Context: Research for Cocaine: An Unauthorised Biography
Location: Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, California
Date: Fri 30 June, 2000
Interviewee: ‘Freeway’ Rick Ross
‘Freeway’ Ricky Ross. Alleged by some to be the inventor of crack cocaine – and the man most blamed for the explosion of the drug in the 1980s in California.
Ross explains how he first came to be involved in the cocaine trade, and how he created a narcotics empire that ended up generating millions of dollars a week. He also discusses his role in the CIA/Contra cocaine trafficking allegations (his main cocaine supplier was Danilo Blandon – who lay at the root of journalist Gary Webb’s now-infamous allegations). He then talks – extremely coherently, I think – about drug legislation in the United States, and what might be done to solve the problem of illicit drug use. One of the smartest people I have ever met in my life. Policymakers who want to understand why the ‘War on Drugs’ is not being won would do well to ask Ross.
The interview took place in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, California.
Download: Download Interview (PDF)
I was as born in East Texas. Small town, in the country. Lot of trees. My mom used to pick cotton. My dad, too. They both were athletes, I found out later. My mom a basketball player, my dad a football player. Church-going people, always tried to do the right thing. My father says ‘yes sir’ to white people. In Texas that’s like a tradition they have down there… ‘Yes sir, yes ma’am’, like that type of respect. That’s my early roots. We moved to LA when I was three, maybe four years old. I can barely remember. I can remember the bus trip from Texas with my mom.
No, we have one brother, one sister. I have three adopted brothers and sisters but they were my cousins. Their mother had passed, so they moved in with us when I was about 7 or 8 years old. So they are just like my brothers. Matter of fact, they would be even closer to me than my brothers because they were younger than me so I was kind of like the boss. You know, they followed me around. You could say I have six – but biological bros and sisters, I only have two.
School wasn’t for me. It wasn’t something that I saw I could use. I’m looking for stuff I can use. And if I can’t use it, I don’t want it. So school – now that I look back on it, nobody ever explained school to me. They never showed me why I should learn how to read, why I should learn how to write. Why I should learn mathematics. I got lucky that when I was young somebody taught me mathematics well, a friend of the family. She used to sit down with me, just go over my times tables and addition – I was doing that at 5 or 6 years old. And I was lucky because I remembered it all. But when it came to reading and writing, I didn’t never catch on. None of the teachers ever sat me down and put me through what needed to be done to get it right. So school was just – something that I had to do because my mother made me. But I really didn’t want to go to school.
What did you hope to be when you were young?
Around ten I thought about maybe being a fireman or a pilot. I had those types of – policeman – I had those types of wants at that time. But as I started to grow up, gangs started coming up, Crips started coming up in our neighbourhood and I started wanting to be a Crip at around 12 years old. I didn’t want to be a fireman no more. I wanted to be like the older boys. Wanted to play football and basketball.
It’s a gang. A group of guys and they hang out. Back then they used to play football, basketball against other neighbourhoods. It just so happened that my neighbourhood was Crip but there was other neighbourhoods that was Bloods and they would come to the park and – the park was right by my house – and they would play. I thought that was exciting because they was tough, tough guys, you know?
At this time it wasn’t – it started taking on like different type of things like they started fighting each other and shooting at each other later. But it originally started off like different streets playing football against each other – kind of like a little rivalry. I remember the first time they had a fight, in the park, the Crips and the Bloods and somebody got killed. And the rivalry just kept escalating and boom, it was all over. But it wasn’t like that when it started out. That was never meant to be.
You got into tennis quite young?
That happened around 13, 14. We was up at the park and these guys had these baskets of balls out. So we was on roller skates, 15 or 20 of us and we was skating around the nets, we was playing tag. So the guy calls us over and he says ‘I bet you can’t hit this ball over the net. I bet you 50 cents’ – a quarter, something like that. So when he said that everybody kicked their skates off. So we started hitting the balls and …finally somebody won the prize, and after that we were just hitting balls over the fence, hitting balls at each other, and a couple of guys stuck with it. They started going every day. I didn’t go every day, not at that time. I was still playing football and basketball. And they started doing really well. And I was like ‘I can outrun him, I can out-jump him’ but he started going to tournaments, winning prizes and coming back with Adidas sweatshirts and tennis shoes. And I was like ‘Man, they given you all that?’ and he was like ‘Yeah, we be getting all of this and we get to eat and everything.’ And I was like ‘I’m gonna start playing tennis, too.’ So then I started. I got pretty good at it. In high school in my last year I was number one or two in the team. I had a couple of good wins. I could have been not bad if I’d have knew what I know now, how to really work at it. A lot of the black pros, you know, when they went on the circuit they would come back and they liked to work out with me.