Bunker Hill in the 1980s was day camp for young criminals, and Hickey had one of the most notorious counselors in the projects: his uncle, Townie legend and stick-up artist Robert Hickey. Before he was sentenced to 23 years for burglary, Robert was Johnny's regular babysitter. He stashed assault rifles in the closet and puffed PCP in the living room. One time, in a Bunker Hill courtyard, Robert stabbed his own brother Paul in the chest, after catching him pummeling their youngest sibling to impress onlooking friends. Johnny, just four years old, witnessed the attack.
With role models like Robert, Hickey's path through life seemed assured.
"One part of me never wanted to be a bad guy," says Hickey. "Another part of me thought I had to live up to an image and become some sort of robber. But I wanted to find a new way — all the guys who did banks were in jail, and that kind of shit just wasn't in the cards anymore. I was always good at coming up with schemes, so I just decided to take tradition to a different level and steal from street kids and pharmacies — both of which were pretty easy to rob. In a way, that's when I first became a producer, but I started by producing criminal ideas."
By 2000, 19-year-old Hickey was an accomplished dealer, and had served jail time for assault. After an arrest that year for drug-and-gun possession, he was sentenced to 30 months.
But when he was released from prison in 2003, things were different. The soundtrack to the rave scene where he used to sell drugs had flipped from house to jungle. At the same time, party favors like ecstasy had been replaced by pain pills, which Hickey himself started to sniff and sling.
Charlestown was different, too. The Town had always had its problems — Johnny's stepfather, a heroin addict, overdosed on a park bench in 1999 — but never a cancer as rampant as OxyContin. After getting hooked on Oxy with her dad, and graduating to heroin, one of Hickey's cousins died from accidentally injecting air into her veins. During his stint, he had also lost close friends like Townie Mervin "Butchie" Landenberg to drugs. Strong enough to fight off inmates at the Essex County House of Correction in Middleton, where he was cellmates with Hickey for a short time, Landenberg met his match with Oxy — overdosing soon after his 2001 release.
"Everybody was a fucking mess," says Hickey, "and I went right back into the mix."
The despair that bleeds through Oxy Morons is no exaggeration, nor is the image of Bunker Hill's decline into a zombie wasteland. Opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts increased 600 percent between 1990 and 2003, while hospital admissions for abuse of non-heroin opiates — including OxyContin — rose 950 percent, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The statistics are more daunting for Charlestown: one report by Partners Healthcare notes that "drug-related deaths among Charlestown residents was nearly 50 percent higher than the rest of the City of Boston as a whole between 1999 and 2002."