Before you read this interview, please remember that Project: AK-47 exists as a community of people who carry hope. We work in Mexico because of a strong commitment to her people even in the midst of very evil times. We are not at war with those working in cartels. Issues are far more complex than what we hear or might see at a glance. Our intention is to serve people and love them as valuable human beings regardless of their vocation.
Alberto just turned 17. He worked 2 years with a local cartel before he fled. He was involved in many shootings, killings and rapes, so his story may be highly disturbing. Unfortunately, Alberto’s story is neither unique nor enhanced for dramatic effect—these are his actual life experiences as he recounted them to a few social workers and me.
“When I was 15, I began to consume drugs, but as I got hooked, I couldn't afford my supply. Then I met some drug runners. I got the idea of working with them to get access to a better supply. I got in deeper and deeper. Eventually, they put me on the payroll at 1,500 pesos a week. But this is how it starts: first, you are given a radio and sit in a room–all the time like a prisoner in a cell. Your job is to relay on what the hawk (a street corner spy) tells you. I was trapped like this for two months. I wasn’t even paid one centavo! I was stuck with another 15-year-old and four walls staring at me. If we lost the radio it was a 10,000 peso fine. While I was a prisoner, the bosses arrived in a car. They would bring us new batteries and take the old ones. They didn't ever give us chargers…that was one way they controlled us. They always wore ski masks, too.
Once during the first two months, they brought in a guy covered in a blanket. They tore the blanket off and shot him in the head in front of us! Two weeks after they shot the man in the blanket, they arrived again. The bosses said, “we are going to pay you at a party not too far away.” They blindfolded us and took us to a luxury residence. There were a lot of people with dark ski masks but dressed like federal police. It was announced there would be a demonstration. They pulled two young kids (who they claimed had stolen drugs from the cartel) into the center of the room and shot one in the head. The second one pled for his life a long time. They finally shot him to signal the end of the party. That was how they set examples. That is what they called parties.
Later on, I had 4 months of weapons training, several of which were in the mountains. They gave me a .38 pistol and an M-16 rifle as a graduation gift. As I became more “skilled,” I worked more directly for my bosses. My job was to guard the drugs and help with sales, and I worked 12-hour shifts everyday (some at night). The bosses would take teenage girls who wanted drugs (16 years old or so), tie them up and rape them while I was there. They took the girls all tied up and gagged to the countryside...I never knew if they survived. Four other kids worked with me: two boys 12 and 14 and two girls who were 13 and 15 years old. We worked mostly as hawks. I can tell you my friend (the 12-year-old kid) really wants out.
When my boss kidnapped someone from the local area and got a large ransom payment that wasn’t ordered by his higher-ups, his area bosses found out and came to discipline my boss’ team. My boss ran when then arrived, so they shot him in the leg, then twice through the heart and finally in the head. Two other bosses were killed. My last living boss had to work without pay. They told him to be the storekeeper (drug seller) as a demotion.
I wanted out. With 3 bosses dead and one in trouble, it was a good time to run. When my shift ended, I ditched out of there. I was known in the area, so I had to be cautious, but my need for drugs was still screaming. I tried to lift some goods and got cut up by a storeowner (drug trader) who caught me on a second theft attempt a few days later. He threatened to turn me back over to the cartel, so I needed a safe place to hide and detox. That’s why I’m here in rehab…you were my last shot at escape.”
I see Alberto’s story as one of hope. Why? Because we have offered him forgiveness and a fighting chance to do things differently. My hope is that one day, he will be brave enough to show extravagant acts of kindness to the very people in the cartel he now is terrified of. If this resonates with you, I’d love to see you wearing this story by getting some Project: AK-47 Mexico dog tags. It’s just one simple way you can join us as a voice for the tens of thousands of other cartel kids like Alberto.