I spent two weeks in 2006 tailing Hickey through Charlestown, touring halls and alleyways around the Bunker Hill projects where he cut his criminal teeth. It was a morbid assignment: patches of the storied square mile had become overrun with junkies, many of whom we witnessed wobbling across courtyards hunting for a fix. Before that week I barely knew what a functional fiend looked like; in the time since, I've been cursed to notice users everywhere. On the train, at concerts, and even in my own life, their vacant eyes and tilted heads are a dead giveaway.
Most journalists have at least one source who they keep forever. Mine is Hickey; part of our connection stems from our both being convicted felons who found a conscience through creative outlets (though my own rap sheet can't compare to his). I've published several follow-ups since my initial article, as Hickey's quest to write, produce, and star in the first feature-length film about Oxy culture proved nearly as tumultuous as the experiences that shaped his movie.
Through the years, Hickey'd call me from different places in the country, his phone number changing every few months. "Just wait," he'd tell me. "One of these days, when I'm back in Boston, I'm going to give you the story of a lifetime. You're not gonna believe it."
But everybody claims that. Every journalist has heard those words, and it's rarely true. So I never gave Hickey's promise much thought.
That all changed four months ago at a bar downtown, where Hickey had asked me to meet him. Two beers in, he fanned a stack of credit cards, licenses, and passports across the table.
I was dumbstruck. The IDs all had his face on them, but none belonged to anyone named Johnny Hickey. Nor were these homemade jobs. My own felonies were for ID forgery — I know the real thing when I see it. This was it: Hickey was coming clean.
The epic saga Hickey laid down for me that day cannot be verified by government officials. The US Marshals, the DEA, and the ATF all refused to confirm or deny Hickey's claims of working for these agencies as an undercover operative, infiltrating drug rings in the Midwest. But I've seen hotel receipts that put him where he said he was; I've spoken to friends who say they were clued in to his double life. And when we ran a background check on Hickey's main undercover identity — "Brent Conway" — we turned up a man who seems not to have existed before his Social Security number was first issued in 2009.
At the beginning of Oxy Morons, in a voiceover broadcast across the Charlestown skyline, Hickey says he changed names in his story, but "not to protect the innocent, since no one in [his] tale is innocent."
Here, with his long-awaited autobiographic movie debuting at Showcase Cinemas in Revere this week, for the first time ever Hickey tells all about the inspirations for his film, and about the unbelievable detour that he says landed him in the Hoosier state, scaring the funny out of Shane Mauss.
'A FUCKING MESS'