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The 'Underworld' of Charlottesville: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

July 11, 2013

Just steps from Charlottesville's quaint restaurants and bookstores, there's an underworld where drugs are king.

Now, a drug-dealer-turned-author is hoping to shed light on the consequences of that lifestyle a year after getting out of prison.

"There's a lot going on in Charlottesville, on these back alleys, these corners. A lot of drug selling going on, a lot of illicit behavior going on," said Richard Koonce. "Any time you turn off of Main Street, you might run into any one of those things."

Koonce says, for him, it all started at 10th and Page.

"I was notorious. Doing everything I had no business doing. Carrying guns, shooting guns, selling drugs," he said.

Koonce sold crack cocaine for 16 years before selling to an informant. He landed nearly 8 years in prison.

While locked up, Koonce started writing about what he knew best, giving a glimpse into the life he used to lead. "Matters of the Hood" is a street tale inspired by the seedy side of town.

"You don't think that there's a rampant amount of drugs being sold here, that the youth are misguided here," said Koonce. "Those are the things that you don't think of, but it's right here. Any one of these corners, you can see it."

Koonce says, when he was younger, there was no one to steer him away from the lifestyle. Having survived it, he wants to reach kids before they are drawn in.

"Now, they start earlier and earlier -- 12, 13, 14. They're getting into mischievous behavior," he said. "When you grow up in a home and there's not a lot to eat, you're willing to try everything."

But Koonce wants kids to know there are other options out there, trying to use the reputation he gained for all the wrong reasons to push a different message.

"You don't have to go through what I went through to see the light. I spent seven years and 10 months in prison, just to say I don't want to go back," said Koonce. "We don't have to do that. We could just say, look, I don't want to go to prison, so I'm going to try something different."

He admits it is not always easy but says it is worth it.

"You don't have to look over your shoulders. You don't have to worry about police or worry about going to jail, whether you're going to get commissary money, whether you're going to get a visit, if anyone is going to accept your phone call," said Koonce. "Those are things you shouldn't have to deal with at a young age."

For more information about "Matters of the Hood," click HERE.

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