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by Peter Moskos

March 9, 2014

"The true lives of low-level drug dealers"

Erin Rose wrote a great piece in Salon about your average run-of-the drug dealer. It's not like Breaking Bad (though it is in Albuquerque). It's not like Baltimore's Eastern District. Most drug dealers are not violent. Most drug dealers are not black.

Some highlights (but it's worth reading in its entirety):
Rico works a full-time job and only deals as much as he can reasonably use or hide. He lives in the the same small house he’s lived in for 12 years, in a down-and-out part of Albuquerque that recently began to “yuppify,” as he puts it.

“I’m not trying to be some rich guy. I’m just trying to get money to enjoy myself. Real-world jobs don’t allow people to do that. I think that’s why a lot of people sell drugs,” Rico says.

His “real-world job” pays a few bucks more than minimum wage.
These men don’t belong to cartels or gangs. They’ve never murdered or physically hurt anyone while selling drugs. They don’t keep guns. With the exception of Shorts, they’ve never been arrested. Each of the dealers I spoke with said that they began selling drugs when they realized that there was no way their jobs would allow them to do what they wanted to do.

Selander sees it as a larger societal problem. “Try to raise a family working at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart. Try to buy a house.”

While dealing is not significantly more lucrative — economic researchers report that independent drug dealers make, on average, $20,000-to-$30,000 a year – being self-employed offers these men a freedom unavailable to them at a normal job. Working at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart puts them at the mercy of a system that will ruthlessly replace them should they break any of its rules. Drug dealing, they say, allows them to set their own priorities and schedules.
“I’m not lazy,” he continues. “They call it hustling for a reason!” He cackles. “But I ain’t dumb enough to wear myself out making someone else money.”

Shorts sold meth for a short time, he told me, but complains that the people he sold to were unable to wait, and liable to do something crazy. He prefers to deal only with professionals — and, he says, the professionals do cocaine.

“I like to sell to the lawyers, the doctors, you know, people who have something to lose.”
“Everybody does drugs, but it’s the poor who go to jail for it, ” another dealer, named Cruz, told me.

Cruz had grown up broke. At one point, he, his mom and his brother were living on $9,800 a year. “We tried to go through the bank. No financial institutions would lend to us, because we didn’t have repossess-able assets.”

Without the money Cruz made selling drugs, he never could have opened his legal, and so far successful, business. Once he had the money he needed, he stopped selling blow. When I asked him why, he told me, “If you don’t get addicted to the drugs, you get addicted to the money.”

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