By: Seth R. Hawkins
Drug free, the way to be, right? At least, that’s how I grew up learning about drugs during Red Ribbon Week. I’m not sure if that got lost in translation – it is South Texas after all – but our Red Ribbon assembly was anything but standard. The message of this Red Ribbon Week was, “Drug Free, the way to keep your fingers from being smashed in a vice by angry drug lords who are really only preparing to shoot you point blank in the head for stealing their drug money.”
Yes, Red Ribbon Week is very different at the middle school I teach at. I remember Red Ribbon Week being more or less a waste of a week, complete with red plastic cups jammed between chain link fences, spelling out incomprehensible messages, and annoying red ribbons that students shredded to pieces before the end of the first day. Sure, there was probably some anti-drug message in all that, but hey, it’s Utah, nobody does drugs, right? Maybe if the schools approached it the way my middle school did it today, the drug use rate in Utah would flat line.
The master of ceremonies of our assembly were two U.S. Border Patrol agents. Seeing as we’re only a mile away from the border, it was surprising to hear the mixed reaction when the agents were announced. It was mostly cheers, but there were some boos. (Strangely enough, being a border patrol agent is a dream job for many of my students. Go figure.) I was expecting them to give your run-of-the-mill, “Don’t do drugs because they can kill you speech.” Instead, the first border patrol agent started talking about how drug cartels are big and powerful and they will come after you and they will kill you. Oh, but that’s only after they kidnap you, take you to Matamoros, beat you senseless, chop off three of your fingers and mail them to your parents for a $50,000 ransom, all because you decided you were going to drug deal and then double-crossed them. The end result? Some guy in a ski mask shooting you in the head and dumping you in the river, but only after dousing your body in gasoline and lighting you on fire. And that’s if you’re lucky.
At first I couldn’t tell if this guy was serious, but then he kept going on this beat for another 15 minutes. At this point, I was starting to get a little sick to my stomach. He wasn’t holding anything back. He wasn’t making anything up though. Drug cartels are big, they are powerful and they are vicious, but I was amazed with what boldness this border patrol agent shared these dark subjects with these 12-14 year old children.
From there, we watched a movie that was clearly designed to be so graphic and violent as to scare anybody from ever even thinking about taking over-the counter Tylenol. After the movie, the second officer got up and continued on the same path, sharing local drug cartel horror stories. By the end of the assembly, I was scared out of my mind. The kids cheered.
I’m not sure if any students were persuaded to stay drug free. I’m sure a few came away learning that drug dealers can make a lot of money. But if anybody was listening, the only message they came away with was: Drug dealers will hunt you down, they will beat you, they will hurt your family and you will die. So, drug-dealing free, the way to be.
As if I needed any more proof that I’m not quite in America and not quite in Mexico, this was it. South Texas is a world of its own.