Los Chicos de Barrio – Feature Article

PicsArt_06-05-06.28.16Originally written some time in 2011.

Feature article:

In life, there are many different “classes” one can place our self into: upper class, upper-middle class, middle class, lower-middle class, lower class and of course the ghetto. The ghetto is the lowest one can get in the ranking of “classes.” It mainly involves drugs, violence and poor education. With poor education, not many doors are open for that individual, which leads them to other resorts to get money, because everybody needs to eat to survive.

In order to survive, one must befriend people who will be loyal and watch each other’s backs; that way one can stay alive longer in case a fight were to break out. There are gangs of adolescents everywhere in the ghetto, fighting to be the best among the other gangs, because that’s what they think they have to do to get out of the poverty they’re in. Gangs lead to mischievousness, violence and drugs—or just never something good in general.

“Living in the ghetto is hard—always having to watch your back and always trying to find new ways to make money,” said Ricky Villalobos, 44, ex-drug dealer. “Sometimes poverty gets too bad that we don’t even care what we have to do to get the money we need.”

Villalobos grew up in a small barrio “ghetto neighborhood” in Reynosa, Mexico with a gang of five friends, including his brother. The gang would get money by jumping men on the street.

“We’d always be hanging out together on the weekends mostly to cause mischief—we were young guys,” said John Garcia, 38, a member of Ricky’s barrio gang. “We’d always keep each other’s backs no matter what, even if the problem was that one of us didn’t have money or something, we’d jump a guy and take his money when we had none for lunch just because we had none ourselves.”

They were troublemakers as a gang, when they’d meet up on the weekends. During the week they each had their job and weren’t mischievous—or at least they weren’t as much as they were on the weekends.

Villalobos was working for the Corona beer company when he started dealing marijuana in small amounts around the age of 19. He started doing it just to get a bit of extra money, he wasn’t really thinking of becoming a drug dealer for good since he had an hourly paying job at the time and thought it was pointless to risk it. As a young adult, Villalobos didn’t have many responsibilities, he just thought for himself even when he started living together with his first common-law wife. His wife at the time, Cecilia states that Villalobos never helped take care of her or her daughter when she was born; she had to demean herself to stripping for money, because Villalobos wouldn’t give her any for any type of necessities when she asked, either when he worked at the Corona beer company or when he started dealing drugs.

A friend of his from la judicial “the police” asked if he wanted to buy evidence marijuana from him to sell for profit. All he had to do was give him a small cut of it. Villalobos took the marijuana from the corrupt cop and started selling it in quantities of five to 10 grams.

Soon, Villalobos lost his job at the Corona Company and the only thing he could think of doing to continue getting money without an hourly paying job was to continue selling the drugs for profit.

Villalobos went back to his corrupt-cop friend and asked him for more marijuana to sell, but after explaining his situation, the cop thought he’d take advantage of it and asked him to sell cocaine instead—a more dangerous drug to handle. Jobless, young and with thoughts of making fast money, Villalobos took the cocaine and started selling it in small amounts like he had with the marijuana—five to 10 grams at a time.

The cop kept giving Villalobos bigger and bigger quantities to sell as time kept passing by and slowly Villalobos was becoming a drug dealer without really intending to. But according to his ex-wife, Cecilia, the money started getting to his head and he started becoming more and more greedy, buying himself new cowboy boots and sombreros while ignoring his wife and daughter and their necessities. After eight years of this behavior from Villalobos toward Cecilia and their daughter, Cecilia decided to leave him and he did nothing to stop her. He was too busy accumulating more and more money for him, to care that his family was breaking apart.

“Over time, five grams turned to 60 kilos of cocaine. All of my merchandise to sell coming from el judicial that was selling me the marijuana at first,” said Villalobos. “Having the cops on my side in Mexico made my dealing really easy so that made me get carried away with it; I’d make anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 on regular weeks—I did make $60,000 in a week once though—those were good times.”

Villalobos and his brother Gerry, 42, were both raised in the ghetto in Mexico, but Gerry had been born in the United States and as soon as he turned 18 he left his home en el barrio to move to his native country.

After having seen his brother dealing drugs, Gerry thought it’d be no big deal if he started dealing them, too after he got offered a job like that one time, when he had gone up north to pick up some cars to bring down here to sell for profit.

He started selling in small amounts just like his brother, only he started with cocaine right away, because that’s what the friend who had offered him the job had. As time passed, the quantities the clients asked for kept increasing just like his brother’s clients had demanded, too.

Gerry wasn’t as lucky as his brother was in dealing drugs, maybe because Villalobos was dealing on his own in Mexico with the help of corrupt cops while Gerry started dealing in the U.S for someone else.

After 10 years of dealing cocaine, Villalobos got out of the business tactless, with no hint of trace that he ever dealt with drugs, by getting a passport and a new family, then moving to the United States, too, while his younger brother, Gerry got caught with a van filled with 600 pounds of cocaine, as he waited for the buyer to come one night. A van parked outside a public place in the middle of the night must have looked very suspicious to a cop, because after a while of waiting for the buyer to go pick up their stash a police officer decided to approach the van to ask if there was anything that he needed help with. Gerry, with 600 pounds of cocaine in his trunk and a cop right on his face seemed to show that he was nervous by sweating and playing with his hands a lot that the cop finally asked him to open the trunk for him and found what Gerry was being nervous about. The cop immediately handcuffed him and called for back-up.

Gerry’s sentence was for two years in state jail, but he only served 11 months—the rest he got with parole—for that van that didn’t even belong to him. After 10 years, Gerry was still dealing with the same friend who had gotten him into it from the beginning. Loyalty and the need of money kept him working for the same friend who had gotten him into the business. But after getting caught, he told his friend he had paid his dues by not turning him in and doing the time himself, so he got out of the business of drugs—with a record.

“Of course I wasn’t going to give away my friend, even though the cocaine wasn’t mine—it’s called loyalty,” said Gerry. “Besides, when one gives away another drug dealer to switch places in jail, the outcome isn’t very pretty when they get out—I choose making the time myself than getting killed by one of his guys for writing him out.”

Neither Villalobos, nor Gerry ever dealt with the Mexican cartels. According to both of them, the cartels didn’t even exist back in the 90s. Most of the drugs dealt in Mexico were evidence drugs that judiciales would sell to people they knew like Villalobos to make money on the side that way.

“The cartels didn’t start until PRI [one of the Mexican political parties] lost for the first time after so many years to PAN [another Mexican political party]. Yes, there were gangs with leaders that dealt with drugs—I was the leader of my five-people gang—but it was never something huge like the cartels.

The cartels actually consist of different gangs from different states in Mexico that united into one after the PRI lost to PAN; they’re like a rebellious group that doesn’t want a different president messing with their business—I knew when to stop, I was just in it to make some bucks, not to carry around a gun shooting anyone that gets in my way,” said Villalobos.

Villalobos said that he did carry a gun in his pants for protection when he was dealing coke in Mexico. He said he never had to use it though, because there was always a lot of loyalty in his friends and customers.

After coming to the U.S., escaping from what drug dealing had become in Mexico, Villalobos started buying cars to re-sale them for profit like his brother had done when he had first moved to the U.S. He also buys large quantities of “brand-named clothes” from up north along with his new wife, Sandy and brings them down to the Rio Grande Valley to sell for more. They both sell the clothes, Sandy sells to her girlfriends, while Villalobos sells to his guy friends. Just like he had connections for drugs, Villalobos has connections for “brand named clothes.” The clothes he gets are imitations, but he tells his clients that they are new brand names clothes to get a much bigger profit than what he paid for. Both illegal, but unlike drug dealing, this crime requires less time in jail if caught.

After getting caught with 600 pounds of cocaine, Gerry stopped dealing drugs, even when his friend offered him to continue selling for him. He is now working in a temporary service agency and decided it was too risky to ever get back into dealing drugs again.

Garcia followed his leader Villalobos to the U.S. after the cartels broke out chaos in Mexico and started his own sea food restaurant in McAllen, Texas, while the other two gang members stayed in Mexico dealing with Mexico’s new way of dealing drugs.

“Some of us became good and changed, while others became bad and decided not to, but we still keep in touch and when we see each other we always see each other with joy, because of everything we went through together,” said Garcia. “We never forget how we started and with who. Even now, after so many years of having left the ghetto—we still watch each other’s backs.”

*Names have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities.

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