High: Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler

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Overview

In the early 1980s, Brian O’Dea was operating a $100 million a year, 120-man drug smuggling business, and had developed a terrifying cocaine addiction. Under increasing threat from the DEA in 1986 for importing seventy-five tons of marijuana into the United States, he quit the trade–and the drugs–and began working with recovering addicts in Santa Barbara. Despite his life change, the authorities caught up with him years later and O’Dea was arrested, tried, and sentenced to ten years at Terminal Island Federal ...

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High: Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler

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Overview

In the early 1980s, Brian O’Dea was operating a $100 million a year, 120-man drug smuggling business, and had developed a terrifying cocaine addiction. Under increasing threat from the DEA in 1986 for importing seventy-five tons of marijuana into the United States, he quit the trade–and the drugs–and began working with recovering addicts in Santa Barbara. Despite his life change, the authorities caught up with him years later and O’Dea was arrested, tried, and sentenced to ten years at Terminal Island Federal Penitentiary in Los Angeles Harbor. A born storyteller, O’Dea candidly recounts his incredible experiences from the streets of Bogotá with a false-bottomed suitcase lined with cocaine, to the engine compartment of an old DC-6 whose engines were failing over the Caribbean, to the cell blocks overcrowded with small-time dealers who had fallen victim to the justice system’s perverse bureaucracy of drug sentencing. Weaving together extracts from his prison diary with the vivid recounting of his outlaw years and the dawning recognition of those things in his life that were worth living for, High tells the remarkable story of a remarkable man in the late-1980s drug business and why he walked away.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
NPR’s Talk of the Nation
"Brian O'Dea tried marijuana in college and saw dollar signs. A born salesman, he began dealing to fellow college students in the early 1970s. By the early 1980s, he had built a $100 million a year smuggling operation, and a cocaine addiction. His narcotics racket took him around the world to places such as Bogota, Columbia and Montego Bay, Jamaica. O'Dea had some successful multimillion dollar deals, but more often than not, rip-offs, double-crosses, getting wasted and waiting characterized the operations. High is Brian O'Dea's memoir of dealing drugs, doing time, and seeking redemption."

Bookforum

"Brian O’Dea tells all: The book includes excerpts from his prison diary, scenes from him work as a drug counselor, and a clear-eyed reckoning of his intoxicated multinational adventures."

ForeWord
Clark Isaacs
“…a look into the seamy life of drug smuggling.”

Kirkus Reviews
“Blistering memoir by a once-notorious drug smuggler and addict…an unusually revealing account of a criminal’s rise and fall.”

Philadelphia City paper
"Nowadays Brian O'Dea is on the up-and-up, gainfully employed as a film and TV producer in Toronto, but back in the '80s he operated a $100 million-a-year, 120-man trafficking business (the largest marijuana haul in U.S. history), and picked up a nasty cocaine habit along the way."

Publishers Weekly
"In this wistful but honest look at a life subsumed by drugs, now-reformed smuggler O'Dea (a Canadian film producer) pulls back the curtain on the machinations and motivations of a hugely successful, outrageously addicted 1980s drug trafficker whose redemption came too late to save him from prison...Throughout his life's many ups and downs, however, O’Dea remains a charming, relatable narrator you can’t help but root for."

Booklist
“[High] is refreshingly unapologetic, about as far away from inspirational autobiography as you can get. It’s the story of a man who made it big and paid the consequences, told in a straightforward style that contrasts O’Dea’s regimented life as a prison inmate with his exciting, risk-driven years as an international criminal. He’s a good, writer, too, nicely capturing the atmosphere of his two worlds and their inhabitants. The book is hardly an endorsement of the lifestyle of a drug smuggler, but, as with movies like Scarface, the intoxicating allure of money and power is made perfectly clear.”


Publishers Weekly
In this wistful but honest look at a life subsumed by drugs, now-reformed smuggler O'Dea (a Canadian film producer) pulls back the curtain on the machinations and motivations of a hugely successful, outrageously addicted 1980s drug trafficker whose redemption came too late to save him from prison. Haunted by childhood sexual abuse, O'Dea found escape in drugs and alcohol, eventually building a life around them. O'Dea's over-the-top abuse (an estimated 1000 tabs of acid in five years) and spiral of shame (he would "spend considerable energy avoiding" his brothers, sisters and parents) seemed, paradoxically, to push his illicit activities (and the justifications for them) further. Stories illustrating the lengths to which the smuggling ring would go, and their enormous potential for disaster, include a $100,000 plane rental which O'Dea almost co-pilots into the sea (steering by the lights of the fishing boats below, instead of the stars). Told through a prison-block framing device that returns again and again to the call, "Cuenta! Counting B Range!", O'Dea maintains a sense of numbing repetition that resonates with the addiction narrative and keeps the drug cowboy tales grounded. Throughout his life's many ups and downs, however, O'Dea remains a charming, relatable narrator you can't help but root for.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Blistering memoir by a once-notorious drug smuggler and addict. Canadian O'Dea writes that a spiritual depression was part of what led him to become an international marijuana-smuggling kingpin in the 1970s and '80s. Brought up a "good Catholic," he found his faith wavering early on, as his childhood entreaties to the Blessed Virgin and God seemed to fall on deaf ears. He describes in unsettling detail a few particularly traumatic experiences at school with passive-aggressive, pedophilia-inclined priests that played a role in his loss of faith. Yet O'Dea's upbringing was otherwise staunchly middle-class and relatively normal. It seems he was simply a born salesman, with drugs being a convenient and lucrative trade when he began dealing to fellow college students in the early '70s. (Later, he effectively sold hair tonic and dinosaur-bone jewelry during lulls in his narcotics racket.) His 20-year smuggling career took him to dangerous, exotic locales like Bogota, Colombia, Montego Bay, Jamaica, and Moultrie, Ga. O'Dea had a few impressive multimillion-dollar successes-yes, crime often does pay, for a while at least-but he more often emphasizes the futility of the business. Every operation depended on meticulous administrative planning, dumb luck and weathering built-in occupational drawbacks: rip-offs, double-crosses, getting wasted and waiting, waiting, waiting. O'Dea's clipped, jabbing prose rarely flags. Especially tense is his retelling of an ill-fated trip from Georgia to Colombia, and back, in a rickety 1949 DC-6. He deftly interweaves a parallel narrative of his incarceration at Terminal Island prison, where pot dealers often served 50-, 60- and 70-year sentences, exposing a U.S.prison system nearly as corrupt as the drug trade itself. Clarity of voice and extraordinary powers of recollection make this an unusually revealing account of a criminal's rise and fall.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590513101
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 5/5/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 973,798
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Brian O’Dea is now gainfully employed as a film and television producer in Toronto, where he lives with his wife and son. He also regularly speaks about his own experiences to young people struggling with addictions. High won the 2007 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Non-Fiction Crime and it is currently being adapted into a feature film.

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Read an Excerpt

Santa Barbara, California. Eight o’clock in the morning, 1990. I lay in bed, thinking about the hospital. A heroin addict named Danny had come in the night before. I could still feel the pressure of his head on my shoulder as he sobbed his wretched heart out. I’d started to work with him, then left about midnight. I wanted to go back that morning, see how he was doing. Poor bastard.

A hard knock on the door. Just from the knock, I knew this day was my day.
I got up, put on the bathrobe my friend Molly had made for me–a black and white thing–and went to open the door. There were Venetian blinds on the windows. They were partially closed, but through the slats I could just see the hands and the handguns. I felt this strong desire to disappear. I opened the door. One guy held up a badge with one hand–a Drug Enforcement Agency star.

“My name is Gary Annunziata, and I’m with the Drug Enforcement Agency,” he said. “Your name Brian O’Dea?”
“I wish it wasn’t, but it is.” He nodded almost imperceptibly. “May we come in?”
“You’ve got the gun.”

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Reading Group Guide

1. In the prologue O’Dea tells the story of his first day at a Catholic boy’s school. How do you think this event affects this little boy? Does keeping this secret set the tone for his later life? What effect did growing up in the Catholic Church have on O’Dea? As O’Dea describes the DEA coming to his house and ultimately his surroundings at Terminal Island, how did you feel about that eleven-year-old boy?

2. O’Dea describes his recreational, experimental drug use as a teenager in Newfoundland. Is this experimentation typical? Does he take bigger risks than others? Is this different from teenagers experimenting with alcohol and cigarettes, or the same?

3. As Brian realizes he can pay for his own drugs by selling them to his friends, we see his entrepreneurial spirit develop. Is he similar or different from his father, who owns a brewery, or the same? Is he similar or different from the Kennedy family during prohibition in the U.S., or the same?

4. Brian is in prison in Newfoundland and his first marriage fails. When he is released from prison he instinctively jumps on a plane for Colombia. What does this say about his character? What does it say about the risks he is willing to take? At what cost for O’Dea? What character traits help him survive the risks he takes?

5. When Brian focuses his entrepreneurial skills on doing legal business —- the concert in Jamaica, the hair products, dinosaur bones —- things don't work out. Is it self-sabotage? Why is he not successful?

6. What motivated Brian to get out of the business? What motivated him to get clean and stay that way? If Brian were your son, brother, husband, or father, how would you have related to him over the years?

7. Brian has been married three times and divorced twice. Can you relate to his first and second wives and their reasons for getting out of the marriage? Would you have stayed or left? His current wife has been with him since he was nine months sober. She stayed through the indictment, the sentencing, prison, parole, and the years of reinventing a life. Why did she stay? Would you have stayed?

8. What kind of person is Brian O’Dea?

9. What do you think of the title of the book? What title would you give the book?

10. Currently in the U.S. murder is punishable by a sentence of three to six years in prison, but drug offenses are punishable by thirty to fifty years in prison. Do you agree with this? How do you feel as a taxpayer supporting the people serving these sentences?

11. Brian was able to survive prison and avoid any serious conflicts or confrontations. How?

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