The Queensbridge Estate in New York lies within sight of the Manhattan skyscrapers, but is seemingly a world away. The largest housing complex in Queens, it is regularly raided by police to break up massive drug operations. Here, award-winning filmmaker Angus Macqueen looks at the social cost of America's war on drugs through the life of 28-year-old Thomas Winston: a small-time drug dealer struggling to stay out of prison and away from the lure of easy money that illegal drugs offer. As his probation officer says, here is a man who can earn $15,000 a week in the drugs world or $200 before taxes working in McDonald's. Thomas is first seen campaigning against the 'Rockefeller' drugs laws in New York State, where sale or possession of small amounts of drugs are given a mandatory sentence equivalent to second degree murder, and have long been seen to be both discriminatory and draconian. Human Rights Watch have published a series of reports making clear that Whites, Black and Hispanics sell and consume narcotics in equal numbers, yet over 80% of the prisoners in New York State are Black or Latino. Inside a prison, barely a white face can be seen. The film tracks Thomas's moving story over a number of months, as he interacts with the legal system and as his probation officer and lawyer attempt to help him; but gradually he is drawn back to his old life. By the end of the film, Thomas has been stabbed to death. Thomas's story illustrates the failure of America's zero tolerance drug laws, which don't stop supply or address addiction, but rather consign whole groups of society to a tragic cycle, undermining the very fabric of whole communities: be it here in Britain or in the US.
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