Ecstasy Dealer English Shaun- Surviving America’s Gulag (interview)
Englishman Shaun Attwood arrived in Phoenix, Arizona a penniless business graduate from a small industrial town in England. Within a decade, he became a stock-market millionaire.
But he also led a double life. An early fan of the UK rave scene, he headed an organisation that threw raves and distributed Ecstasy in competition with the Mafia mass murderer Sammy the Bull Gravano. On May 16th 2002, a SWAT team knocked his door down.
Ending up in the jail with the highest rate of death in America run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, he started a blog Jon’s Jail Journal, secretly detailing the dreadful abuses Arpaio inflicted on his inmates. Released in 2007, he’s continued his campaign as well as writing three books- Party Time, Hard Time and new one Prison Time.
As Chapter One of his new book (posted on his blog) reveals, he found himself living among gang members, sexual predators and drug-crazed psychopaths as well as old-school Mafia murderers and killers who befriended and protected him . . . (ShaunAttwood.com)
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Reading your earlier book, Party Time, what strikes me is that you appear largely fearless: both of jail and fellow gangsters: were you watching shows such as the Sopranos when you were having to deal with Sammy the Bull? And what stopped you from quitting immediately and leaving for the UK as soon as they showed up?
Shaun Attwood: “Over the years, drugs eroded my conscience and decision-making process. Sober, I’d have been too afraid to do the things I did, but drugs gave me false courage. I surrounded myself with friends who were on the same drugs, and we all reinforced each other’s dangerous behaviour. We would joke that we were living in a movie like Pulp Fiction and the police would never capture us as we were always one step ahead of them and “above the law.” Half a dozen of my friends from back then are no longer alive.
I hadn’t seen the Sopranos before my arrest because I rarely watch TV – except for Breaking Bad, which is outstanding. When Sammy the Bull Gravano’s crew showed up I was aware that he had murdered up to two dozen people from the news. Fearing for my life, I moved to Tucson, but after he was arrested for running an ecstasy ring in February 2000, I moved back to Phoenix. I did quit dealing a year later as detailed in Party Time, but it was too late. The SWAT team came on May 16th 2002.”
Skrufff: And how about fear of jail: did you give it much thought when driving around with large quantities of pills?
Shaun Attwood: “Driving around with large quantities of Ecstasy in America and Mexico, I always feared getting pulled over by the police and thrown into jail. Sometimes, I delegated that work. Other times, I took precautions. I drove at the speed limit. My vehicles were all legal. I had my license, insurance and registration documents in order. My vehicles had university stickers on them to make it appear as if I were a student at the University of Arizona. I banned weed from all of my vehicles because it’s the first thing that drug-sniffing dogs detect. Only specially trained beagles can sniff Ecstasy, which are rare.
If you don’t give the police probable cause in America, they cannot just randomly pull you over and search your car unless you give them permission – which people often do as they don’t understand the law. If they search it without your permission and probable cause, and find drugs, then the drugs are inadmissible in court as evidence.
Prior to my arrest, I’d seen prison movies such as Shawshank (Redemption) and American History X. I’d seen communal showers with big tattooed men and the skinny guy getting brutalised. Driving around with drugs, I worried about getting attacked, shanked and raped if I were ever arrested. In Prison Time, I detail how I dodge those threats.”
Skrufff: In a preview of the new book, you mention having protection from senior mafia figures and super-tough people you encountered before being jailed: did you come across any non-connected middle class educated dealer/ ravers in prison: and how did they fare?
Shaun Attwood: “In jail, the only middle-class educated Ecstasy dealers I met were my co-defendants, which included students from Arizona State University. Because so many of us were arrested and we all stuck together and watched each other’s backs we fared OK in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County jail, where the guards were murdering un-sentenced prisoners as shown in these videos below. Over time, over 100 people were arrested in my case. We were one of the biggest groups in the jail, so safety in numbers worked.”
Skrufff: If you hadn’t had your connections, how realistic was it that you would have been raped (presumably repeatedly)
Shaun Attwood: “Without connections and alliances, I would have been attacked more frequently and sustained more injuries than actually happened. The thought of being raped is so vile that I would have fought to the death to preserve my anal virginity. The problem is that the rapists are massive old cons who are sometimes armed with shanks. They put the newcomers in a chokehold and they wake up and they’ve already been raped. The threat of rape is one of the themes in Prison Time. I describe the brutal gang rape of a prisoner I met in this video:
Throughout Prison Time, I’m deflecting sexual come-ons such as this one by a prisoner, George, who tries to use the example of a glory hole to convince me to receive oral sex from him.
Skrufff: Did you ever have to physically attack anyone to assert your reputation?
Shaun Attwood: “I never attacked anyone, but I was attacked. You must hit back or else you are considered a punk and everyone will prey on you. The situation with Bud in Chapter 1 of Prison Time quickly escalates.( Link for Chapter 1: )
I get attacked by Bud’s associate, Ken, a 20-stone California biker inside for stabbing his girlfriend. He snuck up behind me when I was walking to a visit to see my parents who’d just flown 5000 to see me for Christmas. I was completely taken by surprise. Due to his size and kickboxing skills, I didn’t stand much of a chance. It didn’t stop there, but I hit back whenever he tried anything.”
Skrufff: What was you’re greatest moment of despair in jail?
Shaun Attwood: “ ‘Lockdown, everybody! a guard announces at 8pm in the maximum-security Madison Street jail in May 2003. We trudge back to our tiny two-man cells, slam our doors and rest on our bunks. A burly redneck guard enters our cell to perform a headcount. As part of a security procedure to check if an escape is in progress, he bangs a cane against the vent, the cement-block walls and a tiny bulletproof window caked in filth.
Just before lights out at 10pm, movement starts at the cracks in the decrepit walls, accompanied by rustling. American cockroaches the size of almonds are lining up like an army waiting to invade, shuffling against each other in the competition for space, with their long antennae protruding. They move ever so slightly back and forth as if they can barely wait.
As soon as a guard hits the light switch, they flood the room. Every now and then, one drops from the ceiling and resumes crawling on the grimy cement floor. Having arrived before me, my cellmate wisely chose the top bunk to avoid the cockroaches pouring from the gaps around my bunk brackets, inches away from where I sleep. Walking to the toilet, I crunch a few cockroaches under my shower sandals. When I grab the toilet roll, a cockroach darts from it onto my hand, tickling my fingers. My arm jerks, losing both the cockroach and toilet roll.
Nauseous, I sit on a stool, wondering how on earth I’m going to get to sleep, disgusted yet in awe of how alive the walls look. Tired of flicking them off my feet, I cocoon myself in a sheet and lay down sideways on my bunk, crushing a few cockroaches. The only way they can crawl on me now is by entering a breathing hole I’ve left in the sheet. Inhaling their musty odour, I close my eyes, but I can’t sleep. Listening to the swamp-cooler vent – a metal grid at the top of a wall – hissing out tepid air, I feel cockroaches moving on the sheet around my feet. Am I imagining things? My eyes keep opening to see if they’ve infiltrated my breathing hole.
With my body cramping, I rotate onto my other side. Facing the wall, I’m repulsed by the cockroaches zigging and zagging just inches away. I return to my original side. The sheet traps the heat of the Sonoran Desert to my body, coating me in sweat, aggravating my bleeding and itching skin infections and bedsores, some of which look as if I’ve spilt battery acid on myself. The ticklish sweat tricks my mind into thinking that the cockroaches are on me. I want to scratch myself, but I know better.
From sweating constantly, the outer layers of my skin have turned soggy. Squirming on the bunk fails to stop the relentless itchiness of my skin. Eventually, I succumb to scratching myself. Clumps of moist skin detach under my nails. The heat trapped by the sheet is unbearable. I discard the sheet, resigned to offering my body to the cockroaches. They start out tickling my feet, limbs, palms . . .
Having not slept properly since my arrival in the cell several days ago, I start hallucinating and hearing voices whispering threats. Facing a maximum 200-year sentence, I’m at breaking point. Although I committed crimes and deserve to be punished, no one should have to live like this. I’m furious at myself for making the series of reckless decisions that put me in here and for losing absolutely everything. I remember what my life used to be like . . .
And just look at me now. Reduced to nothing. Maybe never getting out of prison. Do I really want to spend the rest of my life in this kind of environment? Hell, no! I think about taking a razor blade to my wrists and bleeding out. The thought gives me an unexpected sense of comfort. I now have a choice. I’ll wait till a guard does a security walk, slash my wrists nice and deep and just lie here with the cockroaches. The guards won’t notice until the blood starts spilling from the bunk and by then it’ll be too late. I wonder how long I’ll take to die.
Before committing suicide, I want to say goodbye to my family by taking a last look at their photographs. I grab an envelope containing the maximum seven pictures permitted in my personal property. I stare at the caring and loving faces of my mum, dad, sister and the fiancée who talked me into quitting the Ecstasy business.
Tears pool and spill and streak down my cheeks. I close my eyes and see my mum weeping at my funeral. She’s going to get a call saying her son’s slashed his wrists in an Arizona jail cell. I can’t put my family through that. Shivering and sobbing as silently as possible on my bunk, I hate myself for lacking the courage to end my life – unaware that it takes more courage to carry on.”
Skrufff: And your happiest moment?
Shaun Attwood: “Getting sentenced to 9½ years was my happiest day because I knew I was going to get my life back. The uncertainty of being on remand for 26 months facing up to 200 years was psychological torture. It was worse than the violence and the conditions.
Skrufff: Nowadays you’re talking in schools: how concerned were you when you were dealing, that users might die? (how did you justify what you were doing, in contrast to the demonisation ‘dealers’ usually get?) : did you ever get any bad batches of pills? or have any/ many users having fits?
Shaun Attwood: “If anyone had died from taking my Ecstasy I would have been told immediately as I had hundreds of people working for me, who were tuned into everything going on in our scene. If that had happened, I would have stopped dealing. The big risk with Ecstasy is that users don’t know what’s in the pills unless they test the pills with kits like those available from DanceSafe.
A few dozen people have died in the UK in the last year because of fake Ecstasy cut with para-methoxyamphetamine (PMA), which is far more toxic than the ingredient in real Ecstasy, MDMA. My smugglers used testing kits when they picked up the pills in Holland to ensure that I wasn’t buying pills cut with dangerous substances. Deaths from real Ecstasy do happen, but they are extremely rare in comparison to other drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.”
Skrufff: What’s your take on Breaking Bad? how realistic is it? what elements of Walter White- and Jesse Pinkman – do you relate to?
Shaun Attwood: “Watching Breaking Bad, I related to the choices Walter White had to make as he rose up the drug-dealing ranks. He took things much further than me by murdering people, but I was in the same predicament as him many times. The characters he encountered, including the Mexican Mafia, I also had to deal with as they are part of that world. New Mexico is right next to Arizona.
Fortunately, I got out relatively unscathed in comparison to Walter White. I knew many tweakers (meth-heads) just like Jesse Pinkman. I’ve actually started writing a novel about the dark side of crystal meth inspired by Breaking Bad but based on true events.
Skrufff: Looking back was there any point you could have realistically quit while you were ahead?
Shaun Attwood: “Yes, but I didn’t see it that way at the time because the drugs had messed my mind up.”
Click here to buy Prison Time on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1bP4cvE
http://bit.ly/1gFe1K0 (How to Survive Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Jail System: ‘Immediately ask who the head of your race is and be aware of the political rules he is enforcing. For example, if you are white and an Aryan Brother is running the whites and you go and sit at a table with the Mexicans, Mexican Americans or African Americans you may get smashed . . . Don’t talk about someone behind his back. Beware of inmates telling you they heard someone say something bad about you – like someone calling you a punk – because they may be inciting you to fight their enemy. A good response for such a situation is: “Anyone who thinks I’m a punk needs to man-up and say it to my face . . .’)
http://bit.ly/1o8XoJq )(Fish Survival guide: Don’t act like a big shot unless you can fight. Bear in mind that if someone challenges you, and you don’t fight, you may be perceived as weak and be taken advantage of by others. Don’t show weakness or let your emotional barrier down. Especially youngsters, who can easily become extortion and rape fodder for the hardcore. Never cry . . .”)
Jonty Skrufff: https://twitter.com/djjontyskrufff