Growing up in New Orleans wasn’t easy for Caswick Naverro. His neighborhood was rife with gang activity and homicides were common. From a young age, he remembers people dying all around him. “A lot of friends of mine from the neighborhood were getting killed, and – you know, people from school were getting killed,” he says.
He began experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms early in life. When his grandmother died, he couldn’t take it anymore. “That was around the time I started using marijuana and codeine,” Caswick remembers. “And when I smoked it or whatever it just made me forget about what was going on, like I didn’t have no feelings towards it, no – I kind of felt normal for a second.”
Caswick never met his father. His mother had lupus, and struggled to provide food and housing for her and her five kids. They moved around all the time, crashing at other people’s homes, sometimes for weeks or months at a time. Caswick started selling drugs when he was 13 years old to help support his mother and siblings.
He describes how being able to contribute to his family gave him a sense of pride and stability in his otherwise chaotic life: “Ever since the age of 13, I’ve been taking care of people. I always had my mom and my two other younger siblings I had to take care of, so I’ve been selling drugs since 13. I always fell in love with being that big provider. You know, I loved it.”
Eventually, he was arrested and sent to juvenile detention. When he got out, he was determined to leave drug selling behind and provide for his family through legal employment. “So I filled out all of these jobs, at McDonald’s, Burger King, Walmart, and nobody ever called me back,” Caswick remembered. “I am still waiting on people to call me back from applications I filled out. I never had no — no job like that because nobody wants to hire no convicted felon, you know?”
With no other options, Caswick returned to selling and using drugs, particularly methamphetamine, marijuana and codeine. By his junior year of high school, his PTSD symptoms had become so intense that he wasn’t sleeping. He overdosed on over-the-counter cold medicine while at school and spent time in an inpatient mental health facility. In his senior year he was shot in the side while picking up diapers at a gas station, leading to on-going physical pain and worsening nightmares.
In the fall of 2016, Caswick was pulled over by the police for a broken taillight. The police searched him and found 91 methamphetamine pills in his pant leg and a gun that was registered to his girlfriend. At the time of his arrest, he explained, “I was using […] every day. I never — I don’t recall not using it one day.” He was charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and illegal gun possession.
Caswick agreed to participate in a treatment program administered by the court, instead of going to prison. While he avoided incarceration, drug court brought a new set of challenges and burdens. He had to stop using drugs, and struggled with the mental health impact of being unable to self-medicate. Through a local community program, Caswick was finally able to secure a legal job doing sanitation for the City of New Orleans, but the drug court program requires him to go to drug testing appointments at random times during the workday. So far he has had understanding supervisors who allow him to attend these appointments, but he worries that this won’t always be the case.
For now, he’s glad to have legal work, but fears it won’t last. “[I]t was so hard for me to get that job, like I was looking for work for years,” he said. The job doesn’t pay well, and with two children and a girlfriend to support, Caswick still struggles to make ends meet. The family is currently living with his brother while working to save money to move into their own place. Caswick sees how precarious their situation is, and worries about being forced back into drug selling in the future.
“I don’t want to be no drug dealer the rest of my life. I don’t want to be looking over my back thinking somebody’s going to rob me or kill me over no drugs, you know? I want to go work, wait on the paycheck, you know, like everybody else. It’s not — when you look at it, it really ain’t even worth it, not for drugs, you know what I’m saying? But sometimes that’s the only thing people have, you know? Because I was in a situation where I couldn’t find a job, all I had was drugs.”
Interview conducted October 5, 2018.