By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Though the soft-spoken teen-ager was "day and night" from his hustler brother, Simmons idolized him and his $5,000 gold chain, his $6,000 roll of cash and his love of dice games. He followed his brother's lead, selling coke, crack and weed. As Simmons says, "It was fast money."
Simmons touches a crease near a dimple. When he was 15 years old, his brother was dealing coke out of their home one night when three masked men with guns, tipped off by one of Simmons' best friends, burst into the house and stole his money and drugs. Before they left, one put a pistol to Simmons' face and fired.
The brothers attributed the attack to jealousy by rival dealers. The bullet shattered his jaw and lodged in Simmons' neck. He ate through a straw for 11 months, and the jaw was swollen for two years. He still has nerve damage in his face.
Simmons' mother flew from Dallas to be at his side in the hospital. His father didn't bother. When Simmons recovered, she brought him back to live with her in an apartment at Abrams and Northwest Highway. Jeremiah enrolled as a sophomore at Hillcrest High School, where he met his girlfriend, Aunika Leal, now the mother of his two children. He soon dropped out again. He worked a few legit jobs, but he couldn't resist the lure of the easy money. In late 1998, starting from scratch, he built up a small but thriving crack and weed business.
His occasional pledges to go straight were usually prompted by a brush with police. One night while walking to the store, a police car rolled up on him. Simmons had pockets full of dope, but the cop didn't search him. "I was like, 'I'm not doing this anymore,'" Simmons says. Just as he'd once idolized his brother, young boys in the neighborhood now idolized him. His brother had gone to prison. Simmons didn't want to follow.
At 17, he went to Dallas Can Academy, earning his GED. He worked at Tom Thumb, Eckerd and Grandy's for a year and a half, giving the money he earned to his mother and his girlfriend. "I liked it," Simmons says, "but I had a clientele." And they didn't want him leaving the dope business.
By the time he was 18, Simmons' illegal operation had expanded to cocaine and guns. "The customers I had weren't black," Simmons says. "They were white, Mexican, high-class people who could spend $1,000 or better at a time. I always got to know them."
His client base extended from Garland to Richardson to Arlington. Like the businessmen in books he read at the library, Simmons diversified his product line. "When one was slow," Simmons says, "then I'd do the other." Police never tagged Simmons for anything serious. "Like all criminals," Simmons says, "I felt I couldn't be touched."
When he began dealing Ecstasy with Castelon and Havard, it was like "the floodgates opened," Simmons says. He phased out the crack and weed to concentrate on cocaine and Ecstasy, which were easier to sell.
As they did business, the teen-agers got to know each other well. At first, Havard acted like he had something to prove, like he was "down." Especially around Castelon, Havard often bragged about how he'd robbed or shot at someone. "I know dudes that would eat you for breakfast," Simmons thought. "That's not something you go around talking about."
He felt Havard was trying to impress him. "He'd heard about my reputation," Simmons says, "so maybe he was putting on a front."
They hung out at Simmons' apartment. Havard never talked about school. He was interested in Simmons' methods, as well as the crooked cops and shady lawyers that Simmons sometimes tapped to help him out of a jam or to get information. Simmons talked about the burdens of leadership, complaining to Havard, "I gotta make sure even the lowest guy is doing their thing right." But mostly they talked about money and girls. Havard would clam up around women. "What's wrong with you?" Simmons would say. "You gotta talk to them."
They didn't hang around each other's friends, and Simmons never visited Havard at his home in North Dallas. "He'd invite me to parties. I'd never go," Simmons says. "It was business: Ecstasy or guns." Havard explained that his parents "wouldn't approve" of him hanging around someone like him. Simmons understood. Once, Simmons asked Havard why he sold drugs. The teen-ager would only say, "I need the money, man." Simmons thought that was a lame excuse.
Simmons liked that Havard didn't do drugs or drink. With Havard, Simmons felt he could relax, not fearing that he'd turn on him with a gun. "I knew if I messed with my own kind, they'd get me," Simmons says. "I had to be thugged out with them." He wrote a poem about that. Always a quick wit, Simmons had been writing and performing rap songs for several years. By 2000, he was performing at a club three times a week as "Microphone Messiah."
Havard came to hear him one night. "You have talent," he told Simmons. "You gotta do something with it."