At a young age, Jesmond* was introduced to a world he had never seen before.
Before he knew it, he was working with one of the biggest contraband importers on the island – and he loved it.
But then, it all came crashing down on him, ending with him institutionalised and broken.
This is Jesmond’s story, as told to Lovin Malta’s Johnathan Cilia.
When I was 17, I began hanging out with a particular group of guys… they were into the same things I was at the time and I wanted to learn from them.
They were cool, and every now and then they’d ask me to do them some favours; they’d ask me to go to specific houses with small packets of hash, (blokka), to exchange for €25. These people, customers I guess, would always give me the exact amount in cash – I didn’t make any money from it.
And I didn’t really mind doing some favours for my friends and sorting them out.
Eventually, I was at a small birthday party, about 15 people, and everyone wanted some hash.
I wanted to impress them so I said: “OK – guys, give me your money and I’ll handle it for you”.
As I was leaving, I realised I now had hundreds of euro in my hand. Wow… I had never seen so much money at once, least of all in my pocket. I come from a normal town in Malta, so this was all quite impressive to me.
I went to this older guy that was known in our circles to score some hash for my friends. Let’s call him Sammy*.
“Isma, if you don’t have enough for me, don’t worry,” I told the man when I went to his garage. I was worried he might not be able to handle the hundreds I had.
But Sammy just laughed, and pulled out a cardboard box filled with packets of hash.
Two kilos to be exact, I later found out. It looked incredible, and as a cherry on the cake he gave me a phenomenal price. I left the place feeling great, and my friends were really happy with the product.
So I began buying more.
I would often get some extra for myself as well, so it was really beneficial and easy to obtain.
Eventually, he gave me an entire soap. (Editor’s note – a soap is typically a 250g bar of hash shaped like a bar of soap, and is often adulterated with other substances.)
I began making an average of 50 to 150 euro profit a day.
“Jesus,” I thought. “I don’t even need to work anymore.”
It started becoming addictive to sell. And it’s not just about seeing the money piling up.
Have you ever seen the Discovery Channel’s show Wheeler Dealers? Or BBC’s Only Fools And Horses? Dealing was kind of like those shows.
You never feel alone. People – friends, acquaintances, total strangers – are constantly calling you to meet you, you don’t feel lonely, you feel important… especially if you are 17.
Society sometimes calls young dealers ‘pushers’. Trust me, they aren’t pushing weed, they don’t need to – their phones are constantly ringing for it, people asking for it at all times of the day.
Now, I didn’t realise it at the time, but Sammy was one of the biggest importers on the island, who would often look for someone, not gullible as such, but someone who probably won’t speak too much, and would begin grooming and using them in his operations.
I made Sammy my idol. By his side, I had tons of money and weed in my pocket. I began smoking more, up to two pieces a day. (Editor’s note: a piece of hash is typically between 2.5g to 3.5g in weight).
I would sell a soap over two days, sometimes even in one night… I’d make €500 in a night easy.
As I was busy selling and widening my network, I found out Sammy also had another source of income: he smuggled migrants out of Malta.
He would pay someone to take migrants to Sicily on a powerboat in the middle of the night, 50 to 70 people at a time, each paying about €2,000.
About a kilometre off the Sicilian coast, they’d tell the migrants to jump in the sea and swim to shore. During this time, a report would be sent to the Italian coast guard to activate them.
At this time, there would be tons – I mean literal tons – of contraband waiting for them underwater wrapped in plastic. The spot would be marked by precise GPS coordinates.
They’d pick up the contraband – usually it’d be weed, cocaine and/or guns.
In the meantime, the coast guard would be super busy picking up the migrants from the sea, driving really slowly so as not to hit them in the head as they swam to shore. The dealers, by now, had got rid of their illicit human load and picked up their new illicit load.
Then they’d drive back to Malta and drop the wrapped contraband in one of a number of shallows, once again located by GPS, deep in Maltese or Gozitan waters. They’d then go and pick it up weeks or months later.
I was 17, exposed to all of this, with my idol openly bragging about it.
It didn’t end there – he used to joke constantly about that one time a pregnant migrant had slipped and brokme her leg, leading to him keeping her in his garage and sleeping with… or more likely raping… her daily, until he smuggled her out of Malta.
This guy, who was like a real boss to us, would also joke that “any girl who has some hair down there, even if she’s 13, is good to sleep with”. I even heard that he used to lure young kids back to his garage with sweets, and had raped at least one 14-year-old.
Sometimes, police officers would come to buy cocaine from us at the garage. Every now and then, they’d ask us to give them a name of someone we didn’t like so that they could find him and it’d look like they were doing something.
And us kids would just laugh every time, not really understanding what he was saying. This was a few years before Sammy got arrested though.
Now, this was years ago, but don’t think these things aren’t still happening nowadays. Those kids I was in the garage with are still around today. Don’t think Covid’s stopped them. The underworld is still right here in Malta.
Anyway, soon enough, I stopped going to school – I was making too much money.
I had seen some things here and there, but I wasn’t really aware that Sammy sold cocaine regularly as well. I was too busy with my weed sales.
But then one day I noticed someone buying something different from him.
“You sell coke?”
“Mhux ovja… that’s where I make the money.”
So I got some from him, and it was amazing.
Now, this wasn’t the first time I ever tried coke – but it was suddenly so easy for me to obtain good cocaine. At first, I’d buy one gram for three days, then I’d buy one gram for a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, it started to became hard for me to hold a normal conversation with people… if I didn’t have it, I’d feel down, and it would be hard to keep up the conversation.
I stopped wanting to go out when I didn’t have any cocaine. Soon enough, I was doing cocaine every day for a couple of months.
When I had first met Sammy, I had only wanted some weed for my friends. But over the years of buying weed from him, I really started trusting him, so when coke came up, I jumped at it.
By now, I had begun selling pills at parties, but the majority of my sales were still from weed.
Soon after, my family suffered a personal tragedy, and I began spending more time with my mother to support her through it. One day, when I was meant to meet Sammy to help him move 20kg of weed that had arrived as well as sort some cocaine deliveries to some każini, I went to meet my mom.
That day, Sammy was raided in a major operation.
He was found 25kg of weed in a sack, but for some reason the news only reported that he had 5kg at the time.
Now, this guy sells to police officers, and typically someone would tip him off prior to a raid. But apparently that day some officers had organised the raid suddenly – probably to specifically avoid him being tipped off – and caught him red-handed, with a sack of hash soaps in his hands.
When he got out, he was livid, asking how the hell he got caught, and how I had chosen that day not to meet him…
I pulled out a santa of the family member who had just died, and Sammy smiled at me.
“Inti, you’ve got someone looking over you.”
He slowed down after that, and soon after his arrest, Sammy died from natural causes.
He was an old man who used to smoke cigars all the time – he was one of those typical Maltese rednecks – but he was also major dealer and human trafficker.
Yet, he died naturally at a ripe old age. Incredible.
He was a bad man, but he was also a good man in a weird way.
Anyway, after that raid, the local scene went to shit. That’s when the sharks began circling.
All of a sudden, dealers were mixing pollutants like soil into their hash soaps, mixing synthetic with whatever they could find and passing it off as that it’s weed… Even dealer to dealer, they were pushing adulterated stuff as hard as possible.
Now, I myself was safe – I had always used a debt system, where I would tell dealers that not a cent would be paid to them until I’ve sold the whole piece, which protected me from adulterated stuff because the dealers would know that I wouldn’t be able to move it.
Eventually I found a new guy, who sold me good stuff three times, but then the fourth time sold me bum stuff… he had been given this crap and needed to move it, so I do get it, but I still got mad at the situation.
This poor quality “weed” wasn’t getting me high anymore, and I just wanted to get high that day – it had been a long one. I called up a dealer who I knew was addicted to heroin. I still had the bad weed on me, and as I looked at it I told him: “I need something to get me high ’cause I’m feeling really crappy and this isn’t doing the job.”
So he gave me some heroin.
They say cannabis is a gateway drug. They got it all wrong though – it’s about gateway personalities. I would have tried heroin either way that day – because I wanted it.
I tried heroin, and guess what? I enjoyed it. I didn’t inject it, of course – I’m not crazy – so I just smoked some of it.
It’s kind of funny – they try so hard to scare you about heroin that when I tried it I was like, “this is all it is?” It was basically like weed but a bit happier.
But it was super addictive, and I soon realised that firsthand.
I’d get addicted to it hard. If I had a fight that day or whatever, I’d smoke it from the foil, and end up addicted for a month.
Then I’d stop… until something bad happened to me, then I’ll be right back on it.
Eventually, I took my first shot of heroin. I passed out… and when I woke up, I knew I needed to seek help. At this point, I had been using heroin for seven months.
I voluntarily went to Mater Dei for help – I was feeling really depressed and having suicidal thoughts, and they sent me to the Emergency department right away.
“Is it really an emergency because I did a bit of heroin?” I wondered.
From there, they sent me to Mount Carmel. And I have to say, that part of the experience was pretty humiliating.
They are still using an old school system there and at times it’s quite dehumanising – and since I had mentioned suicide at points, they placed me on suicide watch.
It was draconian and dehumanising, but like – I get them. If someone really wants to commit suicide, they’ll find a way…
It wasn’t all smooth sailing though – inside Mount Carmel, I found some residents using synthetic. They used it because it didn’t appear in their urine tests.
So I (knowingly) tried synthetic for the first time while in Mount Carmel.
After my experience at Mount Carmel, I met a girl. She had a kind heart.
We hit it off big time, until one day, she told me point blank: “it’s me or the heroin.”
Even after seeking help, I was still using, but I was no longer selling, at all, not even weed.
I flushed my remaining stash of heroin down the toilet while crying. And after I flushed it, I didn’t go back to it. And that, really and truly, was the end of it.
My story is a common story.
And it’s exactly what happens when there’s no regulation. With no regulation, it’s a free for all – and just because you don’t see it, don’t think it’s not happening.
If your government forces you to operate underground, chances are you’ll invariably be exposed to all of these different substances you had no intention of exposing yourself to.
And telling people not to do something? You think that really works with young adults and teens? Try telling your kids not to watch something – all they’ll do is do it anyway, but just hide it from you.
Everyone – parents, guardians, governments – needs to be open and transparent about these things if we truly want the best for our younger generations. If we want an honest, two way conversation about difficult subjects like drug use, dealing, addiction and so much more.
I’m older today, but nowadays, even more is happening. And there’s no barriers at all for kids or young people – and once they are in, they can’t really turn to get advice from lawyers or parents or anyone.
Right now, I know a 15-year-old kid who is currently selling weed in school. He’s a really clever kid, and his story, as he’s telling me, is the exact same as mine.
First, you and your friends want some, so you sort them out. Then a lot of friends want some, and you sort them out as well.
Then you begin making some profit at a young age, and it’s exhilarating. And you’ve got very little legal competition.
Society thinks it’s protecting our kids now, which is quite laughable. Especially when you hear some so-called experts, jaħasra, they truly don’t understand our reality. It makes me sad to hear them sometimes, these talking heads, as they just don’t know… if they were a good boy all their life and became a professor, with all due respect, how can they know about these things?
I saw some people talking about legalisation and why it’s a bad idea on local television recently -all I could think was, “how many soaps have you sold?”
Have you ever tried to convince a violent dealer to give you drugs in debt? I doubt it… but then you want to come and talk national policy.
I take responsibility for my mistakes and choices. But will these policy-makers and politicians take responsibility for their useless policies that will only mess up someone’s life even more?
If the government truly wants to break this cycle, and hurt the black market, they know what they need to do. At least, I hope they do.
*Names have been changed for the individual’s protection.