A debut memoir chronicles one man’s transition from drug addict and mob accomplice to stable, spiritual business owner.
The author has certainly lived a life worthy of a book. As a child growing up in Rhode Island, he suffered beatings from his mentally unhinged mother and neglect from his alcoholic father. After being sexually abused by a pair of school peers for years, 11-year-old Campbell realized that the only way to protect himself from others’ cruelty was to prove his toughness. He viciously beat his abusers with a bat, and from then on joined gangs committing petty crimes because of the camaraderie and pocket money they offered. Adulthood saw him graduate from local burglaries to nationwide criminal enterprises, as he and his partners developed insurance scams, filmed and distributed pornography, and distilled and sold cocaine. Everything he did was in the pursuit of money, but his cocaine addiction meant that he was always scrambling to find his next fortune-making scheme. And success in the underworld came at a cost; the author lived in constant danger as he outmaneuvered mobsters and the police, both of whom would have liked to serve him their particular brands of justice. A 13-year federal sentence brought all this excitement to a crashing halt, and while in prison, he began to question what kind of purpose he envisioned for his life as a whole. Campbell relates all these events in simple, matter-of-fact language, detailing moments of criminal drama but glossing over other elements (like his marriage and divorce with his first wife). The narrative presents an odd mixture of reflection and thoughtlessness. Moments of insight arise, including when Campbell asserts, “Everything that was a serious problem in my family was treated as a secret that shouldn’t be discussed,” and when the white author met a young black prisoner serving a much harsher sentence for possessing far less cocaine. But the word “pornography” could be replaced with “packing tape” for all the examination Campbell offers on that industry, and the seesawing between introspection and blind machismo celebration makes for a curious reading experience.
An unpolished but heartfelt recounting of a vivid life.