you want yourself home, you’re in trouble.” I took that to heart. I took that to mean, “You should learn the law for yourself.” So you made the decision to defend yourself, and it wasn’t just from a financial standpoint? From a legal standpoint. So now you take a guy who believed he was dumb and illiterate and could never read or write, and you put him in a courtroom and the judge and the lawyers are taking what he says seriously. They disagreed with what I was saying, but when we went to the appeals court, I proved them all wrong. That’s a confidence booster. How did you learn how to read? One A-B-C at a time. My cellmate convinced me that I could read. When I got my indictment, I wanted to know what was on my indictment. I never told my lawyer that I couldn’t read until after I learned to read. He gave me three pieces of paper and said, “Here’s your indictment. Read it and it explains everything you need to know about your case.” That was the first piece of paper I ever read – my indictment. Why were you illiterate? Would you say the school system failed you? That was part of it. The school system was part of it and my mom was part of it. You know what they say, it takes a community to raise a child. And I failed myself. It was my responsibility to get what I needed and make sure that I could read and function. I didn’t find it important in the trades that I was looking at: robbery, burglary, stealing cars, pimpin’ – why do you need to know how to read? Getting a “regular” job was never an option? I didn’t see myself doing that. I didn’t know anybody that had a regular job. I grew up on Figueroa, which was the hoe stroll. My friends didn’t “work.” And you didn’t think that those career paths – robbery, burglary, stealing cars, or pimpin’ – would have a negative outcome? Nah, that was a part of my neighborhood. A kid can become his environment. If you’re around crime, at first you might shy away from it, but if you stay around it long enough, pretty soon you’re accustomed to it. That’s why drugs are so accepted in our neighborhoods. The reason it’s so hard for a drug dealer to quit is because his neighborhood doesn’t despise him. It’s attractive. People look up to you when you’re a drug dealer. You’re rewarded for it. Right. You get to go to VIP. You get all the girls. Everything a person wants can come from selling drugs, so why wouldn’t people sell drugs? What’s the deterrent? I would think a potential life sentence would be a deterrent. Well, they don’t know about the jail time. Most of them don’t know about the Feds until it’s too late. These kids don’t know anything about the Feds and the mandatory minimums. Do you think the mandatory minimums are an effective deterrent? Absolutely not. Totally a waste of time. I’m working on reforming the laws. I’ve teamed up with the NAACP and we’re gonna start a program to reform the mandatory minimum sentences, not only in the Feds but in the state [judicial] systems as well. You don’t think that lowering the mandatory minimum sentences would encourage more people to get into the drug business? Well, [the mandatory minimums] haven’t stopped drug dealing, we know that. We know drugs are more plentiful on our streets. We have more people in prison. So it hasn’t worked for the past 40 years. How would lowering the sentences help? We’re not saying right off the bat that it will help, but we’re saying it won’t hurt. Because it isn’t working. Throwing people in prison and throwing away the key absolutely doesn’t work. I believe we have to come up with programs that really work. We have to start addressing the issues that are at the root, and that’s lack of knowledge and lack of opportunities. These laws have nothing to do with that. I believe we should go with an ounce of prevention instead of a pound of cure. That’s what our government is doing now – throwing pounds and pounds of cures on a problem that for 45 or 50 years has been a waste of money. The drug problem is worse than it’s ever been. Murder rates are up. Snitchin’ is up. Do you think the government has been going to war against the wrong people? Should they be targeting the user and focusing more on prevention instead of locking up the dealers? [The government] should focus on the user and try to prevent people from using. Locking [dealers] up is just not the key. This is not a criminal 22 // OZONE WEST
offense. It’s a victimless crime, because nobody is gonna come in and testify and say, “He stuck a gun in my face and robbed me.” There’s never gonna be a victim in these [drug] cases, so they’re gonna have somebody who’s in trouble already and decided to snitch come in and testify and say he saw you do something to somebody that’s never gonna come to court. Then he’s gonna get off so he can go out and sell drugs again, so it’s just a perpetuation of the problem. Incarceration is definitely not the answer. We’re spending billions and billions of dollars every year on incarcerating [convicted drug dealers]. Just to take me to court cost [the taxpayers] $3 million dollars. Just to take me to court! Then they kept me in prison at $40,000 a year for 20 years. And when you take a drug dealer off the streets, how many other drug dealers come in and take his place? We should be putting all that money into education and prevention. Sounds like the prison system is quite profitable for the private companies that run them. Absolutely. That’s why they only allow the prosecutors, judges, and police officers to invest in them. Everyday citizens can’t invest in the prison industry. All of the prisons in the United States are private. If you’re a government worker, you can invest. It’s definitely a profitable business. In a perfect world, if you were in charge of the government’s War on Drugs, what would you do? I’d start educational programs in the schools. There are basic principles I’ve learned. Anybody in any position can make money if they know these principles. And that’s what I’m doing now – I go all over the country and talk to kids and teach them these principles. For example, 10% of everything you earn is yours to keep. You must save 10% of your money, and that’s the money you’re going to get rich off of. Invest it wisely. You’re working on an autobiographical movie, right? Yeah, I just signed my movie deal. I’m producing it, writing it, directing it, everything. We’re thinking it may take two or three different movies to tell the whole story. There’s a lot that went on in my life. There’s the reporter, Gary Webb, who broke my story in 1995 and then [supposedly] killed himself. There’s the Nicaraguan connection, which involved Oliver North and President Bush and Ronald Reagan. They were all tied into my case. I got my drugs from the Nicaraguans. Then there was the Freeway Task Force, a bunch of cops put together to bring me down. After they started seeing all the money I was making in the drug game, they couldn’t resist. They went from being cops to being robbers and dope dealers themselves. Who’s going to play the role of “Freeway” Ricky Ross? I’ve been talking to Columbus Short pretty seriously. He’s come on harder than anybody else. I spoke to a lot of people about it, though. Nelly, Tyrese, Scarface, Don Cheadle, Larenz Tate, Denzel Washington. Snoop Dogg asked for the role. Mark Wahlberg, Brad Pitt, and Leonardo DiCapro are interested in playing Gary Webb, the reporter. Gary has a pretty substantial story too. He was a prize-winning writer who came up dead. Two shots to the head with a shotgun. Two shots to the head and they ruled it a suicide? I was in jail [when he died] so the only thing I know is that I didn’t do it. I can guarantee you that, because I was in Texarkana. They just did an article about me and Gary Webb and everything in the Pasadena Weekly. How would you explain the alleged CIA/crack cocaine connection to the younger generation? We’ve always heard that the government put crack and guns in the hood. How accurate are those statements? We found out for an absolute fact that my guy, who I got my drugs from, was a Contra. The Contras were backed by the CIA. The CIA knew that they were selling drugs and turned a blind eye. Not only that, but the CIA went to the Attorney General and asked her to change the law. There was a law that said that they must report drug dealing if they knew about it, and they had that law changed so that they didn’t have to report it. Those are facts that the CIA has admitted. What other projects are you working on? I’m doing my record label now. I’m looking for artists right now and I’ve got a group I’m putting together. I’m finna lock down Hollywood. I felt like the movie was the most important part. I wrote a book, also, while I was in prison, but I don’t want to publish my book until I’m already rich. I’m really interested in grinding my way back up so that people won’t be able to say I got a bunch of handouts. I really want to earn my way back up. I’ve also got my social networking website FreewayEnterprise.com picking up. We’re gonna start doing webisodes there, and I’m gonna be working on my clothing line. I’m starting a trucking company. I’m pretty busy. Basically, what I’m doing is using my name and my brand. So many people want to be attached to me, so it’s a way for me to get into so many other businesses.