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Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy

by Don Henry Ford Jr.
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Product Details

10-digit ISBN0-938317-85-7
13-digit ISBN9780938317852
Page Count240
Publication DateOctober 1, 2004
RightsAll Rights Available
For seven years Don Henry Ford, Jr. made his living as an outlaw, smuggling marijuana across the U.S./Mexico border in the Big Bend region of Texas. Millions of dollars passed through his hands. He did business with many of the big-name narcotraficantes of the era like Pablo Acosta and Amado Carrillo Fuentes. After being arrested and sent to prison, he escaped and lived for a year in rural northern Mexico raising a bumper crop of marijuana and hiding out from the federales. Contrabando is a confession, but it’s also an homage to the Mexican paisanos and, indeed, to those outlaws who became Ford’s friends and protectors during his seven years as a smuggler.
"But this story isn’t only about drugs or me, not entirely. It can’t be. It’s about a world gone mad. It’s about fire and smoke and sweat, blood and dirt and blisters, empty stomachs, sick children, the feel of wood, the smell of a horse, barbecue, grains and fruit. And smooth brown skin and glistening black skin and white skin burned red, and sun and freezing cold and water, and spirits and plants and sky, stars in the night. And love. We have forgotten where we came from. I have to remind myself. I can’t forget. We must not forget. But we do. And for some reason, we look for the answers in drugs." —from the Introduction

NPR did a three-part special feature on Don Henry Ford Jr. and his experiences as a drug smuggler. Take a listen, you'll enjoy it!
Luis Alberto Urrea
Don Henry is a warrior; and he's the real deal. He's a wonderful writer; and he carries some secrets in his back pocket some people wish he wouldn't bring out. Bring it, Mr. Ford.
Charles Bowden
Don Ford snaps out, "I thought [the drug smuggling] was a way to break the chains. I didn't want to shoot or kill anyone or have a violent overthrow of the government. I just wanted to steal a little wealth."
Austin Chronicle
The really remarkable thing about Ford and his book isn’t so much the experiences he’s had – his stories probably aren’t all that dissimilar from those of 10,000 of his colleagues – but rather the humanity and philosophical distance he maintains while having them. His sympathy for the plight of the working poor and disenfranchised, regardless of class, color, or country; his distaste for the indifference of the rich and the laws that favor them; his ability to step back and view the larger universe of the war on drugs, and his role in it, through the lens of a class-conscious, homegrown philosophy: They all mark him as a decent man, regardless of his occupation or criminal record.
full review >>
Austin-American Statesman
The sometimes-bronco rider grew up mostly in West Texas and spent much of the ‘80s riding an even wilder and more deadly beast, a worldwide drug economy estimated these days at close to half a trillion dollars every year.

“This business kills just about everybody in it,” he says, sitting in his family’s 600-acre spread near Belmont and that infamous highway intersection, where he runs cattle and raises hay. “But it doesn’t kill the business.”

And that, Ford says, is the bitter and unlearned lesson in the two-decade war on drugs. He sees that continuing war as a farce, a squandering of tax dollars and human lives. That, Ford says, is why he’s speaking out about his experiences. That, Ford says, is why he wrote “Contrabando: Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy,” published by El Paso’s Cinco Puntos Press.
The book is an unflinching document of high times and high terror in the dope trade, of getting caught just after Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984—the opening shot in the war on drugs—but before that act was implemented. State laws followed. The cumulative effect was “three strikes and you’re out,” a sharp curtailing of judges’ discretion—some of it since restored—and mandatory federal sentencing minimums.

The result: The United States now has not only the largest prison population in the world but the largest per-capita prison population. At any given time, more than half of that population is in for drug offenses.
- By Patrick Beach, April 2, 2005 
full review >>
Dallas Morning News
"The whole history of anti-drug sweeps in Mexico is that eventually the sweepers get converted," said Charles Bowden, author of Down by the River and other acclaimed books about the drug business. "They join the traffickers. Nothing changes except there are more drugs – and they're cheaper."

Mexico's anti-drug operations usually produce short-term results. Gang members and mafia soldiers are jailed. Drugs are seized. And homes, businesses and shiny cars owned by the traffickers are confiscated. But experts say the government's efforts – such as the show of force on Sunday and Monday following the assassination last week of Nuevo Laredo's new police chief – barely make a dent in what's become a multibillion-dollar industry.

Don Henry Ford, author of Contrabando: Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy, said Mexico's drug economy has multiplied since the 1980s, when he smuggled marijuana. "The money is just too big now," he said. "There's no way the government's going to stop it. And they can't afford to. If all that money were to dry up, it would literally cause a wave of people trying to get out of there. It would break the nation."
- Tracey Eaton, June 13, 2005 
full review >>
The Monitor

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.
- July 8, 2005 
full review >>
Kinky Friedman
Don Henry Ford, Jr. shows us first-hand what it was like smuggling dope across the Rio Grande. Lucky he's not dead. Reading this book will make you so high, you'll need a stepladder to scratch your ass.
San Antonio Express-News
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the year Ford spent in Piedritas, Mexico, a small town south of the Big Bend Park, hiding out after escaping from federal prison. Macho adventures aside, Ford also describes a life of double-crosses and dead friends, of battered whores and dirty cops, of ruined marriages and lost kids.

...Ford doesn’t romanticize any part of it. In the end, he writes with remorse, loss and sadness.

After visiting Piedritas and finding the town in ruins, he retraces another step. "I pass through another small community, the tiny town of Balmorhea, but here the story is even more tragic. An entire generation is gone, either in jail or dead,” he writes.

The next day, Ford appears in court to observe his own son being sentenced.
Contrabando is the real thing, a drug book by a smuggler who lived to tell the tale.
full review >>
El Paso Times
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.
- Ramón Rentería, February 27, 2005 
full review >>
Narco News
Contrabando is a brutally honest portrayal of life on the edge as a smuggler. Ford doesn’t pull punches, with himself or with the people he dealt with in his journey. His characters are flawed, portraits of human loss, but equally, they are people who lived life in the moment and in search of their Holy Grail, the mother-load that would set them up for life.

Contrabando is not written in the erudite prose of a commercial-media slickster who observes life from a perch. But it is a gritty work of nonfiction drawn from the gut of a cowboy who has lived his story.
full review >>
Outlander's Voice
full review >>
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