On a chilly February night, a tall young man named Ron sits in MacArthur Park, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his thin red jacket. In an interview with Times staff writer Darrell Dawsey, he tells a story that's familiar in the netherworld of drug abuse.
I'm from a small town in Louisiana, but the fast life got me. I wanted to hang with the fast people. I had a job at the Southern California Gas Co. I had a job paying $30,000 a year. I had two years of college at Southern University (in Baton Rouge).
I lost all of it because I got hooked on dope, crack.
That s--- is a double-edged sword. It makes you feel so good, but it'll tear your life apart. I've met every challenge in my life, man, and won. But I was not able to beat this drug thing.
I started off selling it. I was making a little money, but then I started getting high too much. Pretty soon, I was smoking more than I was selling.
My company paid $20,000 for me to spend 30 days at a rehabilitation clinic, $29,000 for the next 30. But they got tired of me going to rehab. I wasn't making any improvement. I was still smoking and messing up my life. So they fired me.
That's why I'm living like I do. I can't get a job.
I heard that they were trying to legalize drugs. That would be the worst thing. Think about it. If they got better cocaine, everybody would try it. You won't have anybody in this country who isn't on their way to getting strung out.
That's a lie, when people tell you you won't have crime (with decriminalization).
I had a heart operation, had a valve replaced. And I'm still smoking. Coke is a cruel mistress, man. She don't care who she takes from. And she doesn't give anything back.
These kids who sell it, they'll tell you. They don't sell it because they are bad people. They sell it to stay alive. How else are people going to make money? Nobody wants to hire too many black people. So they think we are supposed to starve because they won't give us jobs? Naw. People are going to try to stay alive, any way they can. That doesn't make you a villain.
(The drug epidemic) is a tough problem. I really can't say what the solution is. I think you need more education. Enforcement doesn't work. People need jobs. I think that's one of the main things: jobs. I blew mine, but that doesn't mean I don't know how important a job is.
After the jobs, though, I don't know. It's tough.