Prelude to Interview:
PULSE is generally a content-heavy site full of government and political data and links. But every once in a while we'll receive submissions of original writing works which need to be published and read. This interview is such a case.
To us, this interview is a slice of life many of us rarely see. The business of selling drugs on the streets of Buffalo. Does it have anything to do with government or politics? We think it does. It shows just what goes on in the lives of some people that make a living here in WNY. Government leaders and politicians should be reminded of this side of the economic equation often.
The writer, Frank Parlato, Jr. has several websites of his own and publishes articles in several weekly and daily newspapers in the WNY area. You can visit his website if you need more information on the writer.
The interview took place in 1998 at a house near the intersection of Bailey Avenue and Genesee Street. The maps which appear below lead you to the point where this interview begins. We hope you enjoy the interview and if you have any feedback be sure to send it to us. Also, if you have suggestions for other articles or if you're a writer yourself, contact us about getting your work published.
AN INTERVIEW WITH TWO, 19 YEAR-OLD CRACK DEALERS
by Frank Parlato Jr.
Time: 11:40pm. Saturday night. Place: Buffalo New York. At a crack house near Genesee and Bailey. After an introduction from a mutual friend, and with assurances to my interviewees of anonymity, I began the interview:
Where do you get customers?
Lester: I got most of my customers watching the older hustlers. You watch whose ever selling there who they sellin' to and then, you know, you try to sell it to them yourselves.
Parlato: Do the other guys get mad when you steal their customers?
James: It goes as far as, say, me, you, we both got a destination. I may be on the block to hustle, you may be on the block to hustle, and we have customers and we fightin' to get the customers and the more customers you make that's more food that you can put on your table.
Parlato: You're both nineteen ?
Lester and James: Yeah.
Parlato: How much money did you make today?
Lester: Five hundred.
Parlato: $250 each?
Lester and James: Yeah
Author of the interview, Frank Parlato, Jr., shown during the interview from a long-range camera lens.
Parlato: What was your biggest sale?
James: Three for $20.
Lester: The biggest I came through on one was about $60.
Parlato: What do you do with the money?
Lester: You gotta take half of it to get more.
James: You can get an 8 ball for, you know, maybe 100, 115, 125 and you make bags for 250 for that 8 ball and you take that 250, you know, if you really want to get back - this is called cost efficiency -- you're really not supposed to spend your money -- you take that 250, and it can get you a quarter. You take that quarter, and you meet the quota, and it will get you a half.
Lester: the thing is that you keep movin' up. If you stand still, then you not goin' anywhere else. ... Now, for a person who is hustling for dear life, if they mess up their money, you know, they definitely gonna have to shoot or steal somebody else's.
Parlato: How do you avoid getting caught by police?
Lester: You just stay out of their dodge.
James: Stay out and dodge man.
Lester: You most definitely gotta know who you sellin' to. Even if you know who you sellin' to, if they got a habit on their back, and they can't support it, all the cop's got to do is pay for that and they still got you. Cause the money is just as dirty as the dope, you got to hide that also. If the cops catch you with anything besides the ID in your pocket, then they got a reason to take you down. A bag of weed will get you took down just to strip search you and find out information about your neighborhood. The best thing to do is just to stay out of plain sight period. All you got to do is what we call stick and move.
James: You move by yourself. You make sure you don't dress like nobody. Niggers tend to dress the same.
Lester: Like fatigue pants. If you rob somebody, no matter what your color, you got your hood on. You could rob somebody on Jefferson, but the cops that we got, if they see us way over here, they know we ain't got nothin' to do with it, they know we a drug dealer, but we got the similar article of clothing on, and that's gonna be the reason to pick us up and go search us.
James: Shit, we young and black.
Lester: The robbery could've went on the other side of town. But that's an excuse to get that hustler that they know into the station so they can search them.
James: Search them and beat them.
Lester: the cops, my feeling towards it is that they just dirty as all hell. They can just punch me in the face, as young as I am, just by knowing my rights, you know. I've even seen them do worse to others. You know what I mean? I'm not mad at them because some of them do their job, you know, but even then, tst, man , one officer who got the good cop of the year, he killed somebody.
James: Killed somebody
Lester: They out there to impress each other. They the biggest gang on the street.
James: That's all it is, just a big gang with badges, like that crooked officer is gold. That badge is not gold man, it pretty much goes along with you know, that badge don't make you a man. The man make you man to man. His business make him a man. How he chooses to go about life, that's what makes him man. You know? They don't think like that man. They think "well, you know, whoever we get, you know, if we go up in their pocket, we gonna find some money. You know, there's a certain amount of money, and they ain't got no way to explain to us how they got the money." Shit, we figure, we already know, so we don't take it. You see that cause another conflict. Next they come up into your spot when they not supposed to without search warrants. It could be your momma house, it could be your sister house
Lester: All it takes is a couple of frustrated officers that really figured you been on the streets too long. They know what you doin,' but they can't catch you. So then they use off the wall tactics, just to keep gettin' you in court. Some of them don't care if they had a warrant or not, they gonna come after you. They go way beyond the call of duty. Just by suspicion they tear your whole house apart, everything you own, and they will leave your house in dismay and they will not care. They out there to impress each other. They the biggest gang on the street.
Parlato: Are these mainly white or black cops?
Lester: Well, they say the black cops follow behind the white cops, but some of the black cops are just as dirty as the whites. They come in with their own attitudes. They come in like "yup, I'm 260 pounds, you little 150 pound hustler. We'll throw you around" Everything is that tough to them
Parlato: Why won't you get a regular job?
James: Half of us wake up and we wonder "where the hell we gonna go?". They been a lot of times where, you know, father was out, my mother was caught up in the game, she left me and my brother in the house for days by our self. I'm the one that's left to do the thinkin,' you know. I'm the one that's gotta get the food. How ever things came along, they just came. We
had to deal with it. However it came that's how I took it.
Lester: I started young, so when I started I was really, really too young for any job.
Parlato: How old were you?
Lester: Thirteen, and I was young enough just for a paper job. Paper job not gonna bring in the type of money that you need in your situation.
Parlato: So you can make a lot of money from this?
Lester: You can. That's the most definite plan, but it's the point of spinnin" it the way it's gonna have to be spun, you know? Most hustlers spend that one million dollars and won't know it. They just got it, and they living large. They'll buy hundred dollar bottles of liquor, and that's just they life style because they got a million dollars. Ain't nowhere to invest it. But when they fall, they lookin' stressed out, and they probably fall upon crack themselves.
Parlato: Do you guys smoke crack?
Lester: No, no never
James: Never, no
Lester: I mean, it's like you're smokin' crack you might as well just go ahead and give up all plans of ownin' any homes, give up all plans for taking care of your children, just give up your future. When you sit down and smoke dope you might as well curl up in the corner naked. You'll never have nothin' to own, just you and that pipe.
James: Like me and my little brother, we definitely products of what my man was just speaking about. You know, see my granddad, you know, he was turned out to the gang, you know, and you see my mother happened to be pregnant with me, you know, and she had got into it. She started, you know? God, goodness man, I didn't come out no crack baby. My brother got caught. He got a speech impediment. You know it was from my momma, to my daddy, to my uncle, to my aunt. I mean, I used to sit back, young as hell, see the little squares, squares and the mirrors, and the seven-eleven cups, and E and J, and the cocaine, all over the plate, and, you know, once my moms just got turned out so bad man that it came to the point where she couldn't get us back. Man her mind was completely gone.
Parlato: How old were you when you had to take care of your brother and yourself?
James: I was nine years old, and my mom was leaving us in the house for like three or four days. I'm wearing her trench coat, walking to the Central Park Plaza, stealing meat, putting it in my coat, and I got to get people next door some meat cause I didn't know how to cook then. So I had to give them a half of what I was trying to get me and my brother just to feed me and my brother.
Lester: If a nine year old can get out and do that, by the time he 13 he gonna have the mentality that "I have to hustle." If ain't nobody turned him around by the time he seventeen he gonna still have that mentality. Some people are just born into poverty you know, and some people are born into rich. You never born middle class unless someone is workin' in you family and then you get to a certain age they can't even support you in that middle class way. So you branch off into your own. You have to become somethin'
Parlato: Do you feel any guilt because you're selling a really bad thing to people?
Lester: You know you can't get caught up in no feelings about anything. You see somebody spend a hundred dollars for crack and they can afford that, but then you see someone spending three dollars for crack because it's all that they could scrape up. You know what I mean?
James: The only time that you really may feel it, is if you see that person in need of it which is called tweeking. I mean a person will do anything, To see some of the things that go on man, it would just burn your eyesight man and make you think, "damn, this is not possible." But it's definitely possible.
Lester: But it's the same things, goin' on for years. You start to losin' the guilt. You see, people put theyself in their own predicament. It's like you never feel guilty for mom. You know what I mean? You felt sorry when mom was doing it, you know, and all of that, but who really cared? Did they care when they were selling it to her? They gonna get it from somebody. You can't turn them away. There's pregnant women out there. I threatened to beat up one of them, because she out there. You know what I mean? Tell her "go home, you don't need to be out here, you gonna kill the baby" and all a that, and two minutes later, I walk away from her, I'm thinkin', "fuck, that bitch she gonna right down the block."
James: Goin' right down the block!
Lester: She really goin' right down the block and she not even care.
Parlato: Did you sell it to her?
Lester: You got to. You basically just got to. Either you goin' to put her in a rehab, if you care, put her in a rehab. If you not, sell it to her, cause she gonna get it anyway. You out there to support yourself. You can close your eyes and hand it to her or whatever, But it's all gonna be the same.
James: You could spit it on the ground. You could tell her to "pick it up youself." Whatever, there's still the bottom line.
Lester: The only reason I would care, even stoppin' and second guess'n, is if I seen somebody reenacting the same thing that I went through, because, you now, I could never, first of all, sell to anyone who has a kid with them. That would just be really disrespect, because I be really ready to beat up on them. But still they got their kid with them. You know? And you start arguin' and they still go to somebody else, and so I be mad at the person who sell it to a person with another kid there. Cause you think, the kid's sittin' there and thinking like "this is my future, this is just what is gonna happen to me."
Parlato: When you're selling, you don't keep it in your pocket?
Lester: Nahh. Well, some people do it, and that's just hypocritical, cause if you standin' out there, and you got to sell it out your pocket, the cops are gonna notice it.
Parlato: Where do you hide it?
Lester: Bury it in the ground man, stash it in old garbage bags. There's no way tellin' where the dope is hidden. You just can't have it on your person.
Parlato: So if I came up to you and wanted to buy a dime, you would go someplace and come back?
Lester and James: Yeah.
Lester: If you don't trust me, keep your money, because this is the way we roll. You know, truthfully, if I was to see somebody out there, you know, and he ask me for crack, the first thing I would tell them is "get the hell out of here, I don't sell that shit....." Now to have them leave and come back with somebody I know wouldn't mean nothin' different neither. I won't sell out of pocket to people I don't know, cause, first of all, I mean, you might as well just have it in your pocket, then it don't matter where you had it or if you gave it to a cop.
Parlato: What happens if you get caught by the police?
Lester: If they ain't got no investigation behind it, if you get caught you gonna do time for how many ever packages you sold. But if you got warrants, and they been tracking you down, and this is just the evidence they need, you can get years. There's automatic years after you sell it to an undercover.
James: See we don't even mention the "niggers" and the robberies. We don't mention the gun play. We don't mention...
Lester: In your hand you got a bundle of crack. Now your element every day is everybody is out to get this. The cops they take you to jail for it , Niggers will rob you and kill you for it. And some people don't want you, neither one of them want you, to sell it, you know so.. Your money is dirt. All you is holding right here is the bundle of the end of your life.
James: It's either you goin to start making the money, or you gonna smoke it. And it's the end, cause once you get that devil, it's over. You may say that you goin to turn back man, but, hey, I'm tellin' you man, I don't see that happenin' to too many people
Parlato: Have you seen anybody make it big?
Lester: There are people out here that started from as low as thirty dollars and within two or three years of hustlin out there you see him ridin' by you in a Porche paid for off the lot. And you will know from hangin' with this man every day and you seen him come out there with $30. Two or three years later and he's pushin' a fully paid for, whatever the year of the Porsche, and he take you out to his house. You knew this man never had no job. So this is what just keeps people motivated.
Parlato: Are there a lot of guys hustling now?
Lester: More than needed. You could run across Buffalo, you could find crack everywhere, As long as there's a group of kids on the corner, this is the cops theory, and this is true, as long as there's a group of young blacks on the corner, there's dope being sold. Point blank and period. If you see somebody lingering, or you see them standing up on corner stores, and you see them fake a motion, walkin' across the street and back and cross the street, that's the guy you're lookin' for. He's either smokin' it or he's sellin' it. Ain't no man out here walkin around without a job for 24 hours a day ain't sellin' no dope. When I went to jail, I went for a shootout, I was tryin' to shoot at a certain gang of people because they was hustlin' the wrong area. So I get caught with the gun, you know what I mean, and I do a month in jail, six months on house arrest and five years probation, I feel like they runnin' me in the dirt because I didn't shoot nobody.
Parlato: And you're still on probation?
Lester: Yeah. They forced me into the Youth Build, I'm trying to work for them but since they know the position I'm in they tryin' to run me through the dirt. Boy, you need this job you goin' to do this that and the third, you know. I went to them like yeah I talked to my probation officer and they treated me like I ain't got no emotion. So she don't care as long as you stay workin' or go to school you know. Now I cut that back , tryin' to go to school tryin' to register for ECC and all of that, you know what I mean and in the process of waitin' for that I get denied so I'm goin back to hustlin' and that's dangerous, you know?