The Story of Dakota Joe, a Jailbird on the Appalachian Trail
It was the winter of 2013, and Dakota Joe thought he was about to die. Hail was beating a crater into the mountain’s bald face, and his Kmart jacket had stopped keeping the cold out a long time ago. His pants were soaked through to the skin—wet denim is slow to dry and wearing it on the Appalachian Trail is generally a bad idea. Every muscle in his body was tense from miles of hiking through the Georgia wilderness. There was no feeling left in his arms and legs, just a stinging cold and more than a little fear.
If it’d been summer, Joe might have taken in the panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He might have looked down on the half-dozen towns dotting the Trail, catching a glint of the sun off some aluminum siding on barns or shabby general stores. Instead he had to turn away from the summit and slide inch by inch down the icy path, each rickety step putting him on the verge of a twisted ankle or a deadly tumble.
Somehow Joe managed to make his way onto a dirt service road. There, a state trooper picked him up and brought him out of the wilderness, although not out of kindness. Dakota Joe was wanted in Florida for violating his probation. A warrant was out for his arrest.
Within a few weeks, Joe was booked and shipped off to Punta Gorda, Florida, for an eight-month bid at the Charlotte County Jail. It would be a year before he’d see the Trail again.
In early 2014, a crippling cold front had dropped temperatures in my hometown of Milwaukee to a wind-chilled 50 degrees below zero. A few friends and I decided that it was the perfect time to drive down to Georgia to hike the first 40 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
Known affectionately as the AT among trailblazers, the southern tip of the 2,181-mile long path stretching from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine, felt like anything but a winter wilderness. Although most of the trees were already stripped bare by the frost, the area’s thick rhododendron bushes and dense mist gave the forest a jungle-like feel, abetted by the occasional waterfall and stream.
OK, So I Have a Drinking Problem
I drink too much. How do I know I drink too much, you ask? Because I’m drinking as I type this. One hand on the keyboard, the other on a glass.
My drinking has never caused me to lose my home, my family, or my career, but I don’t have those things to lose in the first place. The argument could be made that I don’t have them because, instead, I have a drinking problem. A problem that, previous to (again, one-handedly) typing these words, I have chosen to ignore, and to make excuses for, for far too long.
I have one rule—I don’t start drinking until the sun goes down—which, for years, I’ve used as proof of my lack of a problem. (Note: Said rule is null and void whenever I am on anything remotely resembling a vacation.) Day in, day out, I pat myself on the back and admire my restraint while eagerly watching the sun wane in the distance. Assuming, of course, I’ve opened the curtains in my apartment enough to watch it.
Waiting until nightfall to make myself a cocktail, however, is an easily achievable goal when it takes all day to recover from the hell I put my body through the previous night.
It turns out having a bottle in front of me and a frontal lobotomy are essentially the same thing. Days bleed into each other, interchangeable in their banality. I wake up at noon, stumble around in a haze, stare at the comparatively happy lives of my more productive, well-adjusted friends as they play out on myriad social media sites and slowly, methodically, drink coffee. So much coffee. The coffee is a necessity, its brown pallor echoing the bags I constantly have under my tired eyes. I live on borrowed time, operating under a foggy veil when the sun is at its peak and frantically rushing whenever I have to leave the confines of the glorified room I call an apartment. The ceaseless rush renders every situation, important or not, dire. I find myself, more and more, apologizing for my lateness, sending desperate texts at stoplights in between punching the dashboard in frustration. The traffic upsets me, sure, but I’m more upset with myself.
I’m upset that I’ve yet again stayed up, alone in my apartment, until the wee hours of the morning, watching music videos on YouTube I’ve seen a million times and sending embarrassing emails, which I type with one eye closed, the other bloodshot and squinting, because I can’t see straight. I rarely, if ever, reread these emails after I send them. I don’t want to know what’s in them.
My productivity suffers. I tell myself and everyone else within earshot that I have writer’s block, but the reality of the matter is that I have reality block. The idea of operating in an unaltered state terrifies me. I am afraid of the stark truths that come with complete and utter clarity. So I drink.
Sometimes a friend will tell me, wide-eyed and in a concerned tone, that they’ve been drinking too much—three, sometimes four, nights in a row. Depending on my level of intoxication, I’ll either feign concern or inform them I’ve drank every night for nigh on a decade. Depending on their level of intoxication, they’ll either find this information amusing or depressing. Either way, I feel nothing. So I drink.
Why Is White Boy Rick Still Serving Life in Prison?
Rick Wershe is a former drug dealer and police informant who was convicted in 1988, at the age of 17, of possessing 17 pounds of cocaine. Now 46 and a father of three, Wershe is the only inmate in Michigan behind bars who was sentenced to life as a minor under a mandatory minimum that has since been repealed.
The Crack Smoking Crime Reporter Who Covered America’s Crack Epidemic
25 years ago, crack use was exploding across America. Cheap and readily accessible, the drug’s place in the national folklore was assured when President George H. W. Bush brandished a bag of crack rocks in an address from the Oval Office in 1989, opining: “It’s as innocent-looking as candy, but it’s turning our cities into battlezones, and it’s murdering our children.”
About four months later, Washington, DC Mayor Marion Barry was busted by the feds. They caught him (on tape) smoking crack in a hotel room—where he famously muttered “Bitch set me up!” in reference to the former girlfriend who cooperated with the FBI to bring him down. That same night, Ruben Castaneda, a recently-hired crime reporter for the Washington Post who was lucky enough to be on the scene at the Vista Hotel, got high on crack in a room paid for by the newspaper. He was an addict, and with his blood racing from having seen the most popular politician in the city go down—and no one at the hotel giving up any dirt on the bust he could use for a story—the temptation was too great to resist.
Before his Post editors helped him get clean and kick the habit, Castaneda led a complicated existence—reporting stories on one hand and surreptitiously scoring crack on the other. His new book about those years, S Street Rising: Crack, Murder, and Redemption in DC, recalls David Simon’s beloved HBO show The Wire with its vivid, textured portrait of urban life and territorial gang warfare. The key difference, as Castaneda likes to point out, is that it’s all true (even if Simon’s own time as a crime reporter gave his show plenty of realism).
I called Castaneda up to ask him about experiencing the crack epidemic first hand, and how he pulled off such an incredible double life.
VICE: You were a reporter in your hometown of LA at the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner before being hired by the Post. Do you remember when you first heard about crack cocaine?
Ruben Castaneda: It’s hard to pinpoint, but I probably read an article in the LA Times or the New York Times about the impact crack was having in DC and in other cities around 1987 or 1988. Basically, that it was this incredibly powerful, addictive drug that was being sold in some of the tougher neighborhoods in the cities.
Tell me about your first experience with crack and what you think brought you to the drug.
I was on a reporting assignment on the western edge of downtown LA in a pretty tough neighborhood. This very, very attractive young woman caught my eye. She gestured for me to come over, so I put the reporting aside for a moment and went over to flirt with her. Now, I was already, at this time, drinking heavily. In fact, I had already gotten pretty toasted that afternoon at Corky’s—a dive bar—so I was pretty impaired in judgment. So when she offered me, very quickly into our conversation, a hit of crack, I was 27—old enough to know better but young enough to feel invincible. I was intrigued by the idea of experiencing something that I had read so much about. I’d read that crack cocaine produced this incredible high. In that moment, I dismissed any thoughts that this would throw me into addiction.
"Strawberry" was a term I hadn’t heard outside of rap lyrics before reading the book. Can you explain it to our readers?
A strawberry is a woman who trades sex for drugs. Crack usually, though I suppose it could be other drugs. I was introduced to crack by a young woman who turned out to be a strawberry—Raven—in Los Angeles. Getting a strawberry to make the buy for me very quickly became part of my addiction or compulsion. And it added to the excitement. At least initially, the sex was otherwordly. But there was another component to it in that by handing money to the strawberry—Raven in LA, Champagne or Carrie in DC—and letting them make the buy, I was insulating myself from any police activity. It was a way of protecting myself.
But by the last month or so, I didn’t even care about that. All I wanted was to get drugs—I made the buys directly. Didn’t care about strawberries, just needed more crack.
Sex was wrapped up in your crack use from the start, though. Did you have qualms about exploitation of these women working the street?
At the time that I was caught up in it, I did not reflect on that very much. The women who I was picking up for crack and sex seemed to be very much in control of their own destinies. We didn’t talk about our respective lives—these were transactional encounters. Now, later on, I did start to reflect on the fact that I was playing a role in their own addictions. I think it was June of 1991 when there was a story on the front-page of the Post about a group of women who had worked the streets. I saw a picture of a woman I had picked up to make crack buys for me. Up until that moment, I think I had mentally compartmentalized what I was doing as relatively benign.
Will smoking credit cards, a Lindsay LohanDVD, the Bible, kale, artificial sweetener, caffeine, and a Sarah Lawrence diploma get you high? We found out.
We Watched New York’s Sexiest Drug Princess Smoke Weird Shit
Photos by Amy Lombard. Wardrobe Courtesy of New York Vintage
Editor’s note: Don’t smoke any of this at home, folks—or anywhere else for that matter. Leave this stupidity to the professionals.
Disclaimer: New York’s sexiest drug princess would only let me watch her smoke weird shit if she could approve the final article. Below is the text approved by New York’s sexiest drug princess.
“I have enough paraphernalia to smoke anything in Manhattan.”
I’m sitting on a black couch in a bourgey apartment in Greenwich Village watching CrackDoubt, a cam girl I met at the Outback Steakhouse, smoke weird objects to see if she can get high on life. For the photos, CrackDoubt alternates between a few black couture dresses as Corinthian columns stand firm against the living-room walls and white curtains billow throughout the perimeter of the room. The apartment looks more like the set of a post–Tommy Mottola Mariah Carey music video than the place where a self-proclaimed “drug princess” might smoke objects like powdered caffeine and cash money.
The apartment’s tenant, a net artist from the art collective Art404, sits on the window sill, smoking a cigarette and staring at the Empire State Building. He encourages Amy and me to “never date in 3-D.” CrackDoubt agrees. “If you’re not on a cam site, [it costs] $2.99 a minute, my dude,” she says. “Sex work made me realize how valuable my time is.”
CrackDoubt flaunts her sex work but is touchy about her current and past drug habits. Although she has smoked crack once or twice and a crackhead recently stalked her in Grand Central Station, tweeting at her to ask whether she had any crack, she despises the terms “crackhead” and “drug addict.” Lest she be lumped in with the stigmas that these terms bring to mind, she asks me to call her a “drug princess.” “Drug duchess” and “drug mistress” are also acceptable. “I’m a heroine—with an e,” she says. “I’m a New York City drug fairy tale!”
CrackDoubt tells me that she started using drugs when she was 18. From age 20 to 25, she dealt with a heavy cocaine problem. “Cocaine brings out the ugliest side of people,” she says. She also tells me that she is now sober; however, when I point out that she tweets regularly about substances, she admits she has a unique definition of sobriety: “I’m far from clean, but I don’t wake up with withdrawls.” She worries about being labeled a drug addict because of her “fans” on Twitter who may think she glamorizes drug use. I’m not sure who these fans are (CrackDoubt has 3,324 Twitter followers), but one fan recently told her that she wasn’t really living her life if she didn’t die this year. (CrackDoubt is 27.)
CrackDoubt’s life seems to revolve around the internet, where she met the net artist. “He put me on his ‘artist Twitter list,’ which is a great honor, because what have I created?” she says. She also met her “stylist,” Lil Snow Crash, online. Lil Snow Crash is a homosexual with the voice of a banshee who eats gummy bears throughout the night. He wears LeBron James–branded baggy shorts and an oversize white T-shirt. Before CrackDoubt starts smoking weird objects, she and her friends pour orange juice and champagne into glass flutes and make a toast “to the internet!”
As she puts on her earrings, she says, “I just took my Adderall, so I can focus now.” It’s smoking time.
Tonight on VICE on HBO: Heroin Warfare, by Suroosh Alvi
Iran is an extremely challenging place for journalists to operate. Formal invitations, convoluted bureaucracy, and government-approved “minders” tracking your every movement make it one of the most difficult places to report from in the world. Even with legal permits we got detained and/or arrested almost daily.
VICE had been trying to get into this isolated country for seven years, and every time we got shut down with zero explanation. Last year, after hearing that Iran had a heroin epidemic on its hands—which every single Iranian we interviewed for the piece insisted was a direct consequence of America’s decade-plus occupation of Afghanistan—we gave it another shot.
This time our pitch to the Ministry of Culture was that we wanted to do a story about the widespread damage the opium and heroin trade has had on Iranian society. Finally, they agreed and invited us to come over. Our entire international crew was allowed inside, with the exception of our American cameramen, whom we had to replace with Iranian and Mexican nationals.
It’s estimated that 80 percent of the dope flowing out of Afghanistan passes through Iran before ending up in Europe, where it is sold at a street level. Along the way, a lot of it ends up in the arms of what the Iranian government estimates to be 2 million drug users. (The actual number is widely believed to be much higher.)
In the years leading up to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban had enforced a ban on opium-poppy cultivation, resulting in historically low levels of production. After the Taliban were toppled, the Afghan warlords who regained control of the country (many of whom were appointed by the Americans) resumed the stupidly lucrative farming of opium and poppy once again.
How Fake Celebrity Porn Destroyed One Guy’s Life and Saved Another from Suicide
I’m looking at an image of Jessica Alba. In it, her face looks just like it does in every red carpet photo you’ve ever seen of her, but her body looks a little unfamiliar: The most striking differences is that it doesn’t have any clothes covering it, and that it’s having some anal sex with a guy in a gold silk shirt.
This photo is, of course, a fake. As far back as I can remember, there’s been a big online demand for this particular brand of smut that involves stitching the heads of celebrities on to the bodies of porn stars.
Usually, the people who create the fakes—almost all of whom seem, understandably, to work under pseudonyms, such as “Lord Hollywood”, “Knight in the Wired,” and “Pirate Duck”—post their work to online forums, where it’s critiqued by fans and other fakers. Occasionally, fakers get into head-to-head “duels” with other forum users voting for the winner. Of course nobody with an internet connection actually pays for fake nudes of female celebrities, so the fakers practice their craft merely for forum kudos. Or, if you’re being more thoughtful about it, because it allows them to subvert Hollywood’s control over their fantasies—young starlets in low-cut tops, frolicking in bikini scenes, mounting motorcycles in short-shorts for no particular reason—and repackage them into something more risque for the gratification of both themselves and legions of enthusiastic wankers.
An Interview with the Woman Who Pays Drug Addicts to Get Sterilized
In 1989, Barbara Harris founded C.R.A.C.K, or Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity, the program that would eventually be rebranded as Project Prevention, although it was never technically renamed.
What they do at Project Prevention is, according to Harris, “work to get drug addicts and alcoholics on long-term birth control so they don’t conceive while using.” How they get them on long-term birth control is, they pay them $300.
Since its inception Project Prevention has provided incentives that led to tubal ligations, contraceptive implants, and vasectomies for over 4,000 people in the US and the UK.
I set out to talk to Barbara about what it’s like to pay people to get sterilized, but during our phone call we got into the moral complexities of Project Prevention, and what it’s like to be the organization’s public face. I also asked her about her brother-in-law who smokes crack.
VICE: A question I’m sure you get asked all the time is, how do you usually respond when somebody calls you a eugenicist or a Nazi?
Barbara Harris: It doesn’t bother me. People come to us by choice. We don’t force anybody to do anything. And what we’re doing is preventing suffering and damage to innocent children, so it’s nothing compared to any of that. It doesn’t bother me, I’ve been called everything, it doesn’t matter. ‘Cause I know the motives behind what I’m doing and I know what the reasons are.
How is 2014 going for Project Prevention?
Well it’s going very well. In the very beginning when we first started the organization it was kind of taboo to work with us or talk with us, but it’s getting to the point now where people are just fed up.
And even those who oppose what we do, they don’t have a solution, they just want to yell: “You shouldn’t do it.” Just like those who stand out at the abortion clinics saying, “Don’t have an abortion.” If the women try not to have an abortion, would they raise their children? Probably not.
So, just for the record, you don’t consider yourself to be anti-abortion in any way?
I think that our organization doesn’t take a stand on that one way or another but we’re preventing abortions because the women that come through our program have had numerous abortions. They use abortions for birth control.