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I, Criminal


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City Journal

Channeling a view from the other side

Thomas Hogan Kevin Dykes

July 30, 2021

I am a criminal. Nice to meet you. I am 21 years old, right at the peak of my criminal power. I live in a big city. I have been to juvenile placement, county jail, and state prison. Let me tell you what I think about today’s criminal-justice system.

Before we go any further, please disabuse yourself of the notion that I am dumb. I watch, listen, and learn from what happens around me. In some ways, I’m probably smarter than you. I bought three kilograms of cocaine for $93,000 last week. Quick: tell me how many quarter pounds, ounces, and eight-balls I have, and what should I sell each amount for if I need to make $250,000. I did that in my head while you were reaching for a calculator.


The media and academics call us “nonviolent drug offenders,” but a nonviolent drug dealer is like a kindergarten teacher who doesn’t like kids: out of work. We sit on highly valuable merchandise and stacks of cash; of course, we carry guns. We are always at risk of being robbed, of what business people would call “hostile takeovers.” Since we can’t go to the police and complain, we’re as violent as we need to be to protect our business and our territory. Sometimes that requires merely the threat of violence, sometimes more.

Guns are easy to get, though I have a felony record and bad intentions. I can buy a gun on the street for $200. I can get a civilian with a clean record to walk into a gun store and buy me a new one. Ghost guns are available, though not really necessary. You can incentivize gun buybacks, outlaw assault rifles, confiscate bump stocks, or create new laws; none of it affects me.


So life is pretty good for me right now. In the Wall Street Journal the other day, Peggy Noonan called this a “golden age for street criminals.” But I might not make it long beyond 25 years old. With all the drama out here, I could end up dead. A lot of guys in my neighborhood have been killed. Or I might go to prison for a long stretch if the federal authorities or state attorney general get involved. I am living out the old curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

Is there any chance that America comes to its senses and starts cracking down on guys like me? I look at social media, listen to the news, read the occasional newspaper, and pay attention to politics. I don’t see it happening for at least a decade. So I’m going to keep doing what I do. Nothing personal—just business.

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