At about age 14, Thomas Ahtuangaruak, Jr., was confused when someone in Wainwright offered to pay $100 to a family member for juice. “No, not that kind of juice,” the family member explained. T.A., as he is known, walked away with $50 for handing off a bottle of liquor.
“That got me started, right there,” he said.
T.A says bootlegging was soon big business for him in Barrow, part of a lifestyle that included burglaries, vehicle thefts, fights and drug use. “I was the worst person in Barrow,” he says. “I did practically all my '90s in jail.”
Now, T.A. is likely to be found in the Traditional Room of the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, carving whale bone and walrus ivory. He says he looks back on his bootlegging years with regret.
“Today, I think about my past and it hurts me inside. Because, seeing what it did to the families. I’ve seen kids, wearing the same clothes, going over to their grandpas, their aunts, uncles, going over to their relatives to go eat, due to their parents’ alcohol drinking. And just think, I used to do that. I used to take the money for the diapers for their kid. I didn’t care at that time. I wanted that money. You want a drink? I got the booze right here. All I need is the cash.”