By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
He tells me he always remembered to keep the wooden-framed bedroom window cracked open two inches to provide a quick escape route for when his father would go on his rampages.
"The next day, it was always as if nothing had happened," says Simon. "We wouldn't talk about it."
In the summer between Simon's 9th and 10th grade years, the family made the move 80 miles straight north to tiny Princeton, Minnesota. On the first day of school, he wore his cardinal-and-black New Prague Trojans hockey jacket to let his new classmates know he was a hockey player. He soon became a fixture of the school's jock clique. But unlike his old circle of friends, his new crew's extracurricular activities weren't limited to sports.
Also: See a letter Russell Simon wrote us from prison to accompany the story.
He started smoking hash. In the next two years, he'd graduate to speed. Then LSD. He and his "burnout jock crew" (as he refers to them) would drop acid before school, usually by eating a blotter. Meanwhile, the boozing intensified. Hard liquor replaced beer. Hard drugs accompanied psychedelics.
"For me it was a way to escape," says Simon. "It went back to how I was brought up. I never wanted to be like my dad. But in truth, when I drank, I was probably just like him."
TODAY, BOTH HIS PARENTS ARE DEAD. Simon hasn't talked to his brothers or sisters in nearly a decade.
"I'll tell you the reason we haven't spoken in so long," says one of his siblings, who spoke on condition of anonymity, "Because everything he's ever said or written about his childhood is a total fabrication. These vicious lies about my parents...." There's a frustrated pause. "Our house was never abusive. Unless you consider the occasional spanking 'abusive.' It was all just a ploy to make money."
IN THE SPRING OF 1984, 19-YEAR-OLD Simon pinched his dad's checkbook and wrote more than $150 worth of bad paper. He was arrested, convicted of felony theft, and sentenced to one year in the Hennepin County workhouse.
It was there, Simon says, that he saw a film that changed his life: Scarface.
Simon idolized the lavish, clichéd lifestyle of Al Pacino's Tony Montana character: the cars, the guns, the coke, the women. Never mind the cautionary morality tale woven in Montana's climactic death—Simon would do things differently. He'd avoid the pitfalls. He'd transcend his pedestrian Midwestern life and live like a kingpin.
On March 11, 1985, Simon walked out of the workhouse a free man. Another month later, he met up with an old Princeton acquaintance who had just the scheme for Simon: How would he like to take part in a cocaine-transporting operation?
On April 1, equipped with 10 grand in start-up cash, Simon made his first of many trips down to Florida. At the Miami airport, a man who called himself "Donnie" approached him and hooked Simon up with a rental car with instructions to follow him on his moped.
At a stoplight, Donnie told him to roll down his window. "Here, try it out on the way," Donnie said, tossing two vials toward Simon. "One is ether base and one is acetone base. We got 'em both!"
Later that day, Simon met Donnie and his associate, Luis, at a grimy dive bar just outside Fort Lauderdale. They taught Simon the tricks and etiquette of the drug trade. First: When testing for quality, always be sure to cut the block open and test the middle. Second: Never rob another dealer. Third and most important: No snitching. If someone robs or rats on you, opt for the simplest solution: kill them.
"We'd put the coke in socks—usually about a kilo—drive up I-95 to West Palm Beach," says Simon. "We'd fly back with it, and distribute it. Back then, there were no drug dogs or anything. There were dogs in Miami, yeah, but not in West Palm Beach. That's why we'd fly out of there."
But the crime that would ultimately land Simon in prison had little to do with drug peddling. In 1986, Simon was found guilty of first-degree burglary and second-degree assault after he and a friend, brandishing semi-automatics, broke into a house in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis.
In his self-published book, Inside the Walls: Drugs, Prison, Gangs, and Recovery, Simon writes that the reason he ransacked the house was because the occupant had stolen a half-pound of cocaine from him. The chapter is titled "Code of Honor" in reference to the harshest tenet of the drug trade: If someone steals your stash, you kill them.
"Back then, that was twenty thousand dollars worth to us," he writes. "What are you suppose [sic] to do? You're suppose [sic] to kill em right?"
AT THREE O'CLOCK ON THE MORNING of April 12, 1986, Simon and one of his cronies, armed with two Colt AR-15 machine guns and wearing nylon stockings on their heads, kicked in the front door of a house and burst into the living room. The man they were after ran into the master bedroom with his pregnant wife and locked the door.
"We're going to kill you!" they repeatedly shouted, according to the police complaint. "We're going to kill you!"