Pssst . . . Wanna Buy Some Tuition?
By: Tim Sherwood
Since 1993 the average cost of tuition has more than doubled in expense, leaving many college students struggling to make it through school on only scholarships and loans.
Some students just can’t pay the bills and must either throw in the towel or pursue other more inventive strategies. Some sell used furniture thrown out by wealthier households. Others pursue babysitting or other domestic gigs to strengthen their finances.
But another group operates in the the shadows using unsavory or even illegal methods to pay their way toward a better future.
Two students from Norfolk have agreed to tell their stories, provided their identities are not revealed. To protect their anonymity one is called Charles and as the other other is Victor.
Here are their stories:
I first met Charles about six months ago through friends. We went to parties and out to bars. Like me, he was a college student, attending Tidewater Community College. I soon learned that Charles had been paying for our outings with profits he earned from selling marijuana.
At first I wondered what could drive a person with such a promising future to risk it all. Then Charles explained. Yes, he was breaking the law, and was well aware of what would happen if he got caught.
“I need money and I’m not gonna waste my time earning minimum wage,” he said. Charles said that he “loves his job”, which earns him far more money than $7.25 an hour for a fraction of the labor that would be required of a McDonalds or Walmart employee.
Besides, selling marijuana is great training towards his personal goals of running his own business someday, he said. For the past two years, he has been CEO, treasurer, accountant, marketer, and financial manager for his own private business. This is just as valuable to pursuing a career in business. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good on a resume.
Charles believes he could not attend college any other way.
“How would I get to class if I can’t fill up my tank? How will I cover application fees for school forms? Furthermore how could I just tell my parents that I would no longer be covering the portion of tuition I paid for, like that’s just ok?”
Victor presented a more sobering set of circumstances. I met Victor outside a local courthouse. It turned out we were both students at ODU. Victor is a senior and will be the first from his father’s family to earn a bachelors degree. But, he has a secret. He has also been selling drugs to supplement his income and by his account, his dependency on dealing drugs has only escalated as he gets closer to graduation.
While attending school, Victor has made several attempts at legitimate work, but each time returned to dealing drugs.
He felt ashamed asking his parents for money. “Every time I tried to hold a job my grades would suffer beyond the value of my paycheck,:” he said
To make matters worse, Victor has already taken out a fifteen thousand dollar student loan and is afraid he won’t be able to pay any more loans when he graduates.
Things came to a head when Victor’s younger brother started college, straining the family budget, Victor said. At first, he tried trash picking.
“I started selling anything I could get my hands on,” he said, including tables, vacuum cleaners, TV’s, lamps, or anything else that was in good condition.
One day, Victor was delivering a lounge chair he had sold on Craigslist for $20 and realized he knew the man who was buying.
“He offered to trade me an eighth of an ounce of weed for it, which at the time carried a street value of $60. I was hesitant, but I thought that if I could just sell one time it would give me all the money I needed for car repairs.”
That’s how it all started. From then on, he said, he was on easy street. The weed sold itself. All Victor had to do was sit down and study, the money would come to him.
Victor said his parents would be devastated if they ever found out what he did and insisted that it was short term.
“Absolutely not! My parents will never know what I had to do to make it through school. As soon as I graduate I am out! No more of this bull shit!”
According to Victor, despite his criminal behavior he still adheres to a personal set of guidelines.
“The first rule is I never sell anything to anyone that I haven’t seen someone else take or taken myself. I’d rather poison myself than an innocent bystander.”
Along with marijuana, Victor has accumulated a diverse pharmacy which haves become his primary source of financial support. “Pretty much just like back in the day anything I can get my hands on; just now that includes weed, hash, LSD, and occasionally MDMA”, he says.
Diversifying has amplified Victor’s risk, but he called it a cold and calculated business decision. “Whether it’s an eighth of weed or an ounce of coke it’s the same to me. If I get caught with anything, it’s over.
It’s about dividing up my assets; making sure I have what’s popular during market fluctuations.”
Marijuana remains Victor’s stock item, however.
“If you deal, you better have weed or you’re a joke compared to your competition. One thing you learn in this business, is that everyone smokes weed, even the ones that say they don’t,” Victor said. LSD is Victor’s real money maker “I get that ‘cause it’s easy money with almost no risk”. Three hundred dollars will buy a sheet of LSD, or a hundred hits of LSD.
“From that you can make out with eight hundred easy, a thousand if you hustle. Plus if shit ever gets hot, all you have to do is flush a tiny sheet of paper down the toilet. Three hundred ain’t shit; that’s just one weeks pay at a regular job.”
MDMA, an amphetamine,has been a tricky business for Victor. “It’s another one of those things I don’t like having around,” he said, unless there is a concert in town. Victor worries about MDMA’s addictive qualities, and the heightened dangers of dealing it versus marijuana.
“The people who like it are typically broke, and the people who have enough to sell bulk are always getting pinched for being speed freaks. I prefer to get it out of town from people I’m not connected to.”
In actuality Victor says he is scared. Every minute of every day, he wonders when his luck will run out and he’s bent over a squad car praying to Jesus for help.
“I go to bed every night afraid; do you have any idea what that feels like?”
I can’t say that I do.