When Alex was a student at James Madison University, he fell in with a hard-partying crowd. Though he got good grades, the 25-year-old from rural Virginia embraced the campus drug culture and threw wild parties throughout his college years, without much consequence. Then, everything changed.
On the morning of one of his last final exams, the home Alex shared with his fellow hard-partying classmates was raided by the local drug task force. A special agent told Alex that an informant had tipped them off, alleging that Alex was a drug dealer. In Alex's home, the police found seven capsules and a third of a gram of the party drug "Molly," valued at $200. Alex found himself facing a felony distribution charge that could carry a 40-year jail sentence.
The agent, Alex says, gave him an ultimatum right then and there: become an informant for the drug task force, or get arrested and go to jail.
Desperate to keep his record clean, Alex agreed to be an informant. But what followed was not going to be the easy way out. Speaking with Lisa Ling for an "Our America" episode about criminal informants, Alex details his experience working undercover as an untrained civilian. His task? Help make a certain number of drug busts in a one-year period, focusing on crystal meth, heroin and crack-cocaine dealers.
"I said, 'What do you expect from me? I don't do those drugs,'" Alex says he told the investigator. "And [the investigator] said, 'Do what you've got to do to make some new friends and find some bad guys for us. And we'll make this all go away.'"
The more Alex heard, the more uncomfortable he became, asking questions about his safety and how his identity would be protected.
"There weren't very good answers. I didn't want to do this. I didn't feel safe," he says. "And my parents didn't know."
As the pressure mounted, Alex's fear of facing drug charges outweighed his fear of becoming an informant. He reluctantly went undercover. "I was in situations where I was in a house I never wanted to be in, I was trying to make friends with people I never wanted to meet, all for self-preservation," he tells Ling.
Soon, his efforts as a criminal informant escalated.
"The first time that I tried heroin was related to me trying to make friends with someone in that game and figure out how to set that person up," Alex says. "I had to do that heroin so the guy would trust me. I puked. It made me sick. I was sick anyway just because of the situation."