This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Joshua Martinez started selling drugs at 14. It was the summer before 8th grade, and the first lesson he learned was a survival tactic, a lesson for the here and now: don’t get caught.
“You got to hide your material somewhere. Like you never have it on you. Why? Cause if the cops do come, all they catch you with is money,” he said. “They don’t catch you with the work.”
Josh was born on Hope Street, in Kensington, a neighborhood in Philadelphia notorious for open air drug markets that’s been ravaged by the opioid crisis.
Like most families in the area, Josh’s lives in poverty, and, as a kid, the drug trade offered some semblance of relief.
“Mom didn’t have a job. Pop was locked up. So you know I had to do some things for money. Nothing nice,” he said, “but, that’s just how I grew up.”
This was not the life Josh wanted to live. But he saw his mom struggling to raise five kids on her own and felt obligated to help.
“My brother sold it. My brother-in-law sold it,” he said. “I knew what I was doing was bad and sometimes I would be scared. But at the end of the day, it helped my mom pay the bills.”
Living hand to mouth, school did not seem like a big priority.
“Always had a problem getting up,” he said. “And my mom never forced me to go to school so I would miss a lot of days.”
He made it to nearby Edison High School, but felt completely disconnected.
“When I was there, I felt out of place,” he said. “I didn’t talk to nobody.”