“Drugs Don’t Discriminate”
The Genocide That Genocide Created — Part 3
The Genocide That Genocide Created is a three-part series examining the journey from the crack cocaine explosion in urban Black communities during the ‘80s and ‘90s to the current heroin epidemic in rural and suburban White neighborhoods. The story is told from the perspectives of a former Baltimore drug dealer, current Washington, D.C. police officer, and recovered Maryland drug addict, all of whom lived the crack epidemic firsthand and share their experiences and thoughts about how we’ve ended up where we are today — right back where we started with police armies attempting to wage the same archaic war on drugs. This series aims to spark a dialogue that addresses the multifaceted change needed to stop this cycle of failure.
“I love gettin’ high. Imma cr-cr-cr-cr-crackhead.”
— Gator, Jungle Fever
Pedophiles, dog eaters, crackheads. In the minds of most people in our country that would probably be the Holy Trinity of untouchables, but could deliverance from the heroin epidemic that has engulfed rural and suburban White America be found by talking to and connecting with one of them?
“There is no formula to becoming an addict. It can happen to anyone.”
Kenneth “In Them Rooms” McD (last name changed) had a happy childhood.
“My moms was cool. I mean, she would get in your ass, but that’s what she’s supposed to do.”
He played football.
“I loved sports.”
As I stare at the fifty-two-year-old Black man sitting in front of me in his Capitol Heights, Maryland living room I can imagine him wreaking havoc playing outside linebacker or maybe busting open holes at fullback. He has a strong build, the kind you get from making a living with your back, not lifting weights at your local gym. His voice is gravelly. His language coarse. There is, however, a passion and inspiration in his oration. Imagine Tupac reading “I Have a Dream.”
There was no decisive moment that led him into a life of addiction, no gateway drug or substance. He wasn’t trying to stop the pain — physical or psychological — caused by some childhood trauma. In fact, he can’t remember the exact moment when his battle with addiction began.
“I guess that I was always an addict.”
This is Kenneth’s story:
It started off with alcohol.
“I used to love going to clubs, picking up broads.”
Next thing he knew he was popping acid and then chasing the acid with some E&J to get up off the acid. Many nights before he knew it he had drunk half a gallon of liquor.
“We drank alcohol like it was water.”
He needed help to get started. Friends taught him how to roll his first joint, set up his first line, how to keep alcohol down so that he could drink more and not throw it back up.
“You didn’t want to make the same mistakes that you’d made in the past.”
With time he was drinking something that could start a car.
“Corn liquor. Now that’s some strong stuff.”
He learned how to freebase coke, cook crack, shoot heroin.
“Surrounded by thugs, drugs, and drug paraphernalia.”
— “This Can’t Be Life” Jay-Z
“Then I was set.”
But it was never enough.
“It came to the point that whatever was on the tabletop grabbed my attention, but those were, like, the fun moments. See, it left from the fun moments until it became a job.”
Then it became a nightmare.
“I was the type of guy who would punch you in your fucking face and say have a nice day.”
He ran with a tough crowd.
“We were some vicious dudes.”
They would steal drugs from other addicts and then use their drugs in front of them.
“If I ran out then I’m looking at you. Once [the drugs were] all gone, I transformed into a monster.”
Encounters with cops weren’t off limits, either. He once punched a cop into a bush.
“I guess that’s why they started shooting people.”
A friend snitched on him so he started running by himself.
“Then I learned to defend me.”
Then he had no one. Then he was alone.
“I gave my family hell.”
His loved ones tried to help him. They would invite him over for dinner. They wanted to feed him.
“But you end up being one of those people who has become an outcast. Then they get to a point where they don’t even want to let you in the door. They’ll feed you, but they feed you out there.”
His family — his own flesh and blood — would crack their front doors open and hand him his food in a plastic bag. It was Washington, D.C. in the winter.
“From the bottom of the bag I could feel that the food was nice and warm, but it’s cold outside.”
So he would hurry up and eat it with his hands in the snow.
“That’s not the knife that brought the camel down, but that was the scar that had me thinking: Wow, they really didn’t want me here.”
He went to prison.
“In my case — I have to look at it — It was more like a savior.”
There were people in his old neighborhood who wanted him dead. A drug dealer jacked him up and put a gun in his side.
“Cops, courts, and their thoughts is to derail us / Three time felons in shorts with jealous thoughts”
— “This Can’t Be Life” Jay-Z
“Even in prison you still got animals. Now you’ve got caged animals. There’s no tellin’ when they comin’. It might break off at any given time of the day.”
He soon learned that prison wasn’t a place for rehabilitation. They’d take his prints, shoot his picture, and put him in the hole. Then they would let him out. He was free again. Free to do whatever he wanted. Usually after thirty days, he’d be back. It became a vicious cycle.
“In some ways jail was its own addiction.”
He overdosed. Repeatedly.
“I ain’t gonna lie to you, I was in a place that was happy as hell.”
He was caught between life and death, heaven and hell. It was an afterlife experience. It was a dream or so he thought.
“The dream took me back to when I was a young little teenager in sports real heavy, you know what I mean? I’m enjoying myself, a happy fucking little kid, but then I got these jokers back here where I was at trying to bring me out of it.”
He would wake up with water all over him. There’d be ice under his back. He would look into the eyes of people who had just saved his life and the only thing that he could think was:
“Why in the fuck did you bring me back?”
They say that you’re either homicidal or suicidal.
“I was too scared to put a gun to my head. I was too chicken to cut my own wrists, and putting a rope around my neck — I wasn’t feeling that too well.”
He tried to kill two birds with one stone and murder himself.
“My lowest point was when I was sleeping on the doorsteps of businesses or a stranger’s house.”
He ended up in soup lines.
“Every morning when I went through the soup line this guy would be like: ‘Man, are you ready, are you ready to get yourself back together?’”
He would ignore him. Then the guy would tell him:
“I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
This made him laugh.
“I would tell him I ain’t gonna be here. I got business, like I’m running a Fortune 500 company. I got somewhere really to go.”
The next morning he’d be back and the next morning after that and the next morning after that and…
“There was this little guy named Tyrone. I could drop kick him anywhere, but he had a heart that was so huge. He just looked at me and he stared me down. And I’m like, dude, you’re looking at me like you’re seven feet tall. He wasn’t nothing but four foot nine.”
He asked Kenneth:
“Why don’t you come on and stop this madness?”
“And I was, like, ‘I just ain’t ready yet,’ and he was, like, ‘You are ready. You just don’t know it yet.’ Tyrone left, but he told Miss Jaunita, ‘If this joker comes back, immediately send him up to The Mountains.’”
The Mountains was a treatment center way up in the mountains that helped addicts get started with their recovery process.
“It was in West Virginia somewhere. That way you could get the city out yo’ mind. That way you could focus on you.”
Once Kenneth got there he realized that it wasn’t for him. He remembered that his boss owed him money and decided to leave. He opened up a window to climb out.
“I looked outside and it was pitch black. I would not have had a clue which way to run. Then I was in West Virginia and they had sheets running around and shit.”
He had robbed drug dealers for their stash, punched cops, annihilated his body and mind with drugs and alcohol, wished for death, resented resurrection, but what waited in the darkness outside of a West Virginia window scared him.
So he surrendered.
“I needed help to get started and I also needed help to stop.”
He walked downstairs and talked to a counselor. He felt like someone understood. The counselor did. He’d been where Kenneth was. He was a recovered addict himself.
“It takes an addict to help an addict.”
He kept telling Kenneth the same thing over and over again:
“You’re gonna be alright.”
Kenneth stopped running, stopped hiding and took a look at himself.
“I had set myself up for this failure in life. I manufactured and bought my own problems. I was my best customer.”]
So he changed.
“I’ve been driving the big trucks.”
He traveled around the country. Doors started opening back up.
“After all these years I’ve finally gotten a passport.”
Years earlier he was working in Langley, Virginia, the headquarters of the CIA, doing demolition and was fired because he was considered a security risk.
“Because of my background. My prison record was still active.”
Now he’s taking cruises to other countries.
“That’s like a carte blanche to me. I can go anywhere in this world.”
He wants to help people.
“I have a higher purpose to do whatever God wants me to do, but I had to get cleaned up first.”
The Bible says that a fool learns from experience and a wise man learns from reading the word of God. Meaning: you don’t have to experience something yourself in order to know that it’s wrong, bad, a dumb thing to do. God, karma, consciousness, the universe should make that clear to you. Unfortunately, there’s a little fool in all of us.
“In order for you to know anything really about a person that is caught up in [addiction] you literally almost have to be around a person who has been on it and feel the power of them and actually see. You can’t learn this. College, degrees all over the fucking wall don’t mean shit. It’s gonna take someone who’s been there to go back in, grab one, and get them out. Fuck, you can’t do this shit out of a book.”
Kenneth’s not impressed by education, money, position, influence, power. He’s seen addiction destroy pillars of the community.
“That’s what I try to tell people: drugs don’t discriminate.”
There is a White judge who still hates him.
“She blames her daughter’s death on me. She came into the neighborhood where I was dealing love boat and it killed her.”
Love Boat: Marijuana cigarettes mixed with formaldehyde and PCP.
“The government used to pass out this peanut butter. It was in a number ten can. Inside this number ten can you can see the peanut butter, but then you had this big ass oil slick on the top. So in order to get it to some consistency you had to stir up this oil slick back into the butter until you got it smooth. One thing about that government peanut butter, it wasn’t prejudiced about what kind of bread you put it on — rye, wheat, pumpernickel or white. It was guaranteed to fuck it up.”
“The addiction world is just like that. Whoever goes in there — if you don’t respect it — it’s gonna tear your ass out the frame.”
As the focus on drug abuse and addiction has moved in this country from the urban Black inner city to White suburban and rural areas, many have tried to change how addiction is viewed.
“Now that it’s White people getting strung out, folks wanna to be sympathetic. That’s cool.”
But what’s past is prologue and those who forget history are guaranteed to repeat it. Because…
“Really things are getting worse. Government programs are being cut. The Mountains is gone.”
Many lives were lost and destroyed because of the indifference, disgust, and push toward punitive measures in handling drug addiction in the past. Nothing can change that now. What can change now, however, is our perception of that past.
An addict is an addict — Black, White, rich, poor, he, she, crack, or heroin. Atonement needs to be made with the survivors of the crack epidemic, not only for their own good, but because of the good that they can do to help fix the White heroin epidemic that we all find ourselves knee-deep in today.
“Yeah, Hov is back / Life story told through rap / Niggas actin like I sold you crack / Like I told you sell drugs / No / Hov did that / So hopefully you won’t have to go through that.”
— “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” Jay-Z
I ask Kenneth how he got the nickname In Them Rooms.
“It’s not a nickname.”
Kenneth wanted to share his story, but asked not to be photographed. He was afraid that there were people in his new life who might not be so understanding about who he once was. In fact, most people don’t even believe him when he tells them.
“Sometimes I meet people and ask them, ‘Would you believe that I used to be on drugs?’ and they laugh.”
In Them Rooms is the name he goes by in the Narcotics Anonymous and recovery community.
“They’ll see that name and they’ll know that it’s me.”
He tells his story for them more than anything.
“There are people still out there — lost souls like me.”
Nobody wants to be a crackhead. Nobody wants to be a heroin addict. Drug addicts are vile and disgusting creatures to be avoided, until you become one. An addict is willing to do anything to get his or her fix. So an addict should also be willing to do anything to recover, and that might mean crossing the boundaries of race, class, and perception that much too often divide and separate people to find answers.
So let’s remember that. Because, after all:
“We are all the same.”
Kenneth has been sober for sixteen years. Our interview ends when he has to go to work. I have asked all of my questions, but he still has a lot more answers, for all of us.
Read the entire series, starting here: