"Postapocalyptic" Detroit—infamous for its abandoned buildings, empty lots, and blighted streets—may be the only American city to have earned such an epithet. As a teenager who frequently visited Detroit with his father, Luke Bergmann saw the devastation caused by the collapse of the automobile industry. Years later, he returned to the city as an anthropologist to study the incarceration of inner-city youth, and his research connected him with two teenaged drug dealers, Dude Freeman and Rodney Phelps. For nearly three years Bergmann lived on the city's West Side, hanging out with Dude and Rodney, driving around, hearing their stories and dreams, and witnessing the intricacies of Detroit's urban drug trade. Bergmann is soon more than an observer, as he intervenes with Dude's probation officer when he misses a hearing and becomes Rodney's only contact when he flees the city to escape criminal charges. Through it all, he strives to understand their lives, their families, and the neighborhoods they call home.
In an effort to break through the conventional wisdom about who sells drugs and why, Bergmann chronicles the unsettling alchemy of choice, force of habit, structural inequality, and political neglect that combine to restrict the horizons of too many young people in America's cities. As Rodney and Dude spin through the revolving door of juvenile detention, "getting ghost" becomes a rich metaphor—for leaving a scene; for quitting the trade; and, ultimately, for mortality. With stunning insight, courage, and even humor, Getting Ghost illuminates complex inner lives that are too often diminished by empty stereotypes as it reveals the common yearnings in all of our American dreams.
"[Bergmann] chronicles the drug trading, the risks and rewards, and the demarcations between the city and suburbs even as he witnessed suburbanites come into the city to buy drugs."
"Not just illustrative and emotive, this pummeling, immersive social text is grounded in street-level reportage and seeded with wisdom."
"In prose that is equally eloquent and enlightening, Luke Bergmann brings to the surface the lives of two young men living in a place that is regarded by too many people as a forgotten city."
—Alford A. Young, Jr., Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Associate Professor, Sociology and Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan
"Luke Bergmann sometimes risks life and limb to bring us firsthand the lives of young people who mainstream media and academic research have ignored—except for the occasional crime story or impersonal policy brief. Getting Ghost is a journey worth taking . . . It sets a new standard for documentary reportage."
—Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day and Off the Books
Cover photo © Simon Wheatley, Magnum Photos
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