Over the past few years, I have used this space to talk about a lot of things, my faith, my family, my work, my community, my beloved Arizona Cardinals.
One thing that I have never used this space for is a book report. So please indulge me as I transport myself back to Kyle Elementary as I share what I learned from one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time.
I recently finished “Dreamland,” by author Sam Quinones. Mr. Quinones is a Californian who started out working for west coast newspapers in 1987, finally culminating in a job with the Los Angeles Times. He is well known for reporting on Mexico.
And yet, his “Dreamland” is mostly centered on Portsmouth, Ohio. On the surface the connections between Portsmouth and Mexico are probably seen as being a mile wide. Yet, there is one common, and deadly thread: heroin.
Mr. Quinones weaves a series of amazing tales of how heroin comes from Mexico and infiltrated the country and finally found a home in a sleepy rust-belt city.
The alarming part of the stories that Mr. Quinones chronicles is how the heroin drug trade has fundamental changes than what we might believe the drug trade to actually be; to say that my paradigms on how drugs are dealt in this country changed would be a gross understatement.
To understand how the heroin drug trade works, Mr. Quinones takes you to a small farming village in the Mexican foothills of the Pacific coast, Xalisco. It is in this town of just over 21,000, a clear majority of the Mexican heroin starts here.
The young men of this town find their way to the United States armed with a few caps of heroin, a smartphone and a late model vehicle. They find their customers from those that have had their pain medication run out. These young men have a pretty compelling sales pitch. A cheaper more effective product that comes right to your door. On top of that, it’s a cash transaction. No need for doctors, insurance companies or hospitals to get involved.
Perhaps that was the most fascinating aspect of the heroin drug trade; these young men dealing this drug are trained in customer service. That last hit of heroin not potent enough? Here is a free one on the house.
Also these young men are rarely, if ever, caught with guns. They learned from illicit drug dealers on the past; guns and violence invite police presence and a bad reputation. Any disputes that might arise between dealers are deal with “back home” in Mexico.
And these young traffickers go back home after three months to basically spend the cash they earned. Once they are broke or they have that itch for excitement that need scratched, they will come back to America. To these young men, the reward of living in America earning money is far greater than the risk of getting caught or making a living on the sugar cane fields of western Mexico.
As I read the book, what I found most fascinating about the drug trade is that it is always continually evolving. Not only has technology made communications between the supplier, the dealer and the customer so easy, the behaviors of the dealers have changed. Who in the world would have believed that street level drug dealers actually value the customer? Management gurus like Peter Drucker would be proud.
The book makes no bones about it, fighting this drug epidemic is not easy; it’s a continual game of Wack-a-Mole. Right when the police bust up one dealer and his operation, another one sets up shop in the next town over. Gone are the days when you had to go to some seedy back alley in a beat-up city to get your drugs; the dealers come to you and are willing to travel to the most rural of spots.
Mr. Quinones’ recommendation for communities on the front lines is to start dealing hope. In Portsmouth, local leaders actually bought the last factory in town and started to hire the town’s people to work there. Armed with that hope, Portsmouth is beginning its long climb out of the tailspin.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.