No Way Out

No Way Out

Precarious Living in the Shadow of Poverty and Drug Dealing

Book - 2015
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Given the way news is reported these days, the image of the inner city many of have is that of drug-infested ghetto plagued with crack houses and roaming addicts. Waverly Duck is here to tell a different story and give us a new image of the inner city. He conducted fieldwork in a medium-size East Coast city where the drug scene is controlled by a local group of black men who sell cocaine to white suburbanites. In this community, located outside Philadelphia, the drug dealers are not outsiders, but long-term residents, integrated with their neighbors (a diverse lot, some old, some young, some long-time homeowners, many working-class families, but many others without jobs or external social support). Duck considers their survival strategies, living in a place where they feel accepted and which they understand, like no other place. They have no way out. Duck shows us the kind of social order and morality that holds sway on Lyford Street, and that enables people to survive. He introduces a cast of characters in Bristol Hill, his city’s pseudonym, highlighting the viewpoints of these residents and their codes of interaction with each other. That code ensures a daily life lived in relative safety, despite risks from the embedded drug trade (and Duck also shows us the particular pathway by which young men become drug dealers). Duck himself grew up in poverty (in Detroit), and his own life story contrasts rather dramatically with that of Alice Goffman, the well-heeled young white woman whose account of drug dealers on the run from police created a sensation, and with that of Scott Jacques, the coauthor of our forthcoming book on drug-dealing in the suburbs (in an all-white milieu). What emerges inNo Way Out is an important new perspective on the culture of the urban poor, comprehensive in the range of issues it considers and revelatory in the interaction orders it uncovers.

In 2005 Waverly Duck was called to a town he calls Bristol Hill to serve as an expert witness in the sentencing of drug dealer Jonathan Wilson. Convicted as an accessory to the murder of a federal witness and that of a fellow drug dealer, Jonathan faced the death penalty, and Duck was there to provide evidence that the environment in which Jonathan had grown up mitigated the seriousness of his alleged crimes. Duck’s exploration led him to Jonathan’s church, his elementary, middle, and high schools, the juvenile facility where he had previously been incarcerated, his family and friends, other drug dealers, and residents who knew him or knew of him. After extensive ethnographic observations, Duck found himself seriously troubled and uncertain: Are Jonathan and others like him a danger to society? Or is it the converse—is society a danger to them?

Duck’s short stay in Bristol Hill quickly transformed into a long-term study—one that forms the core of No Way Out. This landmark book challenges the common misconception of urban ghettoes as chaotic places where drug dealing, street crime, and random violence make daily life dangerous for their residents. Through close observations of daily life in these neighborhoods, Duck shows how the prevailing social order ensures that residents can go about their lives in relative safety, despite the risks that are embedded in living amid the drug trade. In a neighborhood plagued by failing schools, chronic unemployment, punitive law enforcement, and high rates of incarceration, residents are knit together by long-term ties of kinship and friendship, and they base their actions on a profound sense of community fairness and accountability. Duck presents powerful case studies of individuals whose difficulties flow not from their values, or a lack thereof, but rather from the multiple obstacles they encounter on a daily basis.

No Way Out explores how ordinary people make sense of their lives within severe constraints and how they choose among unrewarding prospects, rather than freely acting upon their own values. What emerges is an important and revelatory new perspective on the culture of the urban poor.


Publisher: Chicago :, University of Chicago Press,, 2015
Copyright Date: © 2015
ISBN: 9780226298061
Characteristics: 153 pages ; 23 cm

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