Greg Scott is a fixer. In Chicago, where Scott plies his trade, the title is traditionally tapped for the slick wheeler-dealers who haunt the criminal-court corridors or City Hall. But there is nothing traditional about Scott, a forty-two-year-old, ginger-haired, Gonzo-worshipping, award-winning radio freelance citizen-journalist; an independent filmmaker and public health advocate, a tattooed, midwestern, tenured sociology professor, dad, and little league baseball coach. Scott’s clients aren’t seeking zoning changes or friendly judges. They are journalists, some of whom pay him as much as $450 a day, plus expenses, to guide them safely through the streets and alleys of “Junkieville’’—Scott’s name for Chicago’s drug world. Once there, Scott fixes them up with the likes of Murdering Mike, Big Hands Laura, the Other Laura, Teardrop Rose, I’m-not-a-hooker-I’m-a-body-therapist Chrissie, Cat who fights like a man, Cadillac Don, Medicine Man, Pony Tail Steve, and Mortician Steve—no relation—as they tell their stories on camera.
“I’m the go-to guy for Junkieville,’’ Scott said. For more than a decade, he has researched, documented, reported on, and most important to him, befriended the residents of Chicago’s drug scene—the junkies, prostitutes, pimps, thieves, and panhandlers, and the crime boss he invited to his book-filled living room with a painting of Hunter S. Thompson on the wall in suburban Oak Park one night last summer to be interviewed by a bossy bald Brit, Ross Kemp, who hosts a gritty, you-are-there style British television show, Ross Kemp: Extreme World.
Scott does his fixing inside crack houses, shooting galleries, brothels, seedy motels, and a dusty homeless encampment known as the Brickyard, where the residents—sometimes dozens at a time—live for hustling and heroin and where the “weekend warriors’’ visit for a couple of days before returning to their nine-to-five lives. George Hughes, a freelance television producer and director, is another Englishman who has used Scott’s fixing services in recent years. Hughes was working for Drugs Inc., the highbrow National Geographic Channel series, when he hired Scott as a consultant. Hughes flew from London to O’Hare International Airport in the fall of 2009 and drove into the city to meet Scott.
“I arrived there expecting to be eased into things,’’ Hughes said. “But within a few hours I found myself in a crack house on the west side, meeting heroin dealers and addicts. For me that’s stuff straight out of the movies. It surprised me how much they respected him. The relationship he had with them. They trusted him implicitly. We were welcomed into this place even though it was the den of iniquity. To have someone like Greg guide you through is invaluable. He is quite unique.’’
Hughes not only used Scott as a fixer, he put him on camera. Scott appears in the heroin segment of the series as “The Medic,’’ performing one of his many passions, working with addicts on the frontlines of HIV and AIDS prevention. Hughes was so impressed with Scott’s abilities that he convinced the production company to hire him to work on the next installment of Drugs Inc. Scott was promoted from fixer to producer. In January, Scott spent three weeks fixing and producing a segment on crack in Chicago. As soon as the crack segment was wrapped, Scott began research for a segment on ketamine, a horse tranquilizer used as a date rape drug and known on the street as Special K. “I don’t know anyone else in Chicago doing my type of work,’’ he told me. “I can fix anything. Everybody has a knack. I just happen to have a knack for getting involved in illegal shit.’’
Scott calls what he does “immersive sociology,’’ “embedded journalism,’’ and “all of the above.’’ The work bag he carries slung over his shoulder is stuffed with naloxone, an overdose-reversal medication, as well as the condoms and clean syringes that he distributes for free. He is a member of the worldwide harm-reduction movement to prevent the spread of HIV, AIDS, and other diseases among injection drug users and their partners. An associate professor of sociology at DePaul University and director of the school’s Social Science Research Center, Scott is also the volunteer research director for The Chicago Recovery Alliance, a twenty-year-old harm reduction group.
“He was way out there already, so he fit right in with us,’’ said Dan Bigg, a co-founder of the Alliance. “He didn’t need any extra training in how to treat people with respect. In addition to being a brilliant guy, he’s very much a man of integrity. He uses that integrity for good. He just doesn’t sit silently in a school office. He gets out in the real world.’’