As I listen to the North Carolina D.A. describe Andrew Brown Jr. as a dangerous target to be apprehended at all costs, I hear the same language used against so many suspects caught in the machinery of criminal justice. It starts with two words, “drug dealer.” After this label is applied, the human being in question is othered, made less than, stripped of any individuality. As the relatively rare former drug dealer who is also an educated writer, I must push back..
Twice in my life, in separate decades, I lived off the proceeds of dispensing the elements of temporary physical euphoria. Consenting adults came to me and I gave them a drug for which they handed me money. When I was a bartender, the drug was in legal, liquid form. I paid taxes on what I earned and could tell my mother what I did for a living. Even though most of my regulars were alcoholics, I earned none of society’s contempt for getting them drunk, many on a daily basis.
When my own addictive choice changed from alcohol to crystal meth, I went from bartending to drug dealing. It started with getting a little extra for my using buddies, to responding to the requests of their friends. At first my only payoff was in my own drugs being free, then I was suddenly turning a profit. It was its own addictive rush.
I was fairly atypical as far as most drug dealers go. I answered the phone on the first ring, I was friendly and my apartment was clean. Word-of-mouth was all the marketing I needed. I never in a million years would have wanted or needed to “recruit” any new customers, and the ones I had were mostly weekend warriors. I was about as far as you could imagine from the stereotype of the unshaven sleazebag who lounges near grammar school playgrounds, trying to “turn” kids into addicts, yet what I did qualified me for membership in one of the most vilified minorities in America.
Let me be clear. This is not an apologia. Meth is a nasty and addictive drug. I do not advocate its use, have not touched it in 15 years. But just as meth is a symptom of the disease of drug addiction, so are its purveyors. Every dealer I knew was an addict. And if any of you have ever obtained some mushrooms for Burning Man, done a few bumps of coke at a party, or procured Oxycontin from your maid, you have had a direct or…