Self-described heroin addict "Brown Dog" Brown, talked last week with Washington Post reporter Michel Marriott.
Q: Despite the well-publicized deaths of John Belushi and David Kennedy, people still seem to have the stereotype that the user is somebody who's poor and wasting away in an inner city, with nothing on their minds but getting another fix. How is that stereotype different from your life?
A: Well, I think that I'm intelligent. At one time, I was well off for a guy my age. So people that use -- just poor people -- that's not true.
Myself, once I got started there just wasn't no stopping. And people don't understand. I go to the hospital and I try to clean myself up and I come back out and they say, "Well you're clean. Why you go back to it?" I know that it's killing me. I know that. And, as stupid as this might sound, some of that dope that's killing them boys out there -- I want some of it so bad I don't know what to do.
People can't understand, but it's something inside of me. I'll be clean -- physically not dependent on it -- but something rings inside of my head. It just haunts me, you know, to go back to it.
Q: This heroin that's out there now that's killing all those people -- what happens when the word is out on the street that there's some unusually pure heroin. What do people do?
A: Everybody tries to find it.
Q: But don't you know that it could kill you?
A: I don't think there's nothing out there that can kill me. That's probably what they thought, too.
Q: What about death? You ever think about it?
A: You can't scare a dope fiend with death. Death don't bother him. I seen a man shoot some dope and just fall straight out, man. I don't know if he's dead or not. But you see your people get down. Not to save his life. They try and wake that man up to find out where he got that dope from so they can go get themselves some. I done got so now where maybe if he fell dead over there, he just dead. That's all. It don't mean nothin' to me. Only thing scares me is being sick. I just hate to be sick.
Q: Sick, meaning you need to get high?
A: Uh-huh. And I think about it a lot, man. My stomach bother me a little bit and my nose start runnin'. All of a sudden, I can't take that. I got to run out and get a bag of dope. If I didn't know what would make me feel better, then I could handle that. I could work and be sick. But I know that a bag of dope will make me feel better so I ups and go do it. Do something stupid.
Q: But you have no illusions about it. You really considered yourself hooked. You're an addict.
A: I'm an addict. I'm an addict.
Q: Well what does that mean? Is there any such thing as recreational heroin use? Somebody who can just use it when they want to?
A: I know people that use it like once a week. They say that they not hooked but, you know, I did the same thing. Then after a while, a couple of times a week. Before you know it you're hooked. It took me about two years to come to grips with myself that I was hooked on heroin. Even though I'd wake up in the morning and I wouldn't be feeling right, I just couldn't bring myself to believe, man, that me, ('Brown Dog') Brown, was hooked on heroin. That a little white bag of powder could control me. Because as far as I'm concerned, I think I'm a strong-minded person, and I'm intelligent.
Most dope fiends are intelligent people. You can't find too many dumb people out there that can walk out the house with no money and 15 minutes later have two, three hundred dollars.
Q: How did you first become involved? When and how?
A: Okay. In 1969 I was in Vietnam. (Heroin) was real easy to get over there and I think, you know, because I was afraid all the time, I was just trying to get something to take my mind off of what was really going on. I was seein' a lot of things that I wasn't used to seein'. People bloody. Plus most of the other guys over there was usin' it too.
Q: You say you were young?
A: I was 19.
Q: And at that time you didn't do it regularly?
A: Yeah, I didn't get hooked until I came back to the States. I came back to the States and I got a job as a security officer. Then I got a job working for the Secret Service. I was a federal officer in the Treasury Department. I was making pretty good money. I indulged on paydays. And that's when it started. The times started gettin' closer because I would meet somebody out there and like I say, dope fiends, they not dumb, see. They knew that I had money -- so if they were short they would call me and say, "Well, hey, man, I got 'X' amount of money. Do you have the rest?"
The calls started getting regular. Then I found myself going without them callin' me. After about five months, I would notice that when I wake up I wouldn't be feelin' right. And after I went and got a fix, I knew that that made me feel better. But I would tell myself that I could stop anytime I wanted. I liked the high. That's what I was saying to myself. But really I was hooked.
Q: No one has ever really described it well enough where I can even begin to understand what these highs hold. Why is it, you know, the ultimate high? You take a chance with something that you say is killing yourself. What is it that is so good about it?
A: All I know is it's better than sex. I've passed up sex to get a shot of dope. That's the only way I can describe it, man. It's just good, man. It relaxes you. It gives me a feeling like I don't give a damn. If the bills get paid, they get paid. If they don't, then they don't. I just do what I can and if that ain't enough then -- later for it. If I didn't have a shot of dope I would worry about the bills. I would worry about my old lady leavin' me. I'd worry about stuff like that. But I get me a shot of dope and I don't even worry about none of that stuff.
If I was clean it might pop in my head right now that I want to use some drugs. And as hard as you try, you can't block it out. Once it gets on your mind it's dead. I can be having a great time but as soon as I get a chance I'm easing out and I'm going to get me some drug. Then the little man is satisfied.
Q: How has it affected your relationship with your family? With your sons?
A: It's had a big effect on us. My wife she doesn't use anything. She's a Christian. As far as I'm concerned, she's the best. She's the type of woman that everybody else wants. She don't like me using the drug, but she done tried everything that she know to help me. She know she can't help me if I don't go ahead and do it myself. She's coming to grips with that now.
My sons, they hate it too. They know that I use. I talk to 'em and try to let them know what's going on with me -- that I'm hooked up in these drugs right now. I try and do the best I can to get myself straight again and I explain to them that it's hard. People look at me and say "You don't have to use drugs if you don't want to." But it's just something that haunts you, man, and it won't let go, man.
Q: Were you shooting up before you got married? Did your wife know?
A: She didn't find out I was shooting drugs until about 1976.
Q: When did you get married?
A: We got married in 1970. So you'd been able to do it for six years without her knowing?
A: What was her reaction when she found out?
Q: Cried. When they found out that I shot drugs it shocked everybody.
A: How did they find out?
Q: I got locked up.
A: What's the most dangerous thing about heroin? The drug itself? The street life that you got to be involved in to cop the heroin? Or to get the money to buy the heroin?
Q: The whole thing is dangerous. Even down to gettin' the money. For me, at one time the danger was just going out there coppin' and getting off. But now, I can't hold a job, so I get money the best way I can. And when I'm sick I don't care how I get it or who I get it from. When I be ill, I do real crazy things. Like if I'm real ill I might walk in there and just pick me up a rack of clothes and just walk out of the store. Things even got so bad in the house that my wife, she takes her pocketbook in the bathroom. You know that's bad, man. I know it's bad. And it hurts me. But I would rather go in her pocketbook than stick somebody up. It lessen my chances on going to jail.
The whole scene is bad, man. That's why I told you that I would let you know, man. Because people don't understand the dope fiend, man.
Q: I talked to your son. He seems bright and sensitive and really together. That doesn't happen by accident. You must be also giving him very positive things.
A: Yeah, well I try let him know just what's goin' on with me. I look at it in a positive way, like I know my sons they ain't never -- they'll never touch anything that's not prescribed by a doctor. Because they see the way I act when I get ill.
Q: They've seen you high?
A: They never seen me fire up. But they know when I'm high.
Q: What's the best and what's been the worst experiences you've had in your life?
A: The best is I'd say the hustlin'. I likes that street. Fast money, big car -- the hustlin' and excitement about being out there. For some reason the women like people that act like us. Most of the dope fiends I know -- even down to the winos with their swelled up feet and hands, they got real good women. They got women that the square people would like to have.
I did 14th Street and you you meet the pimps and the prostitutes and the hustlers, and you see the money that they can make out there. That's another thing that really screwed me up. I was making good money, but I just went crazy, man. I came home and told my wife I was moving five more women in the house and stupid crazy stuff like that. I figured I can make more money on the street than I can workin' every day.
Q: It didn't turn out that way?
A: Didn't turn out that way. I do make more money on the street but I don't see none of it.
Hey, I got a -- I think I got a halfway-decent house; I end up sleeping out there on the street. I was sleeping in old cars, man. It wasn't because I didn't have a house. I was eating in a soup kitchen. Not because my old lady didn't cook but because that dope just had me so strung out that I was willing to sacrifice, you know, the warmth and comforts of a home so I'd be right up there to get that dope in the morning.
Friends? You don't have no friends, and you constantly lookin' over your shoulder, you constantly scheming and conniving. You steal from each other, man. It ain't no trust or nothin' in that circle. Everybody that you run into out there on the street you got to be on your p's and q's about, if they in that drug thing. Because your best friend will set you up to be killed.
Q: If somebody had told you when you were young, before you got involved at all in heroin, would you have believed them?
A: No. Because somebody did. I had a buddy that was hooked long before I was. He begged me not to shoot no dope. He say, "If you shoot some dope you gonna lose your job, you gonna go to jail, you gonna lose everything." And I was saying to myself -- can't no little white bag of powder do that to me. Because I was the type of feller -- I'm just like night and day now -- I was real responsible then. I was looked at like a top soldier. When special things came around they asked for me. I just didn't figure that something like that could happen to me.
Q: You say you've been to the hospital, you've been in programs. Why don't they work?
A: They didn't work for me because, well, most of your people, they not going to do too much for you.
Q: You say your people, meaning?
A: Your family. If I go to them and say "I need 'X' amount of money so I can get a car to get back and forth to work, so I find me a job," they say well if I give him that money, he gonna buy some dope.
So you can't depend on no help. This time when I go in the program I got it in my mind that I don't wanna use these drugs no more 'cause they are killing me. And I'm tired of stealin'. Sometimes you you feel like you're just tired of living. But then ain't nobody crazy enough to go out -- . Well, I'm not crazy enough to kill myself, you know, not straight up.
Q: Your family will be happy to hear you are going into the hospital. Why do you think this visit is going to be better than the ones in the past?
A: I don't even know. I'm not even sure. But I know if I stop trying, that's it.
Q: Have you ever been arrested for any of the things you've done?
A: I've been arrested so many times in the last five years, I can't even tell you how many times. I've been in trouble in all the counties. Virginia. Out here in Maryland. Montgomery County. Everywhere, I got in trouble. And I'm tired.
Q: When's the last time you've been clean?
A: About three months ago when I was locked up. I got to stay away from these peers, you know, when I get clean. I got to stay away from people that I know. I don't know anybody that's straight now, so that makes you real lonely.
Another thing that I think is real important. A lot of dope fiends want help, but when you call and try to get some help, (program operators) put you on hold for 30 days. They tell you there's a waitin' list for three months. When I callin' people and tell 'em I need help, I need help right then. I can't wait 30 days. I'm hooked. I got to have this thing in the next 24 hours.
Q: Do you shoot up every day?
A: Yeah, I got to go two or three times a day.
Q: How do you feel right now as we talk?
A: I'm relaxed.
Q: So you're high right now?
Q: How long will it last?
A: Till maybe 9 or 10 o'clock. (Six hours.)
Q: Then you'll go back on the street?
A: I hope I'll be in the hospital. I've got to go to Richmond.