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Contrabando

El Paso Times

A life gone to pot: Former drug smuggler describes highs, lows of marketing marijuana

Don Henry Ford Jr. first smuggled small loads of marijuana out of Mexico as a young West Texas cowboy in the late '70s. He quickly got hooked on the easy money, the hot women, the sense of adventure and the availability of marijuana to feed his own addiction.

For his sins, Ford got arrested seven times in Mexico, where he was shot at and kidnapped. Later, he became a fugitive, growing weed and hiding from the federales in northern Mexico. Eventually, he spent 15 years in a U.S. prison.

"There's just no reason other than the grace of God that I'm alive today," Ford said in a phone interview from near Seguin, Texas, where he now raises cattle and breeds race horses.
Ford, 48, retraces his life as a marijuana smuggler in the Big Bend region in Contrabando: Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy.

Ford describes Contrabando as a story about victims and survivors in the multibillion-dollar illicit drug trade, a story about ordinary people along the border who often get squeezed into smuggling or dealing drugs in poor towns like Balmorhea, Texas.

"I've done my best to tell the truth," Ford said. "I told a story that describes the story of a lot of other people that don't have the skills to tell a story."

Ford takes a whack at corrupt Texas border law officers and suggests that the blame for illegal drug trafficking should shift to the insatiable demand for drugs in the United States. He specialized in smuggling marijuana, first small loads easily concealed in trucks and later multimillion-dollar loads.

"I didn't see marijuana as being any worse than perhaps the combination of alcohol and tobacco. So I kind of justified what I did that way," he said.

While in prison, he wrote and later self-published a novel, "The Devil's Swing," in which he described some episodes of his life as a dope smuggler. He eventually hooked up with Charles Bowden, the author of Down by the River, the acclaimed narrative describing the multibillion-dollar drug industry along the border, related corruption in Mexico and the United States, and one El Paso family's entanglement in the web. Bowden persuaded Ford to publish a true account. So Ford started compiling a list of people he had encountered as a marijuana smuggler.

"Everybody that I could find had been damaged, either killed, locked up or destroyed in some fashion," Ford said.

These days, Ford advocates against social injustices and suggests that marijuana should be decriminalized and drug addiction treated as a social illness and not a crime.

"Over half of the people in prison are in for drugs. There's a lot of things you can do short of locking somebody up for the rest of their life," he said. "We want to vilify these folks. The problem is, these folks are our brothers and sisters, our cousins and moms and dads. It's us."
- Ramón Rentería, February 27, 2005 

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