This week we are taking a look at LeRon L. Barton’s book, Straight Dope: A 360 degree look at American Drug Culture.
Straight Dope is a book that asks the simple question – why are drugs so entrenched in America’s society? Instead of doing the same ol’ rigamarole song and dance and interviewing talking heads and experts, Straight Dope gets to the heart of the matter and talks to the people at ground zero – the drug addicts whose life revolves around getting high; the criminals who profit of the misery of the addicts; the teachers who deal with the children in drug abused homes; the drug counselors that try and balance breaking the addicts cycle of addiction while dealing with the bureaucracy of government politics; the legal marijuana growers’ battle against tobacco companies and how to thrive in the growing industry; and the parents issue of how they will prepare their children to just say no. Inspired by the late great Studs Terkel’s many works, Straight Dope is comprised of raw and uncut hard hitting interviews about the participants’ experiences, thoughts, opinions, and outlook on drug abuse, why or why not drugs should be legal, and how the government is handling the war on drugs. Removing nearly all of the questions, the interviews are more like monologues, allowing the reader to feel as if the subject is just, “talking,” instead of your standard interview. In addition to the real life accounts of people, Straight Dope also has spoken word pieces compiled of biting social commentary, as well as LeRon’s own personal reflections on his experiences with drugs.
How did you start writing?
I have always had a love for writing when I was younger. It was something about the written word and being able to create something out of nothing that always fascinated me. I come a family of artists: My grandfather can draw and paint, my aunt was into fashion design, my mother can draw and write, and my brother was an artist. The arts were encouraged, so I started out drawing and writing comic books, which lead to stories, attending Paseo Academy Fine Arts and honing my skills under the great Stan Banks. After volumes of poetry, stories, essays, and screenplays, I decided to tackle writing a book.
What was your goal in writing this book?
To show a complete view of drugs in America. I wanted to give the reader stories from all angles: The users, sellers, people who lost love ones, counselors, teachers, legal drug sellers, and parent who are raising their children in this age of rampant drug use. There is not one way of looking at drugs in America, but many different ways.
Any advice for a upcoming writer?
Keep at it and never give up. I don’t care if people don’t like your work or if you feel discouraged, never stop. There is always light at the end of the tunnel!
Here is an excerpt from Straight Dope:
Latino, calm, street kid
I am a native of Tuscon, AZ. I grew up with two older sisters and my mother. My father left when I was young, so I really don’t know about him. I came out to California on a split decision. I had been visiting here when I was younger, playing soccer and I liked it. Growing up in Tuscon was rough at times, having a mom struggling for a bit here and there, and a little bit of abuse from my father, but again, I was too young to remember that. Other than that, I had a pretty normal childhood. My relationship with my sisters is pretty good, I haven’t really talked with them, but were still pretty close. My mother and I are still good even though we’ve been out of touch.
Being a teenager and partying, I was getting into trouble a lot. In college I was playing soccer and had a back injury, so that’s when I started drinking heavy. Got depressed and was frustrated I suppose, just disappointed. I then started to get arrested, a couple of drunk-in-publics. I wasn’t holding down a job and so I figured at least a change of scenery and moved out to California with a soccer buddy of mine. There I started up messing with drugs again. Back in Tucson, I smoked a little weed, but out here there is better marijuana (laughs).
Coming to SD, we didn’t know anyone so we started camping out, staying where ever we could. Damn. Being in SD, it’s a lot cooler and there is a big cultural difference. More conscience heads, where Tucson was much more mellow, but it could get a little chaotic. In SD, there was just lots of energy.
When you drink, the drunk bone is connected to the drug bone, so once one moves, the other one moves with it. I think that’s what happens with addicts. A lot of times you decide to do something that you normally wouldn’t do, but when you are drunk your guard is down. You think you can try stuff, that’s probably how I got started, being in the streets.
My soccer buddy who I played with started using heroin and cocaine and it really scared me, so I backed away from it. I knew that doing that, it was kinda going over the edge. When I first did the heroin, it was euphoric, puts your body in a trance. Probably the most powerful thing I ever did. After that one time with heroin, I had to step back, have a reality check. I was still drinking, but all the harder I could not see myself being hooked. It’s really intense what it puts your body through. It can kill you eventually and that’s what kept it from escalating.
My soccer buddy that introduced me to heroin, he eventually OD’ed in his mom’s house. When I found out, it really bugged me out. It was pretty upsetting. After that I pretty much washed my hands of it. Losing him was tragic because he had a lot of talent, but got into drugs. I think that after his ACL injury, which was kind of a career ender, he just became depressed. Honestly, I don’t think he wanted to die, I just think he fucked up. Our relationship grew apart the more and more he got into it.
Did you ever try to tell him to stop?
Yeah, in my own ways. He would even say this is dangerous, but he knew the risks involved. Sometimes I just, I don’t know (pauses) what I could have told him to prevent his death. I pray for him still and think about him and his family.
With that happening, what are your views on drugs today?
I never looked at weed as a drug. Honestly, I think drugs should be legal across the board, regulated. People think that it will create more addicts but it won’t. It’ll just put the dopeman out of business. It wouldn’t be cut wit all the bullshit. That’s whats killing people.
If you could say anything to your friend you lost, what would it be?
Be careful with your life, it’s short.
LeRon Barton was encouraged by his mother to write, attended Paseo Academy Fine Arts High-school and was mentored by famed writer Stan Banks. Graduating from high-school in 1996, Barton continued to write and commit petty crime until 1999, when he attended college in San Diego, Ca. He later began writing screen plays and volumes of poetry. In 2010, he created Windowshopz.com, a website that featured writing, music, fashion, travel, and movies. After a turbulent 2012, Barton relocated to The Bay Area and started, “Mainline Publications,” an online publications firm that would release controversial works. The first project, Straight Dope: A 360 degree look into American drug culture, was released in February 2013. Upcoming releases include, It’s Good To Be Alive, a collection of poetry, short-stories, and photography to be released in July 2013 and All We Need Is Love, a book about dating, relationships, heartbreak, and love, to be released in Nov 2013.