(The Future Tenderloin Leader Battles, and Explains, Addiction)
Unknown to myself, a problem lurked that would plague me for 18 years, a problem that would keep me from fulfilling my goal. I started to chip and use drugs, then selling them, then going back to jail. In 1950 1 was sentenced to one year in Jessup Prison for possession of heroin. I was released in 1951 swearing never to return again. I passed away my time in prison re-reading all the books on psychology, such as Karl Menninger. I was always trying to understand the reasons for my drug use. On returning to Washington, D.C. I again went back to the same old ground, the same old beat, the same old drugs. This lasted until 1953, when I was apprehended for possession of drugs by the F.B.I. (selling and possession). I was politely given 3 to 6 years, which meant I was to do 3 years in a Federal prison and 3 years out on parole. The life of a drug addict in or out of jail is about the same. He secures drugs. He uses drugs. And by the very definition of the law, he is a criminal.
Everything else is of no consequence when he is deprived of drugs. The lack of drugs is the soul and life force that keeps the addict knowing that he is a human being and that he hurts. The addict population in jail is the only group that has something to live for on a day to day level. He needs drugs and will do anything to get it. He is devious, clever and the most corruptive influence in any prison. He corrupts other prisoners and he corrupts the guards to bring it in. He corrupts the visiting system to bring it in. He even corrupts the mailing system. The life of an addict is a total waste. The lack of love and equality has devastated him. Most convicts in jail turn themselves off but the addicts turn on. There is just as much drugs in jail as there is in the street.
Again I went back to my books. I wanted to be free. Books like “1 Cry Tomorrow” I read desperately, looking for an answer. A drug addict’s life is a hard, hard life. I spent many hours talking to addicts in ICY and other jails. I spent time talking to psychiatrists, jailers, social workers, ministers, psychologists, and all the other psychologists, trying to prepare myself for coming home. The guards would say, “you’ll be back.” The head of the narc bureau would say, “once an addict, always an addict.” The doctors would say, “leave me alone, the police may be looking.” Everybody threw up their hands and said, it’s your problem, solve it.
So I returned to the streets of New York City in 1956 with great resolve and little hope. Needless to say, the three years the judge told me to spend in the streets were spent in a revolving door of short cures in and out of K.Y. Riker Island Hospital (most places that would even attempt to cure addicts were situated in jails or jail hospitals). At this point in my development I must say that my education in the human service delivery field was as a client of these services. I learned that you must manipulate people because they themselves were not sure about their own mandate. Addicts were a population that was situated at the bottom of the ladder and a low priority, if a priority at all.
In 1959 1 left K.Y. treatment center for the last time. The one thing I was certain of was that I would not be returning! I had two things in my favor, my parole officer and Sarah, the woman I met in 1949. What made these people important to me was their continuing faith that I was worthy of a better life.
As for myself, I felt tired and I was older. Drugs didnt’ hold the same fascination for me, the same intrigue. Value for value, it just was not worth my going back to jail. I am not saying that I didn’t like it, I’m saying that I wanted something else.
On returning to New York City, I began to do something a little different. I moved away from people who stimulated me to do my upper mobility trip. I found myself a room in a small hotel on 85th street, had a hot plate so that I could cook for myself, and joined Welfare. I had made up my mind that I didn’t want to be with the hustling crowd.
No more big time dealing. No more jive pimping. I was determined to square up. I began to move slow, sit in parks, watch ‘people, feel the pulse of New York and be alone, plus lonely. I spent many hours introspectively trying to get in touch with myself. I was walking around with a great big urge for drugs beating my brains out. I had to go for the last shot, I had to complete the ritual. One for the road. Without planning it, I was with a group going upstairs, getting down with somebody’s bag. For the first time in years I was not ambiguous about a fix. This was my farewell to arms. I woke up many, many hours later in a closet with a dead man. We both had “0.0.” (overdosed). The people that had stuffed us in the closet thought both of us were dead.
I moved out of the hotel. I joined the church and found a job. Sent a thank you letter to welfare and began the journey back to normalcy. First I became a workaholic, rather than an alcoholic.
Most substance abusers exchange one habit for the other. My goal was to drown my urges. In my job as a warehouseman, I worked hard, sometimes 12 to 14 hours a day. Sometimes Saturdays and Sundays. I became the head man. I was one of the few, if not the only, Black man who ran an entire warehouse with an inventory of millions. My boss knew I was an ex-con and an ex-addict. I knew where every alien was, I knew the exact price, weight and style that was in a given box. I protected my job by rearranging everything in the place. If New York were experiencing a snowstorm and the subways stopped running, I would walk to work. If we did not have enough help, I would do the work of three men. The same drive and intensity I put into being an addict was then being put into the bottle and work.
From 1959 to 1963 was a great struggle for me. Alcohol is a crippling drug! Put heroin side by side with alcohol and both medically are a death trap. But I had had it with heroin. My greatest joy was counting the days, months and years that I was clean. I guess there was some solace sitting in the church singing spirituals, praying and visiting the sick and shut-ins. I became the assistant to the preacher, led the church in prayer on Wednesday night pray meetings. It seems that I had been waiting since I was a little boy for God to come out of Heaven and touch me, to kiss me and embrace me.
One day the boss asked me to make a choice! Alcohol or the job! I had no choice!
The preacher was leaving his cheap flat in Harlem to move into a big house in Brooklyn. I decided to quit working and be an alcoholic for awhile.’ 1 could not beat alcohol and work at the same time. If I was going to beat alcohol I needed some peace, I needed time to figure out the enemy. There were too many games in covering up, playing sober.
I began to spend my days reading all of New York’s daily papers, playing pool for money. Sitting in the parks watching the poor people play the numbers, trying to get rich enough to get off of welfare. The whole scene was fascinating.
The grandmother would be on welfare, also the mothers. Then the daughter who was twelve or thirteen years old would appear one day wearing a maternity dress with a great big grin on her face. At last she was somebody, she was pregnant and ready to earn her share of the welfare money.
I would spend hours looking out of my window at the young boys who shot dice, smoked reefers and then shot heroin. I knew the life of the children, I knew what they thought. I knew what their dreams were made of.
I watched them become dope fiends and hustlers and I wanted to reach opt to them. But I had my own battles to fight. I was on the very road that they would eventually travel if they lived to be 35 or 40. 1 watched most, searching for a father figure only to come up with the numbers runners who thought enough about them to take them out on a free picnic. That is, after they had taken all of their mother’s money playing the numbers. The number man was king of the neighborhood but the coke man was his God! But laying waiting was the master of them all — heroin! I would sit in my window or sit in the pool hall and know the panorama story of Harlem on the move.
Go to Chapter 6
Go Back to Chapter 4
Go Back to Index of Chapters