Thoughts, Words, and Deeds

9 min readAug 17, 2020

“When your thoughts, words, and deeds form a seamless fabric, you streamline your efforts and thus eliminate worry and dread.” — Epictetus

Months before I was arrested I was at a show with my partner that I sold drugs with. The band Orgy was headlining and I couldn’t wait to see them. I was really excited because I’d been a long time fan and had never seen them live before. It was a weeknight but my partner did copious amounts of drugs pretty much everyday, so that didn’t mean much to him. I knew it was going to be a long night and didn’t expect to wake up early or get much done the next morning.

We got to the show and drank our way through two opening bands that were okay, but nothing memorable. Finally Orgy went on and we were super pumped for their set. Halfway through the set, my partner told me to go to the bathroom stall. I had seen him go in and out of the bathroom a few times, and knew that he was ingesting more than just alcohol. When I got into the bathroom stall, I saw a line of heroin waiting for me on the toilet paper holder. Up until that point I had only done heroin a few times and hadn’t touched it in over a year. For me, the more powerful a drug, the greater respect one needed to have when doing it. I’d dabbled in Oxycontin and other opiates in the past and had seen many friends get addicted to them, including my partner who I was living with at the time. It’s interesting when you are a drug dealer, your roommate is a drug dealer, and everyone around you does drugs. No one really talks about being addicted or perhaps slowing down. Misery loves company. Anything to get high with someone else to validate that you haven’t gone over the edge yet.

I stared at the line for a good minute and then decided “Fuck it, let’s do this,” and took the whole line in one inhale. As I finished the line, my favorite song came on and the rest of the night was a blast. When I woke up the next morning, I felt like complete shit. My head was pounding, I felt sick, and I was sweating. I knew these symptoms. They were the beginning seductive forces of heroin’s extreme power. I could get rid of these symptoms. All I would need is something to take the edge off…

As I continued on with the day, I found myself oscillating between regret and anger at my partner. Why did he offer heroin to me when he knew I didn’t want to get hooked on it like he was? I’d been awakened many times in the night hearing him vomit all over the bathroom while he went through withdrawals trying to quit. He’d rotate between an opiate addiction and a Xanax habit — doing one to alleviate the withdrawal from the other. I didn’t see this having a happy ending, nor did it seem possible for him to quit given our lifestyle and the people we associated with.

After deliberating the rest of the day, I decided I needed to move out. I had threatened this once before several months earlier because we got into an argument. I was so fed up at that time that I told him he could run the drugs by himself and I would just leave the game completely. Thinking that would be the end of all the madness in my life, I was surprised by his response. He pleaded with me that it didn’t have to be that way and that we could work things out. Against my better judgement, I stayed. But this time I was adamant and within two weeks I had another apartment.

Making that decision removed a lot of stress from my life. I no longer had to deal with the noise from people doing drugs every night until well into the morning and could focus on my last semester of school before going to law school. Things started to look up and I was excited to move away and begin the next chapter of my life.

Two weeks later, the main guy who sold drugs for me, Sam, called me and said he’d been robbed. Much of the game we were in revolved around credit, so that meant a decent chunk of my money was gone. I was pretty pissed and tried to understand the details. I made him walk me through the scenario. It felt weird, but he had always been straight with me up until that point so I had no reason to distrust him now. “You’ll work it off and find a way to pay me back,” I told him.

The lost money from the robbery would’ve been manageable by itself, but it was simultaneously happening alongside my partner constantly borrowing money from me to fuel his $1000/day drug habit. That amount was a few multiples higher than what Sam had lost and was beginning to stress me out. My partner kept telling me he was good for it and that he would pay it down more with each subsequent run we made. What could I say? We worked as a team and the guy supplying us was his connection.

Things with Sam weren’t progressing well either. He was struggling to come up with money to pay down the debt and kept flaking on meeting times. It seemed odd, but I still tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. He came over to my place and he proposed the idea that I put together a group to rob the people who robbed him. It seemed high risk and not my specialty, but I was open to options because I wanted to get my money back as soon as possible. He also insisted he had MDMA buyers and that if I could get him some MDMA he could start paying down his debt that way. It takes money to make money, I thought, so perhaps he could just work some of this off by selling MDMA.

From Everything To Nothing

“Everything is nothing with a twist” — Kurt Vonnegut

Life is anything but linear, and looking back on the distribution and magnitude of events in my life, the three weeks that followed Sam’s robbery were some of the most significant. Despite the setbacks of my partner’s increasing debt and figuring out how Sam would pay me back, things were looking pretty good. I took a week long trip to Spain with my girlfriend and was starting to get excited about the future. As soon as I got back from the trip, I finalized the law school admissions process. I was debating between two schools and ultimately went with the one that gave me a larger scholarship. Submitting my seat deposit to attend felt like a milestone. I had my life figured out. I would distance myself from my partner by being in another city. Instead of dealing the drugs myself, my partner and I had talked about financing a large marijuana grow operation in California. The return on investment was too good to turn down since we would be producing and distributing, thus not having to split the profits between middlemen. Once I graduated law school, I could start laundering the money through retainer fees and consultations and be retired with clean money before 30. Everything was going to work out perfectly.

When you’re breaking the law, the longer you go without getting caught, the easier it is to lull yourself into a false sense of security. You watch friends and acquaintances get arrested or raided by the feds and you think, “I wouldn’t make that mistake.” But the reality is that there is an asymmetry that favors against you in the extreme. The feds only have to be right once. You have to be right every day. On a long enough time line your luck eventually runs out. Best practices to avoid detection become sloppy without rigid discipline. You begin to slip and relax your lecturing to others about best practices because you’re all making money. Why be a downer at the party?

Four days after submitting my law school seat deposit, I was walking to class when I felt someone tug on my backpack, so I turned around. I noticed a middle-aged woman with her hand on my backpack, and just assumed she was telling me it was open since I had my earbuds in. Except that she wouldn’t let go. A split second later, two large men jump out of an unmarked SUV. One grabbed my arms behind my back and then I saw the badge that said “DEA”. My heart sank. Sam hadn’t gotten robbed, he’d gotten caught. All the conversations about setting up a new robbery and selling him more MDMA had been bait to get a warrant for my arrest.

Getting arrested shattered every aspect of my life. Contemplating the five year sentence that came with the arrest was unfathomable. It felt like my future was over. Prison wasn’t just a metaphor for the end, it was the end. But as with all great unknowns in life, human beings show a great capacity for resilience and adaptation. Though I titled this section “From everything to nothing,” that mindset would eventually change to “From nothing to everything.” The external prison I found myself in had freed me from the internal one that I carried for most of my existence. I was also able to reflect back on my life and the lives of others that I’d met on the inside, and realized how lucky I was. Sure there were steep costs, but I was alive, sober, and free from a lot of the self-inflicted stressors I had created in my life. I thought about the opiate epidemic and how it had shifted to fentanyl just after I went to prison. I was incredibly grateful that the times I did do heroin it was actually heroin. Several friends and acquaintances who had stayed outside the reach of prison were not so lucky. Overdoses were becoming more common, as were stiff sentences for the friends who provided the heroin. Adding insult to injury, new laws made it easier to charge someone selling drugs with homicide or manslaughter whenever a deadly overdose was involved.

I also thought about what the prosecutor had said at my sentencing. He made the argument that past a certain amount of money, when you are operating outside of the law, violence is inevitable. When you don’t have legal authority to protect your investment, you have to find other means to protect it. I thought this was bullshit when I got sentenced, but I see the wisdom of this statement now. It was only a matter of time before the unthinkable became a reality.

There is a great line from the movie American Gangster when Frank Lucas is in Asia standing next to the Chinese general that supplies him with heroin. The general says to him, “Quitting when you are ahead is not the same as quitting.” I thought about that a lot after I got arrested. In the months leading up to my arrest I had grown weary of the illegal activities I was in and the drug-fueled drama of those around me. I wanted a fresh start somewhere else. Well, the universe answered that request, though certainly not where I had intended. Despite wanting to quit, I didn’t actually do it. I had manifested the thought, had voiced my intentions to several people, but unlike when I moved out of my apartment because of the heroin incident, I never put those thoughts and words into action. The price was substantial. I lost friends, money, and years of freedom.

This was a powerful lesson. It made me realize that just recognizing the problems in your life and talking about them isn’t going to change the situation. If you don’t take action, the world around you will, and it may not be the one you want. Making the same decision tomorrow and a year later can have drastically different consequences. It’s also a reminder that time is always passing and that delaying a decision or staying indecisive is in itself a decision. As I was planning my exit from selling drugs, I would rationalize waiting because my partner owed me money and so did Sam. My greed was my undoing, for the cost of being free from that life would’ve just meant writing off what they owed me and that would’ve been it. Thinking in these terms now has helped me make better decisions. The amount of money someone owes you is the cost of never having to deal with them again. It’s not always the right decision, but it’s a powerful example of how to reframe a situation that would otherwise cause you to make the wrong choice.

The universe favors action. It can’t read your mind, nor translate your words into effort. Amongst thoughts, words, and deeds, the three parts are not equal. Thoughts and words are safe. They are the promises of what could be — perpetually bathed in the mystique of possibility while avoiding the terror of failure that only action can bring. If the three parts are combined, life can become more than a possibility. But when thoughts and words become separated from action, life becomes a self-inflicted cage of inertia. Diving into the unknown can be unnerving, but making the change is the only way that we grow. Taking action through this abyss is where our character ultimately resides.