Two drug dealers tell their stories and reveal the ins and outs of the business. (AFP Photo)
There’s something intriguing about the personal lives of drug dealers. Classified as criminals, they are people whose survival depends on the addiction and, in some cases, the misery of others. How do they feel about their methods of survival? And what brought them into this line of business? The Jakarta Globe spoke to two people who, at least for a period in their lives, have depended on selling drugs as their main livelihood.
For a former small-time drug dealer, Budi sure plays the part well. The 30-year-old speaks with a slow, reflective tone, traces of nostalgia evident in the stories that take him back to his younger days as a student and drug dealer in Yogyakarta.
His lanky legs give way to a flabby torso under a buttoned-down work shirt, which cannot hide eyes that have the faraway stare of someone who has been on a few out-there trips himself. His dark-skinned face breaks out in sweat as we talk during his lunch break in a food court at Plaza Senayan. He says he doesn’t sell drugs anymore, but declines to say what he does now for a living.
“I sold drugs for … around 10 years,” he begins. “I [started] in college, when I was studying in Yogyakarta. I was a user and I used every drug there was, from cimeng [marijuana] to crack cocaine.”
Before long, Budi’s dealer, who he describes as a “person from Aceh,” took notice of this particular client . He offered to introduce him to the local drug lord, who, as it turned out, had also been keeping tabs on Budi, instructing his couriers to gauge the young man’s potential. Budi agreed to meet with the boss, and soon thereafter made the jump from buyer to dealer.
By his own account, Budi began selling various drugs — but mostly marijuana — in the late 1990s while he was still in Yogyakarta, with clients consisting mostly of his fellow university students. According to Budi, his story is not unique. “Tons of university students sell drugs,” he says.
A case in point, Alison, a 28-year-old bank employee in Kuningan, South Jakarta, began selling drugs when she was an economics student at a prominent university in West Jakarta in the mid-2000s. She makes no bones about her drug sales, which she says she still engages in today.
I meet Alison at a sidewalk eating area near her office during her lunch hour.
“I did light drugs like marijuana and social drinking, just for fun. Then during a party one of my friends asked whether I wanted to make some money,” she explains. Alison, who was then surviving on a small monthly allowance, expressed interest and was soon introduced to a supplier who regularly sold behind Atma Jaya University in Semanggi.
“He said that I had to give him my contact address and then he took my picture ‘for filing.’ He said he would call me within a week, and he did,” she says.
The supplier never told Alison where the drugs came from, only that she would receive a certain amount of local marijuana which she had to sell. The quantity would increase if Alison did a good job.
Before long, she was selling marijuana and black-market liquor to her college friends. By 2007, she had become a regular supplier of what she calls “party beverages” for an increasing number of clients, as her customer base expanded beyond her university acquaintances to young urban professionals.
Alison and Budi both received regular drug shipments to conduct their business. From his suppliers, Budi would receive one kilogram of “pure” Aceh marijuana (“the best of its kind,” he says) every two weeks. He sold the drug according to weight, with prices ranging from Rp 20,000 ($2) to Rp 500,000 ($55). He says he earned around Rp 5 million to 10 million each month.
During her first years as a dealer, Alison received a half-kilogram of pot every month. After about six months, her supply was increased to a full kilogram. After a year, she also began selling hallucinogenic or “magic” mushrooms that she believes came from Bali because “that’s where the best ’shrooms come from.”
Alison, who “still regularly smokes pot, but nothing else,” says that these days she prefers clients who she does not personally know. She says new clients usually get to her by word of mouth.
“A buyer is a user, and a user is someone who hangs out with other users, who then become new buyers,” she says, grinning.
Budi, who says he has been clean since 2000, had moral qualms about selling drugs to minors but would leave the decision up to the customer.
“If they were school students [in uniform], I would try to talk to them. Although if in the end they decide to go ahead with the purchase, I’d tell them that the risk is theirs alone” he says.
All the money Budi made from selling drugs would go to the purchase of clothing, food and luxuries. In the meantime, he continued to receive a monthly allowance of Rp 200,000 to Rp 300,000 from his parents.
“My parents and siblings did not know about my side occupation,” Budi says. “Most of my friends probably did, though. I wasn’t exactly very good at being discreet.”
Alison says she used to spend a portion of her earnings on pot for her own personal use, as she was forbidden to smoke any of the supplies she sold. But she also made sure to save some of the money, a habit she keeps up today.
“I got through the last years of my university by my own dime,” she says. “I told my parents that I was selling second-hand cellphones.”
Alison says her earnings have increased over time from Rp 500,000 to Rp 4 million each month.
Budi says he would conduct most of his deals at night at locations set by the buyers. Sometimes, if he knew them well enough, he would have them come to his kost , a type of affordable lodging often used by students. He says the after-dark business hours had nothing to do with a fear of being caught, he just had to go to class during the day.
“There would be no problem even if I were selling in broad daylight,” he says, adding that he would occasionally receive deliveries during the day.
“I remember the guy who came and brought in my supplies every two weeks would rest the drugs, which were wrapped in newspapers, on the jock of his motorbike, right in front of where he was sitting. It was very matter-of-fact.
“I remember, one day I was carrying some drugs wrapped in newspaper when I got pulled over during a routine police raid on the road,” Budi says.
“A policeman asked for my driver’s license and ID, and right there sitting in front of me was the drugs. He did not even notice it, and I was safe. This was during the daytime!”
Alison says that eventually she will have to decide how long she will engage in this line of work. She says that she does not see herself quitting anytime soon, adding that drug sales account for more than 50 percent of her monthly income.
“Judge me all you want, but the demand will still be there even if I didn’t sell drugs. It’s not heroin or cocaine or some other hard drug anyway. I’m just supplying a demand,” she says.
Budi says he believes he could have been a drug kingpin eventually had he chosen to accept an offer from the top dealer.
“The big boss once asked me if I wanted to increase the quantity of the drugs I was dealing, essentially to dedicate my life to drug dealing,” he says.
“But I would have to sign a contract and give them details of my life, including my ID. That was too much for me. There comes a time, like when I decided to quit drugs, when you know you have to stop.”