the back of beyond



zingmagazine10 autumn 1999







about zing


8 poets making it new
generation z
lutwidge finch
mel mendelsohn
FROM KIM (1901)


This book brings to the reading public a true portrayal of actual events. Due to various sets of circumstances, a rather insignificant number of names, places, and minor particulars have been changed. It is my belief that events are more clearly perceived, and understood, when viewed from this perspective.

I would ask that you overlook any errors in grammar and punctuation. Pleading literary license should exonerate me. Furthermore, Bertrand Russell, the 1950 Nobel Prize recipient for literature, provides a much more colorful rationale for errors. In describing his formula for successful writing: "He [a mentor] gave me various simple rules, of which I remember only two: 'Put a comma every four words' and 'never use and at the beginning of a sentence.'" He followed neither. Who am I to disregard a successful formula?

The close of June 1995 found me completing four months of confinement in federal prison. The previous month I had pled guilty to a charge of "conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute, more than one kilogram of heroin." The offense carried a minimum mandatory sentence of ten years, and a maximum of lifetime imprisonment.

At the time, I was sitting in the office of Jeremy Temkin; one of the vast number of Assistant United States Attorneys for the Southern District of New York. His office is in a federal building located opposite the headquarters of the New York City Police Department in downtown New York City, overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. With us were Peter Noonan, agent-in-charge from the office of the United States Customs Service, and John Jacobs, my court-appointed attorney.

Jeremy had asked me a question, "Mel, a man with your background, and professional experience . . . why would you be drawn into drug smuggling?" I looked at him wide-eyed, arms with slightly bent elbows, and palms turned upward. I shrugged my shoulders, and with an enigmatic look on my face, said: "I did it for money."

Recall Richard Nixon's rejoinder to accusations that he had lied to the American people concerning Viet Nam. "I did not lie. The statements I made at the time were inoperative."

Well, my statement, in this instance, was 'inoperative.'

The underlying reason for my committing to narcotics trafficking began to evolve in January 1993. I was two months shy of crossing the threshold of my 63rd year of life, seven years after enduring a heart attack, and one year after becoming eligible for social security. I had put in two years of active military duty, and thereafter served society for 34 years; first as a mathematics teacher, then a high school principal, and last as a superintendent of schools. A father of five, my children ranging in age from 23 to 34 years, I was fulfilling the American dream and then some.

However, in the preceding months I became aware of a growing restlessness and dissatisfaction with life that was the same from one day to the next; tediously dull. Thoreau would say that I was 'living a life of quiet desperation.' But I am a proud man with a strong sense of who I am. I longed to rise like the legendary Phoenix, from its own ashes, fresh and young, and live again. There are some people who dream, some people who would not dare, and then there are a few people like me- those that do.

The 'war on drugs' began during the early 1980s; as in Viet Nam, the government told the people they were winning the war, so it was with the drug war, they told them they were winning that also. I wanted to see for myself and take part in it. So I found and joined a small group of drug traffickers engaged in heroin smuggling. My theater of operations encompassed Central Asia, Europe, and the United States.

I was brimming with vigor. Life was lived to its fullest measure. I was 'walking the walk.' Then disaster struck; I was arrested. The transition was complete: educator, smuggler, felon. Now would be the judicious time to put down on paper the adventures encountered on the way. Here is my saga, 'The Back of Beyond.'