As I stood in the Mexican prison yard talking with one of the inmates, Josue was next to me translating the 80% or so that I lacked the vocabulary to speak in Spanish. Once you get into the rhythm, speaking through an interpreter is actually a blessing, as it affords you the time to prepare your next thought. And for those of us who are prone to talk too much and too long, it forces us to a kind of minimalist expression. Josue is a barely twenty, boyishly handsome young man, who exudes a kind of purity and earnestness that mixes well with a fatherly type like me, whose deeply grooved face belies having made a few trips around the league – to borrow an old basketball saying.
Our new friend had insisted in having me answer some of the questions about the church, and I figure he’d come to the right guy. Not because I have all the answers, far from it. But because I know I don’t, and am not afraid to admit it. It’s all those religious pat answers that put God in a little shoe box that cause a lot of the problems. But the inmate vs gringos soccer game clock was ticking, and I worried we’d never get to the conclusion to our talk. What could he still want to talk about? He looked to the side and then down at his feet. He told me that I had to listen to his story, and promise to take the story to the outside world. OK, I said, of course I will, I promise. I tried to explain I’d get it onto the internet, but I don’t think he was understanding or caring how I’d accomplish this task. So here is his story, to the best of my ability to recollect. Josue tells me he will let me know if he has any details I omitted.
This talk was intense, and already there was a wordless exchange, without which there would be no trust. But still we had not exchanged names. As it turns out, whoever was writing the script was saving that revelation for dramatic effect. So begins the story of the boy’s brief life.
He was born to a poor Mexican family. The father was an alcoholic, and the little money he made went to buying whatever form of alcohol could most economically turn him into a domestic monster. Of course there were beatings, and of course the family split, and soon there was another family with its own alcoholic, abusive father. And the boy was bounced between the two families – to use the term loosely. And there were more beatings. At 13 he left both homes, and worked at several semi skilled jobs, including farming, construction, and wrought iron. The pay was the typical pay in Mexico, at around six to eight dollars a day. Still he managed to send something home, dividing the little there was between the two families. Even under these conditions, Mexican family values prevailed. I wonder how many American kids would not just walk away without a thought of sending money home, abuse or not.
The drug trade is omnipresent in areas like Tepic, and stories of great pay are equally rampant. So it was inevitable that one day he would decide to take up such work. Eight dollars a day can barely feed one person, let alone pay for clothes, rent and have something to send home. So began his employment in a drug factory. There, he excelled at everything he was given to do, and soon he became a favorite of the plant manager. I can attest that he’s a likeable and intelligent kid, and I’m not surprised that the boss took him under his wing.
After six months, he had advanced as far as he could go in the plant, and reports of better pay for outside work were filtering in. But from what he told me, adventure was an even greater attraction. So he began asking his boss to recommend him for the outside. On the outside, you either move drugs, or you become an enforcer. Fortunately, his boss wanted to protect him from the extreme danger of outside work, and repeatedly he refused to bless this undertaking. Evidently this man was a decent person, and tried to protect the boy, who at this point must have been about 14 – about three years before I met him. It’s simple deduction that not all those working in the drug industry are born monsters. There simply aren’t enough sociopathic evildoers born in the world to fill all those positions. Part of it is circumstantial, and the rest is training.
Finally his boss relented, and he was recruited by the forces on the outside. The training was brutal. They were trained at first in a large field, concealed from the outside world by high walls, probably similar to the very prison yard where we stood. They were made to run and run, and crawl, and roll incessantly until he felt he was so strong he could do anything. They were taught to disassemble and reassemble a variety of weapons, from semi-automatic pistols to AK-47s and automatic weapons. They cleaned them and they lubed them, and they took them apart and put them back together blindfolded. They ran and crawled and rolled some more while being fired upon. And they learned to fight.
There was a time when he was beaten and sent to the hole for fifteen days. He stood in pitch black for more than two weeks, standing in his own and other’s raw sewage. And he took off his shoes to show me the scars from infected lacerations on his feet. He seemed to be under the impression that this abusive incarceration was somehow merited, but I’m sure it was just part of the routine. The proof to my theory is that upon his release from the hole he was promoted from recruit to soldier and placed into active duty.
It did not surprise me to learn later that the cartels in Tepic had hired some prodigal American ex-special forces soldiers to set up their training. Much as I support our service men and women in every way, it’s obvious that to train people to be good at killing takes a routine of physical training and de-humanizing brutalization. Normal everyday training never produced efficient killers. During WW 2 and other wars, it is well known that as much as 75% of the shots were fired over and not at the enemy. But forgive my intrusion into the story.
He looked at me now and he said, “I was trained to kill people and then cut them up into pieces.” Then he continued his story. At this point I was starting to worry about the game ending, and not having a chance to hear the end of the story. But I was even more worried that we would not get to the really important conclusion…his adoption by a loving Father into the Kingdom of Heaven, where the blood this mere boy had spilled could be redeemed by the blood spilled two thousand years ago at the sacrificial torture and murder of the incarnated Son of God.
So I urged him to finish the story.
To be continued…