Just about the worst thing you can do – short of setting yourself on fire – is to let yourself be talked into being a drug mule, says Susan Erasmus.
I am not naïve enough not to be aware to what extreme measures desperation can drive us. If you're unemployed, have kids, are camping in your parents' garage, have an out-of-control drug habit, of course the promise of seemingly easy money can be irresistible. And, of course, every now and then people do get away with it, otherwise no one would try anymore.
Of course there are the obvious mistakes drug mules make which alert customs officials:
wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather in the country to which they are flying
being overly nervous and sweating
posing as a tourist, but not having any idea about tourist attractions
often travelling for short periods to different countries
not having enough luggage for their stay
not having any idea where you're staying that night
not having enough money for their stay
carrying suspiciously large amounts of cash
not eating or drinking anything on the flight
Back to choosing to do this: you know it is illegal, but hell, you've hit rock bottom and your options seem limited. But never forget that however grim your life might be, it will be lot worse if you're sharing a small cell with 20 lice-infested people who don't speak your language, if you're starving, filthy, on death row, and have lost all hope.
But here are more of the things the people recruiting you choose not to tell you.
If it was safe, they would do it themselves. If they really had bought off airport staff, or their methods are foolproof, why are they recruiting other people to do this job, rather than saving the money by doing it themselves? You cannot trust people trying to recruit you to do this, and you cannot believe anything at all they tell you. Ever. Even if it is your boyfriend. Especially if it is your boyfriend.
The money's not that great. OK, granted, if you have nothing, it could be tempting, but word on the ground is that payments for these airport drug runs could be as little as $3000. And what are you going to do if they don't pay you? Take them to the police? Before considering doing a drug run, do weigh up the staggering consequences if you get caught. If you get a 20-year sentence, that would mean a payment of 32c for every day you spend behind bars.
Life is cheap to drug traffickers. These guys will stop at nothing. In fact, they're being sat on by big crime bosses, who are like the seriously bad guys from action movies. Except nastier. Your life is of no importance to them at all. You are expendable, and they couldn't care less if you lived or died. In fact, if having to kill you is part of the operation, then it is. You'll be lucky if someone finds your body.
You eventually do get caught. Even if you have done three successful runs, once you need more cash, you'll consider a fourth. That might be your last one. If being a drug mule is how you earn a living, you're going to keep needing to do this. Again and again. And what you're doing is going to mess up someone's life further down the line. Someone you don't even know.
You might be used as a decoy. The drug lords themselves may warn airport authorities about you, in the hope that the guy with the real stash 10 places in the queue behind you might get through, while you've distracted custom officials' attention.
If arrested, you're on your own. Nobody will come forward to help you. No one will even admit to knowing you. You most probably don't even know the real name of the person with whom you have to do the drop. Any lawyers who offer help want huge amounts of money. Your family won't know where you are or what has happened to you. The chances of the SA embassy getting involved are slim. You have, after all, broken the law.
The prisons are beyond horrible. SA prisons are like 5-star luxury hotels in comparison to what you would find in countries such as Venezuala, Mauritius and Thailand. You will be treated like the scum of the earth, you will be dirty for years, you will be hungry, you will have nothing to do, you will have no privacy, no medical care and will be subject to whatever the other prisoners want to do to you. You will have no recourse at all to the prison authorities. Forget privileges like phone calls or visits.
You could die. If you swallow any drugs before the trip, you run the risk of one of the condoms bursting in your stomach or intestines and bringing about a swift death by overdose. Also, if you're running drugs, you are in contact with a scary underworld of people for whom murder and extortion or hurting your family are simply part of an everyday job. And also, the most important thing to remember is many countries impose the death penalty for drug mules. This really does happen. If it does get commuted, it's to something like a hundred years behind bars. Not sure which is worse.
Your family gets punished. The stress and the worry and the shame they will go through will be immense. You might never see your kids again, or your siblings, or your parents. In foreign prisons many things are run on bribes. You will have no money, so money your family sends you will be extorted from you for basics such as a blanket, food or soap.
Huge psychological damage. Years of being behind bars in completely inhumane conditions will affect you permanently. You might have huge difficulties settling down to a normal life again. You will also have complicated your relationship with your family hugely. Your kids won't know you. Or might not want to know you. People could feel resentful for what you have put them through.
So basically you might want to reconsider going on a quick trip to Indonesia for three days to deliver a hold-all to your friend's brother's cousin outside the Metropole Hotel. However desperate you might be, however tired of camping in your parents' garage, it will all seem like Paradise from the hell-hole of a foreign prison.
(Sources: lockedup.co.za; crimelibrary.com)
(Susan Erasmus, Health24.com, August 2012)