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How did I become a mephedrone smuggler?

Experience

My name is Felix Campbell, after college I worked as a journalist for a long time, but after a while my life changed — I became a mephedrone smuggler.

It’s a cold winter night, just past midnight. I’m in someone else’s van driving down a highway I’ve never seen before. I’m on my way to pick up a shipment of mephedrone to take across state lines.

What could possibly go wrong?

The trip was organized at the last minute. You don’t ask questions in these situations. But when your partner-in-crime calls and asks if you can go to Toronto and make a quick drug deal, it’s hard to say no.

The money is too good.

However, the trip is nerve-wracking. I don’t know the client or the person I’m meeting in Toronto. It’s 25 degrees outside. The van is old, and cold air rushes in through the cracks in the window. I can’t seem to keep my phone charged because the cord is frayed. And where the hell is that heating control?

Still, I’m making good time considering I need to make «human contact» around 3am. At this rate, I should arrive around 2am. Once I’m there, I’m not quite sure how it’s supposed to go. I work purely on trust.

About an hour away from my destination, my client calls to check on my progress.

«Hey, be real careful when you get there. It’s the same place where a guy was killed a couple months ago» — my client says.

The adrenaline is kicking in. I remember that feeling when I was an internship reporter assigned to the Marines in Iraq. Your senses are heightened. Retreating is not an option. You just have to move forward, keenly aware of every wave and detail, every nuance of the moment that could lead to trouble. Because you can’t fail. Failure at this job means jail or worse.

How did I become a mephedrone smuggler?

I need to pay my bills, and theoretically that’s why I’m here. But honestly, I also enjoy the adrenaline rush. I don’t know what appeals to me more about this task: the money or the excitement. I’ll make more money in one «launch»”than I would in two months as a journalist. But equally valuable to me is the sense of vitality, intensity and real stakes. I feel engaged, alive. What I do has consequences. That’s important. You don’t get that working as a journalist or as a loader in some Amazon warehouse.

Beginning (mephedrone smuggler)

For me, it all started the moment I came back from Iraq. I was there twice as a journalist (intern). I was shot at, I was bombed, and I saw a lot of people die. And then I went back to the office and wrote about a woodpecker infestation in a local retirement community. The divide was serious. The alienation was growing. But at least I was getting paid well.

«Maybe too good», my bosses thought. After working in journalism for a long time, I quit. I had no experience or other skills, and the industry was in agony, making jobs scarce. Worse, I had a bad attitude — I was never good at pretending to like people I didn’t like, so socializing didn’t come naturally to me. My job prospects were limited. That’s an understatement; there were none. Depression soon set in.

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Once you take the first step into the underworld, the rest will become easier. Your self-esteem is no longer tied to conforming to society’s rules. In fact, it starts to get stuck when bending them. 

Over time, the idea of a strict life starts to sound a little repulsive, and the idea of working behind a desk or counter starts to sound offensive.

I was once on the phone with a friend who had moved to Montreal from Toronto. He was complaining about the high prices of marijuana and told me about trying mephedrone and really liking it. He wanted to delve into the MCAT topic and added that an enterprising person could pick up a couple pounds of 4-MMC and make some money because it was starting to peak in popularity now and was relatively legal (this was about 10 years ago).

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The idea appealed to me.

I’m not a bad criminal — I would never hurt anyone or steal anything. But I don’t agree with the laws against cannabis. Everyone I know uses it, or at least thinks the laws are stupid. So I didn’t have any moral doubts. The only question was: could I do it and not get arrested?

At the time, I would tell you that my main interest was money. But then I remember something that happened before the idea was proposed, when MEPH was banned everywhere.

I once met an elderly woman in a bar in an upscale Toronto neighborhood. Her husband had died and she was having trouble paying her rent. I asked how she was able to live in this expensive city. «Don’t tell anyone» — she said, leaning over and whispering, but I sell mephedrone. I caught the note of pride in her voice and understood it without reservation. Poverty will not subjugate me, she seemed to be saying. I live my life on my own terms.

I knew some people who knew some people who knew some people. The scheme seemed simple enough. Buy cheap in Calgary, go to Toronto and sell high. Long trip, good return, no problems. Well, maybe a few problems. As much as I didn’t want to go to jail, get robbed or shot, the thought of things going bad sweetened the deal. It meant I had to keep my sanity. It was a «choose your own adventure» story.

This first trip was very nerve-wracking. I slowed down and turned my head, looking carefully for any sign of highway patrol. The basic rule of drug smuggling is don’t stop. It’s not that hard: don’t drive a car that looks like a drug dealer’s car, don’t speed, and never be white.

After the first time, I felt better, but not too comfortable. This is another way to avoid jail. Never cut corners. Always use extreme caution. And never taste the product. Save it for later and buy it yourself.

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It would be more honorable to say that I smuggled mephedrone out of economic desperation, but that’s not true. I liked the rush. I also liked the people I dealt with and the familiarity of the human condition. Even after wandering around various «part-time» journalism jobs for a long time, I’ve never known humanity the way I did here. In the dark, you see people up close. You recognize who has a good soul and who has a cloudy soul. You have to trust your intuition. People will show themselves to you and it is important that you listen to them.

Living on the edge brings you closer to other people and to yourself. That’s why people do it. Because we want adventure, connection, and proof of our own existence in a world that otherwise treats us like expendable and interchangeable materials.

The world seems designed to distance us from ourselves. On the surface I was selling drugs, but underneath I was rejecting the boredom and alienation imposed on people as punishment for economic hardship. I was trying to touch life in my own way.

I arrive in Toronto at three in the morning, blurry eyed and almost dead on my feet. I wake up on my own and meet my client at an upscale hotel downtown. He’s not ready to make a deal yet, and I can barely keep my eyes open, so I take my chances and doze off on the couch in his room. He seems trustworthy, I tell myself, though truth be told, I can’t stay awake for a minute. It’s either that or sleep in the freezer van.

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On the way out, my client hands me a thick wad of cash. I count it. You always count them, and here’s what happens for this very reason: he’s $150 short. It’s a risky moment.

Did he just miscalculate or did he intentionally count me out, a show of aggression, a challenge? Do I just go along? Not in this business. That money is pennies, but it’s the principle of the matter. My word is my guarantee, and so is his.

No contracts, no lawyers – just honest and dishonest crooks, distinguished only by reputation. I mention a discrepancy and he counts it and then adds money to make it right. No animosity, no violent arguments, no loss of business.

I’m not done yet. I head to the house in the suburbs — beautiful, but with sheets and blankets covering the windows, a sure sign that some dark shit is going on. It’s dawn and the neighbors are still asleep, plastic-wrapped newspapers collecting dew on the freshly mowed lawns. I set the van in the garage and close the garage door.

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If something bad happens, it will happen here at the point of transmission.

This was a last minute gig. I don’t know the reasons, but my guess is that someone else was supposed to make the trip first and the plan fell through. This person may know a few key details about this transaction. This person may be vindictive, or greedy, or both. That person could decide to show up at that moment and take the shipment or take revenge. I could get caught in the crossfire. This has happened to many people, many of them more experienced than I am.

Inside, the client’s two-man crew fills black garbage bags with mephedrone. You can smell the strongest chemical odor in the place. One guy decides to try using mephedrone intranasally for a bit. That bothers me. This is a sloppy operation. I greet them warily, ready to jump at the first sign of trouble.

They load the van with a huge amount of product, enough to make me realize that if I get caught, it will mean serious jail time. I’ve never been to jail.

I almost start to hesitate, but then I realize it’s useless anyway. I’ve come too far down this road to turn around now. Plus the pay is good. The crew is sloppy loading the van, and I don’t have time to fix it. I just throw a blanket over the whole mess and hit the road again, back north.

It’s a quiet and cold Sunday morning. Just be careful and stick to the speed limit and all will be well. And thankfully, it does. I have no problem meeting my client’s deadlines. He happily pays me what he owes me and takes the van. I go home tired, but full of adrenaline and much richer than when I left.

When I look back on my time in the mephedrone smuggling business, I remember a lot of downtime, a lot of situations that are objectively quite boring: long waits, long distances, long red lights.

But here’s the thing: when you work most jobs available to the average person, the boredom comes with you. When you work in a black market job, you experience countervailing pressures. Boredom means a dulling of your senses, which can lead to a stupid mistake. So, it’s up to you to stay alert, be attentive, find everything interesting.

I’m reminded of the trip back from Toronto. The trip is long and quiet, and I hardly slept at all. I load up the Red Bull to stay alert. Another mile marker, another city boundary, another provincial border. In the background are thoughts of money, jail and death. In some ways I’m almost in a coma. But in another I’m awake.