The hip-hop mogul and executive producer of The House I Live In tells of the suffering he saw while growing up in Queens

I'm particularly concerned about how the war on drugs has destroyed the fabric of the black community in America. I grew up in a lower middle-class neighbourhood in Queens that was destroyed by drugs. It was the heroin capital of Queens. Everybody shot dope. My friend in the eighth grade was shooting dope. I've seen the suffering first-hand and I've been involved in the suffering too. I used every drug there is, back in the day, but it didn't make me a bad person: it just made me a sad person, a diseased person. It didn't make me a criminal.

What would have made me a criminal is if I'd been arrested and sent to jail for 20 years, which could have happened easily. A great number of kids in my neighbourhood did go to jail, and they didn't come out so well. They were educated in criminal behaviour, came home violent criminals, and became repeat offenders.

People make choices, it's true. And culture helps them, sometimes, to make bad choices. Drugs are a hurtful choice. They don't promote stable happiness. There's nothing good about them.

I'm fairly optimistic that we can make a change and that President Obama will deliver on some of the promises he's made. From an economic standpoint, he needs to realise how the prison-industrial complex is robbing us – robbing us of money that we could be putting into education and sorting out the community and jobs and infrastructure. Currently, I'm working on getting people of influence involved in the matter, and I've written a letter to the president [Read it at] detailing how he should address it. We've got to start a revolution, and that's what I'm trying to do right now.

More on this story

Eugene Jarecki and the campaign to end America's war on drugsThe US war on drugs has cost one trillion dollars and resulted in 45m arrests. And yet nothing has changed, argues film-maker Eugene Jarecki. So what did the prisoners in a New York jail think when he showed them his documentary?

Brad Pitt: America's war on drugs is a charade, and a failureThe actor and executive producer of the documentary The House I Live In says US drugs policy needs a radical rethink

David Simon on America's war on drugs and The House I Live InThe writer/director, who contributed to this hard-hitting documentary, on why US drugs policy has gone terribly wrong

Shanequa Benitez: how I started dealing drugsEx-drug dealer and contributor to The House I Live In on the perils of being drawn into the dangerous world of drug dealing © Guardian News and Media 2013

[Debby Wong /]