Thelma Wright met her husband, Jackie Wright, a major player in the Philadelphia drug game, when she was in her early 20s. When her husband was murdered, Wright was faced with a choice: start life over on the straight and narrow, or take over the family business. With a taste of success and the lure of easy money, Wright began transporting cocaine and heroin between Los Angeles and Philadelphia. But life in the game was not what she bargained for. Wright her life of crime behind for good in 1991 and published a memoir a decade later, With Eyes From Both Sides - Living My Life In and Out of the Game.
Raised by loving parents in a wholesome Catholic household in South Philadelphia, Thelma Wright attended St. Maria Goretti High School before enrolling at Temple University, where she studied real estate management. According to her later-published memoir, she then relocated to Los Angeles, California, where she began initiating various business ventures, including founding a clothing design company entitled Jackiem Enterprises, Inc., in the late 1980s. After spending several years in L.A., a homesick Wright returned to her native Philly.
Life of Crime Begins
In 1977, when she was in her early 20s, Thelma Wright met her future husband, Jackie Wright, a major player in the Philadelphia drug game and one of the top heroin wholesalers in the city, who had connections to the Black Mafia—a ruthless Philly street gang known for killing police officers. The couple had a child, a son they named Jackiem, in 1982.
Tragedy struck in August 1986, when Jackie Wright was murdered; his body had been found with a fatal gunshot wound to the head, rolled up in a rug. Thelma, in turn, was faced with a choice: start life over on the straight and narrow, or take over the family business. "He took care of us, loved his son. If he was around, nothing could happen," Thelma later said of her husband, adding, "People are assuming Jackie left me all this money. Nope. I got this child. I can't lay down and die, so we just resumed business as normal. Made a lot of money. A lot of money."
In the early 1990s, Philadelphia was a mecca of drug distribution—primarily heroin and cocaine. With a taste of success and the lure of easy money, Wright quickly took over her husband's trade. She ran a large organization that operated from Philadelphia, but had tentacles throughout the United States, overseeing the transportation of large quantities of cocaine and heroin between Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Along the way, she earned such monikers as "Boss Lady" and "Queen Pen." "It was about survival. It was about, you know, getting to another level," Wright later said.
It didn't take long for Wright to start seeing incredible profits from her work. "I made a lot of money. A lot of money," she said. "I can tell you I made a lot of money. You know in The Godfather when they say, 'It's a lot of money in that white powder'? It was a lot of money in that." The numbers are congruent with Wright's sentiments—she was making an estimated $400,000 in profit on a monthly basis. But life in the game was not exactly what Wright had bargained for.
Leaving the Drug Game
In July 1991, Wright and several of her friends were caught in the crossfire of a gangland shootout at a popular late-night club called Studio West. Less than two weeks later, she dodged a bullet of another kind: One of her longtime clients, a man known as "Fats," was picked up by police after he called the Post Office about a package that had failed to arrive.
By the end of 1991, Wright had decided to leave the drug game behind for good. For years, she stayed quiet out of the public eye and kept quiet about her past. In 2009, she went to work for a nonprofit organization, managing properties for women dealing with addiction and mental health issues. Wright decided to finally come clean in 2011 by publishing a memoir, With Eyes From Both Sides - Living My Life In and Out of the Game.
"I am a mother to some, I am grandmother to the kids. It gives me an opportunity to see some of the destruction behind things that I had done," she stated about her work in recent years. "When I go around and I speak to people, I'm letting them know that you need to stay away from this game. You're not going to win. It is a 'no win.' Two options: death or jail. That's it. There's nothing else ... Looking back on it now, I did what I did to survive, to take care of myself and my son. Would I do it again? No. No, absolutely not."
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