• Mike McQuade

Authorities were closing in on a west-side heroin ring linked to deadly shootings when they came across Parris Fultz. Fultz didn’t appear to have any connections to the New Breeds drug organization in West Garfield Park that was secretly under surveillance—he was essentially an independent operator in a fast-moving, competitive business dominated by larger-scale players.

But as part of their investigation, authorities were listening to phone calls made by Eddie Valentino, a heroin supplier for the New Breeds and other west-side drug operations. On June 12, 2010, Valentino called Fultz, one of his regular customers, to arrange a sale.

Valentino was fired up about Fultz’s abilities to move more heroin. He said he wanted Fultz to meet his source, who acquired the narcotics from a connection in Mexico, the origin of most of the heroin in Chicago. “I told him I know what the block capable of,” Valentino said. He proposed getting everyone together early the following week.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Fultz replied, according to court records. They then agreed to meet up shortly for an exchange.

Half an hour later authorities watched as the two sat in Fultz’s blue Chevy van in an alley off West Division. After five minutes, Fultz dropped Valentino at his Jeep Grand Cherokee down the block.

Their businesses didn’t grow the way they’d hoped. Fultz and Valentino were both indicted that August on federal drug charges along with 23 others. In January 2011, Fultz pleaded guilty to three counts of using a telephone as part of a heroin conspiracy. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Now 41, Fultz describes his experiences as an example of how poverty, addiction, and black-market entrepreneurship combine to produce drug dealers. As he puts it in a phone call from prison in Wisconsin, “My story is like the youth story in black America.”

When Fultz was a child, his father abused his mother before walking out for good. Fultz was eight when he and his mother moved in with an aunt in West Humboldt. “We had no place to go,” he says.

His mother died a couple of years later, and one of the cousins Fultz was close with was killed in a gang shooting. With his aunt working full time and raising other children, Fultz often felt like he was on his own.

“My family wasn’t doing good and I couldn’t get the things I needed, schoolbooks, school clothes,” he says. “Watching people that grew up around my area do things and have things made me want to get involved .”

He started off, as many do in the drug business, as a teenage lookout for police. Eventually he had the chance to make more money through hand-to-hand sales.

Fultz says he never saw it as a job with longevity—he just wanted to make a little along the way to help out. He says he wanted to get a straight job, and went through the training to get a carpentry license, but that work was sporadic at best.

In 1991 Fultz was convicted of armed robbery. He sought out counseling to help deal with his use of marijuana, pills, and cocaine, but even before he completed the program, Fultz started using heroin. He notes that this wasn’t long after he’d heard of his father’s death.

For the next decade Fultz was in and out of jail and prison, mostly on drug charges. But every time he went home, he started selling again to support his habit and hopefully have a little money left over for his three kids. “The drugs had me in a whole other state of mind,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting to get into trouble.”

Fultz moved away from his old neighborhood, to Back of the Yards on the south side, but he couldn’t kick heroin. Instead he found a way to go into business for himself—he was introduced to Valentino, who was supplying wholesale quantities to a number of other dealers in West Humboldt, Garfield Park, and Austin.

Fultz says he sometimes teamed up with friends, but often he worked on his own, either on the south side or back in West Humboldt. “It was like a part-time thing for me. Sometimes I tried to make a few dollars to take to my kids, but other than that, I was really nobody, man. I was doing more of the drugs than anything. When I get high I don’t need nobody.”

But federal investigators characterized Fultz as a serious source of heroin. “Drug dealing was Fultz’s business,” a prosecutor later alleged.

Fultz still has a hard time grasping that he was targeted in a federal investigation. “I’m not going to blame no one else, but I never pictured this situation. I can understand the state and the county jail, but as far as coming here, this has really blown my mind. I messed up.”

He’s in a drug treatment program and taking classes in culinary arts and warehousing management with the hopes of having job skills when he leaves in 2018. “No more short cuts.”

But he notes that he won’t be the last young man from the west side who’s pulled into the drug trade. “When there ain’t no other way to do nothing, that’s what you resort to. I’m not making no excuses, but I grew up with this thing around me.”

Fultz says he’s grateful to get a chance to tell his story. “I didn’t think anybody cared.”