Contrabando

Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy



By: Don Henry Ford Jr.
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.

$22.95 $15.00

Categories: Adult | All Books | Memoir | True Crime

Description

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.

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!

9 reviews for Contrabando

  1. 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.”

  2. 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.'”

  3. 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.

    He spent seven years smuggling marijuana into the United States over the border from Mexico and somehow lived to write about it. From the dusty streets of dirt-poor mountain villages to the gleaming corruption of the American justice system, Don Henry Ford paints a picture of a business where no hands are clean – it’s that old song about the war nobody wins, only this time it’s being played out of a beat-up old truck as it heads north filled with dope. All but bankrupted after a failed attempt at cotton farming in the 1970s but in possession of an indomitable work ethic and a fierce desire for self-determination, Ford slips into the role of drug smuggler with a nonchalance (‘This is too damned easy’) and an audacity you have to marvel at: He just dreams it up and does it, headfirst all the way. Temerity, Ford demonstrates time and again, is the one compulsory attribute of the drug smuggler, and the one he’s most blessed with. 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. And I’d be willing to guess this kind of sympathy and awareness is rare among those who traffic in illegal narcotics, rarer even than it is among those who don’t. Don Henry Ford’s no saint and no Robin Hood but at the same time, those expecting the self-indulgent confessions of an unrepentant outlaw will be disappointed: Ford’s harder on himself than the legal system and the drug lords ever were. And it’s to his credit that in a business built on dehumanization, he managed to retain his humanity and conscience and see beyond himself to something larger.”

  4. 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.
    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 http://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.”

  5. 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.”

  6. 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.
    ‘Contrabando’ is well-told tale of an ugly business

    As Don Henry Ford Jr., tells it, his first attempt to break into the lucrative field of drug smuggling came when he crossed the Rio Grande to Ciudad Acuña with $2,000 in his pocket and nary a clue.
    After ordering up 10 pounds of marijuana from a pool player he met at a cantina, Ford was busted by Mexican police posing as drug salesmen. After arresting him, they offered him an out.

    “If you plead guilty to possession of marijuana, I have been given authority by the judge to let you go with a fine. Otherwise you go to jail,” the cop told Ford.
    By happy coincidence the fine was $2,000.

    A decade and many tons of smuggled marijuana later, Ford was again busted, this time as a federal fugitive, caught flying back from Mexico with 200 pounds of dope. Attempts to flee were checked by pursuit planes.

    “Our plane lurched upward, feeling like a launched rocket. A second later a King Air appeared in front of us, shooting skyward, right in front of our prop. When we hit the dead air left in the wake of this King Air, we fell. The fall almost ripped the wings off the plane,” he writes in his recent memoir published by El Paso’s Cinco Puntos Press.

    Forced to land, Ford and the pilot soon found themselves pinned to a frozen runway tarmac. Ford’s six-year career as a drug smuggler was over. His 15-year federal prison sentence was about to begin.

    Not many drug smugglers write books. Fewer still write good books, like “Contrabando.” As a roster of players in the book’s glossary suggests, many don’t live long enough to do much of anything.

    But Ford, after being released from prison in 1986, decided to put it all down on paper, perhaps to salvage something from an enterprise that cost him his freedom, his family and his good name.
    Raised on a failing farm in West Texas, Ford resorted to drug smuggling at first to pay the bills, and later to fuel a penchant for marijuana and an addiction to the outlaw lifestyle.

    If one is to believe the tale, which recounts numerous forays into Mexico through Big Bend to buy drugs for resale as far away as Oregon, Ford was either really good at it, or it was just too easy.
    Border inspectors are routinely duped, cops on both sides outwitted. And always there was the thrill of easy money and beating the system.

    “When we got back into the car, Jeff was ecstatic. We turned around and headed for home with smoke billowing out of the windows and wearing illegal smiles,” writes Ford of one dope-buying trip to Durango, Mexico.

    “Our journey back was not without difficulties. Nearly all our money was gone. Before we made it back to Ojinaga, I had to trade my pocketknife for enough gasoline to get home, and Jeff spent several hours trying to make a burnt set of points work by sanding them with the striker on a book of matches,” he writes.

    Compared to that, getting the dope across the river was a breeze.
    And it was dangerous. Ford describes harrowing encounters with everyone from Mexican drug lord Pablo Acosta to members of the Bandito motorcycle club. And then there was that well-armed crazy man he met south of Marathon…

    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.

    Unlike the over-the-top introduction to “Contrabando” by drug author Charles Bowden, 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. For anyone familiar with the culture and small towns of the Big Bend, it will strike very close to home.

  7. 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.
    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

  8. 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.
    Portrait of a dope-smuggling cowboy

    Don Henry Ford Jr. is a polite fellow. He’s likely to end most sentences with “sir” or “ma’am” and has all the mannerisms of a down-to-earth Texas cowboy. And like many cowboys I’ve run across, Ford has a knack for telling stories. But in this cowboy’s case, the stories are true.

    Ford has a love for nature, for ranching, for growing crops, herding cattle and tending to horses. He’s ridden bucking broncos that can break your back, stared down bulls that will rip open your abdomen and delivered folds in the open range. Ford also can make refried beans from scratch, serve up a mouth-watering plate of Texas barbeque, raise crops on the scorched earth of West Texas and find water in the parched desert of northern Mexico.

    Yes, he is a true cowboy, who spent a good part of his youth on a ranch in West Texas along the Pecos River, where he learned that the only cash crop in that part of the world is the one that takes money out of a rancher’s pockets.

    That economic reality helped drag Ford into the heart of the drug war. That is Ford’s story, which he tells from the heart in his new book: Contrabando, Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy.
    The book opens a window on Ford’s life as a smuggler in the late 1970s and early 1980s, from his exploits with cowboy bandits along the Texas border and with old hippies in the mountains of Oregon to his travails along the back roads of Mexico’s interior, where he made the contacts that helped him move tons of marijuana from the fields to the streets. His journey brought him face-to-face with notorious narcobanditos like Pablo Acosta and Amado Carrillo Fuentes and thrust him into the seedy world of strip-club prostitutes, motorcycle-gang outlaws and gun-wielding misanthropes and lost souls who, like Ford, had been sucked into the vortex of America’s drug war.
    But Ford is a special cowboy, a kicker hippie if you will, a man who sought to avoid violence, who viewed marijuana much like any other crop, only it was a crop that actually made money for the farmer. Slowly, though, as his new book reveals, the smuggling business over the course of the late 1970s and into the 1980s became increasingly deadly, fraught with paranoia, and enveloped by tragic consequences that colored everyone involved — growers, smugglers, dealers, law enforcement — with shades of gray. It is a world where right and wrong is defined by survival, where most of the people Ford dealt with, friends and foes, wound up dead or in jail.

    That’s what Ford writes about in his book, the gray realities of the war on drugs, his world for much of his adult life, including his stint in prison at the end of his journey.
    He puts it this way in Contrabando:

    I received a total of fifteen years for my crimes. Under current law, it would have been much more, perhaps in the neighborhood of twenty years, and I would not be eligible for parole. My children grew up without a father and bear the scars even today.
    I think it fair to say that none of us emerged from this business unscathed.
    I think it is also fair to say that we all – the smugglers, the dealers and the whores – have been replaced, and that a similar or worse fate awaits the present day crowd involved in the business. And then they will be replaced.

    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.

    Ford’s tale takes the reader on a trip through a gauntlet of betrayal, guns, thievery and overdoses. He managed to survive several encounters with Mexican law enforcement over the years through wit, bribes or swift feet. But it was a U.S. Customs agent who finally busted the cowboy smuggler — after the agent extended an offer to do business with Ford.

    Was he a crooked cop? Ford can’t say for sure, but he knows it all went down on a very thin gray line. That is the reality of the war on drugs. Nearly everyone on the inside is tempted to play the odds, because that mother-load is always just around the corner. And once you buy into the game, once your chips are in the pot, you can’t pull out — until you get run off the board permanently, or go directly to jail.

    Ford’s fate was the latter. But many of his friends and contacts did get run off the board on the wrong end of a gun. Ford was too much of a cowboy, however, to be locked down in a cement cell during his first stint in the slammer. So he carried out a bold jailbreak and spent a year hiding out in a northern Mexico village that is nestled between mountain ranges just south of the Big Bend National Park.

    There, in that Mexican village and in the surrounding rural countryside, while trying to grow his own magic field of grass, Ford found his mother-load in the ways of the indigenous people. In their world, the value of an individual is not weighed against the value of currency. In the end, they were the only people sucked into the war on drugs who embraced Ford, not as a smuggler, but as a fellow farmer and rancher, as a part of their community.

    The war on drugs can never break those bonds, because they are forged in the heart, not shackled together by greed, paranoia and a lust for power. Ford describes how he was changed by that bond in recounting his return visit to the Mexican village after his release from prison:

    The trip was good for me. I saw that things remain bad on both sides of the river. But I also saw a people determined to survive: a resilient, strong people, working together – unlike other places I see in my travels – a community, en commun, a Mexican might say. I brought back a little piece of that community’s spirit in my heart.

    Ford was eventually caught about a year after his jailbreak and locked up again, with another eight years added to his initial seven-year sentence. The experience, which involved a run-in with Pablo Acosta, nearly cost him his life.

    Ford did his time and has been out of prison for more than a decade now. Today he manages a horse ranch in South Texas and has long left the smuggling world behind him. But he still has stories to tell, and a world in his heart that he has put into words in his book, Contrabando.

    That’s what I took away from Ford’s tome. Journalist Chuck Bowden, author of Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder and Family, thought enough of Ford’s work to pen an introduction to Contrabando. So I’m not alone in my high regard for Ford’s 316-page effort. 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.

    From Contrabando:

    I walked out of Davila’s Barbecue in Seguin where I go to eat real food – the food of the poor – ribs, brisket and sausage – all the poor-quality leftover pieces the rich don’t want. Davila’s has no prime marbled cuts of loin or ground round beef, yet there is a richness and body to the food found lacking in the restaurant high on top of a glass building not so far away where all is silver and glass and fine linen and painted women and soft men in their loafers. At Davila’s is found smoke and dirt and boots and wood and fire – oh yes, fire – that magical stuff without which none of us would be: here is found life.
    If you have the inclination to smuggle some time away for a good book, check out Contrabando for yourself when Cinco Puntos Press of El Paso, Texas, releases it in March.
    In the mean time, Narco News authenticos can chat with Ford first-hand about his experiences and insights into the war on drugs, as he is coming onboard as a co-publisher. Look for his reporter’s notebook on the site soon.

  9. Outlander’s Voice
    Last April, I attended a panel discussion commemorating the Rio Grande: The Storied River exhibit at Texas State University-San Marcos’ Albert B. Alkek Library. The panel was made up of a veritable who’s who of writers who have written about the sometimes flowing, sometimes dry natural border between the U.S. and Mexico and included Jan Reid, Cecilia Balli, Dogoberto Gib, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, and Dick J. Reavis.

    We, the attendees, were fanned out in rows of plastic chairs surrounding the raised platform where the panel sat, and we all hung on the words as each member on the dais spike briefly about a personal relationship with the river. Late in the proceeding, as questions were fielded by the panel, one f the members asked if Don Henry Ford were in the audience, since he, having written a book on drug smuggling between Texas and Mexico, could likely answer the question about border politics more adroitly. And for the first time that evening, the voice didn’t come from above us, but came from us instead. This Don Henry Ford, far to the left of stage ( I was far to the right), spoke up. His was a voice from the periphery.

    Before the proceedings, I’d seen him in the bathroom. He had a paper sack with him (that I now think held copies of his book) and I remember thinking, who is this guy decked all in denim, complete with cowboy hat and belt buckle? He didn’t fit the tweed and tie image of many of the men at this kind of function.

    Having now read Ford’s book, the “voice from the periphery” image I got at the panel discussion was not limited to that event. Hid book, Contrabando: Confessions of a Drug-smuggling, Texas Cowboy, is just as much an outsider’s view. And that’s the main thing that makes it special.

    This autobiographical account of his experience as a witness in “the front line of this War on Drugs we fight” exists about halfway between glorification and apology without ever teetering too close to either extreme. That’s what makes this a different kind of book; it’s not the amends of a twelve-stepper or the boast of a man who got away with it. As for Ford states in the “Beginning” chapter, he had to “tell the story that was” and not the story he’d “have liked it to have been.”

    Telling the “story that was” does include some sweaty-palm searches, a walk-away, jailbreak, a biker-owned stripper, and the rest of the illicit, vicarious excitement found in any crime confessional, but it also includes the day-to-day, seemingly mundane details that fill the out each scene the way a good life story should. While we get the details right about life, along the border, even down to the food he ate. In his description of fajitas, he explains that, if the skirt steak from which fajitas come were “cooked the way a white man cooks a piece of meat, the resulting product is so tough it can scarcely be eaten. Mexicans got around this by marinating fajitas in acidic sauces that contain lime juice and/or vinegar and a splash of oil.” For Ford, it’s not just the how they are cooked but why they’re cooked that way that matters.

    Though the writing is plaintive as he tells of the friends he lost in the scuffles between law and outlaw, the straightforward style is never plain r patronizing. His descriptions of the people of a particular ejido (a government owned, but communally governed piece of land) and the economic forces that make smuggling a certainty may make many readers reevaluate staunch positions on the drug issue.

    Ford does spend some time detailing his encounters with notorious narcotraficantes like Pablo Acosta, but these aren’t the strongest portions of the book and luckily for the reader, his primary focus stays on the “little” person involved in the drug trade. After all, who doesn’t know that the drug kingpins use violence as a tool to stay on top?

    All in all, I’m glad I know his story, since if I didn’t get it for Ford, from the voice on the edge, I-we- on the inside wouldn’t get it all, and this story “about a world gone mad” is one we need to know.

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