Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Did Ted's Imprisonment Accomplish Anything?

Ted and the lights of downtown Bogotá.

To get a perspective on the drug trade, I talked to a Colombian acquaintance who spent nearly a decade in U.S. prisons on drug charges. Around age 20, he emigrated legally to the Chicago, Ill. area. He did well there, moving up quickly from delivering pizzas to becoming a courier for a bank. He got married and was on track to U.S. citizenship and starting his own business. Then, a friend offered him easy work for fast money. It sounded great. 

"I was only 22," explains my acquaintance, whom I'll call Ted. 

For two years, Ted made occasional deliveries of marijuana cargoes. Then one day they loaded his truck with cocaine. Unbeknownst to Ted, authorities had been tracking the shipment from the Mexican border. Ted drove onto a freeway and then cops appeared from all over. 

"It was like the movies," he recalls. 

Strangely, however, Ted says the cops weren't interested in tracking down the others in the drug ring. 

Ted spent the next nine years in prison. Sometimes there was violence, and always there were drugs - and lots of proposals to get back into crime after release. But Ted wasn't interested. In prison, he'd been attending church and decided to get back on the straight and narrow. 

Out of prison, Ted was loaded onto a plane with 80 other Colombians and flown back to Bogotá. Today, he has a small business in downtown Bogotá importing, selling and repairing cell phones. 

"Everything's correct," he says proudly. "With papers."

Ted is a sort of success story, albeit an unusual one. In many cases, half of those convicted in the U.S. on drug charges eventually go back to prison. Ted lost nine years of his life, and every day Ted spent in prison cost U.S. taxpayers $62.00, almost $204,000 over nine years. And what did that investment produce? The drugs continue arriving. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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