I listened in on a trilogy of success stories this week.
They were about three local-boys-who-made-good. Their ages averaged 25. Each was married, with two to four children. None had any special educational advantages. In fact, two never finished high school.
Yet, today, they're earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year apiece. Tax free.
They live in good neighborhoods, drive good cars, wear good clothes. Their neighbors respect them, and apparently the police do, too. Because none of them has so much as one arrest to mar his record.
This, to them, is vital.
Because if they were picked up, booked or even known, it would probably mean the end of their very flourishing businesses.
They are, by trade, heroin dealers. They're the dope racket's middlemen.
They buy a few ounces of H at a time, cut it, and sell it to pushers at a fantastic profit.
Strangely, I'm told that the men don't even know each other.
Less strange is the fact that none of them has ever taken a fix. They -- like most dealers -- are in the game strictly for the big dollar. Yet they all admitted, in the fantastic interviews which I heard, that in the table of organization of their trade they were strictly lower income bracket salesmen.
How I heard the interviews, or who conducted them, I can't say. Obviously and unfortunately, the interviewees didn't risk jeopardizing their freedom. They would never have opened their mouths unless they were positive that what they said couldn't be used against them.
The stories, if true -- and, under the circumstances, I have every reason to believe them -- serve as a fantastic indictment against the system we have of policing narcotics out of our society.
The fact that each has been operating for so long (from 2 1/2 to 5 years each) without once being molested by a law enforcement agency; the fact that they are men of not especially high intelligence or cunning; the fact that each just kind of "stumbled" into the business; and the very fact that they're so cocky that they would permit the interviews -- it all totals up to one helluva shocking commentary on the efficiency, or the sincerity, of society's so-called drive to rid itself of a major evil.
I wonder out loud how these men can possibly still be operating today.
Most of the strikingly similar stories they told dealt with the facility of their operations, and the minimum risks involved in buying and selling their product. Getting it here or just across the border was equally simple, they said.
And even if they were caught, they added, they'd only get three or four years in prison under existing law. After all, they'd be first offenders.
The ratio between profit and penalty made the risk worth taking, easily.
"I'd still get out of the joint a young man -- and a rich one," one dealer explained.
All talked about "retirement." None lived too ostentatiously. That wouldn't be smart. Each had a front "occupation," although none worked. Each mentioned that probably, some day, he'd take his fat bundle of savings and go into some legitimate business.
One said: "If they'd passed the Dills' Bill (a bill killed in committee by the state legislature this which would have stiffened narcotics penalties considerably), I think I'd have gotten out right then."
But he added that the "void" left by him would be filled quickly -- high jail penalties or not -- so long as there was so much money to be made so easily.
One Must Be Ethical
Pulling out, all agreed, would be easy, just so long as they played it level with their business connections when they left. Just so long as there was no heat immediately afterwards -- anything to point the finger at them as informers.
In my days of reporting, I've talked to a lot of addicts and peddlers. They were small men, emotional, confused, hating themselves for what heroin made them do.
But never before had I heard the cold businessman, who shrugs off his participation in the most vicious of all rackets with the rationalization, "If I wasn't dealing it out, somebody else would be."
It was a lesson.