Social Justice

Rob Thomas: My Story

Part Two

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I went to a few different elementary schools because from the age I was born to the age of seven, I grew up in Shiloh. My parents almost paid off their house. Their drug addiction caused them to lose the house when I was about seven years old in the first grade, so the first elementary school I went to was William Estes. I'm not sure it's called the same thing now. Maybe it's Koontz [Charles T. Koontz Intermediate School on Overlook Road in South Asheville] or I don't know what they've changed the name to, but I know it was William Estes whenever I went there. Then they lost the house and we moved in with my father's mother on 80 Annandale in North Asheville off of Merrimon Avenue. I went to Ira B. Jones [Elementary School in North Asheville] first because I think it was too late for me to get into Claxton [Elementary School, two blocks from 80 Annandale] because they didn't have any space. And then I got into Claxton and I stayed there until I went to middle school.

Even though both of my parents were addicted to drugs, they were great parents. I remember when I was three, four, five years old and we lived in Shiloh, he's always been very good at working on cars. That's really how he sustained his addiction, was working on a lot of the drug dealer cars, but he would have me working on cars with him in Shiloh. I remember going up under the hood and him showing me stuff and then he introduced me to building model cars, which is how I know the same parts and pieces on the model car are the same parts and pieces on the real car, but I guess that's probably how I learned what a manifold is and an aux pipe and chassis and all the terminology. Then I got into building model airplanes and I remember he bought me an electric airplane that I could fly. He'd throw it and it flies. My parents were very loving. The drugs definitely diminished their presence or availability in my life. When we moved into my grandmother's house, he was either outside working on a drug dealer car or in the room smoking crack. And so when we moved over there, we were still close but not as close, but I remember as a child, very loving, very intelligent, a great human being.

In my eighth grade summer, when I just turned 13, it's probably when I changed my life in a completely different direction because I wanted social status and social identity. My current social identity did not give me any social status whatsoever. I wasn't really accepted into black culture. I spoke what was considered proper and I had good grades and my parents on drugs, so I couldn't afford the nice clothing that some kids would have, that would maybe give them social status and things. So I looked around, I knew what was around me, and I saw that drug dealers had a lot of respect. They had what I felt like I wanted, which was a social identity and an elevated social status.

So that eighth-grade summer, I started hanging out with completely different friends that were in similar situations as me. Their parents were on drugs. They were in broken homes. They didn't have much. We were almost exactly alike. I started selling drugs that summer in Klondyke. We walked down to Klondyke. I didn't have a vehicle in the beginning. I grew up on Woodlawn. It was maybe a 15, 20 minute walk from where ... Me and my friends, the ones I'm talking about, they stayed on Young Street, which is if you go to Woodland, you've got that bridge right there that's near Five Points, but I would just cross over. Right before you would walk down the bridge heading to Five Points, Young Street is right there. My two best friends lived on that street and we would walk from there over to Klondyke. We took back roads, so we wouldn't ever really walk straight down Montford. We'd take the back roads. I don't even remember the exact names on the roads, but Cumberland Avenue is one that we would take down and then cut out where the Montford Store was.  There were a lot more Black people in the neighborhood. It was a whole lot. It was a few different sectors of different Black kids, and it was weird because we were from the "Flint Street group"and different streets would have their own. You know how that goes. Kids go against each other.

When we first went over to Klondyke, for the first two or three weeks, we were just getting in and hanging and talking with some of the drug dealers.  It used to be a lot different then. When you drive in the Klondyke you would go to the left and it takes you to a place that drives you around the circle. All the drug dealers used to be there when I was younger because the cars would come in, they'd drive around the circle, and you pretty much race other drug dealers to the car to compete to make a drug sale. It'd be like 18, 20 of us out there and they had allowed us to sell drugs with them. We were the youngest drug dealers out there at that point and we used to cheat because we're young. These people got long legs, they quick, and they got better deals on drugs so they can hand out way more like, "Hey, shop with me." They've got larger amount of drugs, quantity of drugs than we did, so it's hard to compete.

So what we would do is we would act like we were going to the candy lady's house or something and walk around to the front and do what's called short stopping, catch the cars as they come in, so we didn't have to compete and run. I came up with a plan like, "Look, we're going to write our phone number," because we had bought a little cheap Nokia phone withthe prepaid minutes on it. "We're going to write our phone number down and we're going to get clientele on the phone so they can call us and meet us outside of here so we don't have to compete," and it worked. I mean, we got caught a couple times. It was like, "You going to come out here and hustle with us? You got to be back here with the rest of us." We're like, "Okay, we just was going to go buy some Black and Milds [cigars] or something to drink" or whatever. The whole time we were placing clientele on our phone. We didn't have to run to cars around the circle. After a couple months I had saved up enough money to get some guns and other stuff. We made money pretty quickly.

This was that summer. I was 13. Everybody that we would run into coming from Klondyke at the end of the night, we'd rob them, pretty much, rob people for $7 or less, and that's how I got into it. And I don’t know now because of my extremely high ACE’s score, Adverse Childhood Experiences. There’s probably only one ACE I hadn't experienced.1 The only thing I haven't experienced is being molested or something. I probably got addicted to robbing people. I liked the feeling of it. I liked the adrenaline rush, being in control and in a position of power. I did a whole lot of robberies for no reason, probably.

1 Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years). For example:
  • experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect
  • witnessing violence in the home or community
  • having a family member attempt or die by suicide
Also included are aspects of the child’s environment that can undermine their sense of safety, stability, and bonding, such as growing up in a household with:
  • substance use problems
  • mental health problems
  • instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison
Please note the examples above are not a complete list of adverse experiences. Many other traumatic experiences could impact health and wellbeing.
--Centers for Disease Control and Prvention