Richie was abandoned by his mother before the age of one. His mother ran off and was not seen again. She left him to be raised by her parents. His grandparents were probably no better at raising him than their daughter. They lived a simple life with little to show for their many years of work. During his early years, his grandfather turned to drinking. Richie learned to avoid him on Friday nights when he came home soused to the gills. The street people treated him better than his grandfather.

Richie’s life became the street-smart way of survival. He learned having a loud boisterous foul mouth was the most successful way of gaining friends. Most of his friends were from families where there was a parental disconnect. Richie was in his element on the street.

Richie could see the different lifestyles of those who had the flashy cars and many girlfriends. How to achieve a lifestyle similar to those dudes was far off in the distant future, if ever. He craved a lifestyle of money, cars, and women.

Hopelessness was his constant companion and always showed up when he saw what he wanted, but was unable to achieve his desires. He was fully aware of life on the wrong side of town and knew there was little chance of escape.

His education was not in the regular classroom in the local school, which he was forced to attend. It was on the street, and there he shined. He began his quest for money by stealing from local stores. He was fortunate he did not get caught for petty thievery. It didn’t take him long to figure out he was not going to get rich.

By watching the big dudes operate on the street and from their cars, he learned they made their money by selling marijuana and cocaine. He visualized being a seller of marijuana and making tons of money.

Richie tried to make contact with the local drug dealer, Derek, but he didn’t know Richie nor could he trust him. Because he didn’t have any money, Derek ignored Richie.

For Richie, this was a set-back, but he decided he would convince his friends of the benefits of a marijuana high and if they gave him money, he would buy it for them so they could try it out. Three of his closest friends came up with enough money for a purchase.

With money in his pocket, Richie sought out Derek to buy some marijuana. Derek saw Richie had money and sold the marijuana to him. Derek said if he continued to get customers, he would sell the marijuana to Richie at wholesale price, and Richie could sell it to his friends for the retail price and pocket the difference.

Word got out on the street about Richie dealing in marijuana and was a trusted source for keeping the identity of his customers secret. Richie’s success was not overlooked by Derek, who took note of his increased customer base. He cemented his relationship with Richie by offering him a volume discount on top of the wholesale discount.

Richie’s reputation grew and a few of the local girls noticed he had money to spend on them. The girls were also instrumental in expanding his business with other young girls, who had access to money. Everything was going along smoothly and Richie was taking in sufficient money to buy additional clothes and name brand sneakers.

Richie became aware he was not going to achieve big money unless he could expand his business several fold. In addition, Derek would not let him sell in an adjacent area because another person had exclusive selling rights. Richie could not expand his business and it prevented Richie from making enough money for the lifestyle he craved.

Richie saw his opportunity to expand his business by selling cocaine to his current customer base. Richie could see an increase in his dollar volume at five times what he made selling marijuana. He also knew cocaine users became hooked on the drug and were almost guaranteed to stay with the dealer and increase their usage.

Although Derek did not want to set him up as a dealer in cocaine, Richie decided to use the same approach to getting into the cocaine business as he did with marijuana. He convinced five of his friends to try it. They gave him enough money to buy cocaine.

Derek showed additional interest in Richie when he bought enough cocaine at wholesale price for his five friends. Richie had the money and the transaction was made. Richie knew this was the tip of the iceberg and he would be back for more cocaine.

Richie used some of his profits from marijuana to buy twice as much cocaine as before. He knew he could sell it all. Derek knew Richie had potential to become a top dealer. He offered Richie the same discounts as he was getting on his marijuana sales. He also told Richie if he could triple his sales, he would consider him for dealing on the south side of town.

Within three months, Richie had tripled his cocaine business and doubled his marijuana business. Richie could see the possibility his dream could be achieved in another two years if he continued to work on expanding his business. He took in a partner to maintain the business, while he concentrated on building his business. As a fifteen-year-old businessman, he was on his way to the “good life”.

Then the unthinkable happened. Richie and his partner were caught in a police drug sting. Richie was found guilty of dealing in illegal drugs and sentenced to one year in the maximum security prison for youth under the age of 20. His fellow inmates were murderers, rapists, drug dealers and high-volume thieves.

As Richie settled into prison life, he found his mouth was his biggest asset for leadership in the prison. He was king and comfortable with his new contacts. Although they had regular school classes taught by graduate teachers for three hours a day, Richie and the others saw school as a way to get out of their cells. All of them considered school classroom work as a joke. Their schooling took place in the cell area. There he learned how to make additional illegal money.

To look at Richie, you wouldn’t imagine him as a leader. He was small for his age and was definitely smaller than most of the other inmates. He had the mouth, which gained him notoriety with his peers. He could start a riot in the prison and cheer on the ones doing the most damage. He was never suspected as the ring leader.

I met Richie when I brought an evening business program into the prison for delinquent youth. The program was designed to manufacture a product from scratch and sell it. A company would be organized, the items purchased to make the product and then to sell it. If the company was successful, the proceeds for the sale of the product were distributed to the youth in the program after expenses were deducted. The company was then dissolved. The program was 12 weeks long and required participation by the youth for two hours per week.

It was apparent from the onset of the program who was the prison leader. Richie had to give his blessing to the project. He was elected President of the company and helped recruit eleven others to participate in the program. It was a significant diversion to their humdrum life in prison.

During the frequent meetings, I was able to make friends with Richie and his lieutenant. I learned he could not read or write. I asked him how he was able to progress in the school system. He told me nobody was held back from moving to the next grade level, regardless of their ability. I knew he was telling the truth based on what I knew about the school system. As long as he kept his nose clean and didn’t get into fights, he was promotable to the next grade. His lieutenant was the one who did all of his reading and writing.

After we had made the product, I asked the prison administration for permission to take two youth from the prison and go to an insurance company to sell their product. Strange as it may seem, I was granted temporary custody of the two boys for that day.

I had made previous arrangements with the insurance company employee relations manager to set up a table and chairs outside the cafeteria for them to display and sell their product. I marveled at the sight of Richie selling their product. He was a true con artist. They were successful in selling all of the product. Afterwards, I took them to lunch and was their hero for one day.

When we dissolved the company at our next meeting, I asked Richie what he wanted to do after he got out of prison. He told me he was going to make a lot of money to buy a car and have several female friends. I further inquired about how he planned to make all this money. He was open with me and told me he was going to do what he knew best. Then he proudly told me he was going to sell drugs and make a pile of money. He was good at selling drugs.

I mentioned to him I was not aware of anyone in the illegal drug profession retiring from the job. My comments were like water flowing off a duck’s back. They were ignored. He knew what he was going to do and nothing was going to stand in his way. There was no doubt, his mind was made up.

I left the program and my efforts at the prison. I forgot about Richie until a year later when his name was printed in an article in the local newspaper. He had been shot dead in a drug deal gone horribly wrong.

As I reflected on my relationship with Richie, I knew he did not want my way of life. I was not able to reach him in a manner which showed him a better life than his imaginary dream of the “good life.” Unfortunately, he became the latest addition to the increasing numbers of humanity lost in a sea of indifference and hopelessness.