Rob McConnell Interviews – BRIAN O’DEA – Confessions of a Pot Smuggler

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From Brian O’Dea in his own words: “I was finally sober, after years of self-destructive abuse, living alone in Santa Barbara, working full time, and more, but as a volunteer at an alcohol and drug recovery hospital called Cottage Care. Two years into this new way of living, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) showed up at my door, brandishing an indictment based on my last venture in the drug trade (importation of more than 70 tons of pot from Southeast Asia). “We know what you do O’Dea, working with drunks and dope addicts, but this ain’t about change or rehabilitation, this is about crushing your life, motherfu%&er.” For the ensuing year, I wrapped up my life as I knew it, preparing for a new address, one from which I did not expect to return for over ten years. When, finally, I was sentenced to ten years, the judge gave me three months to get ready, and told me to surrender to Federal Correction Institute Terminal Island on June 30, 1991…Everything I knew about American Prisons I learned from films such as American Me and Shawshank Redemption. Gruesome depictions, and needless to say, when I walked up to the gate at T.I. I was quaking in my boots. A guard came to retrieve me, handcuffing me to take me inside. Once we crossed the threshold into the yard, every single character I feared in my imagination I could see, peering over a line of guards protecting me from the mass of prisoners waiting to move on. (All movement stops in prison when new “fish” arrive.) I cannot tell you how frightened I was at that moment. All I could see were bulging muscles, tattoos, do-rags, and sneering and scowling faces. My head was going a million miles an hour. Mark Twain said 99% of the battles he fought never took place. Most of mine were happening right then and there. After a couple of excruciating hours of check-in, I was pointed in the direction of a unit, where I was told to report to the officer currently on duty. He told me to go find a bunk on the freeway that wasn’t being occupied, and come back to let him know where it was. The freeway was a row of bunks in a large hallway surrounding a three tiered cellblock. I looked into this area, and was just about in a panic when I spotted a broken pencil and piece of paper discarded on a rickety bookcase containing no books. In a flash, it occurred to me that if I wanted to survive, I had to get out of my head, ’cause it was killing me. I thought that if I was to write down everything I heard around me, my fears would take some shape, a form that was not quite as nebulous as my fear, and in so doing give bodies to the ghosts that were haunting me, and so, five minutes in, I began what became HIGH..I hope you find HIGH to be a great yarn, as many have, but more importantly to me, I hope you are informed in a way that increases your compassion for those less fortunate than you, for those who have not had the opportunities that most of us have had, for those, that but for life’s circumstances, there go you, or you, or, yes, even you” –