South Phoenix is quiet, and I’m up early, drinking coffee at a round kitchen table, staring out the window at morning sunlight, unfinished yard, empty pool. My husband, John Woten, and I are working on getting the yard planted and filling that pool. I try to convince myself that’s the fun part of my new life, the exciting part, working on the yard, the pool. I gather my keys, step out into the morning heat already in the 90s, walk over the dead brown grass, slide into my six-year-old Ford Taurus bought off Craigslist and drive to work.
I sit in a cubicle, one of a dozen. I have photos tacked on the partition board: my son, Josh Stockdall; my husband, John; my brother Chris Arnold; and my older brother, the comedian and actor Tom Arnold. I drink my coffee and make my telemarketing calls. “This is Lori with Image Incentives,” I tell whoever answers. “Your name came to my attention as someone who inquired about working from home. Is that something you’re still interested in?”
They either say “That depends” or “No,” or they hang up on me. I make 300 calls a day. I make $10 an hour plus commissions.
I used to make $800,000 a month selling crystal meth. I’ve read that I am responsible for the meth epidemic in the American Midwest, that I’m the crankster gangster who introduced the drug to a whole swath of white trash America. One writer said I created “the very concept of industrialized meth in places like rural Iowa.”
I don’t know about that.
But I tell myself, always, I’m not going back; I’m not going back. But damn if I don’t think about it, that life, the fun I had, the freedom I felt and the feeling, during those years when we were really rolling, when the money and drugs were flowing, when we owned the cars and racehorses and airplanes, when even the legit businesses that I set up to launder the money were all making money, that goddamn it, life was just meant to be like that: fun all the time. But now?
I don’t have a lot of options, with my criminal record. Who wants to hire a 51-year-old felon?
“Hi, this is Lori with Image Incentives.…”
“Drug dealer” isn’t something a 10-year-old girl answers when the teacher asks the class what they want to be when they grow up. It’s not even something a 20-year-old girl admits to herself when that’s what she is. It’s something you become gradually. But I know this: For me, it started because I liked to get high, and I was getting high from the age of 13. My big brother, Tom, a year older than me, used to drink Budweiser and Mad Dog 20/20, but he was a jock and wasn’t into the drugs like I was. This was in Ottumwa, Iowa in the mid-1970s. Everyone was smoking grass and drinking, and kids were even doing it with their parents. Everybody wanted to get loaded. The town seemed to have been in economic decline since before I was born. Ottumwa straddles the Des Moines River, and in good times barges filled with coal had been toted up that river to Des Moines. But by the 1970s the strip mines were stripped. There were a couple of foundries outside town and a meatpacking plant in town. The highest-paying jobs back then were $10 an hour. Nobody was rich. Everybody was white. Our idea of international cuisine was Taco Bell.
I was physically mature—all breasts and hips—when I was 13. We were living in a four-bedroom ranch-style house on Elm Street in northern Ottumwa. My mom had left home—she wound up marrying six times—and my dad, Jack Arnold, had taken up with the lady next door, Ruth. She had two kids, and we all ended up moving in together. It was cramped, but once I got over resenting Ruth for taking my mom’s place, it was fun. But I was already staying out late and raising hell, and it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d had a dozen bedrooms and 40 acres, because I wasn’t staying home. I was wearing big bell-bottom flared Levi’s with glitter on them and a low-cut Dr. Hook T-shirt to show off my cleavage. In one summer I went from being a straight-A student in sixth grade to screwing 23-year-old Bobby Roberts in the back of his GTO, blue with white interior. Bobby was a good-looking guy with brown hair, green eyes and a mustache. He was stocky and prone to fight—the first in a series of men I loved who had a violent streak.
The first time me and Bobby did it, when I pulled my pants up before he drove me home, his tube sock got caught up in the back of my jeans, hanging down the belt loops and over my butt.
“Where you been?” my dad asked when I got home.
“Out with Bobby.”
“Then what’s this?” He grabbed that sock.
I was still buzzed, but I was so embarrassed I didn’t know what to say. I was 13, and even I knew that was young for what I’d been doing. But I wasn’t going to change. Tom had already moved across town to live with my mom and her husband, Kenny. Tom had long hair and was one of the coolest kids in school. He was playing drums then, and Kenny was playing guitar and letting Tom play drums with him in his bar band. I told Dad, “I’m following Tom. I’m moving in with Mom.”
Mom had permed dark hair, real sharp features, big brown eyes, a short, well-shaped nose and pursed lips. She was always wisecracking and joking, and every guy in town knew her because of her looks and personality. She lived over on Clay Street, closer to my junior high school—not that I would be going there much—and life at her house was a party. She was waitressing and bartending at a few places, making good money in tips, and Kenny had a job at John Deere. There were always people over, drinking and smoking grass.
I used to drink beer with my mom, and she got me a few shifts helping her out at the Elks Lodge or working banquets at the Holiday Inn. When I got tired she would give me half a diet pill, a Preludin. That’s a drug they don’t prescribe anymore because so many people were getting addicted to it, even shooting it up, and my mom was giving it to me when I was 12, 13. But that’s because she was getting it from her doctor, so she figured, How could it be bad? When I took that stuff my shift went by in a happy blur.
I was also sniffing paint, getting high in front of the school more than I was going into the school. Then I just dropped out. Tom used to dog me out for doing drugs. He didn’t like anybody doing drugs. I was hanging out with the stoner kids smoking dope. But since Tom was a popular kid in school, it helped being known as Tom Arnold’s sister. I knew he would always be there for me, support me, whatever, but he was already busy with other stuff, playing in bands, and he was the class clown. Looking back it’s easy to say, “Oh, Tom Arnold, he was always headed somewhere. He wasn’t going to stay in Ottumwa forever.” But that’s not how it was, because when you’re in a town like Ottumwa, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to go, anywhere to even dream of going. It’s like everybody you ever knew was still there. Or maybe they left town to join the service or to drive trucks, but they all came back.
I was still seeing Bobby Roberts. I had told my parents he was 18 so they wouldn’t freak out about the age difference. But Bobby already had kids and was getting divorced, and one day there was a notice about it in the paper, and my mom read it and slapped me so hard she knocked me over. She said I couldn’t go out with him, but I snuck out to the skating rink to meet him, and then Kenny drove out and found us and said to Bobby, “You can either leave her alone or marry her.” And I couldn’t believe it when Bobby said, “Fine, we’ll get married.”
What? I’m 14 years old and marriage had never crossed my mind. I wasn’t pregnant or anything. I wasn’t even sure what Bobby did for a living, something to do with fixing trucks—or maybe fixing something that fixed trucks.
We had our blood tests and, a few weeks later, after my 15th birthday, drove down to Lancaster, Missouri to get married. It was a quick ceremony, just my mom, Bobby and me, and afterward we went across the street to a bar to get drunk.
We rented a little one-bedroom apartment in Ottumwa with a Murphy bed in it, and my mom gave us a love seat and a table and chairs. The first night we were there Bobby went out with his friends to get drunk. I found a job at Mr. Quick Hamburgers and then switched over to a truck stop out at Southgate, short-order grilling and pouring coffee. The truck stop was about 12 miles outside of town, and if Bobby didn’t pick me up I had to walk home. One night, Bobby and his friends were over watching a Muhammad Ali fight on TV when Bobby walked into the kitchen and began joking around, shadowboxing at me. He started lightly punching me in the arm and slapping me. All of a sudden, he punched me in the face. I covered up and cowered against the wall. That was the first time he hit me.
We were always broke. Bobby picked up occasional work repairing hydraulic jacks, but we depended on what I could make at the truck stop. We were getting by on maybe $100 a week, and most of that Bobby would spend drinking. I was 16, working the night shift, making barely enough to get by, and then one night an old man named Tex came in and offered me $50 if I would go to bed with him. Now, $50 was a lot of money, but I told him to forget it.
When Bobby came to pick me up, I told him about it and he said I should have taken it, because we could use the money. I couldn’t believe it. The next night I took the money and told Tex to come back when I ended my shift at two a.m, but Bobby picked me up at 11. The next night Tex came in shouting and saying I stole his money. The boss was there, and I told her I didn’t know what this old crazy guy was talking about. The manager called the police, and when they came I stuck to my story.
The manager fired me anyway, saying she didn’t need that kind of commotion.
It was Tom who picked me up after Bobby beat me up again. I had burned a pot of beans, and Bobby began smacking me around. I had already caught him in bed with our 12-year-old neighbor, so I was mad as hell for plenty of reasons. I called my mom, and Tom answered and said he would come and get me, and he did, loading my stuff into his car and taking me back to Mom’s.
We went to the bar that night.
I was 16. I got my first divorce. I paid for it myself.
I thought about going back to school, but I had dropped out in the eighth grade, and how could I go back to the eighth grade after having been married? They started me in 10th grade, but I was already working behind the bar over at the Horseshoe Strip Club and drinking and partying and hanging out with all kinds of older guys, so I dropped out again and passed my GED.
In Ottumwa in the late 1970s, members of the Grim Reaper motorcycle gang were like the rock stars of our town. The local chapter had been started by guys who had served in the Special Forces in Vietnam. The Reapers had long hair, wore leather and denim and rode Harleys; we didn’t have any mafia in Ottumwa, but we did have the Reapers. The Reapers had money, guns, drugs; they used to have shoot-outs in bars.
The president of the local chapter was a guy named Floyd Stockdall, a.k.a. Sin, a.k.a. the Big Reaper, who had also served in Vietnam. He had long hair, a full beard and a skinny cruel face like an angry Jesus. He commanded respect. He could clean up a bar by himself. He didn’t really do drugs, but he would sell them. He used to deal coke, speed and grass. But every time he drank whiskey, he would have flashbacks: His eyes would glaze over, he would get these migraines and he would just start whaling on people. Everyone knew Floyd Sin.
And everyone was afraid of him.
When I met him, he was selling speed pills out of a big old pickle jar. He’d bring them down from Des Moines and we’d stick them in a freezer behind the bar. He had Christmas trees, white crosses, black beauties, pink hearts. They weren’t that strong; you needed a handful to stay up all night. I started hanging around with Floyd, and when his car broke down I gave him a ride up to Des Moines to score in this old Galaxie 500 my mom had bought for me. I met some of his other biker buddies up there. I walked into this house with him, and they were doing coke, and there was like $100,000 on the table, and I thought it was the most glamorous thing I’d ever seen, these bikers doing coke and bullshitting and all this money.
I mean, I was 19, I had barely been out of Ottumwa. Nobody I knew had ever left Iowa except maybe to cross the border into Missouri. I didn’t have one idea of what I was supposed to do with my life. My brother Tom had already gone off to the University of Iowa and was heading up to Minnesota to work on his stand-up comedy routine. He said all my boyfriends were a bunch of greasy bikers, and I could tell he was leaving Ottumwa behind, leaving me behind. You can’t give Tom enough credit for doing what he did, for finding his voice, for pursuing a dream, any dream. I mean, we didn’t have many dreams in Ottumwa, or not many that lasted past waking up sober. My life then was blank days doing nothing, then working at the bar and partying all night. If you lived in Ottumwa, that was all there was. There didn’t seem any reason to do much else. This city was the pit of the recession. Everyone was broke and looking for a little something to take the edge off. That’s what the Reapers were doing, just providing a little diversion for folks who desperately needed it.
Floyd and I shacked up in a little tar-paper house on stilts by the Des Moines River. We got married May 17, 1980. Our honeymoon consisted of passing out on the couch. I got pregnant with Josh, and Floyd retired from being the president of the gang and said he was going to find straight work winterizing people’s houses. I had a hard labor, 57 hours straight, and had to spend that time in a state-run hospital for pregnant women because we didn’t have any money or insurance. Floyd drove up to the delivery room, but he didn’t stay because he had a headache and a bad hangover.
Floyd was collecting some unemployment money, and he gave me a budget of $50 a week for everything we needed: food, diapers, clothes. To have an extra $20 would be a miracle. I could get cigarettes, maybe some steak. But we didn’t ever have it.
Our cabin was freezing in the winter, so cold that even with a woodstove in the tiny living room you couldn’t feel your feet or hands, and with a kerosene stove under the house the pipes still froze. In the spring you could hear the ice cracking on the river, like hunting-rifle shots, and then the river would swell up so fast you had to grab everything you could and run or you’d be flooded in.
Between freezing and flooding, I was stuck out there, 20 miles from town, smoking dope and raising my baby boy. Floyd was gone, looking for work now that he wasn’t dealing drugs anymore, and when he would come back, I just prayed he hadn’t been drinking.
One night he came back from the bar, walked in the door and said, “How many do you want?”
“How many what?” I asked.
“Bullets,” he said.
Oh no, I thought, he’s drunk.
He went into the bedroom and started loading a rifle.
I’m thinking this is bad, so I grab Josh and go running out of the house and hide behind the car. I kept my head down because I knew he would shoot at me.
“Come on, Floyd, don’t shoot.”
And he started calling me a gook. He was having some kind of flashback.
He chased me around, then shot at me, bullets bouncing off the car. “Oh my God,” I shouted, “you hit Josh.”
He hadn’t, but my lie made him stop.
Then I ran off to our neighbors about a half a mile away.
By the time the cops came, Floyd had calmed down and was sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee.
“What’s going on, Floyd?”
He said nothing, but I had already told them he was shooting at me, and they handcuffed him, put him in the car and brought him to jail. I read in the paper that he was going to be charged with attempted murder, and I was like, Oh no, he’s going to kill me now.
When I refused to press charges they let him go.
There was this numbing sameness to our days, to our lives. Once in a while I would dare peek at the future, try to imagine life past the next week or month, and I couldn’t see anything new; I could only imagine this cycle of being broke, of being scared, of never leaving, just going on forever into the future. And that’s what happened for most people in Ottumwa, for most of the girls I went to school with, for my family—you were stuck there, feet trapped in the mud with the river rising. You felt as if you couldn’t take a step to save yourself. What was the point?
The cabin by the river was beautiful in late spring and summer, the fertile earth was green with thick grass and orange wildflowers, the cornstalks were bursting up behind us, and you couldn’t even smell the chicken coops up the hill. There were boats on the river, and you could toss a line in from the shore and catch a bass or a perch. In the good seasons you’d forget all about the cold and the flood, and I could let Josh run around on the lawn or play by the picnic table. Even Floyd, at least during the day, before he’d had a few, would be smiling and happy.
One night Floyd’s brother Mike came down from Brooklyn, Iowa and we were having a few beers inside the cabin, and he asked, “Say, have you ever tried crystal meth?”
I thought he was talking about a type of speed tablet that was always around, but he pulled out a little glassine envelope of powder and chopped it up, and about 10 minutes later I was like, “Woooooh.” All of a sudden the doldrums were gone. The neighbors came over and had some, and a few minutes later we were all cleaning out our yard, then cleaning out their yard.
Mike gave me a gram and showed me how to cut envelopes out of glossy magazines to make little quarter-gram bundles. He said, “If you go down to the bar, have a beer or whatever; just see if anyone wants any of this.”
There may have been Ottumwans who had tried crystal before, just as I’m sure there were Iowans who’d had it. But when I went down to Union Station Bar, it was pretty dead before I began giving out lines, and it was obvious no one there had ever tried it before, because within a few minutes everyone in the place was drinking and dancing and singing along to a Judas Priest song on the jukebox. It was the best time any of us had had in a long time. I sold everything in 15 minutes and made $75—it had been months since I’d had any spending money—and I made the whole town a happier place. That’s how I saw it.
The next day I called Mike, and he brought us down two eight balls, three and a half grams each, and I went back down to Union Station Bar and sold all of that within a few minutes. It was pretty obvious this stuff was easy to sell. Everyone wanted more of it. I liked having a little bit of money in my pocket, and it got me out of the house and away from Floyd.
Within a week I was making $200 to $300 a night, selling an eight ball and then a quarter ounce every day. I told Mike I needed more. I needed a few ounces, maybe a quarter pound at a time. Mike was getting sick of running down here every other day, and he said the guy he was scoring from had heard of the legendary Floyd and wouldn’t mind coming down and meeting him in person.
Steve J. pulled up to our shabby-ass cabin in a white Corvette. I walked out on the porch. “Hey, nice car!”
Steve nodded, looked me over, tossed up the keys and said, “Here, it’s yours.”
He handed me a quarter pound of meth. “Pay me when you get the money, honey.”
I was able to whack up a quarter pound in a weekend. People in Ottumwa needed something—anything—and crystal meth was it. I was paying about $1,000 for an ounce and could turn that over for $2,800. Four ounces in a quarter pound meant more than $7,000 profit in a weekend. That was just the beginning.
It turned out living in a cabin in the middle of nowhere had its advantages, as no one paid any attention to how many cars were coming and going up our little dirt road. And being Floyd’s old lady was a blessing. You didn’t want to mess with the Big Reaper, and everybody assumed he was behind this business. The truth was, he had a terrible head for figures and didn’t like crystal meth himself. It had a strange effect on him; it slowed him down instead of speeding him up. Like those kids today with attention deficit disorder they give Ritalin to, Floyd would do a line and just stand there, frozen in a spot, staring straight ahead. He hated the way it slowed him down. But just his name ensured that I was getting paid and supplied and that no one ever fucked with us.
If anyone was slow in paying or tried to short us on a deal, all I had to say was “Well, let me talk to Floyd about that.”
And then they would be all, “No, no, don’t tell Floyd,” and they’d come up with the money or the drugs somehow.
There were people coming to the house all day and night, wanting grams, quarter grams. I was getting so busy I realized I needed to cut out the retail and sell only ounces, or maybe quarter ounces, to a few friends so I could deal only quarter pounds and pounds. I set up a few friends—girls I knew from the bars, some of Floyd’s biker buddies—with ounces so they could sell smaller amounts. I had bartenders working in town who could sell grams, guys working out at some of the foundries, even other moms at school. But our place still became a regular party place, with people there all hours, and I loved being the center of attention. What was great was, if Floyd had enough money he was happy to stay fishing on the river or working on one of his new cars. I was snorting every day and awake all the time, which suited my disposition. With crystal meth I could be up all night partying and still fix Josh breakfast and drive him to school. On the way there people would see my Corvette and flag me down. One day Josh asked me, “Mama, how come we’re selling bags of tea?” I had to laugh and tell him, “Because everyone seems to love tea.”
I was starting to hold a lot of cash, $10,000 to $30,000 at a time, and had to hide it behind the wallboard in the bedroom while I waited for Steve to come back with more supply.
Steve was bringing down pounds, but I was going through that in a weekend selling through my network, and they were branching out into neighboring towns, and he couldn’t keep up with the demand. He had to go back and forth to California to get it, so I asked him if he would hook us up with his connection out there. Through the Reapers, Floyd was also able to find another connection in Arizona, a fellow named Jose who had his own labs. I decided I would send Floyd out there in our new Ford Thunderbird to see if we could secure more quantity. He drove out to Chula Vista, by San Diego, and came back with five pounds of some of the best meth we had ever had. His next trip was to Arizona, and the quality was just as good. The problem was always supply. The demand was steady, like a current you could feel. The whole town was tweaking, and I could move two pounds a week.
I’m always having to explain how, during the 1980s, meth was higher quality than the stuff that later wiped out American towns. The cooks back then could secure genuine phenyl-2-propanone, a chemical that reduced to pure methamphetamine. P2P, as it was called, was eventually made a Schedule II controlled substance, but it was around in quantity and allowed for large-scale cooking of high-quality, purer meth. This was the good stuff. These days the meth made by cooking down ephedrine, a chemical from cold tablets, is a dirty, low-yield product and very poisonous. Cookers can manufacture maybe four pounds of low-grade stuff if they don’t purify it, which nobody does. But it’s cheap and you don’t need drums of P2P, which nobody can get anymore.
The kids today are snorting and smoking a nastier drug than we were using back then. I’m not making excuses for what I did or sold; I’m just stating a fact.
We paid $10,000 per pound. I could turn a pound for $42,000. I had so much cash I started burying it out behind the house at night.
I bought the Union Station Bar so we could put some of our cash into a legitimate business.
We remodeled the place. There was wood paneling on the walls, two pillars down the middle, a long, varnished maple bar, a pool table, shuffleboard, darts, video games and a little bandstand where groups played on the weekends. The place looked great when we opened in 1987, and because of the traffic my drug business brought in, it was an instant success. I renamed it the Wild Side.
We had a code set up: You call me and say, “You want to go out for pizza?”
And I would say, “What time?”
“Two o’clock.” That meant two pounds.
“Are you going to wash your car today?” you would ask.
“At four o’clock.”
So we would meet at the car wash at four o’clock, and while we were having our cars washed I would sell you two pounds of meth.
Tom would occasionally come down with his buddies from Minnesota. He was doing stand-up comedy there on the weekends, to earn money for college. They would come down to the Wild Side once in a while, and I would hook them up with a little meth. But for Tom, back then, it was more recreational. He was more of a cokehead anyway. But one weekend up in Minnesota he entered a contest, and whoever won got to introduce this famous comic, Roseanne Barr. Tom won, did his routine and introduced her, and she really liked what she heard and asked him to come write for her. She was married to her first husband; she already had kids, and she was doing The Tonight Show and Late Night With David Letterman. I remember the first time he brought her down to Ottumwa, she fit right in. She’d grown up with very little, just like us. I could tell she was more than just a friend of Tom’s.
We were sending runners out every other week to pick up a few pounds at a time. If we used the same car every trip, that would start to arouse suspicion. We needed a wider range of vehicles, and at that point I was looking for another legitimate business, so I bought a used-car lot. That way Floyd or another of the drivers could always take a different, clean vehicle out West.
Then I saw a ranch advertised in the paper. I went out and decided I wanted it. Rolling Hills Ranch was made for horses, and Floyd loved horses. I figured if we had horses then Floyd would be happy. I bought the place: 144 acres in south Ottumwa with a huge farmhouse and outbuildings for machinery and equipment. There were rolling hills in the back and a 40-acre hay field.
We built a barn and stables, space for 50, 60 horses, and then we began going to horse auctions. Floyd bought a few riding horses, no big deal, but then we met a fellow who had a quarter horse for sale, a beautiful brown mare named Iris Crimson Mooner. When we bought it the owner told us he had already paid the dues to run a stakes race down in Prairie Meadows that week. Our first quarter horse, and it wins! We were hooked. Floyd began looking for horses all over the Midwest, and he began buying all kinds of quarter horses. Lady of Intent, Mack Everett, Iris Blue Missy, they all won stakes races.
Our horses won enough stakes races so it looked like a legitimate business. The only problem with laundering drug money through a horse-racing operation is that if you’re not careful, it will eat up every meth dollar you make. We were going through at least $100,000 a month on the horses.
I began spending my nights doing the paperwork. Every receipt had to be logged and marked, and I tried to account for every dollar. The car lot, the bar, the horse operation, all the vehicles and the boats, the horses—I was making sure every penny of it looked legit. I began buying houses, little rental houses all over town. I would buy them on time, then rent them out to friends who were eligible for Section 8 money from the government. The checks were sent directly to me. It was a great business, profitable and a way to hide plenty of cash because of all the expenses you could put against the houses. I eventually owned 18 properties around town. And every year I made sure I paid the IRS its piece. I knew that was the easiest way to get popped, so I kept the books clean.
No matter how loaded I was or how many nights I’d stayed awake, I always made Josh breakfast, got him to school and was there waiting for him when the bus stopped down the road. Sometimes I would have to race past the school bus on the way out of town in my Jaguar to get there, but I would always make it.
We were going through three to five pounds a week, and Floyd was busy with the horses. Even if he did a West Coast run every week, which was impossible, we still wouldn’t have enough supply. It was too taxing for us. All the legitimate businesses were starting to eat up so much cash that I could send out only $200,000 at a time. A nuclear power plant was going up outside of town, and the Pioneer Seed Company built a factory, and more than a few of these guys were doing double shifts on my stuff, then staying out and partying all night.
There was always demand, always. By now our dealers had buddies in Nebraska, Minnesota and Missouri.
I needed more than 10 pounds a month.
We flew a chemist out to Iowa. He told us what lab equipment and chemicals to order, and we had them shipped to us at the car lot. It cost me $50,000, all of it ordered through pharmaceutical catalogs. This guy didn’t even do meth. The only time he would do it was after he cooked a batch, when he would shoot up to make sure it wouldn’t kill you. It was like his seal of approval. We had him cook us a test batch.
One line and I knew he was our chemist.
Floyd bulldozed a furrow out in the back 40, and we hauled a camper up there and basically buried it and then laid camouflage netting on top. We thought it was invisible. The whole lab was in there—the glassware, the big self-enclosed computerized cooker with dials all over it, the tubes and charcoal filters. The chemist would be out there for three days at a time, day and night, sleeping on the ground next to the lab. That’s how long it took to cook a batch. We could do 20 pounds a month now, and the cost was down to $2,000 a pound.
A good month would mean we moved that 20 pounds; at about $42,000 a pound that meant during our best months we were netting $800,000. Our meth was so good and pure that pretty soon we had the guys from California coming to us.
Tom by then was working on Roseanne and was even a character on the show. They were an item already, no matter what he might have thought about her looks. (I told him that for $50 million, or whatever she’s worth, I’d fuck her.) She was trying to get pregnant, and they didn’t know Tom had a low sperm count. So Roseanne would hop down to Iowa City to get her in vitro treatments.
They had a yacht out in Rathbun, and they began buying up a lot of property. We even took a flight in Roseanne’s private jet. Tom knew I was dealing—hell, how could he not? But by then he was already doing a lot of coke himself, so he wasn’t in a position to lecture me.
Look at how crazy his life was: engaged to Roseanne, doing too much blow, making millions. Just crazy in a different way than mine. We’re both, somehow, like our mom. Talkative, fun-loving people who can’t shut off our brains or our mouths.
I kept the little cabin by the river. I went out there once in a while and walked around. I thought about that river rising, how frightened I had been, how fast the water came up while I was holding my baby and how I would be frightened my feet would stick there, held fast by the mud. How I had worried I would never get away.
I’d left the place exactly as it was. Josh’s baby pictures on the wall, the old dishes in the cabinets, the empty beer cans piled in a pyramid. I would go back there and remember how it was.
One day I drove back there and saw a smoldering black pile. It had burned to the ground.
By 1990 we couldn’t find any more drums of P2P. That meant we couldn’t make any more of the good stuff. The problem was nationwide; even our old connections in California and Arizona were no longer able to produce high-grade meth. This was when the next wave of the epidemic really began sweeping America—low-grade, low-priced speed that strings you out.
I wish I could say I never touched the low-quality stuff, never sold it. But when that was all we could get, we had no choice. It made you spacey, and for the first time I felt I was hooked on it instead of just enjoying a good long buzz. This was the stuff that made you pick at your skin, left people walking around with sores and blisters. Everyone was paranoid and getting suspicious of one another. A few years of staying awake all the time will do that to you. People started getting tweaky. You could drive all over southeastern Iowa and there were always people up partying.
I would go over to my friend Donna’s house, and I would be like, “You see that helicopter?”
Donna would nod. “Hell yeah, I’m seeing them all the time.”
I would think, Damn, there are helicopters flying around all the time.
I was doing an eight ball a day. We were used to walking around in the flow, feeling good for so long, and then this. Okay, maybe it was a slow leak, like a steady leak. But then, with the bad stuff, it turned into a blowout.
But I still needed to sell. We had to keep finding pounds, even pounds of low quality, just to keep the ranch and the horses and all the businesses going. I met a Mexican named Juan who was sweet on me. Floyd was never home, always out at the tracks. He didn’t notice we were running out of meth, and if we ran out of meth we would run out of money. I knew Juan had the hots for me, and I would use that to get him to drive up with a pound or two of meth. But it was getting harder and harder to get any quality stuff, so sometimes we just had to buy, sell and do the low-grade nose-burning stuff.
Those strange vehicles following me? Those helicopters? That’s the kind of shit you imagine when you’re on the low grade, right?
I was on Bluegrass Road bringing a few ounces to town in the black truck when I saw two dozen highway patrol vehicles—unmarked cars with huge antennas out the back—and vans and trucks all speeding down the highway in the opposite direction.
I called Floyd and told him I’d seen a convoy of cops pass by and to be on the lookout.
The feds surrounded the place. They came up the roads; they even came over the hills. Floyd said there were about 60 of them. They kept Floyd and all the guys who worked for us locked up all day while they tore the place apart. They ripped up that nice furniture and tore it apart, just destroyed our house and the ranch. They found a pound and a half of meth, a pound of pot we had forgotten about, 44 guns and about $23,000 in cash.
I had been hiding out in town all day as soon as I heard we were getting busted. And we weren’t the only ones. They were hitting all our friends. They had been following us for over a year and knew everyone in our little network.
When I called home that night, Floyd answered.
“What?” I asked.
“They took the dope and the guns and the cash and took off.”
“Without arresting anyone?”
“What the hell?”
I called my brother Tom, and he recommended a good lawyer.
Plenty of people we knew had been arrested by local cops. Nobody had dealt with the feds. The lawyer told me what they were doing was gathering material for an indictment.
I figured I had kept my books clean, that all my businesses looked legit, so they couldn’t get me for dealing. My lawyer called the DEA and told them I was willing to turn myself in. They said they weren’t interested. I began thinking, Hell, maybe they don’t have anything on us. Maybe we’re in the clear.
I knew I was lying to myself. I never stopped dealing or using. I kept telling myself, One more deal.
Pretty soon all our friends were getting busted or getting subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury. They were all asking what to do. If they lied on the stand, they’d get five years. I called my lawyer and asked what to do. He said there was nothing I could do.
I know what badass drug dealers are supposed to do in this situation: Kill everyone who might snitch. Well, I guess I’m not a badass drug dealer.
Besides, what do you do when they subpoena 106 people? You can’t kill them all.
I didn’t sleep much. I felt like I hadn’t slept in a month. But one night, just before dawn, I fell into a delicious, deep sleep. I had been up so long I finally crashed.
I woke up with a gun to my forehead. I looked over and Floyd was on the floor, and there were half a dozen cops sitting on him and cuffing him.
“What do you want?” I asked. I was so tired, I just wanted to go back to sleep.
This guy was literally sitting on me. I look up; he was skinny with thinning brown hair, a mustache. “You know damn well what I want.”
I’m not wearing anything but my underwear. The cop climbs off of me and hands me a tracksuit lying on the floor. I get dressed in front of two dozen cops, all wearing different jackets: FBI, ATF, DEA.
“Damn, all those letters,” I said. “Where’s AC/DC?”
“Here,” one of the cops hands me my glasses.
I shake my head. “Don’t need those to see where I’m going.”
When they were leading me downstairs, I heard some of the cops shouting that someone was making a run for it. I knew it was my son, Josh.
“No, no!” I began shouting. I thought they were going to shoot my boy.
They had arrested 11 of us. They thought Floyd was the big fish. When they realized Floyd didn’t know much, they tried to get me to somehow implicate my brother. Tom was never involved in the meth. They ended up charging me with continuing a criminal enterprise, two counts of money laundering, illegal possession of firearms, two counts of manufacturing, distribution and possession.
I didn’t have a criminal record. I’d heard of friends who had gotten arrested, even with a pound of meth, and they would get a year. I figured I’d get a year, a year and a half.
Then my lawyer told me they were asking for life. “And with the feds, when they say life they mean you won’t get out until you die.”
They were holding me in the Story County jail.
I remember when Josh first visited me, I told him I’d be out soon.
Tom and Roseanne came to town. Tom was trying to get clean by then. Roseanne had said she wouldn’t marry him unless he stopped doing coke. He was actually straightening out his life and would become famous as a guy who helped other people in Hollywood get sober and stay clean.
They put up $400,000 cash for my bail. I was thinking, Finally, after a few weeks, I’m going to get out. But they took me back to the county jail. The FBI said they had found a hit list back at the ranch, DEA agent’s names and their license plates. It wasn’t a hit list, it was a list of DEA vehicles that a friend of mine who worked at a garage had collected so we could keep track of them. But I was deemed a threat and denied bail.
The feds wanted to make a case against Tom and Roseanne. They kept saying Tommy was involved, even showed photos of me on Roseanne’s jet with her two Cuban pilots standing there, as if this was all part of some big drug conspiracy.
There was nothing there.
The last time I saw Floyd was when they let us out into the basketball court at county jail. The guys could open their windows and yell at us. I felt sorrier for Floyd than I did for myself. When you see somebody who was that big in everybody’s eyes confined to a box.
My lawyer told me if I pleaded guilty I would do 25 years. They read off my charges at the federal courthouse in Des Moines. After each one, I said, “Guilty.”
I called my son and told him I’d gotten 25 years.
He hung up on me.
I did a total of 16 years in prison.
I like the heat of Phoenix. It feels like a fresh start. I’m not supposed to drink or take any drugs. So far, I’ve been good. I’ve had a beer or two, but I’ve been keeping clean. And I’m a good worker, the best at my firm. It turns out I’m almost as good at selling people on starting their own online businesses as I was at slinging meth. I’m the top seller almost every week.
I’ve known my husband, John, since we were kids. He’d always liked me, and when I got out of prison this last time, then transferred to a halfway house in Arizona, he called me and asked if I wanted a ride on his Harley. He was driving long-haul trucks back then, and he had a job out here. I’ve always liked bikes.
He’s a good influence—quiet, steady, and he was never into the meth.
Floyd died at Leavenworth in 2004. I never saw him again.
My son, Josh, still lives in Ottumwa. He’s getting his teaching certificate and plans to be a basketball coach. We talk all the time and share everything. Tom and Roseanne were a huge help when I was in prison. They paid for Josh to go to military school and looked after him. Big bro came through for me again.
I talk to Tom all the time. He’s also stayed clean. He visited me in Alderson Federal Prison a few years back and gave a little talk to all the girls about staying off drugs.
I remember when this book Methland came out, about the meth epidemic and my part in it. Tom was doing stand-up, and he thought he would read some of the book and riff about us and what I had been up to. But as he read it, he said, “Damn it, this sounds more like Lori saved the economy of Iowa instead of ruining it.”
I remember Tom telling me that and thinking, Yeah, but I didn’t save myself.