I feel like this should be written in English, so I’m going to go for it, without attempting to be pretentious. Have I mentioned how much I like stories? Real-life stories… That’s one of the main reasons I watch documentaries… because they tell real-life stories. Of places, of people and of events.

This afternoon I stumbled upon ‘Freeway: Crack in the System’. 10′ into the film I thought to myself: ‘This would be a great class assignment for secondary and high school students’. What was the educational topic being discussed, you ask? Drugs! Cocaine and crack cocaine to be more precise.

How is this educational? Well, it actually is. Moreso than a theoretical lesson on the risks adolescents take, as part of their natural process of growth and development. Apart from the drugs, the video material tells the story of a man who wanted to succeed against all odds.

It brings to the table issues such as dysfunctional families, early childhood trauma, poverty, the influence of entourage, personal talents, the power of education, street smarts and determination to be the best one can be. Are you familiar with this motivational quote?

Well, this is exactly what Ricky Freeway Ross did! And he ended up making history in quite a peculiar way: as the kingpin who overflooded the streets of South Central L.A. with cocaine and crack cocaine. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not meant to be a pro-drugs argument. I still stand by what’s written on a wall in my neighbourhood:

Ricky Freeway Ross did not do drugs. He bought. He sold. He traded. He cooked. But he did not do drugs. Call it drug dealer ethics or common sense self-preservation. All in all, he is what I call the anti-hero who makes the perfectly human role-model. He’s far from being perfect and he admits it. He’s had highs and lows in his life. He spent 20 years in and out of prisons. The thing that struck me the most was his learning process.

You hear all the time that ‘you live, you learn’. Well, Ricky is the impersonation of this saying. He was born in Texas and grew up together with his olded brother being cared for by their mother. He moved to L.A. when he was about 4-5 years old and right about that time witnessed one of the toughest things in his life: his mother shooting dead her brother in self-defense. His friends say that Ricky doesn’t like any type of violence. Funny for a drug dealer, right?

As any child, he sought comfort in something and that something was tennis. A white-folk sport. He loved to play and he played it excellent. He even wanted to apply to college on a sports scholarship. There was one slight problem: Ricky was illiterate! He could not read or write and so, even if he was extremely skilled at playing tennis, the college turned him down.

He wanted to do great things in his life, make a name for himself and take care for his mother. In the midst of Reagonomics (the economic fall brought about by the Reagan administration), the young Rick did what he had to do to make ends meet and succeed in something. Out of school, one of his friends introduced him to cocaine and told him that ‘this is the best thing since sliced bread’. So Ricky went for it. Bought some. Sold it really fast. Hooked up with the right people from the right circles and turned in no-time in the most notorious drug dealer in South Central L.A.

He worked day and night, came up with all sorts of ideas that would improve ‘the process’ and became a billionaire. A pure success story! His clients were addicted to cocaine and crack cocaine. Rick was addicted to succeeding, being strong, being respected and making a reputation for himself. After his ‘period of glory’ came the demise. He was incarcerated at 28, still illiterate.

There’s one quote that I particularly liked: ‘When I went to prison at 28 I was illiterate. When I came out, I wasn’t!’. He used his incarceration to learn. Learn to read, write, think critically and study law. After learning his ABCs, reading all that he could, Ricky was able to overturn his ‘life in prison without parole’ sentence by pleading his own case and got out on federal parole.

His life was not easy and it still isn’t. He continues to struggle with poverty and the challenges of an ex-convict, but he does not give up. What he did give up was the drug dealing business and now has a T-shirt shop. What’s the silver-lining of his story? I see a multitude of silver-linings:

– find the thing you like the most and pursue it, because chance is it will save you from darkest demons;

– educate yourself, formally or informally, because the educated are the truly powerful ones;

– get up everytime you find yourself hitting rock bottom, because only this way you will give yourself the chance to try again;

– keep your family close and let them help you in times of trouble;

– redemption is not going back to being innocent and without fault, but overcoming challenges and learning from them;

– the environment can make or break you, so the people who are around you become your main external motivators;

– if today you feel like shit and think you are shit, have another go tomorrow.

I think we need more real role-models, without the aura of perfection, great upbringing and shining stars.

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