Words by Julia Beverly
AFTER AN APPEALS COURT OVERTURNED HIS LIFE SENTENCE, INFAMOUS DRUG KINGPIN 'FREEWAY' RICKY ROSS HOPES TO REDEEM HIMSELF BY TEACHING THE YOUTH THE HARD LESSONS HE'S LEARNED AND SHOWING THEM A BETTER PATH For anyone who isn’t familiar with “Freeway” Ricky Ross, what’s your claim to fame? I’m from L.A. I’m known as a drug dealer. I became one of the biggest drug dealers in South Central. I was the guy that most of the guys who got big got their first drugs from. I was the one they modeled themselves after; guys like Harry O, Bo Bennett, Young Tommy, Pat, the list goes on and on. A lot of [well-known drug dealers] basically modeled their drug dealing pattern after me or copied my format. Some of them got bigger than I was. (laughs) When you see what the drug game has evolved into today, do you approve or disapprove? I mean, I can’t knock anyone for what they do, because I did so much wrong myself. It’d be like Satan throwing rocks at somebody for doing something wrong; he can’t do that. So I can’t knock the game. It has evolved into what it was supposed to come to. But I do feel that my job now is to try to figure out other things for these young guys to do now. I’m trying to show them that there’s a different route and a different path, and I believe I can do that.
around and snitch on you. It’s a dirty business. The drug business is dirty. And a lot of [new drug dealers] don’t know that. When they go into the drug business, they don’t know the ins and outs. They go into it with a one-track mind. They only know one aspect of the game. Me, myself, I went into the game like that. I went in blindsided. I only saw the fame and the fortune; I didn’t see the whole thing. Nobody explained it to me.
Prior to becoming one of the most infamous drug dealers in U.S. history, largely responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic, “Freeway” Ricky Ross was also a star tennis player - but illiteracy prevented him from attending college and pursuing a tennis career (Photo: D-Ray)
A lot of people say the street game isn’t what it used to be. They say there’s no honor amongst thieves anymore. There really never was. It was just that fake make-believe stuff. This was the way it was supposed to go. Really, when you look back at the game, the guys who were at the top always played like that. So that’s a myth? Because I hear that often. Yeah, that’s a myth. I totally agree that that’s a myth. Everybody that got busted, somebody told on them. From the beginning, somebody had to be a snitch. The Feds have been using snitches since the beginning of time. It’s always been there and it’ll always be there. If you’re in the game and you don’t think your best friend is gonna tell on you, you’re crazy. When I look back, the same guys that helped me get into this game are the same guys that told on me. The same guys that’ll tell you, “Don’t snitch!” will turn
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Did you feel like dealing drugs was your only career option? When I was young I was dumb. I was illiterate. I couldn’t read. I had never read a book and never written anything, so the only thing I knew was what I saw in my general area. When I go and talk to the kids - especially in juvenile hall - I explain that when I was coming up, my options were robbery, pimpin’, selling dope, stealing cars, and burglary. Those were the things I thought I had to pick from. I never thought about opening a magazine. I never thought about owning a record company. My options were so limited, and that was because of my [limited] knowledge.
Previously, we published a letter to our readers that you wrote while you were incarcerated. It sounded like you were renouncing what you’d done before and were trying to correct the wrongs. Absolutely. What I did was wrong, and not only was it wrong, but I feel like it was a total waste of my talents. I’m very talented. My personal opinion is that there’s no man living on this planet that is as smart as I am. Did that realization come to you over the years, or was it one moment that made you regret the path you’d taken? It started to come in time, after I started to read books. It first started in the courtroom, when I found myself debating the law with these Harvard and Yale graduates. You defended yourself? Why? My lawyer told me, “Anytime somebody else wants you home more than continue to page W22>