. Perhaps with help as a child he was once a salvageable soul; his present life is a tragedy.
Guillermo is another one—handling half a million, one million, two million dollars a year. Mexican-American, he was born in California and is a fugitive in a border town, running one of five major rings. He is blind from gunshot wounds inflicted in retaliation for what he did to one of his competitors. This competitor got into his car one morning, turned on the ignition, and, as Guillermo puts it, "had his arms and legs fall off." The competitor's colleagues took their revenge in spite of Guilermo's bodyguards. Simultaneously an alcoholic and a heroin addict, he finished off a bottle of cognac—one of a set dutifully carried by his bodyguard, along with a tommygun—during our interview session. Later he was robbed by his own bodyguards, sought by others for the reward on his head. He lives in a fortress, his gross profits depleted by payoffs to officials (summing to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually); through it all, struggling with a derelict body and empty holes for eyes, he stays cunning enough to live. Caught, sold out, and now in a penitentiary (after our meeting), he survives still.
Consider Frank, a straightforward case. He was a business student in a good college, a casual drug user who came to like his grass. And having an economic bent, he soon learned the marketplace. He did very well, quit school and made dealing a full-time business. Now twenty-four, he is a likeable fellow, neat, with crew-cut hair and clear eyes that look straight at you while he talks, all in the best business tradition. He is a conservative dresser, and he has a good but not flashy car. He speaks of the irony of his giving up his drug use almost entirely in order to stay clear-headed for his business. Careful and serious, he avoids opiates and amphetamines and their users. His parents, wealthy suburbanites, know he is doing well but think he is in "merchandising." Yet success is not enough, and he confesses that he really doesn't like being a criminal. When last we talked, he planned to quit and return to school. Did he? I have no idea.
Otto is a brilliant chemist with a Ph.D. He is well paid as a professional; but, long involved in the psychedelic scene, he has a side business. In his personal laboratory he creates new hallucinogenic substances and sells formulas to illicit drug manufacturers. The operation is legal, since he does not traffic in drugs already known and does not himself sell or administer them for use with humans. But he is a dealer among his friends, for, as in the days of bathtub gin, once in a while he will turn out a batch of LSD or mescaline.
Cohn is a lawyer who used to work for the Internal Revenue Service. He quit to practice on his own as he was getting involved in the early hip scene. That involvement grew, and he became a full-time advisor to one or several drug syndicates. He takes their cases before they get caught, so that they can plan either to stay within the law or to anticipate enforcement countermoves when they cannot. He has no shingle, no listed telephone. He is a bright fellow, but thoroughly unreliable. Of all who worked for or with us, he is the only one who cheated us. We wish him an early arrest and conviction.
Marybeth is blonde and lovely. She is twenty-one and works in a large stock-brokerage firm in San Francisco. She dresses handsomely and supports her wardrobe by drug dealing. She loves the swinging scene, which is for her quite a ball, much better than her awkward adolescent days when she felt wallflowerish. She buys and sells in the hub-bub of the big city financial district and uses these same occasions to flirt with those she meets (not all of them users). One has the impression that sociable excitement is a strong component in her activities. It is our guess that she is likely to get married one day and settle down with some conventional banker in the suburbs, where they will both smoke marijuana but lead otherwise unremarkable lives.
John, an unstable fellow from a wealthy family, found himself more at ease when with drug dealers and when he himself used &rugs heavily. He went to a university but had difficulty there. Again, his best times were when he was with the "heads" and not the books. He does have a flair for things, a rather breezy style coupled with a bit of grandiosity. Sometimes the combination works. When last we heard of him, he was importing heroin in many-pound lots, using his father's corporation airplanes to do so in an arrangement which required the complicity of a few select employees.
Ishi is no Indian but a blond and bearded hippie who, now over thirty, is an emigrant from the Haight-Ashbury to the greener commune pastures of California and Nevada. He has been a commune chief himself and, like some early Mormons in this and no other way, boasted a covey of wives. A restless roamer, he uses and deals wherever he goes. Affable, intelligent, fast-talking, tangential, circumlocutious, totally unreliable, he is often strung out on speed or freaked out on acid. The difference is not too great, for when "clean" he is verily like a paranoid schizophrenic. One suspects he is, therefore, delusional off as well as on drugs.
Metamorphosis of Gentle Jim
Gentle Jim, like the others, is a vignette; but at least he can be brought up to date, which will be seen to make all the difference. He is my selection as an illustration of one subgroup of dealers whose shadows were projected in earlier chapters.
Jim was twenty-three when interviewed. I had known him for three years, since the time he had begun living with Frances. The two had a baby, Ilene, but neither wanted to marry. Frances was no longer around during our talks; she had left Jim after a series of rip-offs in their pad, when guns had been drawn and drugs had repeatedly been stolen. A few days before, he had had a shoot-out, the results of which were inconclusive—no one was dead. Now Jim was lying in wait with a shotgun ready, which he planned to use at closer range. Frances, concluding that this was no environment for a baby, left.
Jim, whose parents were school teachers in San Francisco, had begun his use at the suggestion of his sister, a student, who had in turn been initiated by the older psychedelic crowd in her university. She had no record of arrest, although Jim says she used to shoplift and tear up traffic warrants when she was in her teens. He himself had been arrested once for stealing beer from a neighbor's house. After first turning on, Jim quickly became a heavy user of both marijuana and LSD. Within a year he had begun dealing:
A friend, a dealer, gave some grass to me. After my first real high I immediately wanted more—that's when I asked him for more. That's when you are a head, get a craving, become a Mary Jane addict. As soon as you like weed, then you get into dealing right away. That dealer, by the way, went insane from speed. . . . He taught me a lot about dope . . . and he gave me my first acid.
His first supplying was to a group of slightly younger friends at a get-together. He gave them cannabis. Soon, "I started selling after I took acid and dropped from school." On that first occasion:
I had acquired some acid to sell—I went East—sold to Brooklyn hoodlums with guns, but they were nice, not hip, just heads. I met them through guys I knew in school. I conned them, felt superior to them, gave them a big line. It was an ego thing for me.
Would anything have prevented him from beginning dealing?
I suppose if I had a decent job I wouldn't deal, but I don't like to work. No, nothing would stop me, I guess, unless you just gave money away . . . a guaranteed income—but no, I'd still deal.
Jim worked irregularly, took unemployment insurance, and decided to try to make money more regularly through dealing. Customers were easy to find:
There's a tremendous demand. I hung around the college where the kids were hard up for drugs. So I just went up to people and asked them—since I knew there was no heat on campus. But it was a bad deal, to commit a felony for a five-dollar profit. I would have gone out of business if I hadn't made the link to blacks at that time. A guy had taken me aside and explained the business aspect to me—to move to bigger deals to make the money and avoid the hassles, match the risk to the money. I read the lawbooks too—I'd wanted to be a lawyer. My biggest problem was learning what size sells best, people won't pay fifteen dollars for three fourths of an ounce, but they'll pay ten dollars for a half ounce. It's a merchandizing problem, but since they all want bargains they don't care about quality—on the other hand, I had to learn to spot quality. But it was Walter, an older black, who helped set my organization for selling drugs to the blacks. I'm a middleman. I've learned to avoid hippies or blacks as suppliers; they'll burn you. That's one of the things I like about dealing—learning about people and business in a hurry. Working [straight] I'd not learn as fast. You get harder and tougher in this business.
But I've thought about quitting. It's a lot of trouble for the money, it's very competitive with so many other dealers. I'm under-capitalized because I get ripped off so much I need more capital—lack of capital is a big problem in a squeeze, just like Lockheed. Another problem is your hustlers—they're too loose, not serious enough.
Still, it's a good thing for me to become harder, better than having your back broken. I grew up in that soft, liberal tradition. But things are getting worse in our society so I'd better get hard. The liberals are mistaken. My parents raised me and they were wrong. They had the wrong impression of the world. Now I've got to go out and learn what the world is really like for myself. You can bet most people will take advantage of you if you're soft —they'll walk on you. If you're down they'll take over. If you want to be somebody's fiunkie, don't learn; otherwise learn. I was never told this once as a child. I've learned more being a dealer than making money—it's all made it worthwhile. My main problem in life is other people's screwing me around. You have to learn to size people up, whether they're bad, bullshitters or what. Now I take people seriously. Now if a guy steals I know he's a psychopath and I don't associate with him or I take damn good care. You've got to be up, aware.
The dealing life is good. On the other hand, all my family and friends want me to stop, but I'm on my own now. They're more paranoid than I am. I went into it to learn and it's my bag. Of course, I'm only learning the drug trade. I ought to learn something else. I do worry about getting hurt though because dealers are outside the law, some of them want to take over your operation, some want to rob you, and they burn each other. Besides 1 owe too much money . . . [maybe that's why] dealers get nervous or paranoid.
But the life is good. Loose, I like the hours. Lots of leisure and you're not stuck indoors. It's entertaining too; you meet and enjoy a lot of people. It's an activity and gives my life purpose; you know, it's important to be involved in the world and to be a part of it and dealing is a job, an activity which gives that involvement. And you do learn for yourself to stand on your own two feet; it's good for me to find how not to be beaten by others, not to be soft inside.
When I began, I retailed lids, but I've found it safer and more profitable to wholesale through an organization of street men working for me. Now I've got regular sources, regular organization; and I handle only the middle, which is safe. I've learned to be less greedy and satisfied with the organization I've got—and I deal in larger amounts than I used to. Even so, my profit isn't any bigger—I've had so much stolen, make about $75 a week. I sell grass because it brings no trouble. I'm tempted to sell cocaine and reds [barbiturates]—the blacks want them, but you bring in bad clients and heat. Also morally, I don't want to pump cocaine and reds into the ghetto, where there's enough trouble anyway. Grass cools the ghetto. Even so, my customers rob me.
I've had a big problem learning to keep my mouth shut; it takes a lot of self-control. I want to talk about what I do, I'm a big-mouth, and you have to talk a little to generate business. The other problem I haven't solved is that I sell to blacks. I don't want to, but I haven't the capital to deal with whites. Working-class people in general will rob you—I guess I'm getting prejudiced.
I like clinching a deal—accomplishing your business. I like the thrill—arranging it all, setting up connection, the illicit side. And I do like money.
I would have become an alcoholic but I got onto weed. I'm as compulsive about weed as I was with alcohol. Generally drugs make people more relaxed, open-minded. Grass is the best; it's but a passive drug. It's the best intoxicant there is. Speed gives intense pleasure and an ego trip, but it's a false one. Acid deconditions you, relieves you of your past training and beliefs. It frees you, but I don't think I'd use heroin, I'd never shoot anything; well, I might just try smack but not get into it. You can't use anything, though, when you're dealing. I can't even use marijuana if 1 want to deal actively—you have to be free of drug effects for that. . . . It's hard to say how many people have drug problems because they don't tell you when they have them, and it's all relative; you disagree on what a drug problem is. Anyone who craves a drug shouldn't use it. Even marijuana makes you listless; you can't take care of yourself if you overuse it. As for benefits, well not many people gain. I'm the only one I know—yet it's beneficial to enjoy drugs even if they don't make you better or happier. As for myself, I'm sure I'll get off marijuana some day as I grow older and find something I want to do.
As for narcs, they're my natural enemy. Nothing personal about it, you understand; but they're worse than cops—insidious, low people. It's psychopathic to go around lying all the time as they have to do. They make their money by lying. That's why they're so unpopular with most people, even cops. Worms! They're conservative to the point of paranoid. Imagine to be that young and uptight. That's why they're easy to spot—because they're full of shit. The average cop, on the other hand, is a good man. Sharp, clear-thinking. Rough having to take their lives in their hands like that. I'm in the vice business, that's all. I want no trouble with [regular] cops. I'm not contumacious. I'm not sharp enough to go to work for the police myself.
But I will go into legit business when I grow up. I'll get some money together to do it. Pm learning business now.
Jim describes himself in the following way:
I'm too good-natured. I'm honest and generous. I'm lazy and I'm impulsive. I'd say I'm a typical middle-class offspring for these times. In a word, I'm an average guy.
Jim speaks for himself. For him, drug dealing is a way to grow up, an exciting and self-proving way, with the added advantages of money and access to and involvement in that drug use which he himself admits is compelling and sometimes disabling. It is a toughening process for a child of the liberal era who, he says, was brought up by kindly parents whom he loves but who fed him on milk and honey in a world where others are nursed on thistles and iron. He sees nothing exceptional in what he is or what he does, expects to outgrow his current experiment in living and, through it, to learn how to get along in the real world. That toughening, that movement from weak to strong, is his metamorphosis.
Did it work? No. A youth who recognized his weaknesses, it appeais that he did not master them. Someone trying to become active, mean, aggressive and alert cannot do so by compulsively using a drug which, he claims, makes him chronically passive, euphoric, and inattentive. Those blacks to whom he was attempting to sell robbed him of all his capital—coin and cannabis. And when the moment for the final shoot-out came, he, child of peace and anger's suppressor, could not kill. The others had killed and would have killed and walked away winners. Where is he now? Returned to the milk and honey of home, unemployed, still drug involved. A life of crime might pay, but not for Gentle Jim. Growing up didn't work.
Cobra: A Verbatim Account
Let us seek authenticity via another route—by hearing what one concerned ex-dealer himself has to say by way of autobiography, observation, and social commentary. The setting is California, the dealer is Cobra, the interviewer is Enquirer. The town is Discomfort. The interview is followed by the remarks of Commentator, another dealer from the same scene. Changes in the transcript are deletions of actual names of people, and insertions are clarifications.
Enquirer: flow many drug dealers did it take to supply your community?
Cobra: There was only one big dealer and he is still active. He has anywhere from twenty-five guys working for him, and they have guys working for them with occasional outsiders. The street workers work for the middlemen.
What does the big dealer make a year in profit?
Hard for me to say but it's way up there. I'll make a guess, let's see—I don't think I would miss it much, say $60,000 or $70,0000 a year or better.
The twenty-five middlemen, what do you think they will make a year?
Not too much because on the average they're using up a lot of their money on the stuff for themselves. If they'd stay off it and just take care of business, they'd make $30,000.
If each of these middlemen has four men working for him, that's about one hundred street dealers. How much do they make?
On the average it has been my experience that they would only get money to deal and money for their own habit. I worked myself up to being Number-3 man, among the middlemen. I lenow some white guys who have 15 and 16 year olds running for them.
How much of that sort of thing goes on?
Quite a bit of it. Most of them don't care—if the kid is old enough to come in with the money and if he's reliable, they give it to him.
What is the average age when a kid starts dealing?
About 17 years, when they can sell in enough quantity to make a profit. The other kids look up to them.
Is there any part of the community where a bunch of kids do not look up to drug dealers?
Yes, that would be the Christian kids who come from homes where people take time and explain the pitfalls, as compared to kids whose parents are doing the same kind of thing the kids are doing. There are quite a few people over there running shooting galleries, whose kids are down with it—who know everything that is going on—the kids know people are shooting—know what type of dope it is. I know "J" has a shooting gallery where people get down with it right there in the kitchen—his kids 13, 14 years old are right there. Couple of occasions his daughter helps to bag it up.
When did you first start to use illicit drugs?
I got turned out on weed when I was 15. I fooled with weed from then right on up. After I went to the joint and got out, I did my parole. My first wife got a divorce and I took it pretty hard. I turned alcoholic at first, but it didn't agree with me—I kept getting in fights. Then 1 got together and was going to work. My new wife was using dope—at first I didn't know she was on any type of dope, but one day I came home and found a big crowd of people, three or four teacups and spoons. Then we had a talk. It didn't work out too good. This was the first time a cop ever came into my pad behind dope. They didn't find any and left. I was disgusted. I wanted to try it but I was afraid of the needle. I tried to swallow some but it came right up. She said, "Come on, it isn't going to hurt, it's a nice new point." Finally I took it and it was pretty nice to me. I started dealing about the same time. I used coke, heroin, but I was afraid about heroin—about getting the habit.
Do you have the habit now?
You are clean now. Do you drink?
No, I haven't had any drink since '58. 1 guess you could say I'm cleaning up my life.
Do you have a job?
No. But I'll get along—I won't have to get off into the bag.
Would you be better off going back to burglary or dealing?
1 made out better dealing than in crime. I never had a narcotics bust, which most of the good suppliers consider a good thing. If you know the different types of dope and have never been rousted by the police, you have no jacket on a dope charge.
How did you know where to go and get a supply? How did you set up in business?
I met all these people at this particular time through the big local supplier—it took sixty-five dollars to get an ounce of speed; then I could trip with him to the city and cop.
Then gradually you acquired more sources?
"A" approached me. By this time I had built up a good reputation for getting rid of dope and other stolen merchandise.
You were fencing—taking orders for fur coats, etc.?
Yes, I knew who wanted a stereo and who had one, and I'd pull a profit on both of them. After going to the joint, I gave up burglary and changed my m.o.
Becoming a drug dealer was a way for you to avoid going to jail?
Yes, they had me down for burglary.
You are still out of jail?
What would you do yourself about drugs if you were in charge of this country? If you were President, what policy about drugs would you set?
I got to be honest, there is no policy that a President could set to keep drugs out of this country, but there needs to be some type of special fund set up to get the money they need to bust the people from dealing. The police need a lot of help finding these people. I know three or four people could have been popped but they didn't have the money. It's just not what's happening.
If drugs were made legal, what would happen?
Depends on what drugs.
Let's say we made grass legal?
I could dig it.
What would happen in our community if you could buy grass at the grocery store.
Sales would fall off. There wouldn't be any thrill in selling it.
What about hash?
That's more powerful—I don't think I would legalize it.
What happens to people who used hash?
I think they hallucinate—they trip out.
Can you trust them in that state?
I would not.
What about barbiturates—would you make them legal?
No, I'm more afraid of a person on reds than on speed.
Give me an example of a kid on barbs.
Kids get full of those reds, it's just like the Wild West days. Everyone has a gun and with the slightest argument, everyone starts shooting.
Do you think their judgment is bad?
Yes, I think it's the reds.
How old are your kids?
My son is 14.
He's just right.
That's one of the major things that helped me think the way I am thinking. He was living here with his mother. It's easy to get the stuff here.
How do you instruct him?
I don't hide anything from him. I tell him the consequences, how my life was, how I would like his life to be better than my life. I don't want him going to jail, using dope. I'd like him to have some of the things I did not have as a kid. I don't want him fooling around with dope.
Does he believe that? Does he want things to be that way? Does he have confidence in himself?
Yes. He was a summer teacher in the Head Start. He has a paper route. Right now there is this Honda Trail Blazer he wants. I told him I have no job—no money right now, but when I get to work I'll start saving and help him get one. When I get a few bucks ahead, I'd love to go fishing—take him along, do things together.
Do you think you can keep kids off dope that way—with an outdoors healthy life?
We've heard about drugs being only a white man's problem. What do you think about that?
I don't hold with it.
What do you know about guns?
On the average, all the street people are armed (all the people who use dope except maybe those who use weed and drop bennies).
That did not used to be so.
No. When I was coming up we had fights, but it's not that way now.
What do they do?
If they don't have a gun, they'll slip up behind and brain you.
It's more violent now?
Where do they get their guns?
Steal them. You can buy a 32 automatic for twenty-five or thirty dollars.
Did you ever deal in guns?
No, but I knew several people who did.
Was there an overlap between guys who dealt in drugs and those who dealt in guns?
No, it's a different problem. Usually one of their friends would have knowledge of a place where guns are stored; and the first time they catch people with their guard down, they pop it.
What about machine guns?
They used to have quite a few around. I knew about ten or twelve. Then I got out of contact for about sixty days, and when I got back out they had these Eagle Brand type automatics they were selling—they call them machine guns but they are not really machine guns.
Have you seen any of the dealers you know armed with genuine automatic weapons?
Why do you think a guy like that has a gun?
It's his intention to use it if he is raided. A lot depends on how the police hit a place.
Is it true that drug dealers are willing to use their guns on police?
Sure, why not? There is no fear of the death penalty. You are going to do the same amount of time no matter how many cops you shoot. That's the way they look at it.
Did you carry a gun? Yes, a 32.
You didn't use it?
I'm not violent.
Why did you have a gun?
Mainly for my associates—to keep from being ripped off. They did rip me off and kidnap me. I owed them eight hundred bucks, and I was so far in the bag I wasn't doing much. They took me up to the city and kept me locked in this house. Every day they'd whammy me [mix up a big batch of speed] and leave me dingy for about two weeks. Then they let me come back. Rather than do that again, I was willing to leave the stuff alone and come back to work. It's common practice. Either I do it or they drop me in the bay. Actually this is what led up to my bust on the forgery. I was getting them their money back.
You were working off your debt?
I feel it was a setup. They had all their money but a hundred dollars; they didn't need me any more.
Why do you think guns are so attractive? Is a machine gun a status symbol?
There are so many radical organizations teaching hate and revolution, my personal opinion is that everybody feels important, bigger, if you own a lead.
When you say you are a professional criminal, are you saying you take pride in your work?
Yes, you would have to take pride in anything you did, in order to be successful at it.
How much did you make a year as a dealer?
Let's see, when I was working for "A"—on the average about 3,000 dollars a day.
That's gross proceeds. What were you selling? Everything.
What was in your kit?
You would sell whatever the people would ask for. They would tell me what it was they wanted, how much they bad to spend, and I would call "A," give him thirty minutes' notice, and he would have what I needed.
What risks were involved, other than the police?
Being ripped off—by people who never buy anything. They catch a dealer going down the street, and they rip you off. I was ripped off twice.
When did you first get involved in dealing?
From '64 or '65 until a year ago, 1969.
But you did other things also; you were involved in burglary?
I was more of a procurer. If you needed something, I could get it.
You weren't a pimp?
No. I can't stand that. It's the only thing I never made any money off. I always valued women more than that. That's how I really got hung up in the dope racket. The girl I was associated with was hooked on speed; in order to get her to stay home, I would get it and store it up for her. Then, since I had it on hand, I started selling it to get some of my money back, and she still had it when she needed it.
Did it work?
Yes. At that time I was working for "K" Company, but a couple of weeks after I started selling it, I quit my job.
What about the girl?
Eventually, it ended up with her going to Corona [California's Narcotics Rehabilitation Facility].
Were you supplying her?
I was for a while. This was in order to keep her away from some of the people she had been associated with.
What did you get out of being a dealer, other than money?
It taught me something. Deep in my heart I always wanted to, and when I had the experience I would never go back into it. It's not a life I cared for.
While you were dealing, were some good things happening?
You had plenty of money—you could afford things you normally could not afford.
What was the first thing you bought?
A car. A new Buick Electra. New clothes. I had the air of a pimp even though I wasn't one. I went to the finer clubs, dressed well, went with the high society of the dope business. In a sense you are limited to people that are in the dope business because you have something
in common. You are afraid if you step out of this circle you might be informed on.
In that set you were making good money and could be proud of it. In what town was this?
In and around San Francisco. I made a couple of trips, buying and selling. I got to know people transporting.
Were you dealing with Mexican stuff mainly?
Yes, one guy I got to meet on the other side was Mexican. He was a big wheel over there. Had cabs and restaurants in Tijuana. He had a warehouse with so many reds—they would be that thick on the dirt floor.
Six inches thick? How big a floor?
Larger than the jail—bigger than the Safeway. He had a big place and everything was uniform. He had reds in the back, all cased in their bottles; then, after reds, bennies, heroin, cocaine, weed.
How much heroin did he have?
Oh Christ, I couldn't sit here and tell you. There is no one man could buy out his warehouse. I know "J" and "H" whenever they would go down they would buy anywhere from 180,000 to 200,000 pills plus weed and heroin and what not.
How did you get it back over the border?
There are a number of ways. One of the best ways was the newlywed game; where you have a guy and a girl, just married, it has a tendency to relax the border patrolman. In cars it varies—the '69
Chevy, right over the fender wall in the trunk you got a drop that's hollow—you push the pills in that one at a time; and you can carry over 200,000 in the tailgate of a pickup truck.
Did you hire your own newlyweds?
They usually have their own people who will do it—they pay $800 for the trip and a third of whatever you get over.
Are they mostly Mexican, white, blacks?
Mixed; quite a few whites, quite a few blacks.
Are most suppliers black?
Did you retail or did you wholesale—that is, supply other dealers?
Most of the time I just dealt to street people.
No, mixed. In fact 1 used to say from Hell's Angels on down. The hippie set—I had quite a few of them sewed up.
Local hippies? Right.
How many street users do you think there are in your community [population 18,3301?
Out of the young people, I would have to say a little over half of them are using narcotics of some kind, or barbiturates.
What do the kids 13 and 14 use?
They use mostly a little acid, and weed. They drop quite a few reds. By the time they are 16 I would say maybe 5 per cent of them are shooting stuff, speed.
How about coke?
They sniff coke a bit. The coke set is quite a close set. In my area, other users have a pretty rough time getting into that particular set. They have a tendency to get paranoid.
Did you supply coke?
No, the fellow who has been supplying coke is still loose. What is the youngest age that is using any of the illicit drugs?
I would say 13.
Why do kids begin to use?
I think it's an influence of the young adults, especially with the black kids. They see them with new cars. "He's always clean," they say; "how is he able to do this? My old man never has done this well; but this guy's a dope dealer." So automatically he wants to be a dealer.
Do they think of being dealers, and is that how they get to be users? After all, they see some pretty strung-out users as examples.
Yes; but people, when they start out, never think they'll end up like that—but you never know until you get into the bag what will happen.
Can people control it?
There is no control past weed. What percentage slip past weed?
Nowadays there are so many different forms of narcotics—ways to get loaded—it's hard to say, but reds and acid seem to be the big thing.
How long before you begin shooting?
There's no age level. It's just a matter of somebody being low enough to introduce the kids to it; and if they like it, they continue.
Do you see any difference in the kids that go past weed to reds and stuff—difference in background or personality—against those who don't?
I would say most of the guys and gals who just stick to weed will eventually cut it out and go on through school and maybe become lawyers or doctors or what not. The others—by the time they reach 17, they are so strung out they have no way but one to go. Some will turn out to be pimps, prostitutes, boosters, any phase of the game—whatever they happen to be skilled at. If they have sleight of hand, they could become pickpockets.
Among those who are on grass and go on to other stuff versus those who stop using it—is there anything you can use to describe or predict which they will do?
Well, yes, I guess you could say there is a difference in their background because usually those that go on got parents—I have to be honest—they are the kind of people that never have time for their kids. When they are not working, they are in some bar or in the street cussing and fighting—the kids raise themselves; they grow up to be hustlers from an early age. It has been my experience they will take a chance of five to life, with a gun.
Do you see any difference or the same difference in those kids that don't use and those that begin to use?
They have this problem, parents being out in the street, clubs. Then, it has to do with fear. I know back when I was a youngster I was scared to death of the reds. I can use anything else. One of my school buddies died from an overdose, and I have never been able to take reds—shoot or swallow them. I have seen people mix up seven or eight of them and shoot it.
Have those kids never seen anyone in trouble? What accounts for their not being afraid of reds?
That's kind of hard for me to explain. It could be they have never seen anybody who O.D.'d [overdosed]. It could be a lot of people will try anything. There are some who don't want to be failed chicken and they will try it. No one user can say that he likes stuff before he has shot it the first time. There has to be someone somewhere to entice them to take it.
What would you tell a guy to entice him?
If he is weak and he probably is, I'd say "Why don't you try a little stuff, it's groovy" or "Don't be chicken"—it depends on the individual.
How many people do you think you have turned on for the first time to stuff?
What about grass?
Quite a few, about fifteen or twenty. While you were dealing what were you using?
Some of all of it. I like bennies. First time I tried speed, I couldn't swallow it. I was afraid to let anyone else shoot me; I finally ended up letting my old lady do it. They got me to lay down on the couch.
Kind of an initiation ceremony.
Yes. I was afraid, so they told me to lay down. I was feeling pretty groovy, and after I saw it wasn't going to hurt me, I could enjoy it.
Did you take it often after that?
Yes, I did. It almost cost me my life. What happened?
I got off for about four months on speed really heavy. I stopped taking care of business. I would take these people's dope and rather than make money I would party it up.
Can anyone deal and use at the same time?
Nobody that I have met can use and deal too, because you will end up giving it away or shooting up more than selling.
Can a guy get to be a heavy user and still make the grade? In other occupations—burglary, etc.?
Yes, these are the best thieves, the ones who are strung out; they aren't going to work, so they have to have some way of getting money to obtain their narcotics.
Why don't they work?
It's too slow. The drug money is too slow in coming in—when you have to work forty hours for a fix.
What does it cost a day in your area to maintain a heroin habit?
Some guys are shooting better than a hundred dollars a day.
What about the trippers?
I'd say no more than fifty dollars.
How much for grass?
I'd say about twenty dollars a week.
What about the average kid—LSD, etc.?
Depends on how his system is built up to stand reds. Some kids drop eight to fifteen reds a day and still stumble around; some people take just one and are out like a light.
What would a red cost?
The last knowledge I had they were three for a dollar; some places two for a dollar.
Somebody who takes five to six reds a day would be spending two dollars?
Do they take every day?
Yes, every day, as long as they're awake.
So when you say 50 per cent of the kids use, you mean they use grass every day?
Does anyone ever get tripped out because he can't get supplied? Yes, supplies get short.
What drugs have been in short supply?
All of them but acid and coke. You can always get those. Some people up in the hills make acid.
What's the longest period ever without any?
Never any long period—just a couple of days. They will jack the price up—ten to fifteen and twenty-five dollars.
Would you try to drive the market up so you could make more money?
Was that good?
Yes. What they will do—the chemist will run off a bad batch of speed and flood the streets with it. Put all the good speed back, for a week or two. Won't let any of the good speed show up. They then let two or three guys turn loose of the good stuff, they're the only ones who have it and only so much. So a nickel paper won't do it. One individual will have to spend ten or fifteen dollars for what he would normally get in a nickel paper.
If we could take a minute, could you tell me about the drug-distribution system in your town—not in terms of anyone's last name. Let's say we have 18,000 in your town, two thirds of whom are kids—say 12,000 kids—half of them over 12, half of them, say 3,000 kids, using something.
In [my town], just being honest, it's hard to find someone who is not using some kind of something.
About guns—how many people in your community, would you say, have guns?
In a black community, they say every black man should have two guns—the one he keeps and the one he has at home for his wife when the revolution starts.
Gives him a feeling of potential—power?
And the youth, they got 'em just cause everybody else has them. When they get loaded they got a tendency to show off with them. Lot of times things get real serious. Most times a lot of shooting and hell raising and nothing happens.
But someone could get killed accidentally.
Right. I saw this guy shoot his best friend with a 22 pistol. Guy never went to a doctor, there was never a complaint. They stretched him out on a pool table in the bar, and someone handed him a fistful of reds. He downed them, someone took the bullet out with a pocket knife, put some gauze on, and he's walking around today. Said it was an accident.
What would you say is the age when kids start carrying guns?
When they get big enough to steal one and keep it hidden from whoever they have to hide it from-14 or 15.
Happens the same time as they might start using drugs?
Yes. The younger ones have a pocket knife or something.
The sixty-four-dollar question is "What happens to all those kids in your town who are using drugs, not the ones that are using just grass, etc., but the guys who have gone on to acid, reds, carrying guns?"
Most of those who don't get killed will end up getting arrested. Those who are not arrested will end up being strung out, addicts.
What is it like to walk through the streets of your area with a crowd of 15 and 16 year olds on drugs?
You are on guard all the time.
You don't mingle with your own customers? Why don't you?
You know the effect the stuff has. It depends on what you're selling, and you know just about what their reaction will be. You are in a sense jeopardizing your freedom, possibly your life and business, by mingling with them. Eight out of ten of those street people who are using will be on a police blotter of some sort, and when you start being seen with them, if your name crops up over a couple of times, you got the cops breathing down your neck, wondering about you, what your connection is.
So you are better off insulating yourself from them?
You graduate up to the class of people who like to stay home and have their private parties, pot parties, freak parties.
How do you teach kids discretion?
How do people learn discretion?
Run-ins with the police.
Are there some people who learn discretion an easier way?
I never seen any. Nobody can tell you anything 'cause you already think you know it all and if you attempt to tell them something, it's going in one ear and out the other. They got to learn it the hard way—and some never learn it. I got to think about when a man goes all out doing everything he can to make something out of his son, but his son just don't have it.
What's the future for the black community? You describe your town where half the kids and half the adults are using drugs and where some portion are going to be continually using something besides grass; and you say there is nothing the police can do to stop that drug use or interfere—and these don't change that pattern—those that aren't jailed become addicts. What's the future of your town if that is what's happening?
Well I tell you, myself and a lot of people have been looking forward to this—especially since the Watts riots. It's going to blow up and a lot of people are going to get hurt and a lot killed before it's over with. This is something you can just about stake your life on, without being able to put your finger on it.
When you say "blow up," you are describing a lot of people who are on drugs, have guns, are not working, lead street lives, whose lives are not safe with one another. When will it blow up and how?
I don't know. If I did know I would probably be one of the first ones to try to do something about it. But you really don't know. You take like last year, after midnight it wasn't safe to be riding down the street. One time around 2 a.m. places were closing up, and at X and Y Streets this guy comes out of a bar and starts shooting across X Street—he doesn't know who he's shooting at, just blasting away; and when he empties his gun, he ducks back. Right there at the Z Street apartment house—you were afraid to go up in there after dark.
That's where you live?
No, but I know people who do; these people are so paranoid—they didn't have just one shooting incident—all this kind of stuff; two or three people got shot on X Street—it's pitiful.
What proportion of the shootings get reported?
Ten per cent, if that many.
What proportion of the murders are identified?
Not very many. There're a lot of them never even reported.
Give m- e a guess—in your town how many murders do the police find out about?
I know of two cases out of seven or eight that came to police attention.
Is there anybody in your town who leads a life of reasonable satisfaction, optimism, and relaxation?
The Christian people; of course, I don't know how they feel deep down but they don't have any association with all of this; I imagine the biggest portion of them don't realize what's going on around them.
Will they be robbed and shot at?
They'll be robbed now and then, homes burglarized, and what not; there's nothing they can do about it. All they can do is tell the police "My home was broken into, my stereo and color TV was taken."
Well, back to the big question then: If this is the way it is going, you foresee it as an explosion where everybody simply picks up his six shooter, and his ten reds and lets go at once; or even if it's just a fizzle, everybody takes his heroin or his bag of reds, and goes down the tubes. Either way, as you describe it, one doesn't get a sense of hopefulness, or perhaps half of the black people in your town must think their future will be a dreadful one.
Is there anything society can do about it?
I can't say there is anything you can really do about it. What has to be done is going to have to come from the people of the community, and I say this because they are going to have to knock down two or three of these largest dealers who have the place sewed up. The community was, on a whole, better off when they had a whole bunch of little dealers who were going to the city, buying their stuff. It wasn't organized; there was no attempt at organizing the dealers. The users were in groups. When the Big Man got in there, he commenced organizing; then he pulls out all these small-time dealers. This is how "I" got shot—he was going around pistol whipping people—I happen to be one who he pistol whipped. But them being stronger, they won out because the Big Man was able to import gunmen. There was a time when "I's" house was an arsonal—he had ten to fifteen guns there.
So when a dealer tells me he wishes the city were organized, he may not mean it.
No. He don't mind, the money is good, the life is easy. Those that were chippying along, that got froze out, they will naturally resent it—there's always animosity. First chance they get, they'll always inform; but where does it end up? Just a big mess in court, when they are all equally guilty.
They are all part of the life.
They all have done something to each other and ended up trying to kill each other.
Some say that when the Negro gets involved in organized crime, he is on the way out of crime because he is learning how to do business, learning how to organize, how to deal on a systematic basis.
He is learning to organize, true, but I can't say on his way out of crime.
Although he may be able to make the money, he still hasn't got it up here—how to hold on to it. You go back to education and sense of business. This isn't something you learn out in the streets.
Didn't the Big Man learn?
Yes, he learned—he is one guy who learned. I think he is from back East somewhere. Came up in the gladiator school.
What is that?
He was a young gunman—gangster. He learned through hard knocks; no one handed it to him on a silver platter.
Does he have kids?
I don't know, I know very little about him.
Where does he live?
He has any number of places, all in the Bay Area.
It would be interesting to see if his kids will go to college or pursue a life of crime.
1 would say if he could he'd probably get 'em to go to college, but if there are any boys involved I would be inclined to believe that they'll end up following his footsteps.
And some day he'll end up dead?
If different organizations that are after him don't get him first, he has a lot of young people out there would like to pop him. It's a thrilling life if you like danger.
Do you like danger? To be honest, yes.
Part of being a dealer—part of this whole business—is the thrill?
I have a reputation of sorts. I am not known as a violent individual, but not many guys can say they have downed me.
You are tough but not violent?
I have never shot anybody or anything like that.
Maybe that's one of the things that makes it hard to give up dealing—the thrill.
No, you have to reach that stage of life when you really get a chance to look at yourself and look at what you are doing and think about it. In my particular case I think how close my kids came to turning out that way—my oldest son was well on the road.
The 14 year old?
Yes, this is what made me turn around—my concern for my kids. This is the difference between you and "F"?
He was shooting heroin as much as he could get his hands on. Doesn't care about his kids. Deep in his heart all he thinks about is his next fix—that's what he lives for. Once you get hooked that's the way it is.
For these people there's no way for people to help their kids—they're too far down the tube. As you describe it, we must just let it go—there is nothing we can do?
You can't just let it go. You have to keep chipping at the old block until you find a way to knock down the tree.
You mean as a nation?
I mean as a nation, as a whole. This thing is not just localized in my town. I can start from San Francisco and run right on to Mexico, and I can buy as much dope as you got money to dive me to buy it with.
Whenever you hit a town?
Yes, the biggest portion of your really big dealers now—Arizona is wide open. The kids got plenty of money—they are constantly looking for dope. People leave California with their supply, go into Arizona, unload and come back, cop again, go back. This is a running business now.
And even the Customs and the Bureau of Narcotics have been unable to make a change?
No, every time they bust somebody, and find out one way somebody is getting it across, somebody else dreams up a new way of getting it across. You can never completely stop it. But you will never be able to curb narcotics in this country. It is out of the question. You're fighting a rear-guard action. You slow it down when you pop a few people, but those people have people working under them who did not get popped who step into their shoes, and they, in turn, have learned quite a bit and know the mistakes the other guy made.
Well, from the standpoint of a cop it's a sad note to end on. That's where we are, but you at least are out of it and your life will be not as sad.
I don't intend for it to be.
You are not going down the tubes.
In fact, I think I am on my way up out of the tube. Before they eventually catch up with me, I will probably have quite a few people [dealers] down the tubes in this state. Out of connections I had and can make, I will knock down a whole lot of dealers. I am somebody who had time to think and I would like to make something good out of my life, and do as well at it as I did when I was doing bad things.
Commentator's Remarks. From reading Cobra's answers, I would say that he obviously had made the scene and knew what he was talking about. However, there are some inconsistencies that don't quite add up and make me wonder if he was bragging or just what. Mostly I wonder about-the money he said he made, because if he was making as much as he says, he wouldn't have been busted; he would be too high up and have a legitimate front for himself.
The scene probably has changed since Cobra's interview, at least as far as what drugs are dealt now and who handles what. The guys who deal in pills will probably deal in acid, but there seems to be a trend away from the pill bit. The guys who handle heroin also probably have coke—there's a lot of snorting going on now. The grass dealers seem to stay with grass mostly. 'Course, there are some guys who will deal in anything. You tell them what you want and they'll get it for you. I don't know about speed lately—haven't heard anything about it. Mostly the scene is becoming more and more a heroin-coke route, and I really don't like to see that.