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.
Heroin Is the Most Dangerous Way to Increase Your Creativity
The thing about heroin is that you can’t say anything good about it—at least not in public. That’s what gangly Brit pop singer Damon Albarn discovered when, in a recent interview, he admitted that his experience on the H-train was “incredibly creative” and “very agreeable.” This caused a mild media furor, with various publications crying foul, and commenters completely flabbergasted by how he could think using heroin is anything but the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being ever in the history of horrible things. It’s the same sort of public discomfort that arises when discussing supervised injection sites or doctors being able to prescribe heroin to help addicts lead a somewhat normal life. Heroin = bad, right? For the most part, I see where this comes from—a heroin addiction is a terrible thing. Heroin is an all-consuming drug that can destroy your life, and the lives of people around you.
But my reaction to Albarn’s surprisingly candid admission was more curiosity than shock and outrage. Can heroin really make people creative?
In the echelon of narcotics, heroin has always seemed to me the least creative of drugs. I understand cocaine: You’ve got a ton of ideas—all of which you think are awesome (even though they are not)—and weed makes everything funny. LSD is basically creativity incarnate. But heroin? Based on my admittedly limited knowledge of the drug (i.e., watching Trainspotting and visiting Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside), the only thing I really knew for sure was that heroin addicts often walk around looking super sleepy and itchy. Where’s the artistic genius in that?
I wanted to know more, so I called up Dr. Alain Dagher, neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (a.k.a. the Neuro) to find how, if at all, drugs like heroin can help with creativity.
VICE: What can you tell me about the link between drugs and creativity?
Dr. Alain Dagher: There’s a long history of people using drugs for creativity, and different drugs act in different ways. The most obvious example of the way a drug can help creativity is that most of us are, for the most part, inhibited in many ways. Many drugs, especially in small doses, can relieve that inhibition. The best example being alcohol. Low doses of certain drugs like alcohol can cause just enough disinhibition that you can become, in a way, more creative.
What about heroin specifically?
There’s another way drugs can make you more creative, which is going beyond disinhibition. That is, making conceptual links in your brain between things that you may not normally link. So, to a certain extent, this relates to madness—there are many artists whose creativity is almost like madness, but not quite. In conditions like schizophrenia, you have thoughts that are jumbled together that don’t necessarily belong together—you have tangential thinking, and thoughts go in bizarre directions, which might be helpful with coming up with bizarre ideas. Part of creativity is being original. So drugs like cocaine, and perhaps heroin, have that ability to make you have original thoughts.
Ex-Soldiers Are Being Given MDMA to Help Them with PTSD
If hanging out with a bunch of strangers in a foreign country, shooting at other strangers for a living wasn’t damaging enough, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is always there to prolong the trauma once combat soldiers return from war. Around 25 percent discharged American soldiers suffer from the disorder.
Tony Macie, an Iraq veteran, is one of those soldiers. Traumatized by the deaths of two of his friends in a truck bomb attack, Macie was prescribed conventional medication to treat his PTSD after returning to the US. When that wasn’t working out for him, he started to research alternative remedies and came across the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which was offering an experimental treatment with MDMA.
I gave Tony a call and spoke to him about using the drug to try to overcome his post-Iraq trauma.
VICE: Hi, Tony. Can you tell me about your experience of serving in Iraq?
Tony Macie: I was there for 15 months. A lot of the time I was clearing roads, and there was a constant fear of being ambushed. I think it was six months into my tour. I wasn’t there when it happened, but a petrol base got hit by a truck bomb and killed a couple of my buddies. That was really upsetting; it was the point when I was like, “This is real. This is war.”
Do you think you were suffering more than your colleagues? Or was everyone in the same boat?
I think everyone was suffering. At times we didn’t realize it, though, because we were so focused on staying alive.
Were there any points when you felt particularly afraid for your life?
Probably just after the car bomb went off. We were there for three days straight guarding the road, just waiting for another car bomb to come. There was a point when we were sitting in the Humvee and we thought there was going to be an attack. Nothing happened in the end, but I was out there for three days, on night duty, just waiting for something to happen. Over there, death could have happened at any point. I was always expecting an ambush or a fire fight.
How did you feel when you got back to America?
At first, there was a lot of relief. I was glad to be back and felt kind of safe. But after a couple of days I couldn’t really sleep and I started overheating. After a couple of weeks I started drinking to go to sleep, and a month or two after that I started to have anxiety and panic attacks. That’s when I decided to go to the doctors.
How the ‘Ndrangheta Quietly Became the McDonald’s of Mafias
Last year the ‘Ndrangheta—a criminal organization from Calabria, a region that forms the toe of Italy’s boot—raked in more than $75.3 billion. That’s equivalent to revenue of McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank combined, or 3.5 per cent of Italy’s GDP in 2013. It did this through, among other things, extortion, usury, gambling, prostitution, and the trafficking of both drugs and humans.
I smoked weed with the President of Uruguay, which in 2013 became the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana. Sorry mom and dad.
Watch: The Cannabis Republic of Uruguay, Part 1
Seven Important Truths About How the World Takes Drugs in 2014
We need a new way to make sweeping assumptions about entire populations, and what better place to start than drugs? After all, there’s so much you can tell about a person from their drug of choice. Wouldn’t it be great if we could apply the same logic to entire countries?
My Top Secret Meeting with One of Silk Road’s Biggest Drug Lords
Dread Pirate Roberts captained a ship that many thought was unsinkable. But when the FBI seized the original Silk Road on October 1, 2013 ,and arrested the alleged kingpin—29-year-old Ross Ulbricht—the online drugs empire began to capsize. Its hundreds of thousands of customers scattered across the Deep Web, and up to seven known Silk Road vendors were identified and arrested.
As the chaos unravelled into the mainstream and stories of Dread Pirate Roberts’ (DPR) alleged murder-for-hire antics made headlines, one prominent Silk Road drugs syndicate sat in their European safe-house with a ton of opium and a decision to make—would they cut their losses and disappear into the ether while they were still ahead, or keep their lucrative online drugs network running in the midst of all this extra attention?
The displaced drugs syndicate, known on the Deep Web as the Scurvy Crew (TSC), decided to go back to work. For them, back to work meant laundering Bitcoins, vacuum packing drug parcels, and jumping the Moroccan border with bags stuffed full of uncut drugs. Silk Road may have died a sudden death at the hands of the authorities, but as one of the highest rated vendors before the FBI shut-down, the Scurvy Crew saw its demise as an opportunity to diversify.
After six months of negotiation, via encrypted email and several phone calls from throwaway SIM cards, the boss of the Scurvy Crew agreed to meet me. He told me he would explain to me the inner workings of his Deep Web drugs venture, from its humble beginnings to the near million-dollar profits it now apparently generates. Known to me only by the pseudonym “Ace,” the boss claimed to represent a new breed of drug dealer.
“I don’t do this just for the money,” he wrote to me via email. “I like to provide a premium service.”
The Many Mysteries of Al Sharpton
It’s Wednesday morning, the first day of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention, and D’Juan Collins is telling me how the state took his son and won’t give him back. A slight man in a linen button-down and a Bluetooth earpiece, Collins is passing out flyers with a baby photo of his son Isaiah and a plug for his site, www.SaveIsaiah.com. Isaiah, now seven, was put into foster care in 2007, when Collins was sent to prison. When I ask what he was sent in for, he demurs. The conviction was overturned last year, he says, but Brooklyn Family Court and the foster care agency have declined to return custody of his son.
He has come here, to Sharpton’s annual civil rights confab, to get help. “I’m all about networking,” Collins explains, “because I can’t do this alone.”
If the Reverend Al Sharpton has a nexus of power, it is here, in the sweaty third-floor ballroom of the Sheraton Times Square, where more than 6,000 activists have assembled to talk shop at panels with titles like “American Holsters: How the Gun Won,” “The Role of Media in Crafting the Social Narrative,” and “Truth to Power Revival.” Outwardly, the annual civil rights hoedown is an essentially political event, a display of the influence Sharpton has aggressively cultivated over three decades in the national spotlight. But the convention is also a yearly pilgrimage for people, like Collins, who have been beaten by the system, screwed by insidious and structural racism that has stacked the deck against them. Because Al Sharpton, in addition to being a syndicated radio host, prime-time MSNBC talking head, and personal friend of the president, is still the guy you call when your kid gets shot.
Everyone I meet on Wednesday has a story. One woman at the conference tells me she’s here for the first time this year because her nephew was killed in Harlem last week, and she wants to “talk to the reverend about gun control.” Another spends the morning passing out yard signs that read: “My Civil Rights Were Violated.”
In some circles, Sharpton is considered ridiculous—a 90s race-riot relic turned smug cable-news hack. It’s easy to forget that he is probably the most powerful civil rights leader in the country, and a political kingmaker whose influence is evidenced by the parade of liberal pols who drop by his conference every year to pay their respects. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was on hand Wednesday, as was Attorney General Eric Holder and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. President Obama is headlining Friday.
The Rise and Rise of the UK’s Student Drug Dealers
If the greatest architects, theorists, and social planners who’ve ever lived were revived to design the perfect marketplace for drug dealers, they’d come up with a dorm. A nest stuffed with trainee adults, bankrolled by mom and dad, waiting like baby birds with their beaks wide open for their next life-changing experience. Dealers might not be allowed to actually vomit the drugs into the mouths of students, but dorms—which are often called “halls” in the UK—nontheless remain a drug merchant’s wet dream. Which is why they’ve been living in them for decades.
Nearly three quarters of Britain’s 2.5 million university students have taken illegal drugs. So it follows that somebody has to be there feeding the country’s future politicians, business leaders, and unemployed actors their weed, MDMA, cocaine, and ketamine (that last substance is up to ten times more likely to be used by students than non-students).
In fact, the student drug market is so sought after that dealers have been known to enroll in colleges specifically to take out student loans and sell drugs on campus. Then, of course, there are all the student dealers—those who begin their higher education with good intentions, but realize that working at a bar isn’t much fun and start selling drugs as a source of quick cash. If you live in halls and don’t know who this guy or girl is yet, take it as a sign that you should get some more friends.