THE COCAINE KIDS: The Inside Story of a Teenage Drug Ring by Terry Williams

THE COCAINE KIDS: The Inside Story of a Teenage Drug Ring

Age Range: 1982 - 86
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A sad and shocking report by enthnographer Williams (Growing Up Poor, not reviewed) on his descent into Manhattan's drug-hell and the mutant Horatio Algers he found there. From 1982-86, Williams spent several hours a week running with a band of eight teen-age cocaine dealers, most Domincan. Here, drawing on more than 1200 hours of fieldwork and ""six thick notebooks,"" he writes about them with sympathy yet scholarly objectivity: ""My intention is to throw light. . .but without blaming the victims and without placing the teenagers in stereotypical roles."" The key word is ""victims,"" for despite the cash, easy sex, and social status that dealing brought his ambitious subjects, Williams considers them players in a no-win game; of the eight, one wound up shot, several became addicts, and all the rest but one moved on to straighter--and safer--lives. In their heyday, though, the eight ran an amazingly complex and efficient retail operation out of la officina in Washington Heights; Williams illuminates every aspect of that operation, from wholesale buying to packaging to security measures. Of greater interest, however, are his sharp details of the personal lives--marked by broken homes and big dreams--of the dealers, and of the neon netherworld they inhabited, a jivey night-land of ""cocaine bars,"" after-hours clubs, and Bosch-like crack houses (""the smell is a nauseating mix of semen, crack, sweat, other human body odors, funk and filth"") where women work as sexual slaves in exchange for drugs. It's a twisted American-dream domain in which the most common aim, as one dealer puts it, is to be ""the king, making crazy money for as long as I can, any way I can."" Engrossing popular enthnography and a rare look at a guarded world; but Williams' refusal to consider the morality or root causes of his subjects' drug-dealing is troubling--particularly in light of his excusing it (""the underground economy"")as ""the only real economy for many. . .

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1989
Publisher: Addison-Wesley