In the second half of the first decade of the 2000s, Newark experiences an overall decrease in crime. The police force is bigger than ever before, and there’s a citywide camera system in place. And yet the poverty crisis in Newark is as bad as it’s ever been. And following the Great Recession, crime escalates again.
Newark experienced a decrease in crime, but many criticized the police tactics that led to the decrease, especially since the incarceration rate went up.
Robert begins applying for graduate schools, beginning by writing his statement of purpose. In this essay, he explains that he’s always loved science. At Yale, he studied molecular biology, and worked closely with world-class scientists. Research, Robert explains, has taught him persistence and patience. Also in his essay, Robert explains that he held off on applying to graduate schools because he wanted to experience his own world, in Newark. He goes into great detail about his years teaching science and his world travels.
Robert finally appears to be getting around to applying to graduate schools. In his essay, he claims that he returned to Newark after college because he wanted to get to know his neighborhood even better. But this seems untrue—as Hobbs has shown, Robert returned to Newark in part because he didn’t know what else to do, and because he’d lost all his money.
Robert sends his essay to Isabella Peretzian to edit. Isabella offers a few comments, most notably that the mentions of his world traveling should be cut down, since they suggest a lack of focus. Robert calls Isabella and testily explains that his travels are an important part of his character. Isabella backs down, saying, “It was just a suggestion.”
Robert exhibits some of the old hardheadedness that’s prevented him from succeeding since graduating college—he won’t accept even the simplest criticism of his statement of purpose. The point here isn’t that Isabella is right or wrong—rather, it’s that Robert is unwilling to accept or even listen to advice.
While he’s applying to school, Robert needs to get a job. Following Oswaldo’s advice, he cuts his dreadlocks, buys a suit, and prepares to interview for administrative positions at real estate firms. Robert resents having to change his appearance for the sake of finding a job. But he hates having to collect unemployment checks even more. Robert has proven that he can live happily on a teacher’s salary, but he wants to make more money, partly because he wants to be “the Man” and impress the people around him.
Robert again shows that he’s unwilling to change his life in any way, even if it’s for the sake of getting a good job. He seemingly just wants to keep living the same way he’s been living for the last ten years, surrounded by people who idolize him.
That fall, Robert drinks a lot and spends more time than usual with his high school friends. He doesn’t buy a suit and he doesn’t apply for jobs. Oswaldo talks to him on the phone, and becomes furious when he realizes that Robert isn’t really looking for work at all—he’s still selling marijuana. Oswaldo notices that Robert’s friends take from him without seeming to give much in return.
Oswaldo takes a darker view of Robert’s relationship with his friends than Hobbs has presented earlier in the book. As Oswaldo sees it, Robert’s “friendship” with his high school friends is an unhealthy one, largely based on his giving his friends money and drugs and receiving little in return.
At the end of 2010, Robert gets a job working for a drug dealer named Amin. Amin has several business fronts through which he launders his drug earnings, and he’s good at staying under the radar. Robert respects Amin, though he finds it difficult to adjust to the pressures of having a boss. His job is fairly simple: he converts Amin’s product into a hybrid strain, and then delivers it to a supplier outpost. Robert’s work for Amin is more dangerous than anything he’s done previously.
Robert takes on more and more ambitious drug dealing assignments, undercutting his claims that he’s ready to get a “real” job, and again showing his tendency toward self-sabotage.
Robert’s friends warn him not to get “in too deep” with Amin. As the year goes on, Robert prepares to apply for a graduate program at NYU while also working for Johnson & Johnson. He’s confident that he’ll be accepted. In March 2011, however, Curtis proposes a risky new business plan—one that could solve all of Robert’s problems.
Robert pursues plans to get a real job and a graduate degree at the same time that he pursues big drug deals. This makes it unclear what Robert is actually trying to achieve in the future.