A Business School For Former Drug Dealers Argues You Can’t Knock the Hustle

One of the most insidious byproducts of the horrendously destructive so-called “war on drugs” is its direct role in steering millions of Americans into a life of street crime. Dealing drugs can be a lucrative option, especially for those who live in communities in which other, legal opportunities are scarce. Combine a system in which economic oppression is living alongside a massive drug epidemic, and it’s no wonder so many are led to pursue a living by means of illicit hustling. Inevitably, this cultivates a cycle in which drug dealers are arrested and incarcerated, only to be released back into society with very little skill-based training to allow them to enter the workforce; far too often, they re-enter a life of crime and are, as a result, permanently caught up.

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But what if drug dealers were given the opportunity to flip their entrepreneurial skills (after all, most would argue that making money in this line of work requires math and economics-based acumen) to get ahead by legal means? That’s the opportunity being presented by TRAP House, described in a recent Business Insider article as “An Incubator for (Former) Drug Dealers.” Standing for “transforming, reinventing, and prospering,” it was born out of the necessity for prison inmates to have a place to go where they can be rehabilitated, using the skills they already have. In the case of drug dealers, there are a handful of discernible skills involved that are easily translated into valuable assets in a traditional line of employment. As reported by Maura Ewing, TRAP House’s founder Bashaun Brown says “hustlers are entrepreneurs denied opportunity,” and the inmates involved with the program are taught things like “elevator pitches, gaining access to seed capital, and calculating financial projection.”


Brown himself is a former street hustler, one whose experiences therein have given him the keen insight needed to speak to fellow former inmates in a language they can appreciate. For example, when explaining the meaning of an angel investor, he tells TRAP House members those are a group of “venture capitalists who use money to make money. Like how some people live off the thrill of dealing drugs, these guys live off the thrill of that flip.”Similarly, when explaining the concept of market research, he tells his students they’ve already done that in their past lives. “You didn’t just come to your ’hood and set up shop. No, you have to do some kind of research. What type of drugs do they want to buy? What price would they buy it for? How much would I make?,” he posits to his class.  Same goes for gauging risks as a business leader, argues Brown. As he sees it, a hustler is required to “look at the odds of getting caught and then do an analysis,” and gauge operations based on that.

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The key, Brown argues, is that drug dealers are more adept at business than they often realize themselves, so finding themselves in a place which cultivates that acuity in a positive manner can be life-changing. As he says, “most people say that criminals are irrational. But when it comes to selling drugs, it’s a highly rational choice. The better drug dealers I know have great interpersonal skill.” It’s a sentiment echoed by one of his students, Bromwell Hill Jr. (who prefers to go by his rap name, Greedy), who says his newly founded fashion and accessories line is functioning based on the knowledge he acquired as a drug dealer. As Ewing writes, “Greedy’s business model was shaped by what he’d learned selling drugs. Know your clients—he goes directly to the doors of many customers, who hear of him through word of mouth. Offer the best product at the cheapest price. Make sure your product stands out.”

The goal, of course, is to never return to prison. With the help of programs like TRAP House, that goal is well within reach for many who take advantage of the help available. And it also helps to remember, as Mary J. Blige sang on Jay Z’s 1996’s “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” “Baby one day you’ll be a star.”

Read the full report, “An Incubator for (Former) Drug Dealers.”

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