Snitch (Part 1)

The following narrative was written as my final submission for English 404, Creative NonFiction, during the Fall 2022 semester.

“It’s always the ones with the dirty hands pointing the fingers.”

Sonya Teclai, musical artist.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

So here is the truth, as close to the truth as I can recollect or want to. Strips of memories have been peeled away over time, so all I’m left with are hazy recollections, unremembered names, blurry sequences of events, and a desire not to smear the names of people I’ve hurt. Thirty-nine years later, it’s still difficult to admit I was a snitch. Not just any snitch. A snitch willing to bring down a friend, allegedly the mistress of the Mayor of Washington, D.C. I’m not proud of that decision, as I’m writing about it now, but I’d like to think of it as, while painful, therapy. To say that I have felt shame, regret, or embarrassment at any juncture in my journey would be an understatement. The pain in my conscience eases when I tell myself that most people would have done the same as I did. Testify before a federal grand jury against your friends, or else find yourself on a fast track to the hell of prison.

The Elijah Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse on Constitution Avenue Northwest in Washington D.C. was a twenty-minute walk and a mile away from my East Capital Street studio apartment with an awe-inspiring view of the top of the U.S. Capitol building. It took me five years of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll to make it to that marble-decorated courthouse hallway and the hard-ass marble bench outside a federal grand jury room. I sat there, my ass and legs constantly shifting as I searched for comfort on that bench.

1983- Photo by Art Jones

I shuffled the three-by-five index cards given to me by my lawyer, desperately trying to memorize their content. One card spelled precise instructions on pleading the fifth amendment if I thought an answer would incriminate me. How would I know that? “Use common sense,” my lawyer scolded me. “If they ask whether you have ever personally dealt drugs to the mayor, you should assume it’s a trick question and take the fifth.”

I wish you could be there. Grand Juries, I learned, don’t allow witnesses or potential defendants to have a lawyer present when questioned. “That’s why I gave you the second card,” he explained, “tell them you want to step outside the grand jury room and speak to me if you feel uneasy about a question.”

This is the point in the story when I try to poke my memory for what I felt back then. I was scared shitless about going to prison. I’d seen enough gangster and prison movies to know that only gang rapes and death by shivs awaited me. One wrong statement spits out of my mouth, and the Federal prosecutors would pounce on me, claiming, “Oops, you fucked up,” except in more legalese language.

When I received the first grand jury subpoena and figured out what the hell was going on, I called the target of the federal investigation. Are you fucking kidding me? I remember exclaiming when we met at a downtown Washington D.C. restaurant, one of those gentrified places that the next generation of movers and shakers frequented. During the day, I was the Executive Director of a government commission appointed by the same Mayor. Talk about irony. At night, I was snorting my way through ounces of cocaine and selling grams of the South American export with an abandonment, expecting that my two lives would never intersect. I was delusional. I’m living in the nation’s capital during the war on drugs. What would make me think that a semi-high profile bureaucrat would never attract the attention of every illegal drug-chasing federal agency while living less than two miles from the White House and FBI headquarters? That is the definition of recklessness.

Waiting for my lawyer, I thought about an earlier meeting with the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) and a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent. That was when I agreed to become a snitch. To betray my friends, to sacrifice whatever moral high ground I lived on in exchange for not being charged with any federal crimes.

Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay
The nightmare always comes to me like a wave of cascading emotions. There’s the narrow high ceiling office with one lone window. My lawyer and me on one side of a small desk, the AUSA and the DEA agent opposite us. My lawyer tells me he’s hammered out the details of the immunity deal, and the meeting was a formality. “You can ask questions,” my lawyer told me, “Just remember, they hold all the cards.” That didn’t seem like a choice. More like blackmail. I knew there would be questions about the target of the investigation, but there was nothing to stop prosecutors from asking about other people. Suddenly, shockwaves of doubt and remorse throttled through my body. All I could think about was the long list of people, some with serious political and street creds, who bought drugs from me. But I visibly shuddered when I thought about the people who sold me the drugs. What would happen when they found out that I had snitched on them? 

To Be Continued…

Author: Antonio Pedro Ruiz

Antonio Ruiz is an ex-junkie-alcoholic, former seminarian, one-time radio host-producer, past community organizer, continuing to be a media advocate, retired television reporter, ex-commission executive director, once a street vendor of jewelry and gloves, waitron (waiter to you), a former bartender who drank too much on the job, an ex-motorcycle courier who learned to ride a bike just for the job, ex-airport shuttle driver, former Entertainment news director-producer, the best time of my life, one-time live TV events red carpet producer-executive producer, ex-small business consultant, ex-youth media and journalism mentor, and now a college student who also has been married three times (thirds the charm), and just couldn't help living with two other women because well, that's part of my story.

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