7 Simple Life to Secret Life: An Amish Teen’s Journey to the Black Market

By Ashley Brown[1]

Clip-clop. Clip-clop. Clip-clop.

The hooves’ rhythmic sound on cracked pavement lulled Marcus to sleep on the buggy’s red, velvety cushion beside his twin brother, Marvin, and his parents, Dale and Anita. Darla and Deann, the two younger siblings, rode their bikes a few feet behind. After a long day of singing, building community, and playing volleyball, the tired Miller family slowly made its way home from biweekly church.[1]

Upon arrival at the Miller house, the small Amish family of six unloaded the buggy and climbed into bed. Marcus rolled over in his bed to face Marvin, who was lying in his bed across the room, and sighed.

“I wish we coulda stayed in school. It’s not fair that the English kids get to go to high school, and we have to start workin’ already,” Marcus mumbled.[2]

“I don’t know. It’s not too bad. I’m actually pretty excited to start working for Uncle John making furniture. I’ll get to use my woodworking skills I got from shop class last year,” Marvin replied.

“I’m glad you’ll be enjoying yourself. I’m going to be stuck in a stupid RV factory all day.[3] Ich cons nat glauva!” Marcus exclaimed in High German, a slang German dialect spoken in many Amish communities.[4]

“What do you mean, you can’t believe it?” Marvin replied. “You coulda just worked with me, you know. You chose to work in a factory.”

“I want to make good money so I can buy what I want to.[5] Besides, now that we’ve turned sixteen, I want to go on rumspringa.[6] Uncle John wouldn’t like me working there if I’m dressing English,” Marcus explained. He had a point. Tourists buying furniture labeled “Amish made” want to see Amish workers, not people in normal street clothes.[7] When Amish teenagers turn sixteen, they can go on rumspringa, a rebellious period of time when they can experience the evils of the world, including dressing in English clothes, or clothes worn by non-Amish people – among other things.[8]

“Mom and Dad aren’t making you go on rumspringa. I’m not. I think it’s dumb,” Marvin countered. “I’d rather have a nice job where I can talk to people and teach them about our culture if they ask. You, on the other hand, are going to live a fake life, dressing English and driving. Plus, what will Mom and Dad think if you start going to those rumspringa parties?”

“First of all, I’m not going on rumspringa to go to those parties. I just want to experience the world,” Marcus explained. “Plus, it’s encouraged to experience the bad so we can appreciate the good. Mom and Dad will be proud of me for coming back to our way of life once rumspringa is over in a few years.”

“Or they’ll be ashamed of you when you get arrested.”

“I’m not going to be arrested. All of our friends will be on rumspringa too, so even if I did decide to party, they never bust those parties; there’s too many of us. Besides,” he continued, “I’ve got nothing else going for me. It’s not like I have a high school education. I might as well waste my life away making RVs that I’ll never get to use.” Marcus turned his back toward his brother, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.

• • •

The next day, Marcus woke up at 4:30 am, ready to begin his first day at the factory. He scurried around in the dark, trying not to wake his sleeping brother, and hopped into a running truck owned by his friend Levi. A step ahead of Marcus, Levi was already on rumspringa and allowed to own a truck. The ride was only thirty minutes from Shipshewana to Elkhart, just enough time to eat a bit of breakfast and mentally prepare before starting the big day.

Marcus walked into the building, placed his belongings in a safe spot in the breakroom, and went to find his position in the long assembly line producing windows for RVs. The man currently working his position looked ragged and half-dead. Good thing I don’t have to work the night shift, Marcus thought. Is it really that bad to work here? So many of my friends work here and they never complain.[9]

“Howdy, my name’s Leonard. You new?” the man asked. “What’s your name?”

“Uh yeah, today’s my first day. I’m Marcus Miller,” he replied. The man laughed.

“All you Marcus Miller’s are multiplin’ faster than the chickens you’re raisin’. I know too many Marcus Miller’s to keep you all straight.” After noticing Marcus look nervously around the area, Leonard asked, “Do you know what you’re doin’ for this job?”

“Nah, I’ve got no idea,” Marcus muttered. He hadn’t thought about the fact that he was completely unprepared for this job. They didn’t even drug test me before they hired me.[10] That’s strange, he thought. Do they even know I’m starting this job today?

“Don’tcha worry. I’ll show ya.” Leonard continued his work, explaining in detail the steps taken for each part that comes through, and before long, Marcus was able to complete the work on his own. Leonard stood up. “Well, best of luck to ya. I’ve gotta go home to my family… and my bed.” With a chuckle, he walked away, careful to avoid the workers zipping carelessly around the aisles on pieces of machinery. Why is everyone so careless around here? I could easily be killed, Marcus thought to himself as he got to work, grateful that he had a new work friend.[11]

After a full shift of watching the clock, Marcus’s replacement tapped him on the shoulder, signaling he could leave. Marcus grabbed his belongings, clocked out, and raced out the door. Day one complete, Marcus thought as he mentally patted himself on the back. After a long ride home, Marcus lugged himself up to his bed and was so exhausted that he slept solidly until the next morning.

• • •

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BE—WHACK!

Not today, Marcus thought as he rolled over in bed to shut off his battery powered alarm clock. After a few minutes, his mom knocked on the door.

“Marcus, honey, are you awake? Vella gay!”[12] Groaning, Marcus got out of bed. Yeah, yeah. I’m coming, Marcus answered in his head. After getting dressed, he hopped in Levi’s truck and headed to work. After arriving at the factory, Marcus walked over to Leonard and sat down.

Vie bisht do?” Marcus asked.[13]

“I’m good, but tired as always. Hey, I got a question for you. Are you going on rumspringa soon?” Leonard asked.

“Yeah, I need to go buy English clothes this weekend, but then I will be.”[14]

“Well if you and your pals ever need any drugs, you know who to call.[15] Well, don’t actually call my phone booth, that’s for my kennel business, but you know what I mean.”[16] Leonard paused. “This stays between us, ya hear?”

Intrigued, Marcus cocked his head sideways and asked, “Aren’t you a bishop though?”[17]

The leader of the Amish church district hesitated. “Well, yeah.” He paused, leaning in closer. “That’s why this stays between you. And. Me.”

Marcus nodded in agreement. “You can trust me. I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks.” Leonard patted Marcus on the back and left. Marcus lowered his head and started working. If a bishop is involved in the drug business, it can’t be that bad, he thought.

After work, Marcus sat down in Levi’s car and shut the door heavier than usual. After a few minutes of awkward silence, Levi looked over at Marcus. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Do you know Leonard Yoder? That bishop from the district just west of mine?” Marcus asked.[18]

“Loretta’s Leonard? He’s my dad’s cousin. Good guy. Always acts kinda weird though,” Levi replied. “Why?”

“It’s nothing. He just works the shift before me.” The car remained silent for the rest of the ride home.

That night, as he lay in bed, Marcus kept thinking about Leonard. How do people not know about this? How does he get the drugs he sells? Why are people dealing drugs at work?[19] The questions raced through Marcus’s mind as he fell asleep.

• • •

The weekend came quick, and Marcus was excited. It was time to buy English clothes and obtain his driving permit. Marcus went with Levi to the LaGrange County BMV, passed the permit test, and then rode with Levi to Fort Wayne, the epicenter of northeastern Indiana.[20] With his own memory of in-style teen clothing about five years behind, Marcus bought faded jeans with crosses on the back pockets, some branded Aéropostale shirts, and a new pair of high tops to shoot hoops in.[21] With apparel in hand, Marcus and Levi drove home.

Setting the bags on his bed, Marcus examined his new clothing. Wow, he thought. I’m really about to go on rumspringa. I thought this day would never come. Having put on his new clothing, Marcus felt like a new person, and in a way, he was. As soon as Marcus decided he wanted to be on rumspringa, he had the freedoms of a regular English teen, all without having to go to school. He could drive a car. He could wear shorts. He could finally get rid of the bowl cut he desperately wanted to chop. He could go to rumspringa parties. He could drink alcohol without receiving backlash from his parents, and he could do drugs.[22] Maybe I should talk to Leonard, he thought.

The following Monday, Marcus was excited to go into work. Today is the first day of a new life, he thought to himself in the car. His car. Well, technically it was a borrowed car, but Marcus was able to drive it. Marcus, driving alone with a permit, felt the first thrill of illegal activity during rumspringa.[23] Exhilarated, Marcus began to think about taking Leonard up on his offer. All of my friends have so much fun at rumspringa parties. Plus, my parents want me to see what evil can do, Marcus thought as he pulled into the factory parking lot. Walking inside, Marcus bounced over to Leonard with determination.

“I’m ready.”

“Ready for what?” Leonard asked, looking confused. “Ready to get workin’ so I can get outta here?”

“No. I’m on rumspringa now, so I’m ready to buy from you,” Marcus said under his breath. Should I be doing this? Am I really about to buy drugs from a bishop? Before Marcus could contemplate his life decisions further, Leonard responded.

Du bisht laapich!” he said with a chuckle.[24]

“I am not naughty!” Marcus said with guilt in his eyes. “Can I buy or not?”

“All I have is heroin. Is that alright?”[25]

“Sure, I don’t really know what that is, but my friends will help me. I’m new to this life you know.”

“Tell you what. I’ll bring you some tomorrow. You don’t owe me for this one. Consider it a gift to kick off your time on rumspringa. Share with your friends and have fun.”

“Wow, thank you!” Marcus exclaimed.

“You’re welcome, son. Now, get to work so I can leave.”

Marcus finished his shift and drove home with a smile on his face, knowing that soon he would be in full rumspringa mode. All he needed now was a party to go to. Luckily, there was one that Saturday. He called Levi on his new cell phone, another perk of rumspringa, and discussed plans for the weekend.[26] Having settled the tentative schedule, Marcus hung up and enjoyed the rest of the drive home dreaming of the possible adventures of his first Amish party.

The next day, Marcus strutted with confidence into the factory. Before heading to the assembly line, he made sure to leave plenty of space inside his lunchbox for his package from Leonard. After leaving his belongings in his usual area, Marcus was prepared to make his first drug transaction at work.[27]

“Make sure you put your lunchbox beside mine today, Marcus,” Leonard said without turning around. Marcus nodded to himself and went back to the breakroom, hoping not to raise suspicion. Having moved his belongings beside Leonard’s, he returned to the line.

“Anything else?” Marcus asked, not sure what to do next.

“I’ll take care of the rest. Have a good day, Marcus. See ya tomorrow,” Leonard said, careful not to walk away too quickly. Marcus sat down and started his shift.

At the end of his shift, Marcus had almost forgotten about the goodies stashed inside his lunchbox. Sitting in his car, he examined its contents. Inside his lunchbox was a bag of white powder that Marcus could only assume to be pure heroin.[28] The real deal, Marcus thought. Taking everything out, he stashed the heroin in his glove box and reorganized his lunch box before driving home so his mother would not question its contents.

• • •

By the end of the week, Marcus was ready to let loose. Work was monotonous, and Marcus was excited for a change of scenery. He changed into his best English clothes, grabbed his gray knit zipl cop to keep his head warm, and raced away in his car with his new-found freedom.[29] After picking up Levi, Marcus drove to the party at his friend Joanna’s house. However, this wasn’t a typical house party. This was a field party. Having finished harvesting and turning under the plant corpses that were missed during harvest, the field made a perfect place to host hundreds of Amish teenagers on rumspringa and guarantee an interesting night.[30]

Marcus and Levi stepped out of the car, grabbed a portion of Marcus’s heroin and Levi’s alcohol (acquired from an older sibling), and headed toward the crowd of people dancing in the open field.[31]

“This is wild,” Marcus gasped in disbelief, looking at the sea of people. Now I see why my friends love partying. 

“Just you wait,” Levi said with a grin. Marcus turned and made his way into the crowd, making sure to keep his drugs safe from anyone who came close enough to take them.

“Marcus?”

Marcus spun around, and there in front of him was Joanna Chupp, the host of the party. She was twenty, four years older than Marcus, and much more mature. Joanna worked in a pretzel shop in town and was well-spoken.

“Joanna! Vie bisht do?

“I’m doing well! Cum doriva and give me a hug! It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.”[32] She gestured for Marcus to come over, and the two shared an embrace. “What did you bring with you?” she asked after pulling away, glancing at the white powder.

“I brought some heroin, and Levi brought some Bud Light and Red Bull that we’re going to share too,” Marcus explained over the noisy crowd around him.[33]

“Wow,” Joanna laughed in amazement. “Going hard so soon. Be careful now, we don’t need any reason to call the cops.” She stiffened at the feel of the last word rolling off of her tongue. Walking away, Joanna turned her head back and said, “Enjoy yourself, Marcus. Your life has only just begun.”

My life has only just begun, Marcus repeated in his head. Marcus made his way through the crowd searching for Levi, who had disappeared. Upon finding him, the two cracked open beers and started drinking; the beer tasted like freedom and rebellion. Marcus quickly downed a few cans and let out all of the stress of work and life that had built up throughout the week.

Marcus staggered his way through the crowd, recognizing friendly faces as well as new ones. Despite the variety of familiarity, Marcus felt safe. These people are my community and my family. They won’t let me get hurt. They do this all the time and no one gets caught, Marcus thought to himself. Looking around, Marcus noticed that many people had the same bag of white powder and wondered if Leonard had supplied the entire party with heroin. Leonard probably makes a lot of money selling drugs, since he knows so many kids on rumspringa, Marcus concluded as he sipped on another beer.

The night continued smoothly, and after several hours of drinking, Marcus was quite drunk. Having not received education on the risks of substance abuse, Marcus did not know the seriousness and the power of alcohol and drugs.[34] Before he realized what happened, Marcus and Levi had snorted all of the white powder they possessed, aside from what was left in the glove box. The two were incredibly intoxicated from the alcohol and illegal drugs, so intoxicated in fact that they didn’t hear the sirens or see the flashing blue and red lights pull into the grass twenty feet away. Several police officers stepped out of their cars having receiving a hectic phone call from Joanna about a possible overdose and started toward the crowd of teens, searching for the unconscious victim.[35]

“Would you two mind identifying yourselves? Do you have a government issued ID?” Marcus and Levi turned around to face a strong, six-foot-something police officer peering down his flashlight at them.

“M’namessss Marcussss Miller.”

“Levi Hochsssstetlerrrrr.”

“May I see your IDs please?” the cop asked again. Marcus and Levi fumbled through their pockets for their wallets, careful not to spill their beers, which they didn’t bother hiding. With powdery hands, the boys handed over the IDs.

“Marcus and Levi, you’ll have to come with me to the station. Please put your hands behind your back.” The cop arrested the boys and, having put them in the back of his squad car, he drove to the LaGrange County Sherif’s Office to detain them.[36] Marcus and Levi spent the night at the Sheriff’s Office before they were released back to their parents, who paid the boys’ bail.[37]

• • •

The following day, on the way to church, an Amish-dressed Marcus sat quietly beside his brother, the empty beer cans and boxes littered on the side of the road from the previous night mocking Marcus’ guilty conscience.[38]

“Did you hear that one of the bishops was arrested Friday night?” Marvin asked, breaking the silence. “Apparently, he had been driving to Chicago on his nights off, buying heroin, and bringing it back here to sell in the factories.[39] Heroin has become a huge problem in our community, but I didn’t know anything about it.[40] You know Leonard Yoder, Marcus? He works at the same place you do I think.” Marcus hesitated. Do I say yes, or do I lie and risk being shunned?[41] Mom and Dad must not have told Marvin about last night. He would probably use the knowledge to prove why rumspringa is bad anyway.

“I’ve heard the name, yeah.” That should be fine. It’s technically not a lie.

“It’s amazing the things that go on in this small town that people don’t know about. His family didn’t even know.[42] Isn’t that crazy?” Marvin said. Marcus nodded, and the buggy went quiet again, other than the gentle clip-clop as they rolled down the street.

The next day, Marcus woke up and went to work as usual, but this morning was different. Before starting his car, Marcus reached over to the glovebox and pulled out the small amount of heroin he kept in his car during the party on Saturday. I don’t know what to do. Is Marvin right? Is rumspringa bad? Marcus asked himself. All my friends do drugs on rumspringa, so I should too, right? A stressed Marcus opened the bag and finished its contents, and shrugged. This isn’t so bad. He buckled his seat belt and drove to work.

• • •

RING! RING! RING! RING! RI – “Hello? Yes, this is his mother. Why did you call our business phone? He what? WHAT?” Anita covered her mouth with her hand and began to cry. Hearing her mother, Marcus’s sister Deann ran into the room.

“Deann, go get your father. He’s out in the field,” Anita sobbed. Deann ran out the door as she was told, called her father into the house, and ran back inside.

“Mom, what’s wrong? What happened?” Anita wiped her tears and told her daughter about the call. On his way to work, Marcus ran a stop sign and T-boned another car while driving under the influence of heroin. Upon impact, Marcus was killed by the steering wheel after the airbag failed to deploy. In the days following the incident, Marcus’s family and friends mourned the loss of such a young life and realized the true danger of rumspringa and the illegal activities that take place during the rebellious stage in an Amish teen’s life.


  1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Amish, North American Religious Group.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/church-Christianity.
  2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Amish, North American Religious Group.”
  3. “3 Concerns for Amish Working in the RV Industry.” Amish America. Amish America, July 10, 2013. http://amishamerica.com/3-negatives-for-amish-working-in-the-indiana-rv-industry/.
  4. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Amish, North American Religious Group.”
  5. “3 Concerns for Amish Working in the RV Industry.”
  6. Novotney, Amy. “Wheels of Change.” Monitor on Psychology, November 2008. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/11/amish.
  7. Personal experience working in Shipshewana from 2016 to 2019
  8. Novotney, Amy. “Wheels of Change.”
  9. “3 Concerns for Amish Working in the RV Industry.”
  10. Hibbs, Cliff. Interview by Ashley Brown, October 19, 2019.
  11. “3 Concerns for Amish Working in the RV Industry.”
  12. Personal experience from my Amish grandmother, who taught me some of the Amish language from 2004 to 2007
  13. See endnote 12.
  14. Personal experience with Amish friends who went on rumspringa, around 2015 and 2016
  15. “3 Concerns for Amish Working in the RV Industry.”
  16. Personal experience of knowing that Amish in Shipshewana have started using phones for their businesses but sometimes use them for personal use
  17. Based on a story about a local Amish bishop who was arrested after his son became suspicious of night deliveries for their furniture business, followed his dad all the way to Chicago, and discovered that he was purchasing drugs to bring back and sell in Shipshewana. There were no published articles I could find, so this story is based on word-of-mouth.
  18. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Amish, North American Religious Group.”
  19. Hibbs, Cliff. Interview.
  20. Personal experience taking my permit test alongside an Amish teen on rumspringa in 2015
  21. See endnote 14.
  22. Novotney, Amy. “Wheels of Change.”
  23. Personal experience hearing about a cousin who illegally drove consistently in 2016
  24. Personal experience in elementary school, teachers would say this phrase to Amish students who would break a rule, 2005 to 2010
  25. Rinehart, Jack. “Heroin Use Growing Problem Among Indiana’s Amish.” The Indy Channel. Scripps Media, June 14, 2016. https://www.theindychannel.com/news/local-news/heroin-use-growing-problem-among-indianas-amish.
  26. Personal experience with Amish friends who bought phones on rumspringa and created social media accounts, 2015 to present
  27. “3 Concerns for Amish Working in the RV Industry.”
  28. Rinehart, Jack. “Heroin Use Growing Problem Among Indiana’s Amish.”
  29. Personal experience of going to school with Amish peers who spoke Amish, 2005 to 2014
  30. “Alcohol-Fueled Ohio Amish Party Raided, 73 Arrested.” The Columbus Dispatch. Gate-House Media, September 7, 2016. https://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/09/07/0907-amish-party-raided.html#.
  31. Nolan, Shannon. “Ten People Under Age 20 Arrested at House Party Involving Possible Drug Overdoses.” ABC 57. WBND, August 19, 2019. https://www.abc57.com/news/ten-people-between-ages-18-20-arrested-after-house-party-involving-possible-overdoses.
  32. See endnote 12.
  33. Personal experience of seeing posted pictures of Amish teens drinking these beverages at rumspringa parties
  34. Novotney, Amy. “Wheels of Change.”
  35. Hibbs, Cliff. Interview.
  36. Nolan, Shannon. “Ten People Under Age 20 Arrested at House Party Involving Possible Drug Overdoses.”
  37. Byers, Bryan D. “Amish Victimization and Offending: A Rural Subculture’s Experiences and Responses to Crime and Justice.” Southern Rural Sociology 23, no. 2: 226–51. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c4f6/2b1259b15cda1c00ef37a0225052c0723a28.pdf.
  38. Personal experience of driving to church every Sunday and counting how many beer cans there were on the side of the road from parties the night before. Amish teens throw them out of their car so they are not found in their trash can at home.
  39. See endnote 17.
  40. Rinehart, Jack. “Heroin Use Growing Problem Among Indiana’s Amish.”
  41. Personal experience of discussing shunning with Amish friends and family throughout my childhood, from around 2005 to present
  42. See endnote 17.

References

“Alcohol-Fueled Ohio Amish Party Raided, 73 Arrested.” The Columbus Dispatch. Gate-House Media, September 7, 2016. https://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/09/07/0907-amish-party-raided.html#.

Byers, Bryan D. “Amish Victimization and Offending: A Rural Subculture’s Experiences and Responses to Crime and Justice.” Southern Rural Sociology 23, no. 2: 226–51. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c4f6/2b1259b15cda1c00ef37a0225052c0723a28.pdf.

Hibbs, Cliff. Interview by Ashley Brown, October 19, 2019.

Nolan, Shannon. “Ten People Under Age 20 Arrested at House Party Involving Possible Drug Overdoses.” ABC 57. WBND, August 19, 2019. https://www.abc57.com/news/ten-people-between-ages-18-20-arrested-after-house-party-involving-possible-overdoses.

Novotney, Amy. “Wheels of Change.” Monitor on Psychology, November 2008. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2008/11/amish.

Rinehart, Jack. “Heroin Use Growing Problem Among Indiana’s Amish.” The Indy Channel. Scripps Media, June 14, 2016. https://www.theindychannel.com/news/local-news/heroin-use-growing-problem-among-indianas-amish.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Amish, North American Religious Group.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/church-Christianity.

“3 Concerns for Amish Working in the RV Industry.” Amish America. Amish America, July 10, 2013. http://amishamerica.com/3-negatives-for-amish-working-in-the-indiana-rv-industry/.


  1. Author’s Note: This story partially draws on my own experiences and observations having grown up in Shipshewana, IN, a town with a large Amish population where this story takes place. While I was not raised Amish, much of what I have learned about teen Amish culture, as well as incidents such as the one in this story, comes from direct experiences of my Amish relatives and friends. The Amish dialect in this story includes phrases I have learned throughout my childhood, and since the language is not often written down, some spellings may contain errors.

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