Talk by former international ecstasy trafficker
by Stephen Hewitt | Published 4 Nov 2017
In London on Wednesday 1 November 2017 Shaun Attwood, a convicted former ecstasy trafficker who spent more than five years in prison in the USA, gave a public talk billed as “How I became an ecstasy kingpin”, followed by approximately an hour of audience questions.
He said that he mainly gives talks to children in schools and colleges “in the hope that they won't get involved in the silly stuff I did.” Later he pointed out that there were things in this talk that he would not tell the children.
He described himself, amongst other things, as a human rights activist and talked about prisons in the USA where the guards murder the prisoners with impunity, naming specific cases. Later he mentioned that some of the medical practitioners were experimenting on prisoners with “psychotropic substances”. He mentioned Jon's Jail Journal, his blog that he started while inside a prison in the USA to highlight abuses.
He explained how his career in ecstasy dealing grew out of his personal use of the drug. At one point there were 200 people in his organisation. He described being arrested in the USA on 16 May 2002 by armed police who smashed down his front door in the early hours. He was released in December 2007, deported and banned for life from the USA.
He showed slides that illustrated the structure of his organisation, how he handled money and the trafficking routes.
He was living in Arizona and in the early days he bought tablets in bulk from “Sol” in Los Angeles, but progressed to buying them from Holland. Around 1996 onwards the street price in the USA was around $25-30 for an ecstasy tablet but in Holland it was $3. At first his smugglers would fly between the USA and Germany or France and take the train to visit Holland.
He also mentioned that in his early trafficking years the authorities did not seem to have much awareness of ecstasy. One woman was stopped in customs in Sky Harbor Airport carrying ecstasy pills in vitamin bottles. They asked her what the tablets were and she said “vitamins” and she was allowed to go on her way.
Then his lawyer suggested that they smuggle through Mexico. So drugs from Holland were flown into Mexico and then transferred to other people and came over the land border into the USA in touristy-looking vehicles. He mentioned Hermosillo, Nogales and Puerto Peñasco or Rocky Point.
“The cartels are run by the police and the army and ex-special forces”, he said later, they're all working together, before describing how a cop is in charge of a “plaza” and is paid for that.
To avoid confusion, there were two separate strands to the stories of illegal drugs in this talk. One was his ecstasy trafficking and personal use, (and he also mentioned personal use of cocaine) before his arrest. The other strand was him as an observer of drugs and drug users in American prisons.
There was an audience question about “gateway drugs”, a reference to the theory that consumption of a certain drug might lead an individual in future to use more serious drugs. Attwood said prisoners had told him that what started them was Adderall, Ritalin “all these prescription pills that they were given as kids” (in the USA). Then later on they self-medicate with street drugs. “That's my response about gateway drugs”, he said. Later he said that people he had talked to that are on heroin had been traumatised as children.
He said in the USA prison system there is no attempt at rehabilitation because it does not suit the business model. The prison is paid $50,000 per year for each prisoner. They want the prisoner to re-offend and come back. He said that two thirds (of either drug injecting prisoners or prisoners in general) have hepatitis C and you see them with yellow skin and teeth rotting out. He has seen black and Mexican people with a five year sentence just for having a joint. In prison these vulnerable people are exposed to drugs and make criminal connections.
“If you think that couldn't happen here”, he said, there has already been an attempt: a large prison that was to be paid £60,000 - £70,000 a year of taxpayers' money for each prisoner, more than the cost of a private school. The House of Lords blocked this, but it will not be the last attempt.
The business card he was handing out “The McLellan Practice Presentations to Schools” describes Shaun Attwood as a public speaker and author and gives a Harley Street address and website http://shaunattwood.com/
He is giving another talk in London on 20 November and details are on the website, he said.
- Rosi on filming real-life confessions of a drug hitman in Mexican police21 May 2017, Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, Regent Street
- UCL Prof John Dickie talk, questions and film, promoting "Mafia Republic"13 May 2013, Cambridge
- Syd Barrett, LSD and brain damage2001 interview broadcast on BBC4
- Guardian article: Life in America's toughest jail Erwin James, Guardian, 1 September 2010
- Slate article: What's With All the Dutch Ecstasy? Brendan Koerner, Slate, 1 April 2004
- The Observer article: Students used to take drugs to get high. Now they take them to get higher grades Carole Cadwalladr, The Observer, Sunday 15 February 2015