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Life of a dealer

BY ISAAC HAMLET | NOVEMBER 21, 2013 5:00 AM

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“Something I was very interested to learn is that, drug dealers, when they’re robbed, there’s a code.

If the drug dealer doesn’t fight back and gives [the robbers] the money, the robbers will tend to let them keep their stuff. That was really fascinating to me,” said Peter Madsen, a former journalist for The Daily Iowan and the author of the new book Dealers.

The book is written in a Q&A form and features 16 interviews from across New York, examining the experiences of drug dealers and how they operate.

Each interview starts with a black-and-white picture of the dealer with their face hidden, often by a hat or hood. While the pictures are taken to protect the identity of the dealers, they also add a dose of mystery that encourages the reader to continue reading.

“I had a window of six months to find 15 subjects across a variety of substances,” Madsen said. “I found the dealers the same way people find drugs, asking friends.”

As these dealers talk about what they do for a living, it’s interesting to hear that nearly all of them refer to the sale of illegal substances as a legitimate business. Business or otherwise, many of the dealers interviewed make more than some people holding professional jobs.

“New York City Comptroller John Liu just evaluated the New York City marijuana market at $1.5 billion, and that’s just weed,” Madsen said.

It’s not difficult to see why it would be an enticing alternative to a more traditional job.

Also intriguing is how they view this “business” and what they do. Some feel it’s a corner society has pushed them into, and some simply see an opportunity they were able to take advantage of.

For at least one of the dealers, it was ingrained in his childhood. His father sold drugs to the extent that marijuana would almost continually lie around the house.

All the interviews are well-paced, and not one becomes stale. A few of the individuals blend together, as people with similar backgrounds and experiences become more common.

But even then, the book manages to continually feed the reader fresh information and stories.

“I’d say that during the course of each interview, I was surprised,” Madsen said. “If I didn’t learn something new during an interview, I probably did a shitty job doing [it].”

The last interview of the book has Madsen speaking with a NYPD cop who worked in the Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit. Having spent the previous 130 pages reading about and sympathizing with drug dealers, this final interview leaves the reader almost shaken.

The cop — McNelly — fills out the other side of the story and does a lot to confirm or invalidate the tactics used by many of the dealers to avoid detection.

In many ways, McNelly is not only a contrast to the drug dealers but also most of the cops in the other interviews —– many of whom committed a number of unjustified arrests.

Ultimately, Dealers is easy to pick up and while perhaps not exploring some of the darker aspects of the trade, would satisfy anyone with even a passing interest in the mechanics of the black market.


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