Many urban African American communities are adversely impacted by illegal drugs. The jagged circular saw of drug introduction, addiction, peddling and incarceration leaves broken minds, bodies and spirits in its wake. These urban environments are defined by discrete boundaries delineated by blight and the presence of law squads curiously trolling the streets for prey to feed the prison industrial complex. The inhabitants of disfavored urban areas do not receive fair treatment nor do they enjoy protection from environmental and health hazards. The birth of disorder in urban African America was woven into the fabric of the U.S. ultimately to deny access to and influence on the structure of the American republic.
We may regard urban dwellers mired in drug addiction as ‘others’, ‘them’, ‘those’, ‘not us’. However, we fail to realize the ‘otherness’ of those in our own suburban and rural families. It is all about location and selective enforcement. It is much easier to find a needle in a haystack than a farm field. Drug dependence and substance abuse is all around us and none of us is immune to the effect of substances on our lifestyle and environs. Drug abuse is an environmental justice issue. As long as a community is corroded by the effects of drugs, the powers that be will not ensure a safe and healthy condition. So, what do we do; what is within our power to change; what is the first step? It starts with me; the individual. We cannot wait for the world to change, we must make that change. Our personal action can ripple into a movement of waves with an energy that erodes away the rot on the face of our society.
Black Organic is honored to share the truth of one man who is leading the way. Mr. Clarence Brown is a recovering heroin addict; 27 years immersed in the culture of consequence, every activity controlled by craving and avoidance of severe physical and mental distress.
When did you start using drugs and what lead you to start using?I started when I was 20, messing with cocaine and weed. It was straight curiosity, no peer pressure, nobody egging me on. What was in the 10 dollar bag? It must have been about 1981. I kept seeing it on TV and saw my friends doing the stuff; they spent money on it. It was just a bag of leaves. Then I realized okay, it’s kinda fun and thought everything else would be more fun. I did not get into heavy drug use until I got to Baltimore at 22 and I stated seeing stuff; people preparing needles and I was like wow, I want to try that. I was never middle class, just lower, lower, lower middle class and my parents were proud of us going to college, but they thought and imparted to us that we shouldn’t jump too high because you’re gonna get smacked down. I went off to Radford University and met a woman at University of Virginia and followed her to Baltimore when she got sick. I was just hanging around Baltimore and was dippin’ and dabbin’. I dated a woman for nine years who, we thought, could not get pregnant. We had a daughter and I was not ready. I disappeared; fell off the face of the earth. I was making lots of enemies in the streets and I didn’t want anyone looking for me, but finding her. In the midst of my heroin addiction, I was able to work in security and made good money. I held it down. I was at the Latin Palace on Broadway for five years and then ended up on The Block on Baltimore Street for another 10 years. I just wanted to find out what’s up with the drugs. Once I got the feeling, I just wanted to do it more and more. I thought nothing could hurt me, that I couldn’t be stopped. I soon realized that I had no shield; that I was open.
What was your lifestyle while using drugs? What were some of the things you would do?It was a gradual thing. I started off living with my daughter’s mother and we worked; moving forward. But there was no way to do that because I was taking money. I would snort, snort, snort all weekend. It happened until I moved away when my daughter was 3 years old. I lost all contact with her when she was 7 and just got back in touch with her this year. It got to the point where the pull of drugs was so strong, I didn’t care and I became a full time drug user, became a hustler; I didn’t have a good game, my speech was not quite what it needed to be. I was good at generating sympathy. Go to the bus stop and say I needed to get to a job interview and people would offer five more for lunch. Then I would go up the street and get more money, get enough money to do what I needed to do. But the whole time, I was able to hold down a job. It was possible to make four or five hundred and night and still be a bum. I didn’t have any food and could not pay rent. It was easy to sustain addiction because I was getting paid every night and I lived as if I always had money. Yes, you do… and then you don’t.
What was your worst moment while on drugs?My absolute worst moment is when I got locked up about the seventh or eighth time. It got to the point where no one would have me at their door because I was doing all that slick stuff. I was running for the girls. A guy gave me 60 bucks and of course, I was getting something for me. A cop caught me and I had six pills, dope. I put the pills in my pocket, which was full of candy wrappers and thought they couldn’t find it. Anyway, I get locked up and I’m so sick. I was already quite a bit sick when I went to get copped. I had still had one pill still down in that pocket. I thought I would stick my hand in my pocket, pull the sweatshirt over my head and pull the pill into my palm. I dropped it. It went clack, clack, clack. I was naked. The guard said, “Are you serious, really?” I asked, “Can I do it?” He said, “No, put it in the trash.” The guard said, “You a little old for this, ain’t you?” I was about 46. I said, “Damn. I am.” That’s when I finally got the sense of time flying by. I almost died. I was so dehydrated, diabetic and had high blood pressure. I didn’t know it. The infirmary asked me who to contact, because I was almost ready to die. The lady started singing a song to me. A black lady, she was so motherly. It was so weird. She kept me awake. Once I felt hydrated, I started to think that I could get out of this. I’ve had other occasions. Once I was sick, this old man on the street woke up and said to me, “What are you doing out here? You don’t belong here.” He could have been talking to a mouse, but he was talking to me. He went right back to sleep.
God will give you a lot of rope to go and do and see and learn and he’ll drop parachutes and set up situations to attend, but you have to go do it. I’ve had so many different opportunities in my life that I walked past while I was doing what I was doing.
Was there any particular event or revelation that pushed you to decide to quit drugs?It is hard to say that. There were a bunch of different revelations. The situation with the drunk guy, going to jail. It started to trickle down. I went to treatment and came out of that and used. That was what stopped me. I went through the six months and thought I was ready. I’ve got my certificates and I’m going to get a job and do right. I walked past a spot that had some good dope and I knew it. Physically, I was a clean slate, but my mind was still dirty. I hadn’t prepared my mind enough. I thought, so what, let me go get this blast. It felt like it always did, but I didn’t like it anymore. There was no clarity. There was no point to doing it. Why am I doing it? I left it alone and started to find different places to help me and I went to Baltimore Community Resource Center, the Courage House is one of their houses.
Please describe the effect of drug use on your life. Include how you believe your history has impacted your current status.
Well, um, the whole thing about using all that time, you are not able to see the time passing. You are working. I never really was out of work, maybe about a month. I didn’t use the money for anything but getting high. There was an accumulation of time and money that disappeared. Whatever I accumulated at that time is gone. After 26 years, I have nothing. I’m 51 and I am now doing what I should have done when I was 21. I’m coming into my talents. I knew when I was 21 that I was a pretty good writer. I always talked about maybe one day I was gonna write a book. People on drugs always talk about what “I’m gonna do.” No, you can’t you sittin’ here with us. When I look back, technology took us through typewriters, word processors, huge oversized computers, then laptops that all passed me by before I sat down to do what I said I was going to do. That goes to say that you could be the brightest, most intelligent person, but heroin pulls a veil over your head. You don’t receive and you don’t radiate.Even at my worst addiction, I always felt like God was knocking. Are you ready? You are ready now, c’mon now. There was never…
It was always very loving. I kinda reached these points, getting a little recognition from my writing. I felt very alone. I know that I’m not alone, but it is hard sometimes to remember that you have friends, that people are concerned about you. The thing about addicts, you always feel like you have to get things done; that you have to make up that time. The most dangerous thing an addict can do is dwell on the past, what I could have done, what I should have done. You get overwhelmed. That can send an addict back out there. An addict is most excellent at saying, “Fuck it.” It is a lot easier to be oblivious. It’s not like you don’t have responsibilities, “Fuck it”. That’s what you say. To suddenly be clean and try to live a productive life, you sometimes say, “Is this why I stopped getting high?” You run around and nobody wants to give you money (pointing fingers), “You’re a druggie.” It’s my fault. “Oh, you were an addict.” No, I am an addict. It doesn’t go away. You’re damn right. You should have been taking care of this and that. Just because I am an addict, does not mean I don’t recognize. Your mind says, “I did this.” I did this to myself. If someone wants to buy me lunch, “ I say, I did that.”
Please describe how you pushed forward to recapture your life?
It is dangerous to try to recapture your life. You kinda have to start from where you are. You have to start almost as if you are a child and you have to learn everything new as if it is new to you. Addicts will say, “Fuck it.” Or “I know”. That is a sign of an addict; that they are on the way to relapse. You cannot live as a regular person. You cannot act as if you’ve done it before. Your past has to stay back where it is. Everything has to be face forward. If you think back, it is a trigger. It puts you right back to where you were the last time you had a blast. You have to look forward.What encouragement can you share to help others dependent on drugs or recovering from dependency?
I have to be careful with that too, because I don’t want to come off like a NA guru (Narcotics Anonymous). Those type of people have a way of grabbing on to the NA program and make it their life. What are they going to do when they have to step out and deal with people? I will say, continue to pray and ask God to help you with things you have difficulty with and to continue to move forward. It is not lack of fear; it is going on in spite of fear.How did you meet our friend Bob Jones? What did he do to help you move toward your current success?
I met Bob at Healthcare for the Homeless at a writer’s group that was established there. It wasn’t so much what he said, but his energy. I just watched him. He was moving around. Everything was a grand sweeping gesture. It was inspiring because I wanted to move, but not. He asked me about my poems. He gave me a poem and told me to write a similar poem without copying. He was impressed by it. It wasn’t anything so much what he said, but how he said it, his energy. “Oh, wow, we need to sit down and write a book”. It was matter of fact, like we just wrote books all the time. I was overwhelmed with his certainty. How can you be so certain? “Oh don’t worry about that, let’s just do it. This is what is going to happen and how it will happen. You will do it and then I’ll take a look at it in a year.”Bob was like the energy and Neil was like the direction. Professor Neil Hertz of Johns Hopkins and Bob Jones supervised the writing group. During the time while I was trying to get something done with the book, Neil Hertz was in Palestine, but he spoke to Clarinda Harriss with Brickhouse Books at Towson University. Professor Hertz sent her a manuscript and it sat with her for a month or two. She got back with him very energetically saying she wanted to do something with the book. The book was published in January 2012.
Your book, Needs, is based upon your experiences. How did those experiences shape the characters in the book?
I ran across many people who actually are the characters in the book. My sister and brother-in-law. Brenda is an amalgamation of a bunch of different women. Brenda is named after my oldest sister. All the dancer, pimps and drug dealers were all people I encountered in the streets. They are all a little of each.What are your goals within the next five years?
I want to become a drug counselor, an addiction counselor. I need to have my hands in the situation in order to help. It will be hard to help if I was in an ivory tower type of situation. It is not that I intend for one of my books to be a best seller. I almost feel like I’m being punished. I cannot divorce myself from the drug community, not if I intend to help. If I win the lottery, I’m out. That says something to me about God’s will. I am an addict, three years of pain. If I won the lottery, I would overdose. That’s the thing about being an addict, you want to do the drugs. The battle is not to do it.Part of what keeps people clean is the lack of resources to do drugs. If you were rich, you would be eccentric. If you were rich, the consequences don’t come down. If I popped up rich right now, not having to worry about going to jail, being sick or what my significant other thought, I would just buy a new girlfriend. A lot of what it is about an addict is whether or not you are socially acceptable, society’s perception.
How do you feel?Hopeful, determined. Really, just full of wonder because there is a lot that I didn’t notice opening out around me right now. It’s weird and I know that striving to achieve society’s perception of social acceptability is a short path to relapse.
Black Organic supports Mr. Brown’s efforts to live well and achieve his goals. Mr. Brown’s first novella Needs is on sale now. You may also find Mr. Brown in video. The book is an awesome read; shocking, disturbing and heart rending. Mr. Brown takes you deep into the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, a “view from the gutter looking up through the grates” - Mr. Brown. The book is also a learning experience. Readers will never look at the streets of Baltimore the same way again.