This article was first published on The Huffington Post – 19 June 2014
The eagerly awaited autobiography of ‘Freeway’ Rick Ross has just been released. A notorious drug kingpin reigning over Los Angeles, California and operating across numerous other states, Rick was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996. But following the discovery his drug source was linked to the CIA and he had been used as a pawn in the Iran–Contra scandal, he received a reduced sentence.
Rick’s co-writer on his autobiography is bestselling true crime writer Cathy Scott, who is the author of The Killing of Tupac Shakur and The Murder of Biggie Smalls among many other books.
Here Rick and Cathy share the lowdown on Freeway Rick Ross: The Untold Autobiography.
Rick, can you tell us about your background, how you got involved in the criminal world, and what led you to leave that life behind?
I was a high-school tennis player and planned to become the next Arthur Ashe. But once it was discovered that I could not read or write, my dream of becoming a sports star was over. I knew my tennis career was no longer a reality. I found myself pretty much lost, not knowing what my next move would be. I started hanging out with car thieves. That was one of the activities guys in my neighbourhood were doing to make money. After a run-in with the law, I turned to drug dealing. I learned sales techniques from the car business by stealing cars and selling parts. I found that I had a knack for selling things.
I quit selling drugs a year and a month before I got arrested in a sting operation where I was the go-between for a homie who was buying cocaine. I had started to feel the hypocriticalness in myself. I didn’t want anybody to sell drugs to my mother or my brother or my sister. When I first started selling, it was a Hollywood drug, a party drug, a fun drug. The negative impact didn’t happen right away. In later years, I started seeing the destructive effect it had on people. It’s not like the commercials, where you go and smoke some rock and your brain fries. It took time before the drug started to show negative effects. It took years. Take a guy who had a great job. He would go to work every day. Then he started using $20 worth of cocaine a week, then $50, $100, and then $200. He quit his job and went to work on the street as a dealer to make money to support his drug habit. That didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process. When I started to see more and more instances of that, of the negative effects, I wanted out of the game. I worked out a plan to go legit and leave the drug life behind. This was before I learned that my drug source was actually an undercover operative for the DEA who sold drugs to finance the Nicaraguan rebels in the CIA’s Iran-Contra affair.
Cathy, the true crime books you’ve written before about Susan Berman, Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls you’ve worked on alone. How was the experience co-writing with Rick, and what was the process of working on the book together?
It was seamless working with Rick. I spent time with him in South Central L.A. I had gone there as a newspaper reporter in the immediate aftermath of the Rodney King Riots in the early ‘90s, so it was very de ja vu for me to be back on Normandy Avenue. We went to Rick’s cousin’s house on that street. Rick drove me to the house next to the freeway where he spent a good part of his childhood and teenage years and where his drug dealing began. I interviewed Rick, along with his mother, brother, cousins and friends. I talked to him daily — sometimes two and three times a day — to help fill in the details of the story of his life as the book developed. What I discovered about Rick is that he never has a bad day. He’s a positive guy, and it’s infectious. I understand now how he was able to keep a positive outlook all those years he was in prison, even though initially he had a life sentence with no possibility of parole. He set out to teach himself how to read and write so he could help turn his criminal case around. For Rick, the glass is always half full, not half empty.
Rick, what made you want to tell your life story and is there a message you’d like readers to take away with them?
There have been so many lies told about the drug business. People weren’t given the proper information to help them determine a logical conclusion. So, my plan was to give people all the facts and they could analyse them and come up with their own conclusion. If you have the facts, then you can come up with the answers. If you’re dealing with lies and half-truths, then you can’t make logical choices and your solutions won’t be correct. I wanted to correct the misinformation that’s out there about my role, to go on the record with how it really went down.
As for my message, part of it is this: We are all human, we all make mistakes, and everybody deserves a second chance.
Cathy, for potential readers, can you share some of what they can expect to find in the book?
Readers are in for a front-row seat and a behind-the-scenes look at life in the ghetto at the height of drug activity in South Central, which includes Watts and Compton. It includes the day-to-day goings on, from morning ‘til night, of a drug kingpin who set out to make a living when he felt there was no other avenue available to an illiterate, poor black kid from the ghetto. To his own surprise, it was more lucrative than he ever expected. The book takes you to the money-counting rooms and back rooms where deals were made. It also includes police car chases and a gun battle. Despite a Freeway Rick Task Force active for several years with the sole intent to catch Rick Ross, he dodged the police for years. It’ll surprise readers how it was done. The book also includes capers you can’t make up. It’s an honest, no-holds barred glimpse into life on the streets. Readers will also learn dramatic events that kept Rick out of the gangs, even though he was surrounded by them and attempts were made to recruit him. But life-changing events occurred that will shock readers and at the same time help them understand where Freeway Rick Ross came from and how and why he went into the drug life.
Rick, you’re doing some amazing work giving back to the community in South Central Los Angeles now. Can you tell us what inspired you to do that and what it involves?
After I read Malcolm X’s memoir and I saw that our backgrounds and lives were similar, I figured if he could change and make an impact, then I could change too and to make an even bigger impact. I look at Malcolm X as a mentor. He was in prison when he learned to read. He took what he learned in prison, got out and used it to help other people. I found myself doing the same thing. When I talk to kids, I don’t really tell anybody, ‘Don’t go out and sell drugs, don’t use drugs, don’t get involved in drugs.’ The way I look at it is if they have all the information they need to make good decisions, then they’ll make the right decision. I tell them, ‘If you’re going to sell drugs, be prepared to go to prison or possibly get killed. When you go to prison, your girlfriend and your friends will no longer be there for you. You will be alone. People end up with 30 years and life sentences for drug offenses. I tell them, ‘Keep in mind that that may be the future for you, that you might kill somebody or they’ll kill you.’ Students have overwhelmingly accepted my message. I go out and speak to these kids because I want to, because it’s beneficial for us to teach our kids how to be critical thinkers. That way, if there’s a problem they have to solve, they can sit down, think about it and figure it out. I talk to them about making informed decisions.