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Don Henry Ford 3: A Smuggler’s Story {format} {format} 7:46 Scott Carrier

Drug lords and doing time.

Broadcast: May 20 2005 on NPR Day to DaySeries: Smuggler’s Story Subjects: International, Business

Profile: Don Henry Ford, former marijuana smuggler

May 20, 2005 from Day to Day

ALEX CHADWICK, host: This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

For the past two days we've been bringing you the story of a man named Don Henry Ford. He is a Texan. He has also been a husband, a father, a drug runner and an escaped convicted. In the 1970s and '80s, Don Henry Ford smuggled thousands of pounds of Mexican marijuana across the Texas border into the United States. He worked with a partner named Oscar a remote Mexican village in the mountains near the Texas border. For a while things were good, and then the local druglords threatened to kill him, and Don Henry was forced to hide out in a mountain cave, where he had some time to think.

Mr. DON HENRY FORD (Former Drug Smuggler): Marijuana--I mean, that's just a stupid thing to die for.

CHADWICK: And dying was a real possibility because it didn't take the druglords very long to find Don Henry in his cave. Producer Scott Carrier picks up the story.

SCOTT CARRIER reporting:

In the autumn of 1986, Don Henry found himself on the edge of a cliff, blindfolded with a gun to his head. The man holding the gun, a druglord, said he'd kill Don Henry unless he gave up the name of his partner, Oscar, so he did. And he gave up the location of their stash of drugs.

Mr. FORD: I was more than willing, and I told them to give them all the marijuana I could find in all of Mexico if they wanted it. I just never thought it should be a life-or-death thing. It was just money, you know. And money comes and goes, but you only have one life here.

CARRIER: Don Henry figured he was extremely lucky to be alive, and in the end the druglord didn't go after Oscar and he let Don Henry go. He even let him keep 200 pounds of his marijuana if he agreed never to come back to Mexico.

Mr. FORD: And this guy told me--he said, `You know what?' He said, `You don't belong down here. I'm going to let you live. But I want you to get out of Mexico. You do not belong down here.' And he said, `I'm going to leave you these several hundred pounds, so you can re-establish yourself, you know. You can have a grubstake.' So I guess that was his way of ensuring that I wouldn't come after him. And he even asked me if I would come after him for having done that, and I said, `No!'

CARRIER: Don Henry was ready to quit, to get out of the business. He felt like an angel of the Lord or even God himself had interceded on his behalf and saved his life. And he was going to take the 200 pounds and start over. Unfortunately, he was caught bringing the load across the border, and he went back to prison.

Mr. FORD: But it was almost a relief to get taken back into captivity. It was like, `Now I finally have my out, you know, short of dying. I'm going back to prison. I can quit.'

CARRIER: This time Don Henry did five years. He was moved around a lot from prison to prison and says he figured out how to escape from every one of them, but he never tried. Offered marijuana by other prisoners, he turned it down. He regretted nearly everything he'd done and wanted to change. While he was in the slammer, he took a test and found out he has an IQ of 170, which only made him feel worse about having wasted his life.

Mr. FORD: I wrote a list two pages long with all the names that I could think of, people that I'd done businesss with, and decided to try to find them. And I found nearly all of them, and they virtually, to a person--all of them--had been destroyed. Most of them had gone to prison. Some of them were dead. And, you know, it was and, I'm sure, still is a business that kills everybody on both ends and not just the people that smuggle it but the people that uses and the people that have to stop it, you know. This business is really tough. I pretty much feel like that every day that I get to live now is a kind of bonus because I shouldn't be--shouldn't have survived some of those things.

CARRIER: Now he works on his father's ranch along the Guadalupe River, raising cows and racehorses. The land is beautiful: native pecan trees, rich soil. The cows are fat; the horses, calm. He loves the work, but then when he was an outlaw, he loved that work as well, and it may have come more naturally to him. Now he's trying to lead the kind of normal life he once looked down upon with contempt, not an easy thing for him, but he's trying.

Mr. FORD: I remember reading in the Bible where it talked about the final judgment, and Jesus had the people divided into these two groups, and he called one the `sheep' and he called the `goats.' And I looked at that bunch, and I couldn't figure out where I fit. And the thought came to me, `There's another group that got left out, and this other group is the predators.' And that's the group from which I come. And the predators are these--they're like wolves, you know, that herd and feast and live off the blood of the sheep and the goats. And I--the thought came to me that I'm this evil bastard or I was raised being brought up to be one of these.

But then I realized that there was redemption for me. One day I was looking down at this new Great Pyrenees puppy that we'd bought, and the Great Pyrenees is a breed that's designed to guard livestock. They guard sheep and goats, and they actually fight wolves and coyotes. But they can't be good like the sheeps and the goats; they have canine teeth, and they still have these bad impulses and desires. And that's where I see myself. It's like I see a good-looking woman, and I want to have her, you know. And it's just, like, my nature to con somebody, to take advantage of them with the intelligence that I was given. And I know it sounds egotistical as hell, but that's part of the nature of being a predator--is we're arrogant, egotistical. We know we're smarter and better than the sheep and goats, you know?

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) There'll be a golden ladder reaching down when the man comes around. Whoever is unjust, let Him be unjust, too. Whoever is righteous, let Him be righteous, too. Whoever is filthy, let Him be filthy still. Listen to the words long written down when the man comes around.

CHADWICK: The story of Don Henry Ford was produced by Scott Carrier, thanks to Don Henry has a book. It's called "Contra Bondo: Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy." And there's more at our Web site,

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Alex Chadwick.