Dear Drug Dealing Neighbor Five Houses Down,
While you and I have had only passing encounters, I consider you a friendly acquaintance. On occasion I’ve smiled and tossed a nod your way. You’ve shown signs of recognition. Once you even stopped my kid’s ball from rolling into the street. It saddens me that we’ve never had a real conversation, especially now since I believe it is time for a heart-to-heart.
Allow me to begin by saying, I understand. I see you walking with your friend down our street. The two of you strutting passed my house, in perfect stride, a band of brothers on mission. You laugh together as you travel to the trenches. I watch from my porch as you smile, exchange chatter, and share an occasional joke.
Although it’s the economic opportunity that brought you together, your relationship is not a business partnership. It’s not about the money you are going to collect or the drugs you are going to distribute. It’s about the fraternity. It’s about the companionship. You see one another as family and will do anything to protect each other. When you march down our street you are part of a pack, maybe for the first time in your life; and this belonging warms your heart. It fills your natural need for acceptance and connection. I understand.
I’ve watched you at the gas station down the street, you and your partner standing statuesque at opposite ends of the parking lot. Both of you alone, shivering in the crisp wind, unmoving, focused. In those moments your comradery is disrupted. The only contact you have with one another is the occasional text message through which you tell the other what cash you’ve received from a customer so he will know how much product to distribute. Jovial times are over, but still you persist; because right then it is not about the pack. What fuels you then is not the fellowship, but the threat of being caught. Still it is not the drugs or the cash, it is the thrill of evasion and the mission to survive that drives you forward.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I know the money is important to you as well. I saw its power the day you escorted three high school girls down our street, flaunting your wad of cash with each step, pretending to count it by stroking it rapidly with your thumb, holding it out for the world to see. But I don’t believe you understand the real value of what you carry.
This was painfully clear to me that time I saw you drop a five dollar bill and rather than chase it with wild disregard for personal dignity (as I would have) you simply let it blow away with the wind. It was then that I realized that you have not yet had the revelation that each one of those bills stuffed in your pocket represents hours of your life. No, you do not see your money in that way. For you the money represents accomplishment. You believe it to be a symbol of your overcoming. You think the wad you have proclaims the world that you have beat the odds, that you have won the game of life by finding an easier path, that your teachers were wrong when they told you that if you didn’t study you wouldn’t amount to anything. You have no thought of saving up for rougher times. You do not see money as a necessity for keeping your lights on, feeding your kids, or enjoying moments out to eat with friends. For you it is the same as the well-kept shoes you wear, the tattoos on your neck, or the x-box in your living room. It is a sign that you are someone, that you are important.
As I said, I understand.
So I don’t see you as a villain. You are not evil. You are just a kid who had a rough hand dealt to you, made poor choices before you were mature enough to understand them, and is now trying to find belonging, meaning, and significance. You are just a kid.
There was this moment a month ago when you were riding your bike down the street, you were steering with one hand and flicking on and off a taser with the other, right then my heart broke for you. It happened again late one night when I saw you dancing to your iPod as you walked home. I used to do that same stupid kind of stuff when I was a teen. I loved breaking into construction sites; not to steal, just for the excitement of exploration. I once rode a skate board like a luge down an icy hill with no thought to the traffic at the cross street. This is the kind of stuff boys do. You are just a kid.
Like most kids, you think you are invincible. You feel things will be forever as they are right now; but they will not. You are a wood pecker chipping away at the branch on which you stand. A fall is coming. It is inescapable. If you continue on your current path, the only real question is at whose hand you demise will come. I see two major contenders.
The cops were at your house a month ago. I thought that was it for you. I thought they were going to haul you away. I thought the next time I saw you the gleam of youthful innocence would have been beaten from your eyes by the hammer of prison. But you returned to your normal route a few weeks later.
I have no doubt this false victory only encouraged you. Sadly you are not one of the ones who will rise to underworld greatness. You will not survive to be a ghetto kingpin. They will catch you. You are free to roam because of the current supply and demand issue in our city. The supply of cops is greatly overwhelmed by the demands of crime, but it is only a matter of time.
If not the cops, your demise may come at the hands of those you serve. Oh, I know you think you have it under control. You think because you provide their poison that they will remain submissive. You believe Kanye’s lie that you are each day becoming stronger, faster, and smarter. But addiction is a powerful thing and you are not as disciplined as you think you are.
There was that one time for example that two of your clients came to my front door looking for a phone to call you with because you had missed an appointment. The three of us sat on my steps and had a good talk. We discussed their addiction and relationship with you. Your call successfully terrified them into walking back to the gas station to wait for you; but they were young, like you. You won’t always have that same influence. A day may come when you will find yourself caught between the toxin you distribute and the addicts you’ve helped create.
So before your branch breaks, I’m pleading with you. Walk away. This journey you have chosen will not end well. Get out while you can. Yes, you will lose your crew, your sense of purpose, and you feeling of significance; but you might keep your future. I will do whatever I can to help you start over. Whatever it takes.
This is the talk I would love to have with you, heart-to-heart, face-to-face.
But since we are no more than semi-familiar faces, since I have no hope that you would trust or accept my advice, I know we will continue with the status quo. I will nod hello when you pass, you will occasionally acknowledge my presence, and anytime I see you breaking the law I will call the cops on your ass, hoping to either speed your departure from my neighborhood or force your decision to stop the insanity.
See you tomorrow.
Your Neighbor Five Houses Down