One Family's Quest for the American Dream in the Age of Crack
Email this review


 An incisive rags-to-riches-to-prison tale of a dirt-poor family from the Arkansas Delta that capitalized on the booming Detroit crack market in the 1980s. At their peak, Billy Joe Chambers and his brothers grossed $55 million a year selling crack cocaine in a city rocked by plant closings and high unemployment. Through a penetrating examination of the economic and social structure of the Deep South and the inner city, freelancer Adler shows how crack distribution could be ``a rational career choice.'' One of 14 children, Billy was 16 when he arrived in Detroit in 1978. He moved in with his 12-year-old girlfriend and her mother, who was making extra money selling black-market prescription drugs. A party-supply store run by Billy's brother Willie on the Lower East Side proved a lucrative outlet for marijuana sales. By the summer of 1984, Billy ``diversified'' and began offering his customers ``a constant supply of junk food, marijuana, and...crack.'' Crack was cheap, as low as $5 per rock, and Billy could net $10,000 from a single ounce of powder cocaine. He was hounded by the police from the start, but he expanded his operation until he was selling from six houses at once. Finally, in February 1988, following a series of raids by the Detroit Police Department's No-Crack Crew, betrayal by a former friend and employee, and a grand jury investigation, Billy, three of his brothers, and 18 others were indicted on charges ranging from conspiracy to sell cocaine to illegal firearms possession. Billy and brother Larry, a violent ex-convict, were also charged with ``supervising a continuing criminal enterprise.'' Larry is serving a life sentence, while Billy is doing concurrent sentences totaling almost 50 years. Writing with Billy Joe Chambers's full cooperation, Adler has produced a remarkable record of the day-to-day operation of an enormously successful drug operation. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-87113-593-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995


NonfictionTHE MAN WHO NEVER DIED by William M. Adler
by William M. Adler
NonfictionMOLLIE'S JOB by William M. Adler
by William M. Adler