This article originally appeared in The South End's Winter 2019 Back to School print edition.

During my freshman year of college, I — like many other students — was broke because of school payments.

“I have a job for you where you can make hundreds of dollars per shift,” a friend told me.

As a student who had to check her bank account before buying something from Taco Bell, a pay day like that seemed surreal. I asked her about what the job entailed.

“You will be tending cannabis plants for different dispensaries,” my friend told me. “The location of where you work will change every week.”

It sounded suspicious, but I was in desperate need of income and accepted her offer. Little did I know that within a week, I would be sitting in a room with over 200 marijuana plants, meticulously trimming and harvesting buds of weed.

My new boss — whom I hadn’t yet met — texted me to meet at a parking lot in Oakland County, which is where I came across eight other 18 to 20-year-old women who were going to be my fellow co-workers.

As the minutes passed, I became increasingly weary of the situation — I found it especially odd that the other workers all fit such a specific demographic.

Finally, a white van with tinted windows pulled into the lot, and we started to file into the car that our new bosses were in.

We all crammed into the van like clowns in a tiny car. I had no idea where we were, so I began obsessively tracking our location on my phone.

After a 40-minute drive, the van came to a lurching stop, and we were dropped off behind a huge warehouse.

A group of four men came out from the building and yelled at us to hurry inside. I held on to a co-worker’s hand who kept telling me to calm down.

We were led to an empty room, and at this point, I thought I was going to be a victim of sex trafficking.

All of the sudden, a man punched a combination into a doorknob and opened a door to a room with blindingly bright lights and two picnic tables surrounded by hundreds of cannabis plants.

I was directed to sit at one of the tables, which had aluminum trays filled to the brim with marijuana buds. The boss gave me a weed- harvesting tutorial. I was given gloves and ordered to start trimming as fast as I can.

It was hard to get over the fact I was surrounded by that much weed. The smell was overpowering, the room was stuffy and all of the other girls — some of whom were veterans in the field — were trimming away.

After collecting over 100 trays of weed in the span of eight hours, the workers and I lined up by the door, where our managers handed us hard cash.

That day I made $200, which I felt was pretty generous. I went home that day with the skunky smell of marijuana clinging to my clothes.

For six months, I continued to take sketchy van rides that would drop my fellow workers and I off at random warehouses across Michigan.

I met a plethora of interesting characters in the marijuana industry and experienced things that sound like ideas for a movie script.

Eventually, I lost my job because my boss ran away to another state.

Although at times the job forced me to be in sketchy situations, I was always entertained at work. It helped me pay for college, but it wasn’t worth the suspicious van rides, the excruciating hours and the constant abrasions on my hands.

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