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Contrabando

The Monitor

Former smuggler relates personal era of drug war on wrong side of the law

Pop culture overall tends to glamorize parts of the drug trade. Movies, songs, and stories can lend a false sense of bravado to an illegal profession and few have lived to tell their tale with candor. Cinco Puntos Press has just published Contrabando, Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy by Don Henry Ford Jr.

Growing up on his father’s struggling ranch in West Texas, Don Ford looked for ways to supplement his income and support his own marijuana-smoking inclinations. He soon found contacts across the Rio Grande in Mexico and became a drug smuggler in the Big Bend region. For the next seven years, he lived the life of an outlaw, evading border patrol and the Drug Enforcement Agency and coming into contact with some of the most famous narcotraficantes of the era like Pablo Acosta and Amado Carillo Fuentes.

The law eventually caught up with Ford and he was sentenced to prison, but escaped and fled to Mexico where he lived for a year in a rural hideaway becoming a marijuana grower and hiding out from the federales. In December 1986 the feds caught Ford a second time and sentenced him to 15 years in a maximum security penitentiary. After serving his time, Ford has become a successful farmer and horse trainer in Seguin, Texas.

In a recent e-mail interview, he reflected on the process of writing his own story and the memories it conjured. "Seeing my actions in print made it all the more apparent how irresponsible I had been. I was able to see myself like another might see me. What I saw left a lot to be desired," he wrote.

Ford persevered for a number of reasons though. "I knew most of the people involved would not like what I had to say. The thought occurred that I might endanger myself and others. But I knew all of us had been damaged from our involvement in this business and that others are now in similar situations and must know the reality of this business," he wrote.

Ford thinks his story is worth telling in light of the ever-increasing war on drugs. "To defeat your enemy you must first know and understand him. In the case of those addicted to drugs, you may discover your enemy is not so unlike you as you’d like to believe. Like the saying, ‘I have seen the enemy and it is us,’" he wrote.

Commenting on today’s smuggling, Ford wrote, "I think border surveillance is much tougher. I would guess most drugs now come across the border through official checkpoints. I know the area I once smuggled through is, for all practical purposes, shut down."

As one who has seen the war on drugs from the other side, he offers his own insight into the problem. "I would like to see drug addiction treated as an illness rather than a crime, but as an illness that affects both users and those that refrain. I think marijuana should be decriminalized, but not hard drugs," he wrote.

As for those who choose his former profession, he believes in shorter prison sentences, but harsher conditions. "Dealers should go to jail for much shorter but more intense sentences served in isolation. The hole, in other words. Thirty days in the hole is more effective than years in the population of a modern prison," Ford believes.

While Ford maintains a Web site www.unrepententantcowboy, he does intimate regrets for his previous lifestyle. Yet, he’s adamant about his outlook on the problem. "I see the drug business like a field of weeds. Cutting the heads off of the weeds will not cure the problem. In order to clean the field, one must attack the roots. And the root of the problem begins with those that buy and use the drugs."

He also provides an ominous prediction. "I am and was responsible for what I did, but as sure as I now breathe air another has taken my place and another will take his."
- July 8, 2005 

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