A lil’ while ago when we put the word out for contributors to join the itchy, burlap tapestry known as The City That Breeds, some interesting voices began coming out of the woodwork. One of those voices: “The Bishop.” He’s a community organizer, a church enthusiast, a writer and a thinker. In the interest of being purely experimental and diversifying our vocal portfolio, he’ll be adding some ponder to the mix every so often. As an introduction here’s a piece entitled “To My Drug Dealing Neighbor,” a contemplation on the state of things in one young person’s life – money, time, relationships, and advice for someone that may simply be unreachable.
To My Drug Dealing Neighbor Five Houses Down,
Although you and I have had only passing encounters, we are friendly when we see one another. On occasion I’ve smiled and toss a nod your way. You’ve shown signs of recognition and once even stopped my kid’s ball from rolling into the street. But we’ve never had a real conversation. We’ve never sat down for a heart-to-heart.
It might surprise you, but this is something I’d really like to do. I would love to have you over to share a cigar and whiskey on my front porch, to have a little chat. But since it does not appear this will be happening anytime soon, I’m putting what I would like to say to you into this letter.
I understand. I see you walking with your friend down our street, two members of a band of brothers, laughing together as you travel to the trenches. I see you smile, chat, and share an occasional joke. Your relationship is not a business partnership. In that moment, it’s not about the money. It’s not about the drugs. It’s about the fraternity. It’s about the companionship. You see one another as family and will do anything to protect each other. You are part of a pack, maybe for the first time in your life; and this fills your natural need for acceptance and connection. I understand.
And I know this life gives you purpose. I see you at the gas station down the street. I watch you as I fill my car’s tank. You and your partner stand statuesque at opposite ends of the parking lot. Both of you are alone, shivering in the crisp wind. Yet still you are unmoving and intensely focused. At that moment your fellowship may be physically broken, the only contact you have with one another is the occasional text message telling the other what 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 is the threat of being caught, the thrill of evasion, and the mission to survive. In that moment you have meaning and purpose. And again, it is not the money or the drugs; it is the cause that feeds your heart.
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. At that moment I realized that you have not yet had the revelation that each one of those bills stuffed in your pocket actually 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 success. 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, steering with one hand and flicking on and off a tazer with the other …and 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 skateboard 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.
I know you think you are invincible. I know you believe things will be as they are right now forever. But they will not. You are a wood pecker chipping away at the branch you stand on. 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 and I thought that was it for you. I thought the next time I saw you much more time would have passed and 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 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. If the cops don’t get you first I fear for your day will 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 want to plead with you, walk away. This journey you have chosen is not going to end well. Get out while you still 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. Seriously, whatever it takes. But I can’t do it for you. You have to walk away.
This is the talk I would love to have with you. But since we are no more than semi-familiar faces, since I have no hope that you would trust or accept my advice 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.