Not long after moving back to East Harlem, Coleman lost his grandmother—and his deal with Bad Boy. To cope, he began smoking more PCP. The more he smoked, the more his rap sheet grew. Between 2003 and 2007, he was arrested seventeen times, mostly for drug possession, sometimes for trespassing (hanging out in a building that wasn’t his, often to get high), and once for “theft of services” (slipping through the exit gate to steal a free ride on the subway). Between trips to Rikers he tried to jump-start his career, without much success.
“Everything fell apart,” says Boysie Coleman. “He started using more. Everything changed about him. He wasn’t the person I grew up with. He wasn’t talkative. He was zoned out.” His aunt Cecelia Coleman recalls, “He was always preoccupied. He wasn’t socializing the way you would normally do. Half the time he wouldn’t even say anything. You’d say, ‘How are you doing, Trevell?’ And he’d say, ‘I’m okay.’ And that was it.”
By now, Coleman was married and had two more kids: twin boys. He’d met his future wife, a former airline worker named Crystal Sutton, at a nightclub and married her in 2004. His addiction to angel dust made for a tumultuous relationship. She would enroll him in rehab programs, but he never stayed long. And she could always tell when he’d just been smoking: He would stutter, his whole body would shake, and his stench would remind her of formaldehyde.
Several years after they got married, he told her that he’d fired a gun at a stranger when he was a teenager. “One time he said he shot someone and they lived,” she says. Another time, it was a slightly different story: “He shot someone, and he doesn’t know what happened to them.” She wasn’t sure what to think. Once, while he was high, he’d announced he was Jesus. He’d also accused her of being a cop. At least three times, he’d been carted off to hospital psych wards.
Coleman confided his secret to three other people, too: his mother, his daughter’s mother, and a friend. He recalls that his mother responded by saying: “Well, that was a long time ago, that was in the past.” And then she’d change the subject. “I don’t think she really believed me,” he says. “She was just bringing up other stuff: ‘Are you still going to the rehab?’ She didn’t really want to talk about it.”
Coleman would sometimes mention that he was thinking of going to the police. “I would bring it up just so people would be like: ‘Man, you can’t be serious. Don’t ever do that.’ And I’d be like: ‘You know, you’re right,’ ” he says. He was hoping somebody would make a convincing argument for moving on. “I just wanted somebody to say, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ ” he says. But after a while, he found that no matter whom he told—or what they said—nothing could quiet his conscience. “There wasn’t really an answer I could get. I was looking for something that wasn’t there.”
In the spring of 2010, Coleman found himself lying in a hospital bed with a fractured skull, stitches in his head, a bandage over one eye—and no idea how he got there. The last thing he remembered was smoking PCP and wandering onto East 115th Street. He thought that he’d been hit by a car, but he didn’t know for sure. “You could’ve died,” his mother told him, “and I’m not going to lose you like this.”
He entered a 30-day rehab program in June 2010 and spent hour after hour sitting in groups, listening to other addicts share their mistakes and regrets. “A lot of people were really cleansing their souls and really getting to the root of their problems,” he says. “I was not. I would just be embellishing, telling stories about getting high. I wasn’t being totally honest.”
After finishing the program, he signed up for more outpatient treatment at a hospital in the Bronx. He was trying harder to stay clean than he’d ever tried before, but there were still slip-ups. On August 2, a cop snapped a pair of cuffs on him after finding him smoking PCP in the Johnson Houses, inside a stairwell at 1591 Park Avenue. On November 17, another cop caught him in the same building with PCP.
It was no coincidence he kept getting arrested inside 1591 Park. The building overlooks the spot where he fired his gun back in 1993, and for reasons he couldn’t quite explain, it had become a favorite place to get high. He’d light up in the stairwell and stare out the window at the Metro-North tracks above Park Avenue. “Maybe that was my way of confronting that demon. Or maybe I was just becoming that demon. Or that demon was consuming me,” he says. “That’s how crazy I was getting.”