Heroin addiction, poverty, and hustling

Material Information

Heroin addiction, poverty, and hustling understanding economic strategies within the context of street-based heroin users' lives
Hoffer, Lee David
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
viii, 159 leaves : illustrations ; 29 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Drug addicts -- Economic conditions -- United States ( lcsh )
Heroin abuse -- Economic aspects -- United States ( lcsh )
Drug addicts -- Economic conditions ( fast )
Heroin abuse -- Economic aspects ( fast )
United States ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 154-159).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts, Anthropology.
General Note:
Department of Anthropology
Statement of Responsibility:
Lee David Hoffer.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
34073904 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L43 1995m .H64 ( lcc )

Full Text
Lee David Hoffer
B.A., Westminster College, 1989
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts

This thesis for the Masters of Arts
degree by
Lee David Hoffer
has been approved for the
Graduate School
s h hi

Hoffer, Lee David (M.A., Anthropology)
Heroin Addiction, Poverty, and Hustling: Understanding
Economic Strategies Within the Context of
Street-Based Heroin Users' Lives
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Kitty K. Corbett
This thesis is an ethnographic account of heroin
injectors' lives that seeks to understand their behavior
through a focus on the day-to-day extigencies of
maintaining an illegal drug habit and subsisting in an
environment of urban poverty. The perspective employed
highlights addicts' behaviors as rational actions given
this context. Many steet-based heroin users support
their drug addictions by illegal economic strategies
commonly known as "hustles." This response is both
established and reinforced by external economic pressures
of maintaining their heroin addiction and living in
poverty. The meaning and subsequent value placed on the
money made from hustling is qualitatively different from
the money made from working a job. Hustled money is used
more to satisfy the needs of the addiction, whereas
legally acquired money tends to be allocated more for
subsistence and other basic economic needs. This thesis
informs treatment services which are trying to provide an
environment in which former users can remain drug free.
The research highlights the need to incorporate
employment into drug treatment efforts.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.,

THE UNDERGROUND ECONOMY...................... 1
Research Question and Thesis Structure........1
A Critical Framework for Understanding: The
Definition of Context and the Rational Action
The Definition of "Context"..............4
The "Rational Action Model":
The Behavioral Response to Context.......6
Justification............................... 9
The Social Price in Dollars and Effort..10
Cost in Lives: AIDS and Drug Injection..13
Understanding the Invisiable............14
Methods and Sample: Introduction..............16
Sample Size.............................22
Sample Composition......................23
Analysis ...............................25
Interpretation and Translation..........26

OF DRUG USERS' LIVES.'........................31
Heroin Use.................................... 34
The Heroin Habit: "Getting High" vs.
"Maintaining a Habit"....................35
The Price of a Habit.....................38
"Get High Partners" and Reducing
the Price of a Habit.....................42
Economic Support: "The Buddy System"..........44
Reciprocity and Economic Relationships
Between Heroin Users.....................47
What Does Poverty Mean and
Why Are People Poor?.....................56
The Story of Paul and
the Temporary Work Agency................65
Why Do Drug Users Remain Poor?...........71
OF A LIFESTYLE................................7 6
The Definition of "Hustling"..................77
Two Examples of Hustling.................80
How Hustling Starts...,.......................89
Hustling and a Heroin Habit:
The Perfect Match.............................95
Working a Job vs. Hustling:
Compairing Adaptive Economic Responses..97

Work, Hustling, and the Meaning of Money....104
Money made from Hustling vs. a Job:
What's It Worth........................106
The Connection Between Hustling and
a Heroin Habit..............................Ill
What Is the Root of
the Heroin / Hustling Problem?..............121
Heroin Treatment Outcome and Poverty... 125
Heroin Addiction Treatment Needs.......127
The Program.................................129
The Goals of the Program...............131
Jobs for Former Heroin Users...........133
Pioneer Industries and the Lesson...........135
A Pioneer Industry for
Former Heroin Users....................141
ENDNOTES...............................................14 6

Many people helped me with this thesis. I would
like to mention just a few names of the- most influential
First and foremost I would like to thank the people
whose interviews made this study possible, the heroin
users. I had always heard the common perception that
drug injectors were bad people. I found, after talking
to these people and getting to know them, that nothing
could be further from the truth. The people I met were
no different and often times much more honest than
Second I would like to thank four very special
people without whose help this would not have been
Dr. Kitty Corbett and Dr. Stephen Koester were both
my advisors for this project and need special thanks.
Both were critical in assisting me formulate, organize,
and record my ideas onto paper. At times, this was a
daunting task. More importantly, however, both instilled
in me the confidence needed to produce this report and I

am extremely grateful. I am truly lucky to have two
mentors of this caliber.
My father Dr. Barry Hoffer provided all the
technical assistance in the first round editing. While
writing was at times extremely frustrating, he was always
there to support and advise me. His wisdom guided me.
Finally, my deep gratitude to my wife Michelle. The
most important aspect of being able to complete this
report was knowing that Michelle supported me one hundred
per cent. Her love gave me the security to accomplish
the magnitude of this assignment.

The Research Question and Thesis Structure
My research addresses the question of how injecting
heroin users adapt to the constraints of an environment
of poverty, drug use, and social stigmatization. My
investigations are ethnographic in nature and are the
culmination of three years of work with active drug
injectors. This study is an ethnographic account of drug
users' lives, predicated on the anthropological
perspective that conclusions made originate from the
research subjects themselves (in this case heroin users).
The analysis is grounded in my own data and in
theoretical perspectives referencing the political
economy. The framework and information I present in this
thesis provide critically needed insights into the
integral relationship between drug injectors and the

illegal activities they participate in to make money,
commonly called hustling.
The thesis is prepared in four chapters. The
introductory chapter defines the research question, why
it is important, and how I address it both
methodologically and theoretically. Chapter two outlines
economic considerations of the drug users I interviewed.
This chapter is comprehensive in giving the reader a
background and setting in which behavior occurs. The
topics of drug use and poverty are covered in this
chapter. These topics, all of which are vital aspects of
economic life for drug injectors, lay a descriptive
foundation for the context of drug users' behaviors.
Once this context is described, chapter three looks at
consequences of this lifestyle in terms of how the
individual makes money. Hustling is an important topic
when considering how drug injectors make money. Chapter
three synthesizes economic considerations detailed in
chapter two. Chapter four provides conclusions based on
the connection between hustling and drug injection and
makes practical recommendations for drug treatment that

account for the relationship between heroin use and the
This report will balance the use of several research
perspectives. An unfortunate tendency in research
conducted with drug users is that investigators focus on
presenting a perspective either exclusively "politically
economic" or "symbolic / psychological" in orientation.
In addition, researchers often maintain the convictions
of the "paradigm" chosen despite shortcomings in
understanding the paradigm offers (1). While it might be
argued theoretically that one cannot combine paradigms
which, in essence, deem the locus of individual behaviors
to originate from different sources, my perspective is
that the use of multiple approaches is essential for the
resolution of social problems. The concept is rather
simple; social behavior, which makes up social problems,
can only be understood by observing both the environment
in which it occurs (the context) and the individuals
reaction and belief about the environment in which they
exist (the interaction).

A Critical Framework for Understanding:
The Definition of Context and the Rational Action Model
The theoretical construct most essential to this
research is the idea of the "context" of the drug users'
lives. The research question that this report seeks to
answer is: why do drug users act in the ways they act?
To answer this question one needs to start by recognizing
that people who inject drugs do so within a much larger
social environment. Understanding the environment in
which these individuals exist leads to understanding the
"context" of drug users' lives (Koester 1994a). Only
within this framework of context can an answer to the
research question be valid and useful. Without making
context an important consideration, an analysis would be
as shallow as a stereotype.
The Definition of "Context"
The term "context" is frequently used by social
science researchers. However, there are very few
instances in the literature where this term is defined
explicitly. In this report when a "context" of a

person's life is discussed, it will refer to the diverse
and varied things a person has to deal with in both day
to day living and in navigating a future. A "context"
amounts to structural features which constrain an
individual and order his or her behavior. An obvious
example of a "constraint" would be a heroin addiction
that would result in withdrawal symptoms if not
maintained. This constraint motivates the user to
acquire heroin so that he or she does not get "sick." A
less obvious "constraint" would be an employment history
exclusively made up of manual labor. This constraint
makes finding consistent employment difficult. Both
constraints order behavior for the drug injector, in that
he or she will act in accordance with these features of
existence. It would appear that these constraints, which
are a function of the drug injector's context, are a
matter of free will. A heroin addiction and a work
history can both be changed by the individual. But is
this in fact the case? With ample time and with
assistance from society these feats can be accomplished
but in reality these individuals are, to some extent,
trapped. Poverty is the variable middle-class Americans

most often forget when making judgments on these matters.
What future does a drug free individual have in an
impoverished setting? Chapter two provides these details
The final point to make about context is, while a
"context" is defined on an individual level, the
structural factors which constrain and order behavior are
expressed on a group level. In this definition a
"context" is similar to a "role,"; however, there is one
important difference. A "role" refers specifically to
individual considerations while a "context" refers to a
combination of considerations the members of a group
experience. This definition holds true for many
different groups, not just the drug users I describe in
this report (2).
The "Rational Action Model":
The Behavioral Response to Context
In this thesis, it will become evident that drug
injectors live within an environment full of constraints,
some of which, but not all of which, are created by using
drugs. These constraints are generated within the

framework of the context in which they live. With this
in mind, I will demonstrate that how drug users adapt to
their environment makes sense and is a rational response
to the constraints which exist. What will become evident
in this analysis is that, while we can view the drug
users described as living in a context of drug use, the
drug users are also subject to constraints of poverty,
and thus have many of the same concerns people have who
do not use drugs. To determine why drug users act in the
ways they act, this report will be analyzing a number of
components of the context in which these behaviors exist.
Drug injectors cope with life situations in rational
ways. However this might not be apparent because drug
injectors have "different" life situations and these life
situations are often perceived as foreign and thus
unworthy of inquiry by the public which dismisses them.
Generally, when the label "drug injector" is used to
define an individual, assumptions are made. These
assumptions have negative connotations because drug use
is illegal and abhorred by our society. As a result of
these perceptions of "drug injectors," the different and
complicated life situations drug users have to deal with

are often dismissed as issues independent of drug use,
and are rather lumped together as simple outcomes of
being a "junkie." The underlying proposition is that if
one were just to take away the drugs then the
individual's life would miraculously become better. But
using drugs is only one aspect which is "different" and
it is not a superficial consideration, which is simply
removable like an inflamed appendix. Further,
considering drug use as an isolated trait has the effect
of reducing the behaviors involved to the result of an
individual's shortcoming like an "addictive personality,"
thus serving as a rationale to "blame the victim."
Whether or not the individual is injecting drugs he or
she is still bound to conditions preordained by the
environment in which they exist, the most important of
which is poverty (3).
Injecting drugs involves many variables. Making
money for buying the drug, deciding with whom to inject,
finding a place to sleep, the continual risk of being
arrested, and dealing with the fact that they participate
in a highly stigmatized behavior are just some of the
added considerations with which a drug injector is faced

(Adler 1985; Agar 1973; Koester 1994b; Koester and Hoffer
1994). Granted, these considerations would not exist if
the person did not use drugs, but being a drug injector
involves coping with these eventualities and in coping
with these outcomes a lifestyle develops. This lifestyle
is the driving force in the users' existence once
The Justification
As stated earlier in the introduction, the research
question this thesis seeks to answer is: what are the
reasons behind drug users' behavior? Logically, the
question which should follow is, why is this an important
question to answer? This research question is important
for three reasons. First and most obvious is, the fiscal
cost of drug use to our society is enormous. In the May
5,1994, issue of Rolling Stone magazine, an issue devoted
entirely to drug use in America, substance abuse was
estimated to cost the U.S. $225 billion dollars annually
(Atkins 1994). To formulate treatment alternatives

appropriate for drug injectors an understanding of the
behavioral interactions involved in drug use is not only
necessary, but critical. Second, drug injection is not
only a financial burden to our society with the price
paid by our institutions and government, but it produces
high rates of mortality and morbidity. AIDS is producing
many deaths in all segments of our society. Drug
injection figures prominently in this tragic situation.
Finally, people who inject drugs deserve to be recognized
as individuals. As with other highly stigmatized
populations in our society, drug users are often
misunderstood and misrepresented by the "experts" who
write about them. While reports, especially by the
media, on drug users may or may not be intentionally
malicious in characterizing the users, the material is
almost always pejoratively presented without a context.
The Social Price in Dollars and Effort
Drug users, and specifically drug injectors, exact
an enormous cost both financially and in "person power"
on the governments' medical, legal, and social service
institutions (Beilis 1981). Historically drug use has

always been costly for the government. Despite
considerable efforts made by past and present government
organizations and administrations, reducing drug use and
developing effective drug treatment continue to be social
problems that remain insufficiently addressed. This is
because the problem of drug use is compartmentalized
within our society and the prevailing wisdom centers on
law enforcement not treatment or prevention. "During the
last two (presidential) administrations, 70 percent of
the federal government's drug-control budget went for law
enforcement, 30 percent for education and treatment"
(Schmoke 1994:39).
Drug use, as a social problem, cuts across many
segments of society. The judicial system is overburdened
with drug users. Social service and welfare programs are
overrun with users. Drug treatment facilities for
injectors often have waiting lists or are often
inaccessible to users. Emergency room admissions are
increasing for heroin users. However, to combat these
situations the problem has been compartmentalized by the
institutions involved. Each institution mentioned above
has a response for drug users who burden their

"Drug court" is an example of this
Drug court refers repeated drug using offenders into
mandatory treatment instead of jail. This treatment
effort, while creative and effective for a small number
of drug users, is doomed to only limited success. A
phenomenon quickly understood by people who interact, and
want to maintain any rapport, with heroin injectors is
not to push treatment. I elaborate on this finding in
the methods section of this report but clearly heroin
injectors, as with most people in our society, do not
want to be told what is best for them. However, in
dealing with drug injectors only from the perspective of
the judicial system, more extensive needs of the
individuals involved are ignored. The social problems
generated by drug injection are pervasive and need to be
treated as such. Treatment on demand would be an
appropriate first step but is only one part of the
In answering the question of why drug users behave
in the ways they do, with a commitment to the context of
drug injection, this report will provide a descriptive

foundation from which responsible and creative ways to
address these chronic problems can be generated. To
uncover the totality of the problem, this research looks
at the environment in which the behavior occurs.
Understanding drug users' behavior from the drug users'
perspective is a critical component in formulating
responsible social policy, social programs, and treatment
Cost in Lives: AIDS and Drug Injection
Little needs to be said about the impact of HIV on
our society. AIDS, despite research efforts, is a death
sentence and large numbers of people from all walks of
life are dying. What is not realized by many people,
especially those who only see AIDS as a homosexual
disease, is that drug injection is a risk behavior that
is affecting people irrespective of their sexual
orientation. In fact, drug injectors have been important
in the AIDS epidemic effecting the heterosexual
population (Auerbach 1994). Drug injectors are primarily
heterosexual. The ramifications of this are often given
too little attention.

The primary source of HIV transmission among drug
injectors is the mutual use of a single needle without
disinfecting it properly. But potential modes of
infection are not exclusive to needle sharing and, in
fact, many behaviors that drug injectors engage in have
the potential for HIV transmission (Zule 1992; Koester
and Hoffer 1994). Just as with having unprotected sexual
intercourse, strides have been made in reducing these
risk behaviors but they still exist. Second only to
homosexual men, people who inject drugs represent the
largest population infected with HIV in the state of
Colorado (HIV / STD Surveillance Program Staff 1994).
Nationally the figures mirror Colorado in the
epidemiology of HIV infection and AIDS (Auerbach 1994).
Understanding the Invisible
As with many highly stigmatized and unpopular
populations, drug users are unrepresented and
misrepresented constantly by all segments of society
(i.e. political/legal, medical, and the media). This
report, using an understandable and simple logic, hopes
to dispel the stereotypical belief that all drug users

are inherently evil or bad people and nothing can be done
for them. Unfortunately, too often this stereotype is
manipulated as a lethal weapon against the people
portrayed in this report if they try to escape from this
very stereotype which shackles them.
Furthermore, drug users are not viewed as people
entitled to assistance. Few organizations act as
advocates for drug injectors. AIDS researchers are some
of the rare exceptions. And while the public regards
drug users as evil people and maintains an "us vs. them"
mentality, the "them" in this situation can be anyone.
Drug users are, even though some people try to ignore
this fact, members of our society. Although calculations
are hard to estimate many experts figure that there are a
half a million regular heroin users in the U.S. (Sabbag
1994). These people have needs which call for attention.
Society often leaves these people for dead and blames
them for their own misery.

The Methods and Sample: Introduction
This report is the culmination of three years of
research with active drug users. During this time I have
interviewed well over two hundred active drug users.
These interviews were conducted for Project Safe, a
research project funded by the National Institute on Drug
Abuse (NIDA contract # U01 DA06912). The project
employed indigenous community based outreach workers to
provide current drug users with HIV prevention materials.
The project's aim was to quantitatively test two
different intervention protocols to determine which
intervention best served the drug using population and
reduced risk behavior associated with HIV. Each subject
involved in the project was interviewed twice, once at
intake and then again six months later, to observe
changes in behavior resulting from interventions by the
outreach workers. For three years I worked as an
interviewer at Project Safe.
Between interviews or at the end of the day, I would
often sit with subjects on the back stairs of the project
discussing various topics. As with most people who are

naive about drug injectors, I was intrigued at how bright
some of these "junkies" were. As I continued these
informal interviews / "rap sessions" with the subjects my
interest was increasingly directed to the topics of
"hustling" and making money. "How do you make money?" I
would bluntly ask after talking with the user a while. As
my experience grew, I would also "call bullshit" when I
thought a subject was just trying to "impress" me with a
contrived story. While my methods were rather crude and
unrefined, I learned a lot about how drug users made the
money that they "needed" to buy the drug they used. More
importantly, however, I gained valuable experience on
conducting open-ended interviews with drug injectors,
which, as with all specific populations, requires
specialized skills and knowledge (Agar 1980; Strauss and
Corbin 1990). What I learned was that the drug users
responded to my straightforward approach of asking
Some important considerations I discovered in these
early "quasi-interviews" related to interview style and
rapport building which are fundamental building blocks in
conducting ethnographic interviews (Agar 1980; Bernard

1988; Estroff 1981; Strauss and Corbin 1990). With drug
injectors, blunt honesty, candor, openness, and being
willing just to listen are qualities appreciated and
respected. This is because drug users rarely feel they
get these responses when dealing with "professionals."
The professionals that drug users most often deal
with are social workers, treatment professionals, case
managers, police officers, medical personnel, and social
service providers. Too often these professionals are
concerned with "getting" the drug user into treatment and
not freely listening to the personal issues that concern
the drug user. This attitude is not necessarily
purposefully callous; on the contrary, it might reflect
very altruistic intentions. However, this "treatment
orientation" is a response to the common perception about
drug use mentioned earlier; drug use is assumed to be the
sole cause of the individual's problems (Kaplan 1983).
In assuming this treatment orientation the drug user
loses respect for the professional, because a dynamic is
immediately created which makes the professional a
"better person" than the user and assigns the drug user a
personal flaw. I learned very early on in interviewing

drug users not to make judgments about drug treatment and
never to suggest that the user would be better off in
The ethnographic study on drug use and making money
that is represented by this report was loosely informed
by the "grounded theory" methodology (Strauss and Corbin
1990). Once formal approval for the study was granted by
the Human Subjects Committee at the University of
Colorado Health Sciences Center, the initial phase of
research consisted of generating a set of open-ended
questions and formally interviewing three or four
subjects. This was done to gauge the subjects'
responsiveness to the questions, and to identify which
questions were dead ends and which interested the
subjects. Initially I was attracted to the nature and
social contingencies governing the exchange of goods,
services, and money within the informal economy emanating
from drug use. Unfortunately, due to my lack of
experience and the complex nature of the topic, my
questions specifically targeting exchange did not elicit

much response from the subjects; however, other questions
on my initial question guide did. The drug users talked
about money.
Phase two of the methodology consisted of rewriting
the question guide to account for the issues of money
which the subjects deemed important and interesting;
however, the intent of the study remained descriptive and
never focused directly on testing a hypothesis. How the
users made and spent money, as well as the perceptions
they had about the money they made, were the most
interesting topics for the users themselves. Because the
nature of the study was purely exploratory I accommodated
the questions to the natural interests of the subjects.
I was flexible in focusing my research because my
interests were rather diverse and only loosely held
together by my curiosity about how drug users made money
and in the economics of drug use. The intent of the
study was to conduct a descriptive ethnography on drug
injectors who hustle. As the study progressed the focus
gradually narrowed. The end results of this type of
methodology are twofold.

Firstproviding an ethnographic account of drug
users, specifically injectors who hustle, lends valuable
insight to the motives behind drug user's behavior. As
stated earlier in the introduction, the context of a drug
user's life involves making money to support drug use.
Second, this type of ethnography can generate testable
hypotheses which can direct future research. Many of the
conclusions arrived at in this study lend themselves to
quantitative testing.
Because I continued to work at Project Safe as an
interviewer, the majority of subjects I interviewed for
the hustling study were the same subjects that I had
previously interviewed for Project Safe although the
studies were formally separate studies. This worked to
my benefit in three distinct ways. First, conducting the
structured interview with the client prior to conducting
the hustling study protocol provided a considerable
amount of already established rapport. This facilitated
asking them sensitive question concerning illegal
activities. In addition, conducting the structured
interview gave me a considerable amount of knowledge
about the subject's current drug use, drug use history,

attitudes and beliefs about drug use, and life situation
in general. Finally, I could use the structured
interview to, in effect, screen subjects to determine
which subjects would be open and willing to talk to me
about the delicate subject of illegal activity. While
these considerations introduced some bias into the
subject sample for the hustling study, it provided a very
efficient way to recruit compliant and open subjects.
Sample Size
Twelve different drug injectors were formally
interviewed for the hustling study. "Formally" only
denotes that the interviews used the phase two question
guide and were taped and then transcribed verbatim. As
stated earlier, this report is also derived from many
interactions both before and after the "formal study."
The interviews were conducted in a variety of locations
(i.e. the subjects homes, restaurants, parks), however,
the majority were conducted at the Project Safe office.
Prior to the interviews all the subjects were told in
detail about the study and gave their verbal consent to
participate in the study as well as signing the consent

form approved by the University. Five of the twelve
subjects were interviewed twice. The interviews
generally lasted one hour; however, some went as long as
two hours. Initially I only interviewed subjects who
admitted no other source of income besides hustling but
later discovered this criteria was unrealistic because
hustling occurs irrespective of work status and the
majority of the drug users intermittently have regular
jobs. The topics of work and hustling will be addressed
in great detail in the succeeding chapters.
Sample Composition
Only drug injectors were chosen for the study. In
addition, heroin was the primary drug injected by the
majority of the cohort. Working at Project Safe, there
was ample access to both active drug injectors as well as
cocaine ("crack") smokers. Historically in the
literature, crack smokers and drug injectors have been
characterized as distinct groups of drug users (Johnson
1985; Reuter 1990; Sullivan 1989; Valentine 1978). While
this contention might be subject to some debate, I felt
it unnecessary to challenge these divisions in this study

and opted for a more homogeneous subject sample. The
decision to primarily concentrate on heroin injectors was
born out of a similar consideration (4).
The sample consists primarily of heroin users.
Heroin and cocaine injectors represent distinct
populations of drug users historically in the literature
but heroin injectors represented some unique challenges
when investigating the subject of hustling and making
money. The literature concerning heroin use and hustling
often uses the addictive nature of the drug to understand
heroin user's behavior (Stephens 1991; Preble 1972). My
study uncovered that, while heroin's addictive nature is
a significant consideration in understanding behavior
associated with making money, it is not the only
important feature. Heroin use, particularly maintaining
a heroin addiction, and hustling have a very complex
connection which is outlined in chapter three. Selecting
a cohort primarily comprised of but not exclusively
selected for heroin use afforded the study insight into
the physical nature of addiction plus insight removed
from the consideration of addiction. Having this
perspective in this thesis was important.

The data analyzed in this report comes from twenty
complete transcripts and tapes, selections from another
ten transcripts, and field notes documenting non-verbal
components of interviews and interactions with subjects.
Analyzing the data was very labor intensive. The data
analysis consisted of reading, re-reading, listening to
tapes, re-listening to tapes, coding transcripts, jotting
down summary statements on interview content, making
flowcharts of logical statements, and noting recurrent
and emergent themes in interviews. Much of the analysis
consisted of sorting statements from different subjects
into groups with similar contents. Analyzing
similarities across subjects and interviews was a very
important consideration. For example, the injectors
rarely referred to themselves as "hustlers." Hustling
was something they did and not a statement of who they
were. In the same vein, hustling was not considered a
"job" but rather it was perceived as a less formal
activity. Equally as important as the similarities
recorded across interviews were the commonalties in what
was not said in the responses to questions.

One important question asked of the injectors was,
"how and on what do you spend the money you make from
hustling?" Very detailed listening uncovered specific
topics not mentioned. For example, often times I would
receive answers to this question recounting quantities
and types of drugs, however, very few responses mentioned
rent, food, and goods. These consistent omissions were
an important aspect of the analysis.
Interpretation and Translation
Finally, interpretation and translation in relation
to the analysis of the data presented are important
concerns. This report is an ethnographic account of drug
users, and as such formulates conclusions in a different
manner than that of more quantitatively oriented
research. By using ethnography aspects of the research
are highlighted which, when using other standard research
methods (i.e. significance testing, multivariate
analysis), might not be extracted.
Ethnography seeks to understand a subject population
using the perspective of the subjects themselves. Using
this "emic" perspective is important, but it is not the

most significant feature of ethnography (Pike 1967) (5).
"Translating" this perspective in a manner which can be
understood from an etic perspective is the ultimate goal
of this ethnography. The validity of our "interpretation
of what the natives say" is the single most important
facet of anthropological inquiry when considering the
goal of ethnographic methodology. Does the data reflect
a truly "emic" perspective in light of the researcher
being inherently an "outsider?" If the perspective of
the researcher is not "emic" can he or she make any
statement about who the population truly is or why they
act in the ways they do?
Too often researchers do not attempt to explain to
the reader the perspectives from which the conclusions
they make are drawn. Most likely this is because they do
not want to introduce so much as a grain of doubt about
subjectivity into their findings. I do not pretend to be
a drug injector in this paper. There are subjective
accounts of this perspective (Bourroughs 1956; Hills and
Santiago 1992). Furthermore, it is not the goal of this
paper to tell drug injectors who they are. The ultimate
goal of this paper is to explain aspects of drug

injector's lives to people who are not injectors so the
behaviors of drug injectors have an understandable
meaning. Because I am not a drug injector, and because
many people who do inject drugs have taken the time to
explain what they do, who they are, and what things mean
to them, my ultimate goal in this thesis is translation.
This translation operates on two levels. On one
level, it involves simple explaining. For example, "a
wake up" refers to the first injection a heroin users
makes in a day, or "going twenty four-seven" refers to an
activity which is conducted twenty-four hours a day,
seven days a week. However, there is more involved in
translation; at another level, "going twenty four-seven"
implies a unique sense of urgency, a frantic, almost
desperate state of desire and drive. The statement "a
wake up" is only expressed by a user whose need or
perceived need for the drug requires immediate attention
or else they will feel abnormal in some way. Whether
this "abnormal" feeling is extreme fatigue or actual
withdrawal symptoms is dependent on the particular
individual. These "translated" experiences are not the
only considerations, nor are they always the most

important considerations for drug injectors; much of what
is put forward in this paper needs no translation at all.
Needing money and spending money for food, for rent,
for the doctor, for clothing, and for enjoyment are
common activities that everyone in our society has. In
addition, how we feel about ourselves, what others think
of us, and what others think of the groups to which we
belong and call ourselves members of are common
considerations everyone in our society encounters. To
answer the question of why drug injectors behave in the
ways they behave, this thesis simply places the drug
injector in positions and circumstances which do not
require a complex "translation." This perspective
requires a singular concentration on the context of drug
injection. As stated early in this chapter, one cannot
hope to understand the behaviors of an individual member
of a particular group without understanding what things
are important to the group itself. These concerns are

both practical and psychological. The next two chapters
highlight the concerns of drug injectors. It is only by
understanding the context, put forward in the next
chapter, that we can give meaning to behaviors and remove
shallow stereotypes.

The goals of this chapter are ambitious. In chapter
one I defined context and illustrated the importance of
this term toward forming an understanding of social
behavior for drug injectors. Behavior can only be
understood within its context. This chapter outlines
structural features of context for the injecting drug
users I got to know, over the three years in which the
data for this thesis was collected. These "structural
features" pertain to unique aspects both environmental
and ideological which, taken together, constitute a
foundation for behavior. To distinguish this context for
drug injectors, special attention is given to economic
considerations and conditions. This focus is of
importance in understanding this populations behaviors
because two inherently economic characteristics culminate
to order their world: drug use and poverty.

Drug use exacts a heavy toll on the economic
resources of drug users (Johnson 1985; Reuter 1990).
From my findings, the amount of money a user spends on
drugs can vary from between twenty dollars every other
day to, in the very rare occasion, more than a hundred
dollars a day (1). In addition, there are complicated
dynamics involved in acquiring drugs that, while not
involving money per se, are economic. The relationship
of "get high buddies" or "partners" will be described in
this chapter as an example of this type of hidden
economic dynamic.
The second major characteristic of the population
described in the following chapter is poverty. The drug
injectors portrayed in my thesis do not come from
financially secure environments. This is not a story of
riches to rags. Opportunities are limited from the
start. This means living at a level of subsistence which
is, at best, paycheck to paycheck. More often, however,
the lack of a job, low job security, or access to only
very low paying jobs makes an independent financial
existence impossible. The ramifications of this
circumstance are rarely, if ever, fully understood by the

public. And even in the light of volumes written on the
poor, there seems to be a recent trend in society to make
people completely responsible for their actions and
therefore unworthy of financial support from the
government (2). This trend is not only dangerous but a
direct denial of freedom. Poverty, work, and welfare all
highlight structural features important to the context of
drug users lives.
In summary, focusing on the economic features of
drug use and poverty does not obviate the importance of
psychological or symbolic meanings involved in
understanding drug users' behavior. On the contrary,
once a background of interrelationship between these
economic features is established then chapter three, on
hustling, heroin use, and the meaning of money,
synthesizes an understanding of drug user's behavior.
However, to comprehend the actions of drug injectors, one
must start by understanding the economic considerations
of heroin use.

Heroin Use
There are two features of drug use which are
economic in nature: costs in purchasing the drug and the
relationships involved in acquiring and using the drug.
Both the costs and relationships center ultimately on
getting the drug. This section on drug use will
demonstrate that there is an inherent relationship
between the expenditure of cash for drugs and the
personal relationships involved in the sale and purchase
of drugs. This relationship between cash and people is
important in understanding economics as it relates to the
social behavior of heroin injectors put forward in the
next chapter.
As mentioned in the beginning of this chapter,
injecting drugs requires money, and for heroin injectors,
this quest is nothing to be taken lightly. When
examining heroin injection, the exact amount of money
required to maintain a drug "habit" with heroin is far
from being a fixed expenditure. There are two directly
observable variables involved in these expenditures: the
size of the habit, and-the cost of the drug. However,

what will become apparent is, relationships between drug
injectors also contributes to this dynamic.
The Heroin Habit:"Getting High" vs.
"Maintaining a Habit"
There is a common misconception about what injectors
are doing when they inject heroin. Most people would
assume that heroin users are "getting high" every time
they inject. Many do "get high," but a significant
proportion, in fact, do not. Heroin users have a very
different relationship to the drug than the popular image
of this relationship (Stephens 1991). This aspect can
only be established by investigating what having a heroin
addiction means.
Having a heroin "habit" is a term used by users
which denotes addiction to heroin. There is a
psychological need for the drug as well as a physical
dependence. Physical addiction to heroin commonly refers
to the fact that withdrawal symptoms will be experienced
if the drug is not administered (Stephens 1991). Very
often these physical symptoms of withdrawal are what
motivates the individual to continue to inject the drug.

Furthermore, heroin users clearly designate, among
themselves, people who use and have a "habit" from people
who use and do not have a habit. Not all heroin
injectors have "habits," or are addicted to heroin; in
fact many do not, but the cohort in this study did and an
explanation of this concept is critical (3). When I
speak of a "heroin habit" I will be referring to a heroin
addiction that, unattended, results in withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms ordinarily vary in severity and
are related to how much heroin the individual uses or the
size of the habit. My research uncovered an additional
feature. What is interesting is, even without any actual
withdrawal symptoms, the perception of withdrawal is just
as powerful a feeling and it can serve to motivate heroin
users just as much as actual symptoms. This is to say, a
heroin user with a habit is motivated just as much from
knowing what is coming, as from the start of symptoms.
But what are the dynamics of a heroin habit?
As with most drugs that have physically addicting
pharmacological properties, heroin users will build
tolerance, over time, to the amount of drug they inject

if they administer the same amount of drug each time.
This means that injecting the same amount of heroin
consistently over an extended time will reduce the
powerful effect of the drug that the user seeks to
achieve (Stephens 1991). The "high" is diminished when
tolerance is achieved. This aspect of heroin addiction
is very important for what I will be explaining in the
rest of this thesis. This tolerance to the drug results
in the "getting high" mentality towards injecting heroin
changing for the user. I came across this important
shift in attitude by accident with one subject I
interviewed. Once I asked a user whom I had just
finished interviewing what he was going to do upon
leaving the office. "I am going to score," he said. I
replied, "You're going to get high?" The user turned to
me with a mild look of confusion, "No... I don't get
high. I stay well."
Heroin users have two choices when tolerance to the
amount of drug they are injecting is achieved: 1) The
user can continue to inject the same amount of drug to
avoid the development of withdrawal symptoms. This is
typically referred to as "maintaining a habit." "Getting

well" refers to using as much drug as necessary to get to
this state, and was what the above mentioned subject was
trying to explain to me. or 2) The user can increase
the amount he or she injects to achieve the powerful
feeling of heroin once again.' This is commonly.called
"getting high." But with increased use over time comes
increased tolerance. This means, as the user injects
more heroin the amount of drug needed to avoid withdrawal
symptoms also increases. This cycle often leads to very
large drug habits developing over very short time
periods. However, the size of a drug habit is very often
determined in reality by the amount of money available to
the user.
The Price of a Habit
Heroin prices vary from time to time but as a rule a
"pill" of heroin, typically the smallest amount of the
drug sold on the street, costs between $20 to $30. The
cost of a habit is usually more than the cost of a pill,
however. Furthermore, a heroin habit needs to be
attended to on a daily basis. This means that, to avoid
withdrawal symptoms, the level of drug in the users

system needs maintenance daily. A heroin habits can cost
anywhere from $20 a day to, in rare instances, $100 a day
(4). But drug use is rarely a static dynamic so
calculating an exact cost of a habit is difficult. As
mentioned above, heroin users sometimes simply "stay
well" but other times they increase their level of use in
their efforts to "get high." Consequently the money
needed to run a drug habit varies and the habit can
dictate the amount of money needed. An example can
illustrate this point clearly.
Jerry currently spends $40 a day on heroin and has
spent this same amount for the last several months. His
routine is the same every day. He injects a pill in the
morning to "get well" and in the evening, when he feels
the effects wearing off and withdrawal starting, he
injects another pill.
Jerry steals for a living. One day, by chance,
Jerry makes $100 from selling a large quantity of jeans
he stole. He decides to get more heroin this time and
really get high. It has been quite a while since Jerry
has gotten high. Jerry buys a quarter gram of heroin for
$80; a quarter gram of heroin is roughly 4-6 pills.

Jerry injects three pills a day for the next two days.
The second day Jerry gets lucky again and makes $80 off
more stolen jeans. He buys another quarter and injects
three times. Jerry discovers that it is not luck that is
bringing him such quantities of jeans and subsequently
more money, but rather the store that he has been
stealing the, jeans from has just opened and the security
is very lax. Jerry exploits this situation. He
continues to make around $60 $80 a day for the next
three weeks and he continues to inject three to four
pills a day. One day, Jerry's "good luck" ends.
Security cameras go into the store and he can only manage
to make $40. Now he can only inject two pills. He gets
very sick. At this point Jerry is in a panic to make
more money. What initiated this situation? Jerry
increased his habit to twice what it was but now cannot
maintain the steady income necessary, and required, to
maintain the habit at its new level. Two weeks ago
Jerry's habit was $40 a day, now it is $80 a day.
This simple story highlights two very important
points about heroin use. First, getting high off heroin
always requires more of the drug and this is inevitably

part of the motivation of a person with a heroin habit.
If Jerry kept his $40 a day habit he really would not be
experiencing the drug's desired effect due to the
tolerance that he built up over time. He would just be
maintaining his habit. In reality this is not so
unusual; many long time heroin users simply maintain the
habits they have developed over the years (5). More
often than not, however, heroin users want to really
experience a euphoric feeling from the drug. In fact, it
could be argued that this is why they use drugs in the
first place. But "getting high" starts in motion the
drive to get more heroin. Second, due to the amount of
money needed to continue to get high, heroin users often
run into the problem experienced by Jerry, where the
habit becomes too much to afford (Preble and Casey 1972).
There is no unlimited store of money to go to when more
is needed to continue a drug habit. However, there are
ways in which a heroin user can reduce the expenditures
of cash required. One can get help from a buddy.

"Get High Partners" and Reducing the Price of a Habit
Injecting heroin is, by nature, a social affair
(Koester and Hoffer 1994). It is very rare to encounter
a heroin user who does not interact in some way with
other heroin users. Why is this? The most obvious
reason is that acquiring heroin requires having a
connection or two that possess the drug. These
"connections" are very often other users, but even if
they are not, there are always other users "copping"
heroin or "hanging-out" in copping areas. Copping refers
to acquiring the drug and a copping area is where one
goes to get it. It is a given that, when copping heroin,
one will encounter other heroin users. This is
especially true if there are only limited locations where
one can go to get heroin on the street (6). In addition,
copping heroin is very often a daily activity for a user
with a habit. But the social nature of heroin use is not
simply a matter of chance encounters with other users who
are copping at the same time on the street. Social
interactions among heroin users are a primary source of
support for people who inject.

Heroin use is illegal, expensive, and a social
activity condemned by the public. Because of these
considerations heroin users have similar circumstance to
deal with. In addition, from the shared experiences of
having "mutual enemies" (the law and the public) a common
social bond develops among users; "we are the users and
they are the squares." In this thesis I will be
investigating two specific types of support that these
relationships provide: economic support and psychological
support. In this section, however, I will only be
discussing economic support. Psychological support will
be more thoroughly investigated in the next chapter when
I talk about the lifestyle of a heroin user. While these
types of support are very different, they are related to
one another and it is important for the reader to
remember these economic dynamic relationships when
reading chapter three where the topic of hustling is

Economic Support: "The Buddy System"
The definition of economic support I will be using
is rather broad. Economic support entails interactions
between users that save both of the heroin users involved
money, time, or other resources. It is important to note
these relationships do not exclusively develop between
"friends" who use. In fact, heroin users do not readily
define other users they interact with as "friends" (7).
More often than not, "get high buddy," "partner," or
"running buddy" are the designations of the people the
user might hang out with and get high with on occasion.
The exact label of "friend" is reserved for more
important individuals with whom the heroin user
interacts. What is important is that these economic
interactions, while they might transpire between friends,
are not predicated by "friendship."
The content of these economic interactions vary
considerably. Let us revisit our example of Jerry and
continue his story to demonstrate what economic support
can involve.

When Jerry's habit became to much for him to afford
he turned to his "get high buddy" Mike. Jerry had known
Mike for six months and had gotten high with him a number
of times. Jerry had spent all his money, including the
previous three months rent payments, trying to maintain
his large habit and now, after many arguments with the
landlord, he was getting evicted. Jerry asked Mike if he
could stay at his apartment. Because Mike had "been
there before" and could understand Jerry's situation he
said, "yes." In the two weeks that followed, Jerry
kicked his large habit and was down to one pill $20 a
day. To "pay his way," Jerry would try and give Mike a
pill or two every week for letting him stay at the
apartment. But this was not necessary because Jerry had
a car and Mike often needed a ride to go shoplifting. So
the arrangement became as follows: Jerry would drive Mike
to and from the store so Mike could steal. Jerry not
only got a place to stay, from this arrangement, but Mike
would give him a pill every time he drove.
This anecdote outlines three specific examples of
economic interactions. Chronologically they are: 1)
Jerry saved money on rent by staying with Mike. 2) Mike

used Jerry's car, which saved Mike the time it ordinarily
took to find a ride as well as money. Ordinary Mike
would paid a "driver" a third of the cash he made from
the stolen goods he sold. Mike would pay Jerry a pill to
drive but a pill cost Mike $20 which was less than a
third of his average haul so he was saving money. 3)
Jerry saved money on buying heroin by providing the ride
because Mike would give him a pill for his efforts. As
bizarre as this relationship might sound, such involved
economic interactions are very common.
Both users are getting something in terms of
economic gain from the relationship and the economic
burden for them, individually, is reduced by the
partnership. These types of economic partnerships are
very common among heroin users because, as stated
earlier, the expense of using heroin can be, and often
is, too much for one user to maintain by him or herself
(Koester and Hoffer 1994). Jerry's inability to control
his habit forced him to search for help. The burden of
maintaining a habit completely alone (i.e. with no
assistance from other users) is only compounded by the

issue of poverty highlighted in the next section of my
It would seem, however, that in this relationship
Mike is not getting as much as is Jerry. On the surface
this is surely the case. Mike is letting Jerry stay at
his apartment, and he is giving Jerry heroin while Jerry
is only letting Mike use his car. But there is another
investment being made by Mike and that is an investment
in the future in the form of insurance.
Reciprocity and Economic Relationships
Between Heroin Users
Economic relationships between drug users operate
under the guidance and assumption of balanced
reciprocity; things are given with the understanding that
things of equal value will be received at some point in
the future (Mauss 1967; Stack 1974). Maintaining the
relationship Mike has with Jerry can serve Mike in the
future if, or rather when, Mike hits hard times. Six
months down the road, Mike might be coming to Jerry for
assistance. Mike will have something to, in effect,
"cash in" at that time. Ideally, Jerry will remember

what Mike did for him and therefore help Mike. This
"what goes around comes around" attitude among heroin
injectors is an important aspect of economic
relationships between users because it serves to keep
heroin users together. "Free" gifts of heroin, that
heroin users give to one another can document this
important aspect of relationships between users.
Heroin injectors often give their "get high buddies"
heroin without expecting a return payment immediately.
Mike and Jerry's relationship demonstrates this. But
"free" gifts of heroin seems at odds with the economic
pressures previously mentioned. Why do heroin injectors
do this? Heroin users do not freely trust other heroin
users. Every heroin user that has, or has had, a habit
understands that, when times get desperate, a user will
do anything to anybody to get the drug. Gifts of an
economic nature serve to bond users in the absence of
trust. Heroin users do not have confidence in the
honesty, integrity, reliability, justice, reliance, or
faith toward other users with whom they interact. These
traits are the foundations of trust. Trust would not
make sense, given the predominance of drug-seeking

behavior in the lives of the users. Interestingly, they
would expect the same feelings of mistrust from other
users relating to them (8). To compensate for the
absence of these positive qualities in their
relationships, gifts are given and received in a manner
which demonstrate a level of bonding. This, however, is
not the same as trust. These interactions operate as
unwritten and unspoken contracts; I am giving you this
now because I expect you to give me that in the future.
In other words, reciprocal "gift" giving bonds users who
would otherwise be ripping each other off at every
opportunity. This is not to say heroin users do not rip
one another off. On the contrary, the development and
maintenance of ritual gift giving behaviors demonstrate
that rip-offs continue to be a part of the heroin user's
environment. In this way, gift giving acts as an
adaptive response to the economic environment of scarcity
which, at the same time, keeps users united in the mists
of this environment. The following is a brief list of
four aspects of gift giving that highlight features of
this important behavior which occurs between heroin

1) The frequency of gift giving: Giving heroin to
another user is done intermittently during relationships
and most often only in times of need. For example, if a
"get high buddy" is sick then a gift of heroin would be
given. The giver wants to provide this because: A) When
he/she inevitably ends up in a similar situation they
would want the same show of compassion from their
"partner." In other words, they understands the
situation because they have been there before, and B) The
user knows by giving they will receive a credit which can
be cashed in later for something. Users are motivated by
both of these considerations when giving gifts.
2) On the size of "gifts:" As a result of inherent
distrust amongst users, the necessity of gift giving as a
substitute for trust, and the fact users have very
limited resources, there are usually only small
quantities of drugs given. No one wants to get ripped
off if the recipient decides not to repay the gifts. In
addition, one can give more smaller gifts than larger
gifts. It is easier to participate in the gift giving
process if gifts are customarily small. All users,
accept the most destitute, can participate in the gift

giving and receiving game. In addition, heroin users can
use gifts, especially large ones, to control other users.
Heroin users understand this and they want to avoid
becoming too indebted to other users. Small gifts can be
repaid more easily than large ones. Gifts come in all
forms and costs vary; a big gift has a big cost. One
user relayed a truly pathetic story on how a big "gift"
was used. Bringing a fellow user out of an over-dose is
a big gift, and while this is not an economic gift per se
it can epitomize the power of big gifts very
dramatically. His story was that a male heroin user
purposefully over-dosed a female user, brought her out of
it, and then "played off" the event to acquire sex.
Heroin users want to avoid large debts.
3) The rule of reciprocity: If the gift giver does
not receive any gift in return the relationship can be
terminated. In other words, by participating in and
maintaining a balanced reciprocity of gift giving, the
users develop a relationship that has the same function
as trust which, in turn, maintains the relationship. As
much as the contracts inherent in the giving and
receiving process, are fulfilled the users maintain their

relationship. The appropriate time in between when a
gift is given and when an equal gift is received varies
and is never specified verbally. If the participating
heroin users have known one another for a long time then
the time interval of a return gift can be lengthy
compared to that with users who have just met. This
means that new relationships between users require more
activity and maintenance compared to long term
relationships. In addition, these incipient
relationships are more tenuous in that a heroin user
needs to "know the score" of gifts given and gifts
4) The results of breaking the rule: Finally,
terminating a relationship because giving is not
reciprocated can be devastating to the user, who does not
comply, in more ways than one. Let us go back to Jerry
and Mike. If Jerry made no attempt to "pay" for the help
Mike was giving him he would find himself out on the
street, homeless, broke, and sick. Users can get bad
reputations and become ostracized from their fellow users
when they consistently free-load, or consistently break
the rule of reciprocity. This would not be as serious an

issue if Denver was as large as a New York city because
the user could just move to a different area of the city
and "start over." However, the network of heroin users
in Denver is small and would not allow this to happen.
Rumors of a person's reputation as a "junky" will spread
and will hinder their ability to have future
relationships with other users. A "junkie" refers to a
user who has no regard for anyone other than themselves.
In other words, a junkie has no regard for reciprocity.
Heroin users regard junkies with disdain and are more
likely not to become actively involved with this type of
user, even though they understand why this type of user
developed or have themselves been a junky in the past
(9) .
In this section on the economic considerations of
using drugs I have taken the reader on a complex path.
In uncovering the context of the economic considerations
heroin users are faced with, the reader can appreciate
the relationship between heroin use and the injectors. I
would like to summarize the points made in the order that
I presented them:

1) Heroin is expensive and having a stable heroin
habit is difficult to maintain because of the interaction
between tolerance to the drug and the desire to get high.
2) Due to irreversible changes created by tolerance,
heroin users can develop habits far beyond their economic
means which lead heroin users into ever increasing
economic pressures. 3) Heroin users can shift some of
the economic burden of drug use by entering into
relationships with other heroin users. 4) These
reciprocal relationships serve to provide economic
assistance to the user at a cost which binds users to one
another in the absence of trust.
However, to truly understand the context in which
these behaviors occur we must turn our attention to the
external environment. The most important environmental
consideration is socioeconomic in nature poverty. The
behavior described in the previous section can only make
sense in the larger framework of poverty.

The drug users I interviewed, and whose words make
up this paper, were and, most likely still are, poor.
Because of this, what poverty means needs attention. In
this section I will not explore how these drug users
became poor. The reasons for how one becomes poor, even
how drug users become poor, seem almost unimportant in
light of the difficult circumstances of people who
already live in poverty. The expenses and relationships
discussed in the last chapter do not develop in the "land
of plenty," rather, they develop and exist in an
environment already burdened by economic need.
In the following section I will outline what poverty
means to the drug injectors' existence and why they
remain poor. What I hope to express is that, even though
this group of heroin users inject drugs, their poverty
was a condition that existed before they began using
drugs and it will continue to be an important
consideration if and when they stop using. The drug
user's formidable existence within the context of poverty
is not merely an outcome of using drugs. In other words,

drugs did not make them poor. But there is a second
point which is of even more importance. The drugs that
drug users spend money on to inject do not keep them
If the drug users, portrayed in this report, were to
stop taking drugs and get a job they would still be poor,
and poor for a long time. Once a description of what
poverty means, and the issue of why these drug users, as
well as others who do not use drugs, remain poor is
explored, the second half of this section on poverty will
delineate an integral aspect of the drug users'
relationship to poverty; drug users will remain poor if
they stop using drugs. But before we can get to this
point we need a thorough understanding of what poverty by
itself, as an independent variable, means and to do this
it is necessary to turn briefly away from drug use.
What Does Poverty Mean and Why Are People Poor?
Definitions of poverty tend to be vague. Often
government officials use the "poverty line" to
operationalize who is poor but this does not state what
being poor means as defined by the ultimate criterion -

day-to-day living. Being poor means not being able to
afford the basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing.
Put more bluntly, poverty involves existence at a level
at or below subsistence (Schwarz 1992). But people who
are poor very often receive financial assistance from the
government. Welfare checks, food stamps, unemployment
checks, assistance for dependent children (AFDC),
Medicaid, public housing and section eight housing
subsidies are all ways the government helps the poor.
The public, specifically the middle-class tax paying
public, assumes poor people abuse this system for nothing
more than personnel gain and make no effort to "better
themselves," or escape poverty (10). From this
perspective, the logic used to explain the poor naturally
becomes the following: 1) There is no motivation for
people who live in poverty to escape poverty because they
receive aid from the government and with this aid they
can live well. 2) Poverty is the fault of the poor and
the whole idea of government assistance is a sham. This
naturally brings us to the question of why people remain
poor? The rationalizations for poverty, expressed above,
have their roots in a long history of studies which, in

essence, make the poor responsible for their sorry
predicament (Miller 1958; Matza 1966).
Oscar Lewis wrote one of the most famous and
influential books in anthropology on poverty in 1965, La
Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty
(Lewis 1966a). The book was important for several
reasons. The book articulated an important viewpoint
about the poor. La Vida did not make any statements that
specifically blamed the poor for their poverty; however,
the book set the foundation for this attitude to become a
way to understand the poor because, in La Vida, poverty
became a personal trait of poor individuals.
In his book, Lewis argues that poverty is a thing in
and of itself, a culture. Hence, the "culture of
poverty," became the name for this theory. This "culture
of poverty" is a self perpetuating, in that it is
continued from generation to generation. Children born
into poverty are socialized by their adult role models to
adopt the traits of poverty. These traits, which make up
poverty, and were subsequently expressed by poor
individuals, ran the gamut of negative, immoral, and
perverse characteristics. Weak ego structure, confusion

of sexual identity, lack of impulse control, a sense of
resignation and fatalism, a present time orientation, and
little ability to delay gratification are just some
examples (Lewis 1959; Lewis 1966b). Most important in
this theory of poverty, however, was the notion that the
economic considerations of poverty, while somewhat
important, had little to do with defining the culture of
poverty itself. In other words, poverty had little to do
with economics; poverty was simply a way of life (Eames
and Goode 1977).
What Lewis inadvertently established the framework
for was an attitude to blame the poor for being poor. It
would be hard to argue that this was the intention of La
Vida but, nevertheless, making a transition from, "the
poor are socialized into poverty," to, "the adult role
models providing the socializing are lazy and have no
motivation to escape poverty," would be fairly easy.
However, two years later a different theory about the
poor would emerge.
1967 saw a book on poverty published which today,
some thirty years later, still maintains a powerful
influence on social scientists and stands as a pillar of

understanding about the meaning of poverty. Even though
Tally's Corner by Elliot Liebow has been, and still is,
heralded as one of the best, if not the best, books ever
written about poverty, many of the statements it makes
have been overlooked by the public (Liebow 1967). While
in 1994 we find a public fed up by the "tax burden" of
the poor and excuses that do not make the poor
responsible for their poverty, much can be gained by
revisiting the observations made thirty years ago by
Liebow (11). La Vida and Tally's Corner provide two
vastly different perspectives on the poor which have
withstood the test of time. Today's theories about
poverty repeat the sentiments first described in these
two books.
In Tally's Corner Liebow took issue with the
"culture of poverty" concept. Poverty, Liebow
demonstrated, was not a mode of existence unconnected and
independent culturally from the larger society but rather
the roots of poverty reside in the larger urban context.
Furthermore, poverty is not an outcome of mere
socialization; rather, poverty is economically
determined. It seems almost trivial to state poverty is

economic in nature but it is a vital point to understand.
To demonstrate what poverty truly was, Liebow analyzed
several "traits" of this "culture" that Lewis previously
outlined: present time orientation, a sense of
resignation and fatalism (which I will consider as one
trait), and the inability to defer gratification. Liebow
outlines the context of men living in poverty in his
ethnographic study. An integral part of this existence
is the relationship poor men have to work.
A common assumption made about the poor is that all
the poor need to do to escape poverty is to work. But
the poor very often do not work and frequently quit the
jobs they have when they do work. What is wrong with
them? Are the poor just lazy? Superficially these
behaviors seem to be simple outcomes of a "present time
orientation" and "a sense of resignation and fatalism,"
as Lewis concludes. But Liebow looks deeper, and what he
finds makes much more sense.
The poor, very simply, have no future in work. The
jobs that are open and available to the poor have no
potential for advancement. In effect, they are dead
ends. This makes quitting a job or not working

unimportant. Succinctly put, "Neither hard work nor
perseverance can conceivably carry the janitor to a sit
down job in the office building he cleans up" (Liebow
1967:63). But the unimportance of work stems from another
consideration as well. Liebow points out that men in
poverty are no different from "regular people," in that
both define themselves and their value to society by what
work they do and how much they get paid for that work.
For his part, the streetcorner man puts no lower
value on the job than does the larger society around
him. He knows the social value of the job by the
amount of money the employer is willing to pay him
for doing it. In a real sense, every pay day, he
counts in dollars and cents the value placed on the
job by society at large. (Liebow 1967:57)
The work the poor do, when they work, pays very little.
The poor do not value their work because society does not
value their work. The poor men portrayed by Liebow fully
recognize their situation, and hence, do not have a sense
of the future in work because, frankly, there is no
indication of one. This devaluation of the work makes it
easy to quit the jobs which are available and is a
significant factor which contributes to not even wanting
to work in the first place. Why would one work if the
jobs offered little money and only reinforced a sense of

low self-worth? When considering the economic
constraints of the low paying types of jobs available,
compounded by feelings mediated by the larger society
about the value of these jobs, the apathy and cavalier
attitude as to whether or not a poor man even has a job
becomes understandable. Concluding that the poor have a
"present time orientation" and "a sense of resignation
and fatalism" is the result of an assumption that, in
reality, the poor have a future in work. This is not the
case. Furthermore, the response that the poor make under
these circumstances is realistic and rational because it
is based on values all society holds. In this analysis
the poor are no different than others; it just that they
find themselves in situations predicated by intense
economic need coupled to an inability to change their
situation. This is much different than saying "present
time orientation" and "a sense of resignation and
fatalism" are individual psychological characteristics,
or pathologies, of the poor because the relationship to
work, which our society holds, is where the attitudes of
the poor originate. The economic situation of the poor
orders their behavior.

The "inability to delay gratification," when
speaking of spending, was another trait Lewis ascribes to
the individuals in the culture of poverty. This trait,
as with "present time orientation" and "a sense of
resignation and fatalism," also has an economic core.
Liebow points out one very important facet of the
"inability to delay gratification" which is an inherent
assumption of this chacteristic. Delaying gratification
assumes that something exists that can, in effect, be
delayed, a surplus of some sort. Unfortunately Lewis
omitted, or missed, this when he made the inability to
delay gratification a feature of the culture of poverty.
By definition, the poor live at or below, a basic level
of subsistence. This means the poor do not have enough
money to pay for rent, food, or clothing. They spend all
their money from every paycheck, as soon as they get it,
because they have to, not because they are seized by an
uncontrollable desire to spend. There is, very simply,
no room for creating a surplus to be saved, and hence
delayed, when one is poor.
I conclude this section on what poverty means and
why people are poor by relating the circumstances of one

of the drug injectors I interviewed a number of times
over the course of compiling data for this thesis. This
portrayal epitomizes the context of poverty.
The Story of Paul and the Temporary Work Agency
Paul is a white male approximately 40 years old. He
is an alcoholic. In addition, he injects cocaine and
heroin. When I first met Paul he was in bad shape and a
junkie. His forearms looked like red, swollen
pincushions. One could plainly, and painfully, see the
small holes in his arms. His left arm was in
particularly bad shape and was very tender. He would
wince in pain when it would accidentally brush against
the chair. He was pathetic looking. But, a year later,
at the time of this narrative, he was in much better
shape. He was injecting cocaine only very rarely and he
was making an effort to "get his life back together." He
did not want to be poor anymore. Having a job and making
money were the obvious keys to his escape. He was an
electrical handy-man, but he had been out of work for
some time since the small company he worked for went
bankrupt. He pawned his tools and used the money to live

at first but now he was earning money working through a
temporary labor agency, one of many such agencies in the
Temporary labor agencies are important avenues of
employment for the poor, and for poor drug users who are
trying to escape poverty. Liebow's vivid account of
temporary labor agencies' pick-up trucks driving around
poor areas of town looking for workers is far from being
a thing of the past (Liebow 1967). In 1994 one does not
have to look far, or very hard, to find exactly the same
things compared to what was happening thirty years ago.
It is chilling to read Liebow's account and realize, in
almost thirty years, little has changed. But working
through temporary labor agencies does not provide a
person with a stable or secure economic environment from
which their climb out of poverty can start. While these
agencies, at first glance, appear to be the way out of
poverty, in actuality they are not.
Typically, however, temporary labor agencies are
appealing to drug users because using drugs does not
disqualify them from work. The agency employees do not
refuse jobs to people they know are using drugs and the

companies who need the work do not care about drug use
either. In addition, temporary labor agencies are
appealing because there is a perception that there is
always a steady stream of these types of temporary jobs
available and that getting a day job is easy. This is
both true and false. While the number of jobs that are
available at the agency might remain constant, for
periods of time, the likelihood of getting one of these
jobs varies daily. The jobs are given out on a "first
come first serve" basis and one can never predict how
many people will show up looking for work on any given
day. This means one day there might be forty people
waiting for thirty jobs and the next day there might be
eighty people waiting for the same forty jobs. Most
often, the jobs are only good for one or two days of
work. This means, every day the quest to get a job
begins in a waiting game; some days the waiting pays off
and the person will get a job other days... well nothing
is certain. In addition, the jobs themselves are
extremely menial and the pay, waiting at the end of the
day, may be the only thing worse than the job itself.

I asked Paul what kinds of jobs he worked on through
the agency. Examples of the jobs he obtained through the
agency ran the gamut of drudgery: digging ditches,
picking through a pile of rubble to find usable bricks,
putting inserts into newspapers before they were
delivered, going door to door with flyers and or coupons,
janitorial work, warehouse work, and most recently he had
opened bags of dog food into a storage bin. He described
the jobs as being, "things the company's regular
employees don't do; 'invisible jobs.'" When I asked what
he meant by "invisible jobs" he replied, "If you went to
the company, or business, when I was working you would
never see me." Compared to low-profile jobs these would
be considered "no-profile" jobs.
All the jobs at the agency paid the same; minimum
wage $5.00 an hour. This amounts to $40 net pay for an
eight hour shift. The agency he worked for was typical
of most, in that they would pay the workers either daily
or at the end of the week. Paul, like most of the
workers who take these jobs, needed his money today.
This is because he had no money from yesterday and his
needs (food and rent) required immediate attention.

There are a multitude of expenses people accrue in
living (i.e. food, rent, clothing, medical care, and
transportation) and many of these expenses can be debated
in terms of the minimum economic cost that fulfills these
"needs." For ease of presentation, I will only look at
one expense, rent.
For a week's worth of work (seven days straight)
Paul would make $280. A week of rent, if he could rent
the cheapest apartment in town that has weekly rates,
would cost $140. $280 minus $140 would then give him
another $140 to live off for the week. Since he gets his
money daily, to have $140 at the end of the week saved
up, to pay rent, he needs to be very careful about how he
spends the forty dollars he makes today. In other words,
he really only makes $20 a day after he adjusts his pay
to account for rent. He can never spend more than that
$20 a day if he expects to be able to pay rent at the end
of the week. If he slips up during the week and spends
$20 in a day there is no latitude; the next day he will
either be going hungry or jeopardizing his ability to pay
rent at the end of the week. In addition, all of this
assumes he can even get seven days of work in succession

(12). Random fluctuations in his ability get work at the
agency greatly increases the odds against him being able
to afford an apartment to rent. If he can only get six
days of work, his income, adjusted for a week's rent,
would be $14.28 a day. If he can only get five days of
work, the standard "work week," his income, adjusted for
a week's rent, would drop to $8.57 a day. If he can only
get four days of work, his income, once adjusted for a
week's rent would be $2.85 a day, an amount that most
people do not even think about spending (to give the
reader perspective, $2.85 is approximately how much one
pays for three hours parking in downtown Denver). It is
safe to say that if Paul does not get at least five days
of work he will be homeless and hungry at the end of the
week. He will then be back on the streets. Moreover,
these figures only reflect one expense, and do not take
food into consideration. While some shelters provide
free food it is not always easy to get. Some food is
only given out during the day; if Paul is at a job he
will miss getting this free food.
Paul's situation is not uncommon and it demonstrates
an important point. People who are poor have to work

against incredible odds in their battle to escape
poverty. In addition, despite good and noble intentions,
the poor.remain poor because of economic forces working
against them.
Why Do Drug Users Remain Poor?
I would like to highlight one particular aspect of
poverty in this section while bringing the reader into a
1990's picture of this condition. Why do poor drug users
remain poor? The answer seems rather simple. Drug
users, like Paul, cannot rely on the money they make from
the jobs they can get to escape poverty. But there is an
additional variable to consider. Drug users, by
definition, spend some of their money on drugs. In the
first section of this chapter I highlighted these costs
and how drug users can diminish these costs by "joining
forces" in relationships. But what is an effective way
to determine the net effect of these costs on the ability
to escape poverty?
One method to calculate the costs of drug use would
be to consider, if poor drug users stopped using drugs
and could get the jobs that the "regular" poor could get,

would their chances to escape poverty improve? To truly
define the importance of the costs of drugs, in relation
to poverty, as a variable that undermines poor drug
users' ability to escape poverty, one needs to subtract
the cost of drug use. We can do this by defining poor
people who do not use drugs as a control group compared
with poor drug users. I will do this in framing the
following question. Does steady employment give poor
people who do not use drugs the ability to escape
poverty? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is a
resounding no.
I outlined two concepts of poverty from the 1960's
earlier in this section. These accounts looked primarily
at micro level considerations of the poor. To Liebow,
poor men were unmotivated to work for good reason; they
had no future in work. But what is the macro level
picture? In 1994 the future in work has gotten even more
dismal. Full time employment is, and has for a long time
been, regarded as the way out of poverty but there is an
enormous population of Americans today who are not only
drug free law abiding citizens but who are also employed
and yet they still remain poor.

The actual number of Americans experiencing working
poverty is more than double the official estimates.
Including family members, nearly thirty million
people... live in this condition, and this figure
describes the situation in America during favorable
economic times (Schwarz 1992:3-4).
The point to make is that, work, in and of itself, does
not grant an individual the ability to escape poverty.
This understanding is not lost on the poor. Furthermore,
the cross-section of this working poor population cuts
across all traditional boundaries of who the poor usually
have been in the past.
Education levels, ethnicity, gender, and work
experience have been variables in the past that have, in
some ways, defined who the working poor are. In the
1990's, however, these variables, while still important,
no longer define who the working poor are anymore.
Poverty status is no longer simply a problem for people
of color and women.
Obstacles faced by these groups [high school drop
outs, women, single parents, and minorities] do
influence earnings, but they do not explain why
large numbers of white males with high school
degrees or some college training also find
themselves in working poverty, including even quite
a few who have educational skills above the national
average (Schwarz 1992:88-89).
In addition.
The term "new poor" refers to middle-class citizens
who lost their jobs... and joined the ranks of the

poor. Once contributors to charity, the new poor
find that they themselves may now in desperation
have to turn to charity for food, clothing, and
housing (Schwarz 1992:5).
The point to be made is that, in current economic
times, stable jobs do not give the poor sufficient
ability to escape the confines of poverty. With this
point made we can turn to the subject of the net effect
of the cost of drug use on poor drug users.
Very simply, if the drug users portrayed in this
paper were to stop using the drugs they would remain
poor. True they would have less of an economic burden,
as defined by drug use, but to say they would not be poor
would be incorrect. Chapter three will demonstrate the
specific relationship between money and drug use. What I
will demonstrate in this chapter is that poor drug users,
as many have noticed, engage in a multitude of illegal
activities, commonly labeled "hustling." Furthermore,
these illegal activities, by and large, support their
drug use. I will demonstrate that in response to the
conditions of poverty this "hustling" becomes an integral
part of their life, connected to their drug use. This
connection is manifested in how drug users spend

different types of money. Furthermore, this connection
between hustling and drug use, while originating in
economic conditions of poverty, is transformed into a
significant part of their identity.

In this chapter I will be defining what hustling is,
how heroin injectors hustle, and why heroin injectors
hustle. In other words, this chapter presents a
comprehensive look at the relationship between heroin and
hustling. There have been many valuable and important
studies which have looked at heroin and hustling (Agar
1973; Preble and Casey 1972; Biernacki 1979; Johnson et
al. 1985; Stephens 1991; Reuter et al. 1990; Valentine
1978; Lex 1990). This chapter presents original data
which confirms many of these findings. In the previous
chapter I outlined the economic considerations of having
a heroin habit as well as the environment in which these
habits exist, poverty. This chapter brings these two
observations together in order to explain the behavior of
hustling as an adaptive and rational response to these
conditions. Furthermore, this adaptive response develops
into a lifestyle in which heroin use takes center stage.

Before I delve into how the combination of heroin use,
poverty, and hustling form a lifestyle, I will start by
defining what hustling is and what strategies are
employed by heroin users when they hustle.
The Definition of "Hustling"
As with many of the terms used in this report,
hustling has been the subject of many definitions. And
as with many of the terms used in this report, I would
like to make this definition as realistic as possible.
The term "hustling" is commonly used to refer to
activities and behaviors associated with the professional
sex trade. This definition, while relevant, does not
adeguately cover the term's entire meaning (Hoffer 1993).
From the interviews I conducted with heroin users,
any single definition alone does not fit hustling. It is
rather a behavior which constitutes a combination of
elements. Hustling is an economic strategy comprised of
the following components: 1) Hustling refers to
activities and behaviors that are illegal or quasi-legal

and therefore put the individual at risk for
incarceration (Koester 1994b). While this component is
admittedly vague it highlights an important aspect of
hustling; it is illegal, or at least thought of as such.
One of the things that makes hustling a difficult term to
define is that it refers to a wide variety of behaviors.
But there are other components which narrow the behaviors
considered hustling. 2) These behaviors, or hustles, are
directed toward some economic gain. There is always a
"prize" in a hustle. Very often this economic gain is
not easy to determine because it might well be obscured
or calculated in the future. However, this economic gain
is what motivates the hustle. Finally, 3) a hustle, or
hustling, refers to a calculated behavior. A hustle is
not a random occurrence that results in an economic gain.
A hustle is thought out and planned. The extent to which
the behavior is planned varies significantly but
nevertheless the behavior is a calculated one.
Heroin injectors' hustling strategies are similar to
hustling strategies of people who do not use drugs. An
explanation of the reasons for this will come out later
but a common misconception about heroin users who hustle

is that their activities primarily involve drug dealing
or drug activity. This is not necessarily the case.
While involvement in the drug use economy (also known as
the "underground economy") greatly increases the number
of strategies one can employ to make money, heroin users
engage in a number of different hustles many of which are
unrelated to drug activities. Examples of hustles
employed by the drug users in this study were:
shoplifting, returning shoplifted goods, driving others
to shoplift, selling drugs, buying drugs for others,
stealing change from vending machines, "short changing,"
and various confidence games.
Before moving to some examples of hustling
strategies, one more point needs to be made about
hustling. Hustling is rarely done alone. Usually,
heroin users form partnerships to hustle. This is
especially the case with shoplifting, the hustle most
widely used by the heroin users I interviewed. These
partnerships develop for very practical reasons. First
and most obvious is, to avoid being caught, having a
person "covering your back" is important. Second, at
various locations where a hustler might shoplift, there

is security and surveillance. After visiting a store a
number of times, the heroin user can come to know exactly
who the security personnel are. Partnerships can develop
between one user who knows the security personnel and
another user who does not. Third, partnerships
frequently develop because one user does not have the
resources to hustle alone. Providing transportation is
the most frequent resource which can foster partnerships
of this nature because, due to poverty, many heroin users
do not have their own cars. Finally, information and
skills can be the basis for partnerships. Knowing who is
looking for certain goods, knowing a store where security
is lax, having a clean record for returning stolen goods
to a store, or having a reputation as being a good thief
are all traits which are valued and can subsequently
promote a partnership.
Two Examples of Hustling
Through the interviews I conducted over the last
three years I have had many hustling strategies which
heroin users employ explained to me. I would like to
divulge all the "tricks" of the hustling trade that the

heroin users have shared. These strategies demonstrate
the intelligence and creativity of heroin users, and many
people think of heroin users as stupid or deficient.
Unfortunately, however, this divulgence would be a
violation of a confidential relationship. The majority
of heroin users I interviewed existed by hustling. Their
livelihood, while admittedly illegal, depends on these
hustles. I am obligated to maintain the majority of
their secrets because of this consideration. The
following strategies are somewhat common examples of
hustles but will serve to give the reader an
understanding of these strategies. I chose one example
that is not part of the drug use economy, "the burn and
return" and one entirely imbedded in it, "copping drugs
for others."
Example One: "The Burn and Return." The single most
popular hustle that does not involve drug use is
shoplifting. Shoplifting is a risky business for the
heroin user for two distinct reasons. First, the user
needs to worry about getting caught while he or she is
stealing but this worry is common to all theft. There is

another concern which looms just as large. The heroin
user rarely wants the stolen goods but rather the money
that the sale of the goods would generate. One cannot
inject a pair of jeans. To get around this concern the
hustler has two options. First, the hustler can work off
"orders." This simply means that before the user goes to
steal something he or she will find out what people want
and specifically steal those items. But often the user
needs to make money quickly and getting orders requires
an investment in time that the users habit will not
permit. In addition, selling goods through orders limits
the amount of money one can make from an item. Stolen
goods almost always sell at no more than half the retail
value. There is an alternative way around this problem
and that is the "burn and return."
Chuck and Susan are hustling partners. Chuck enters
a discount department store. He looks around for a
while, pretending to be shopping, then takes a two pairs
of jeans off the shelf. He quickly pops off the
anti-theft tag on one of the pairs of jeans with his car
keys. He continues walking around the store pretending
to shop. In the baby department he drops the pair of

jeans without the theft tag on the floor near one of the
racks of baby clothes. He then walks back to the men's
department returning the other pair of jeans to the shelf
and quickly leaves the store.
Susan walks by a minute after Chuck leaves the baby
department and puts the jeans on the floor in her bag.
She had entered the store shortly after Chuck and has
been watching him. Susan then casually walks to the
refund counter in the store. She presents the jeans and
explains, to the clerk, that her boyfriend already has a
pair of jeans just like the ones she bought and she wants
to return them and get her money back. The employee
explains that the store cannot give cash back on a refund
without a receipt and she will have to settle for a store
credit. Susan gets mad and protests, "I don't want
anything in this store. Just give me my money back." The
employee explains that she can only give Susan eighty
percent of the item's retail value. Rolling her eyes
Susan replies, "I can't believe this... okay I'll take
it." Susan leaves the store with twenty dollars cash.

Chuck and Susan repeat this "burn and return" three
times before noon. They make $70 in total and get a
quarter gram of heroin.
Chuck and Susan's version of "burn and return"
within the store is somewhat unique. A more popular
variation is that the goods, the jeans in this case, are
removed from the store entirely and shortly thereafter
are returned by a different person. This "burn and
return" hustle is popular with heroin users for a number
of reasons. First, it is quick. Chuck and Susan are in
and out of the store in fifteen minutes. Second, the
user does not have to worry about getting the cash for
the goods because the store buys back the items. The
users know the routine. With a little complaining the
store will give cash refunds, even though it might not be
a store policy. Third, the "return" half of the theft is
very difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute. It
would be rather bad for business to accuse people who
return items to a store, without a receipt, of theft.
Finally, returning an item to a store will net more money
than selling the good off "an order" or on the street.
In selling goods to a person the hustler will get no more

than fifty percent of the retail value of the goods but
returning the item to the store will net seventy to
eighty percent of the item's retail value.
This hustle has nothing to do with the economy of
drug use, other than the fact that profits made will be
spent on drugs. In addition, this hustle is common to
people who do not use drugs. There are a host of hustles
which exist entirely within the underground economy of
heroin use, however.
Example Two: "Copping for Others." "Copping for
others," or buying drugs for others, is a very popular
hustle for heroin users. In "copping for others" the
hustler acts as a middle man between the person who wants
the drug and the "connection" who has the drug. This
hustle is very appealing and popular because of the
potential for high profit.
Curtis has $80 and needs a quarter gram of heroin.
His usual connection is out of town, however. Curtis
knows Tim, one of the people he gets high with
occasionally, can cop for him. Tim cops heroin for a lot
of people around the neighborhood and has a lot of

different connections. Tim agrees to cop for Curtis.
Tim takes the $80 and goes to his connection.
Tim knows that his connection will charge him $60
for a good size quarter gram. Tim gets good quantities
and prices because he brings the connection a lot of
customers. Tim pays his connection $60 for the quarter
and keeps the $20 extra he got from Curtis. Now Tim
returns to Curtis with the quarter gram of heroin.
Curtis needs to pay Tim something for copping for him.
Curtis needs to pay Tim because Tim has provided a
service. If Curtis does not pay he will never be able to
ask for help again from Tim and the consequences of that
could be devastating. For his service the person who
copped, in this case Tim, can either get some of the
heroin he copped or a little money for his effort. Tim
takes a "taste" of heroin, a small quantity of the drug,
from Curtis and leaves. Tim has gotten a little piece
heroin plus $20 for copping for Curtis.
Copping for other people is very popular hustle
because it presents an economic opportunity which can be
exploited often and the payoff is very rewarding.
Secondly, there is a good match between the needs of the

heroin hustler and the needs of the person being hustled,
in this case the heroin user. For the hustler both drugs
and / or cash are the rewards for the service. For a
heroin user having someone else cop for you, or at least
knowing someone who can cop for you, can be important for
a number of reasons.
While many heroin users have direct links to
connections and therefore.can buy the drug without
"help," these links are not guarantees of availability.
Denver being a smaller city is, to some extent, in a
unique position. Some larger cities always have a
readily available and ample supply of drugs for users on
the streets. Because Denver's supply of heroin
fluctuates, sometimes connections dry up (1). In
addition, connections are often unavailable, for whatever
reason, so having someone else, a backup, to go to in an
emergency is almost a necessity. The unexpected travel
plans of his connection put Curtis in a bind. Unexpected
jail time, however, is another important consideration
the heroin user needs to think about in terms of what his
or her connection might have to deal with.

Second, many users do not have their own connections
and need someone to cop for them. Many times the
occasional heroin user does not have the resources of a
direct link to a connection. However, sometimes a heroin
user does not want a connection. Being removed from a
connection can protect the user in case the neighbors or,
even worse, the police are watching.
These two examples of heroin users hustles
demonstrate the single most important feature of hustling
and that is money. But the money made in hustling, while
used for many different things, is primarily going to
serve for the purchase of heroin. The singular motive of
obtaining heroin is the basis of the lifestyle of heroin
users. But to explain this lifestyle we need to start in
the beginning. There is an intricate connection between
hustling and heroin use that is different from hustling
without a heroin addiction.

How Hustling Starts
Some studies have shown that hustling starts after
drug use (Sullivan 1989; Stephens 1991) and some studies
have shown that hustling starts before drug use (Bourgois
1989; Valentine 1978) The drugs which are generally-
talked. about in these instances are cocaine, crack, and
marijuana. This debate, however, is unimportant to this
thesis because hustling, irrespective of whether or not
it comes before or after drug use, always comes before
heroin use (Sullivan 1989; Valentine 1978; Preble and
Casey 1972; Reuter 1990). All the subjects I interviewed
started hustling many years before they started using
heroin. This is a meaningful consideration because prior
to their heroin habit the subjects hustled for a
qualitatively different reason. These differing reasons
for hustling are expressed succinctly by Jack, one of the
subjects I interviewed a number of times for this thesis.
Jack's excerpt highlights how his reasons for hustling
changed when he started injecting heroin.

It changed man, cuz uh, I used to bring money home
to my lady, and I use to buy her things. One time I
had three cars. And then I started shooting dope.
Man, uh, that's when I stopped bringing money around
and uh, you know, I didn't have that much money no
more. And I just stopped having things. So I
started just shooting dope.
There is a difference in the economic outcome of the
hustle when we compare hustling prior to a heroin
addiction to hustling after a habit develops. As
outlined in the last chapter, heroin is an extremely
addicting drug and being addicted to heroin is an
important economic consideration. Many of the users I
interviewed said that, even though they used other drugs
such as cocaine or marijuana prior to hustling, they were
not heavily involved in using these drugs. Using drugs,
prior to a heroin habit, was a recreational activity and
had very little to do with why they hustled. Hustling
began out of reasons that had to do with poverty, not
with drug use. This is an important difference and, once
again, goes back to issues outlined in chapter two.
People who are poor do not have the legitimate
economic means to afford things. The future looks bleak
to the poor because, as stated earlier, work does not
give them the ability to escape their poverty.

Furthermore, these individuals might have the most
appropriate and "normal" intentions and work ethics.
But the barriers of poverty which exist in their external
reality also effect how the poor feel about themselves.
In addition, because the larger society still views the
poor as victims of their own shortcomings and blames them
for their poverty, finding any solace in poverty is
difficult. So if the poor cannot afford to get out of
poverty how can they feel good about being poor? One
very important consideration in manipulating these
negative feelings has to do with hustling as an
expression of material wealth (Sullivan 1989; Bourgois
1990; Anderson 1994). When members of the "middle class"
look at the poor they can see poverty in, amongst other
things, appearance. For the subjects interviewed for
this thesis, hustling started as a way to obtain things
which they could not afford. Jack's excerpt highlights
this type of motive. "Money," "a car," and "things" were
the goals of the hustle. Drugs, during the time before
heroin, were low on the list of things to hustle for.
This finding parallels other research which has been
conducted on drug users and hustling. Philippe

Bourgois's ethnographic account of inner city youth
selling crack highlights this finding. What is important
to remember is that the individuals Philippe is speaking
about are poor, like the subjects I am describing, but
they are not addicted to heroin.
Employment or better yet self-employment in the
underground economy accords a sense of autonomy,
self-dignity and an opportunity for extraordinary
rapid short-term upward mobility that is only too
obviously unavailable in entry level jobs
(Bourgois 1993:117).
Hustling for goods and things that the larger society
valued is what motivated hustling initially for the
heroin users I interviewed. Prior to heroin use, the
subjects I interviewed hustled for goods and cash that
symbolized their desire to escape poverty. While
hustling is illegal, the individual's goal in hustling
was understandable in that it could be rationalized by
beliefs that the larger society held. If the individual
could not attain enough goods and money from their jobs
to escape poverty, then hustling would provide them with
this ability.
It is important to understand that the underground
economy and the violence emerging out of it are not
propelled by irrational cultural logic distinct from
that of mainstream USA. On the contrary, street
participants are frantically pursuing the "American
Dream" (Bourgois 1993:116).