Why were your parents smuggling drugs into the US?
My mom and her boyfriend of my childhood had summer jobs in Alaska, and the rest of the year we spent headed south by van and sailboat, getting as far as Costa Rica. Therefore, border crossings and ports of call were part of the lifestyle and trafficking was convenient.I think it’s safe to assume that money was a motivator. It was an easy cash flow for them, and my mom’s mastermind boyfriend really got an ego boost outsmarting “The Pigs.” He had a long history of drug dealing and the repeated experience of prison to fine tune his smuggling skills, so it was half sport.
What did they tell you when they gave you the drugs?
The smuggling was procedural. The drugs were marijuana and cocaine. Often the smaller quantities were put into little water balloons which they would swallow. Also balloons would be tucked into my stuffed animals and sometimes in my underwear.
Once I watched the van’s interior get ripped out to put coke in the door panels and a large brick of pot get welded into the propane that fed our little cooking stove.
I was usually reminded that if the officers separated us I was not to say anything incriminating, because if we got arrested it would be my fault. When crossing the border, I was always full of anxiety. I was most scared when I had drugs on my person… but I really wanted them to get caught so I could be adopted by normal people.
Do you remember crossing the border?
Because there was a sense of routine, most of the border crossings all kind of blur together. Occasionally we’d have to get out of the van while they did a quick, ineffective glance around.
One time going through the boarder of Canada they found my mom’s unregistered pistol and separated us. There were no drugs on my body that day, but we had a little elsewhere. I really wanted them to beat the truth out of me, or at least ask probing questions so that I could drop hints. Instead, they took my fingerprints and left me alone in a waiting room. I kept trying to telepathically tell them where to look, but they just confiscated the gun and let us go.
There were other close calls like getting the van searched on Mexican roads by guerrillas and by army, or the Guatemalan navy coming aboard our boat in open sea uninvited, but either they didn’t find anything or they were bribed.
How long did the drug smuggling last?
We did our annual travels for four years (my ages 5-9), until my mom left this guy. I don’t know how long he kept it up, but I imagine that if he’s not currently in jail on theft, battery or drugs, he’s living a similar lifestyle. A few years ago he was in jail for all three.
Have you ever discussed this with your Mom?
Not the smuggling specifically, but I’ve tried many times to address the nebulous atrocity of my childhood with my mother. She prefers to ignore the bad parts, while I’m a fan of accountability. She’s never acknowledged wrongdoing, and because of it we have tension that she pretends she’s unaware of.
We have really different methods of dealing with our past, and I’m slowly learning to accept her on her terms – meaning I don’t bring it up. There are some questions I’d like answered, but I don’t expect to get them.
Has your experience affected the way you view legal policies regarding border patrol or punishment for drug smuggling?
It has helped shape many political views. I won’t pretend to be well versed in the laws or the current issues, but I have opinions anyway like any good American!
I have first-hand experience that our systems are really impotent. Punishment doesn’t address big-picture issues, rendering it useless. It does not deter criminals from breaking laws – it makes people craftier. Duh.
I also take issue with the U.S. waiving a multiple-time drug felon through the borders several times a year, no questions asked…but people who are “illegally” drawn to the U.S. are vilified for a change of address?! Absurd. Let’s get the priorities straight before wasting so much energy and money!
Has it affected your feelings about drug use?
So much! As a kid I hated the drugs and swore I’d never do them. As a teen, I did them recreationally, but using greatly affected my self-respect for a long time. I’ve since realized I can have a drug-free environment, and do. Fact is I don’t respect the people who touch drugs illegally. I am obsessed with consequences, real or imagined, and users act against my core values.
I don’t have a problem with drugs in theory – so long as it doesn’t affect anybody else. The problem with that theory is I don’t believe it is possible. Especially if there are kids involved. I think my childhood has more consciously affected my feelings about procreation and child rearing!
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Lucy! Do you guys have any questions for her?