What Is A Crack House?
There's a lot of talk about Crack these days but not much about
the house that Crack lives in. So we the inmates of the Clark County
Jail will take you on a tour of the Crack House himself.
So come on up here on the porch of this old house, it sure ain't
no home. More like Grand Central Station with all the people coming
and going. People laughing, people crying, people just hanging
out--no matter the temperature. Guy standing on the porch in zero
weather hugging his elbows--people wonder what's the matter with
Crack cocaine. He sold the coat off his back to the dope man for
crumbs. Mere crumbs.
He could use that coat indoors: crack houses usually about as
cold as they are bare. Electricity and gas . . . luxuries. No
electricity equals no stove, no cooking, no TV, no popcorn. No hot
tea. No ice tea. (No ice.) No phone ringing. Lots of fast food
wrappers laying around or maybe crammed into a box or trash can, not
that anyone ever empties it.
The couch sits squat to the floor instead of on its legs, sure
sign where the decorator found it, in the dump. Also a table for
important items: a glass stem, hollow like a straw, or maybe a metal
one--these are your "pipes"--and a full Bic lighter, some empty Bics,
a box of Chore Boy steel wool (for filters).
A candle for when the sun's gone and the Bics are empty. Matches
for the candle so the Bics aren't wasted. Broken hangers or car
antenna for cleaning out the pipes. No clocks, don't need them.
Crack time is when's my next hit.
Come on in a little further. There's probably a hall, empty
condom package on the floor, and here's a kitchen. The table is bare
except for razor crumbs from cutting or shaving the rock, too small
to see though though sure enough they'll be somebody down under that
table on all fours looking. Maybe two or three of them.
An empty plate, an empty baggy box. An empty refrigerator if
there is one. Empty cupboards, empty shelves, it's an empty place.
On those occasions where it is somebody's home, it's almost empty
and on its way to being trashed, gutted, shot up, busted out, and
the occupant maybe beaten, maybe prostituted, maybe evicted--at
least one of those, only a matter of time. That's because a crack
house is nothing more than a temporary site with one sole purpose:
Money for the dealer, from $100/hour for a little guy, to maybe
$400 to $500 when everything is set up just right and all players
are behaving. Maybe $1,000 on a good day, maybe $2,500 if you know
how to satisfy the choicest clientele. I'm talking hourly now, and
conservative. And money for the occupant, too. Don't forget him.
Money or something much much better than money. Which is crack, poor
The more crack sales, the hotter the spot and the hotter the
spot, the more faces you see, 10 or 15 people milling around at any
one time. The hotter the spot, the more risk; the more risk, the
more precautions necessary, which leads to the first player:
The Doorman--the one responsible for the door. Who is it? Say
it's you. You don't leave your post without consent. After a couple
of days you get pretty funky. You're a geeker (hooked smoker) and
your wage is crack. And you get plenty extra on the sly, too, as
middle man, breaking crumbs off other people's dope. Till you get
So comes a knock and you open your door and your customer comes
in. You ask them what they want. They tell you 20. Or 25 or 30 or
40...dollar amounts, a quarter rock ($25) being about this [ ] size
and a little thicker, though not always. You take this money and
count it and turn around and walk off in back to:
The Dopeboy--the main man, dope man, the dealer, who does not
want to be seen (hence the Doorman). Dopeboys travel in packs,
three, four, five or six of them, for fear of being robbed. Each has
his own stock--they're just together for security--and they take
turns at the crack house, the balance hanging out in a "Safehouse"
somewhere, a temporary and quiet abode, in this town usually on the
north side in the university area or northwest along the park.
Called dopeboys because that's what they are, on average from 16
to 22 years old. I've seen them as young as 14, and rushers can be
in grade school, 11 and 12 year olds. I know this 8 year old running
for his folks, which is smart. You think they send an 8 year old to
Back to the man. You, Doorman, hand him, the Dopeboy, the
customer's money, and he hands you the dope and back you go to the
customer at the door. He examines the product and nine times out of
ten he ain't satisfied.
You repeat the routine, and more often than not the Dopeboy will
give back the same piece of dope or one smaller, which you return to
the customer and he complains. But as negotiations do not appear to
be going his way, he takes it.
A frequent variation: Doorman breaks off a little bit on his way
back to the customer, like maybe a $5 hit. Customer may or may not
notice this little premium. Now if that customer is me--I know
what's happening--Doorman hands me that tampered rock I say, No,
man, give me back my money if he can't do better than that.
So he steps out of sight, puts back the piece he took off, and
brings it back to me. I usually laugh and take it, but there have
been times I said no again. Then he has to take it back to the
Dopeman broken up. That's where some serious ass-kicking comes in.
Hey, I'm smoking, you really think I give a shit after the
sonofabitch tries to rip me off?
The Hit Man--a necessary feature. He guards the Dopeboy's back,
his 44 magnum never far from reach. You meet that muzzle at the
door, you've got no illusions the dopeboys are playing around.
Believe me, they're not playing. Shoot first, ask questions later,
after they pack up and find another spot. Where it starts up again,
and goes on all night, all next day, twenty-four/seven.
The Rushers--the ones who run up to any and every car or even to
ordinary people passing by: Hey, you looking? Come on, I'll get you
hooked. Usually there's four or five of them, yelling and haggling
and just rushing the shit out of the poor customer--he gives his
money away just to get them out of his face! They'll rush anyone.
I've seen these assholes run up to the wrong car and get cuffs
slapped on them--comical as hell. These suckers get a $20 piece for
every $100 they take to the Dopeman.
Then we have our Fake Rushers--these MF's are nuts. Somebody
cruising, Fake Rusher stops him: Uh, man, I'm rushing for this old
dude but he won't serve you but I can get you hooked.
So the Dumb-ass gives the Fake Rusher his money, so he goes in
and buys a piece and goes out a different door while Dumb-ass just
sits, and then you see him circle the block about a hundred times
and all you can do is shake your head and laugh. Funny part is, the
s.o.b. fakers never get caught. I call them Free Smokers.
Fleecers--"fleece" is fake crack, wax or soap or anything that
can be made to look like crack and also burn like crack--which
sizzles and crackles. You get the name there, but you sure don't get
high off of fleece.
Fleecers are usually rushers who have built up some trust with
their Dopeman, who then will give them say $100 worth of crack and
tell him to get back to him, say $70. This is smart because it cuts
down on the traffic at the door. It also causes debts, whippings,
and sometimes loss of life. Simple fact is, the rusher smokes, so he
messes up the dopemen's money by smoking up their dope, the whole
$100 dollars worth, so he winds up selling wax or some other
counterfeit that looks real but isn't.
It's not too hard to tell--wax tastes like wax and crack like
crack. But there are a lot of dummies out there, giving real money
for fake crack. A good disguise is novocaine in the fleece; that
numbs your lips like the real thing, so you don't know sometimes
till you light up and suck good, and wait, and wait some more, and
guess what?--you been ganked.
The PFs and PF Whores--PFs stands for personal favors. These
crack ladies, forgive me saying so, will do anything they're told
for a hit, and what limit is there to a 19 year old dopeboy showing
off how sick he can think? If you got a dirty mind, then stretch it
as far as you can. They say women are more susceptible in this
regard, will let themselves sink lower, but don't fool yourself: a
man want crack bad enough, he'll be giving PFs in a wink.
Self-respect is one of the first things traded for crack, somewhere
in there just before your mother.
When I got out of the joint in '87, my mother put me on her bank
account to help me get it together. I got it together alright, I
smoked through her whole life savings in about three months. Man in
this jail here sold his 11 year old daughter for a hit. You
understand now? You get into this thing, nothing else matters eccept
the next hit. And you could have a bathtub full of cocaine, too, and
you'd be thinking, damn, what if I run out?
Tell you what else, if you're going to try the stuff, the fun is
up front. There comes your rush, and that's a little like making
love to God with every cell in your body, but then you spend the
rest of your life on drugs chasing down that first high. It never
gets that good again. Three months in jail gets you back a little
bit closer God with Thee, because there ain't much yank in this
jail--lucky to get chewing gum--so your tolerance drops back toward
normal. But there's always that first time memory taunt-ing you.
We're in some disagreement here on how they get cocaine from the
cocoa leaf, but at some point the really big guys--your millionaire
French connection types--they start cutting their pure white powder
with additives like baby laxative or lidocaine (numbs the lips);
baking soda's a common ingredient. This is called "stepping on it."
Everybody below this international set, they're also stepping on it
so pretty soon it's about quarter strength. They call the pure stuff "400% pure"--you toke in some of that by mistake, you dead. Len Bias
Meanwhile every middleman has doubled his original amount and
trebled his money. Tell me another commodity that can do that. It's
magical. And then we got our chief executives and CIA's thinking
they can manipulate this scene. They're in over their heads up
against that crowd, just rich tourists fat for the trussin', while
we get slammed and rot in jail. Ain't it the way
So your punk rusher out there gets lucky and lands a quantity of
this powder, about 200% pure, and he steps on it. He might freebase
with it but that's less popular now because it costs more and it's
so strong it's kind of a luxury. It's a whole different market
compared with the $5 and $10 sells of crack--we're talking
Woolworths now, not Tiffanys. We're talking playground lunch money.
So nouveau dopeboy dissolves his precious snow in ether (because
coke does not dissolve in water though most your additives do), and
he adds his baking soda (make it set up, solid) and mixes up his
little paste in his mayonnaise jar or whatever's handy and then
cooks it in a double boiler or right over the flame except that's
not always cool because of the ether (ask Richard Pryor), so the
method of choice is to nuke it in your microwave for x many minutes
until it starts "rocking up."
Bing, you got crack now. You scrape out your little quarter moon
shape (the tipped mayo jar), cut it up into chunks, maybe a couple
of $50s on down to little dime sizes (not too many: the more $50s
you move, the less traffic), and if you're a dopeboy you don't even
think to smoke it. They may be young but they're not stupid.
But the ones that are, they set the little rock on top of their
little glass dick--another name for pipe or stem, because it gives
so much pleasure, and runs the show too--and scorch it with their
Bics, it being the fumes from the sizzling crack set on the tip of
your upright stem that you inhale. Good idea to put some Brillo or
Chore Boy at the bottom of your stemto keep you from sucking a hot
piece of dope into your lung.
I tell you something about how you acquire a crack house because
that's one of the saddest things, seeing someone take over and just
ruinate your house, often as not children involved. So these boys
from Detroit or Dayton or New York or where have you, they come into
town in their jalopy (inconspicuous) and find a good rusher (with
only high paying customers, $50 and up), and it doesn't take him
long to find somebody where lots of people are ready to spend their
whole welfare and paychecks to statisfy their needs; and they tell
him, Hey, you find us a spot and we'll throw you out something. So
he's feeling out the real estate before they can even drive off.
So how much can you pay, someone wants to know. "Oh," says the
geeker, "tell you what. Let us stay here and see how the flow is. If
the spot's hot, we'll negotiate."
And guess whose terms it's on. (The homeowner smokes.) Not long,
not long, the Dopeman takes over that house. Starts slow, pay
$50/day rent or sometimes $25 cash and a quarter rock. Then they
find someone in the group to mess around with the woman whose house
it is, and sooner or later her credit runs out and they stop paying
and start misusing the place.
They bring in other guys, call you names slap you around, beat
you up, have parties, break out the windows, shoot bullets through
the walls, no notion of picking up all their garbage, no concern
that your kids are now stepping around girls turning tricks for $5
hits--sometimes they make them have sex with every guy in the house
for nothing. I saw one dopeboy so lowdown he made a crack whore
satisfy his German shepherd. You're on the bottom floor of hell
here. Most of these women have babies. Crack is stronger. Lots of
times I brought food and gave it to a woman's kids because I felt so
bad at seeing their neglect.
I had a home, a fiancee, and kids, one of them mine, but because
of one prior way back when I was 19, I'm being put away. I see my
mistake and wish not to make it again, but I am away, 9 to 15, which
means 4 or 5 at best and no fiancee waiting for me, not
likely--would you wait 5 years, for a crackhead?--just me by myself
starting over. It's my fault, but that doesn't make the comeback any
Worse thing is, after all these programs and all my regret, you
put that shit in front of me...Crack is hell. Once you've been there
and been slammed, and maybe finally get clear, you ain't really
clear because there's this other second hell of staying off the
shit. Your every thought: How'm I going to stay off, or failing
that, how'm I going to get more.
Talking about this has got me down, so I want to tell you a
little truth, bring you down a little. You know how they say the
ozone holes can't repair--or is it the greenhouse effect, I mix the
two up--but I understand it's already a disaster, they just can't
tell if the icebergs are going to melt in 50 years or 500, but the
tragedy has struck, just a matter of time till we're all eight feet
That's your greenhouse effect. Your crack house effect is the
same thing. You see what I'm saying: the war on drugs is over. We
lost. You see if I'm not right, 'cept it won't take 500 years to
tell about the crack war. It's close to home, right there in your
schools. All those new prisons, they're for your kids.
So you're in here with me, you understand? We're both victims.
And that's our real story, of you and me and the crackhouse. What's
mine is yours, brother. And you can have it.
The inmates' share of the proceeds from publication of this story
will be used to fund a documentary video intended to draw community
funds for a federal matching grant to build a halfway house in
Springfield. The inmates call it the "House that Crack Built."
AFTERWORD BY KENT H. DIXON
"The House that Crack Built" began with a grant from the Lilly
Foundation. I was given one course release from my normal teaching
load to do some kind of community service, that I, and subsequently
my students, could perform. I'd always admired writers who had
taught in prisons, and I was told our local jail was safer than
prison (it is), so I worked up a creative writing course in the
county jail. The course is now run entirely by Wittenberg University
students, in partial fulfillment of their community service
My particular writers were in the jail's "Freedom: Drug and
Alcohol Abuse Program." Weekly with each group (men and women
separate), I spent a couple hours in the jail's multi-purpose
chapel, coaxing them to write in every strategy and genre I could
think of--fiction, poetry, drama, family histories, personal
narratives, letters of release to Mr. Crack or King Heron.
We talked a lot, the sessions usually resembling a kind of group
therapy. But I couldn't keep it all straight--Chore Boys and Dope
Boys, geekers and fleecers, gank and yank--so one day I asked them
to take me on a tour, on paper, of a crack house, and gradually the
material for the article accumulated--written testimony, personal
anecdote, question and answer, some of it taped, some even
I patched and weaved the whole thing together, drawing from
memory and tapes as well as the stack of blue books, unified it in
one voice, theirs, and gave that voice a bit more of a singular
personality than was possible from the polyphony of different
informants and writing styles. When I read it now, I mostly hear one
particular inmate, call him Jimmie. He's speaking for, or over, or
alongside the maybe 30 other inmates who contributed to the article
over the better part of a year.
These days, this approach is no longer acceptable journalism and
a bit experimental yet for ethnography. My drug felon with a heart
is not only a composite, but a composite in a first-person point of
view; so where I made transitions between the inmates' testimonies,
or bent a phrase toward a witticism I remembered from group, or just
generally burned and dodged and grabbed to constitute my "voice" and
its narrative, I'm engaged in a double fudge, two fictions making, I
maintain, one general truth.
The new journalism criticism doesn't concern me--every portrait's
a composite, of the writer and his subject just for starters. To the
anthropologists, I would like to suggest, with Marjory Wolf (A
Thrice Told Tale), that compressing "poly-vocality" into one voice
is no more or less true than some other mode; it's just another
perspective, like field notes on the one hand or fiction on another,
sociology on a third--a Vishnu-like truth with eight or ten hands.
The inmates were true, collectively, to what they know, but were
they always accurate? I'm still skeptical about $2,000 per hour
being a "conservative" estimate, and I've never interviewed a
dopeboy (that I knew of); but people on the law enforcement side are
inclined to believe those figures.
But even if this information isn't accurate, it's at least what
those who live this life believe, and that's not just a handful of
believers. This document as it now stands was edited, amended, and
modified perhaps a dozen times over more than a year, by different
generations of "natives" (an inmate's average incarceration is 90
days) who didn't even know the primary authors. It's a generalized
portrait that more than a hundred crack addicts, independently,
finally felt was accurate.
*Cracking Down by John J. Dilulio, Jr.
*Ethnodrama and Reality by Mercer L. Sullivan
Copyright © 1993 by The American Prospect, Inc. Preferred
Citation: Kent Dixon, "The House That Crack Built," The American
Prospect vol. 4 no. 14, June 23, 1993 . This article may not be
resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind
without prior written permission from the author. Direct questions
about permissions to permissions @ prospect.org.
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