This essay demonstrates that drug prohibition has been a prime driver of violence as workers in the informal economy engaged in rational market regulation. Most studies of the carceral state have been top-down assessments that have not considered the ripple effects of the lucrative, frenzied drug trade. Through an examination of the experiences of dealers, the essay shows how their search for rewarding work interacted with the contextual issues of poverty, racial segregation, deindustrialization, and government policy to account for a substantial amount of mayhem in the war on drugs era. The fervent enforcement of prohibition increased violence and incarceration as offenders acted in sensible ways to secure their livelihoods.

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