Summer Reading

He spent seven years smuggling marijuana into the United States over the border from Mexico and somehow lived to write about it

Summer Reading

Contrabando: Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy

by Don Henry Ford Jr.

Cincos Puntos Press, 240 pp., $21.95

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 (nor is he a great writer, I feel obliged to note), 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.
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Contrabando: Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy, Don Henry Ford Jr., Cincos Puntos Press

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