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Young in Drug Cartels

Domestic violence. Running away from home. Drug cartels. Prison. Watching family members being killed.

He has suffered and has seen so much that life doesn't make sense anymore.

Meet Juan.



"I started to work at parking lots and in construction when I was 5. My father always behaved abusively with my mother and he left us when I was 12. Shortly after, I felt I had to go too. Without saying a word to my mother or to anyone, I took my backpack and got on a bus. I wanted to be independent, to get to know new places. But when I arrived to the city, the first thing I did was to sit down at a corner and cry. I had nothing. I had to sleep on the streets and steal fruits from the shops. One day, I passed by a woman who was selling fried corn. I couldn't bare with the hunger anymore so I asked for one. She started to ask what I was doing there alone, I said I had no family. She took me in and I stayed at her place for a few years with her other children. She treated me as one of her sons. I suddenly had a new family.

My mother didn't have any news about me for two whole years: I didn't visit nor did I call. I had a new life with this family. But I got into some shady business with friends. We robbed people after cash withdrawal from an ATM. Then I started trafficking drugs. I joined several cartels, I have tattoos from three of them. I wasn't afraid of death, I wasn't afraid of anything. Sometimes I would get on a bus with a big backpack full of cocaine and there was a police check out of nowhere. I didn't care, I just smiled at them and kept a poker face. But at the age of 18, I got arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison. It was harder than anything else in my life. They treated us like dogs. I had a cousin inside who was killed. I was lucky to have some influential friends and I was released one and half years later. I started to work for a famous drug lord: I was watching 80 hectares of his land. I had known him for a while and he taught me how to use guns, rob with a knife, survive in a jungle. He was like a father for me, but he got killed two years later. I had to leave again.

I came here wanting to start a new life but once again, I made friends with the wrong people and got involved in illegal things. During a robbery, one of my friends was shot dead and some guys wanted to blame us for his death. So I had to disappear fast. I left my flat, all my clothes and other belongings behind, I had only 500 pesos (20€) on me. I lost everything. But this time it was different: I came back a few months later and gave up this kind of life. I am 23 years old now, I recently had a baby and I work as the manager of a construction site. I don't have a place to stay, I sleep in a hammock where I work. I don't have any friends, and I don't want to make any. I leave the land only to buy food. I am trying to pay off my debts, buy a house and start a small company. I want my daughter to be proud of me when she grows up. I don't think I will be still alive though, I just have that feeling. But I want her to smile and say: yes, this man was my father!"