Chasing The Elusive American Dream
        By Billy Ray Riggs, San Quentin Death Row

    Once A Drug Kingpin
  Chasing The Elusive American Dream
I was given the name Billie Ray Riggs at birth, but the streets christened me "Big Pappa Cash" Pops for short.   I was introduced to the streets at the age of twenty.   Once I met the streets I fell in love with them.    If I couldn't get it in the Street,  I didn't want it. Just beginning at the age of twenty put me way behind my peers, in recognizing and knowing how to take advantage of hustling opportunities-some legal, most illegal.  I had to Quickly learn how to cheat at just about everything which also kept the cheat off me.
    Selling Drugs became an everyday fact of life as I was learning and being taught the ways of the world.   When black awareness came on the scene , I was one of the first to embrace the ideology .   I was a real contradiction.    I wanted people to be black and proud while at the same time I was them drugs.  I rose slowly and totally into the drug world as I became more and more disillusioned with the movement.
Even though I am a nice looking man, I am not a movie star, rapper, or someone blessed with super athletic ability other than my above average natural strength.
I am your average man who grew up in the Ghetto.   My knowledge and perspective comes from years chasing the dream that leads so many of us to an early grave or the pen-from years playing the dope game.
I am laying me heart and soul on the line, so that I might save a few of you from the pain and doom that is now my life.
I have dedicated my life to showing young people that selling drugs is a fast track to the cemetery, prison or even death row.
The proof ?    I have more friends dead than alive.   You'd need an adding machine to count the number of my friends in prison.
I can show you bullet wounds on my bod.  I can tell you true stories about friends who've died brutal deaths because they were in the dope game, because they dreamed of being big-time dealers.
See where I'm from , young people don't dream of becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers , or even professional athletes.   They dream of becoming big time drug dealers.   Kingpins.  I'll stand witness.  Anyone who dreams of an easy life selling drugs is going to find out the dream is a nightmare.  This is a real life-no drama and there is nothing sugar coated about the uncut truth.
For all those young girls out there who chase down drug dealers hoping to marry them and live in luxury.   I wish that I could sit down and have a heart to heart talk with them who have this fantasy.   I can tell them things that would make them wish they never saw a man who deals drugs.  Ask me and some of the unfortunate women if all the material things were worth the horror of having your door kicked in by men in ski masks and black gloves, armed with packed Uzis, AK-47's and 9mms.  I can still imaging how they felt when they made them and their children lie down on the floor.  threatening to kill them if she didn't tell the jacker's where I kept my money.   While I was off trying to make another million dollars to go with the 3 million I had already amassed. I can still hear my lady begging for the lives of her and her children.  Once of her kids was so scared she peed on herself.  Even today, ten years later, I am sure she doesn't want to talk about it.  Come to think of it, I don't either!
I came home and found my lady terrified and in tears.  The thugs had left a message with her after taking 50,000 of her jewelry right off her body.
"We were hoping Pops was home so we could kick in his curly head."
A friend of mine wasn't so lucky- he came home and found his family dead.
After that incident, my lady friend pleaded with me to change my lifestyle.  I put up my 750,000 house for sale and was willing to sell it for half that price.  I then searched city wide for information leading to the three robbers, but I was too stupid to change.  The addiction to selling drugs is 10 times more powerful than using them.  As I think about it now, I am sure happy about never using drugs.  Not even a cigarette.
One day a youngster on the same tier reminded me of the time he came to me years ago and asked me to teach him my secret?  Someone had told him that I knew the secret of the very profitable "double up", cooking one kilo of cocaine and making it come back two kilos of crack.
"Pops," this young man said, " I heard you have it going on?"  The idolization in his voice makes me sick when I think about it.  "They tell me you were living large and counting money like Trump."  I remember him saying that like it was yesterday!
He wanted to see the picture of my black Mercedes and the house everybody was talking about.  I hand him my photo album without speaking a word and watched his young, impressionable face glowing with adulation.  After a moment he remarked, "Pops, I wanted to be just like you."
I wish that I had explained to him back then just what he was about to get himself into now that I see him in here on death row with me.  He did get his wish, he is just like me, he's in prison.  I should have told the young man that I was not someone to look up to; I wish I could have told him to look up at those razor wire fences that surround this prison.  Look at that clock in your cell and tell me how many times that hour hand has to go full circle before you become a free man?
As I continue to school him every day when he is talking about that pipe dream he had.  It has become more than the young brother had bargained for as he flashed back on that fast life we both lived, but I am not through yet.
Tomorrow, I will tell him about  "not counting the hours, days, or even weeks," I will continue.  "You better count years! And when you count, brother, take your shoes off because you're going to run out of fingers and you'll be needing them toes."
When I show people the pictures of my previous lifestyle, and the material things
I had, its not to brag.   Its just that you can't tell the whole truth without letting them see the traps--money, cars, fine women, bad reputation and the feeling that you are
a big man.  In some neighborhoods, if you aren't a drug dealer you'll never get a girlfriend.  Talk about the pressure, especially for a teenager.    Thats why I showed the young brother the photos of my past, and that having all of that, I may never get the chance to have children and watch them grow up or have grand children.   I let him know that we may never see any of these things again, not to mention being able to lay next to a woman ever again, hug her and smell her sweet fragrance, touch her soft skin, feel her cold feet rubbing on our bodies and most of all tell her how much I love her.
"So you wanted to sell drugs, huh?"  I kept nailing at the young brother who idolizes me.  "You wanted to help destroy people's lives, not to mention your own?"  I could feel a cold tear as it ran down my face.  "When you sell drugs, brother, you're not only destroying the buyers life, but their families too."
As we sat at the table on the yard one day, I shoved my prison papers in front of him, with my court imposed sentence slapped across the top:
When you come to prison or get killed, you destroy your whole family, your wife and children, if you're like me my girlfriend and my mother.  For a family to be complete, it's got to be together.   Cut off an arm and you can still survive, but you're always going to have limitations.  When your daughter grows up without a father in the home and has two or three kids before she's seventeen,  and ends up on welfare for the rest of her life, its your fault.  When your son ends up in a prison cell next to yours or gets smoked (killed) before he's old enough to finish school, its your fault.  When you come to prison and your wife, or in my case girlfriend, becomes someone elses wife or girlfriend and forgets you even exist, thats your fault too.  You wanted to be a kingpin, so you got everything that goes along with that title.
"Yeah, you'll be living good for awhile.  Keep that in mind when they ship you off to prison.  I was living it large. Big deal. "
Like the young brother on the tier that worshipped me maybe you thought I was going to give some tips on how to come up large (get rich) in the dope game.  Forget it:
that wouldn't be giving out knowledge, it would be giving out poison.  And I have poisoned  far too many people already chasing that almighty dollar.  Know I have dedicated my life to use the same determination to try and change a few young peoples minds to steer them away from that same crooked path I followed.
I still feel responsible for one of the things that cause me to dedicate my life to saving others.  After I got convicted, I stayed in contact with my aunt (which is my mothers youngest sister.)  She has a son, "Bobby" who worshipped the ground I walked on.  Bobby wanted in on the dope game and was always asking me to set him up.  I always gave him the runaround or some excuse to protect him from the hurt I had seen happen to some of my friends.  Bobby was an intelligent kid capable of excelling in a legit career if he wanted to.  He was an upcoming disc jockey.  To make things worse he was a "prep" too green for the street life, too soft and anxious to get rich.
After I had been in prison for a few months, I called my aunt and was surprised to hear that a big time drug dealer had been over to her house.  I spoke to that drug dealer soon after and he asked me if I could trust Bob with some dope.   I started to say no because my instincts told me that something tragic would happen to the kid of he ever got into the dope game, but I didn't want Bobby to feel I'd badmouthed him so
I said, " He could be trusted."  I said it with hesitancy, though, hoping that the drug dealer would pick up on that and  refuse to enlist Bob.
He didn't.  That night, he gave Bob a large quantity of cocaine on consignment.  The next day I called my aunt to ask about Bob.  She told me that the gang was looking for Bob because he had disappeared with their product and they hadn't received any money for it.  It was the beginning of a habit that has controlled his every thought for the last six years.  You might say that I cosigned his death warrant.
If I had said flat out "No", Bob might be a productive citizen today, maybe even a rich man.  I will never forgive myself for the slow death that is now a way of life for him.
I will never be able to undo this terrible fate that seems to be his destiny.  I feel that the greatest respect I can pay him is to try and save other young people from the same tragic mistake...
No doubt about it, Billy Ray Riggs was a natural leader with creative talent.  He excelled at everything he did.  Maybe it was his environment, maybe it was plain old greed, but Pops chose the wrong path.  Now he sits in prison back where he started, (without a dime in his pocket,) and can't even buy toothpaste to brush his teeth unless someone on the outside cares enough to send him a few bucks.
Is the ex ghetto king remorseful?  "Yes! I'm glad I'm in prison, " he says reflectively.  "I don't want your sympathy, I just want a chance  to help those who were once like me."

                                                       - POPS

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This page was last updated July 26, 2001       Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty
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