Year in, year out Mexico ranks near the top of the world’s most popular travel destinations, and rightfully so. The Mexican food, music, art and dance all contribute to a unique cultural identity that has far-reaching appeal. In spite of that, Mexico’s multi-billion-dollar tourism industry is often overshadowed by an even larger industry: the illegal drug trade.
Due to its geographic location, Mexico has long served as an entry point for recreational drugs destined for the United States, but it wasn’t until the fall of the Colombian drug cartels in the 1990s that the Mexican drug cartels grew in power and influence. Today, rival Mexican cartels control nearly 90% of illicit drugs crossing the US-Mexico border.
Both the U.S. and Mexican governments spend billions each year to stop drug trafficking, but the cartels develop ingenious smuggling plots to always remain one step ahead of the authorities. It pays to be inventive if you want to get around the security net, and Locked Up Abroad’s Dwight Worker thought he had come up with a fail-safe plan. In 1973, he planned to sneak a cocaine under his cast masquerading as an injured mountain climber. “I had false medical receipts showing that I had paid money to the doctors,” he remembered. “So if anything ever came up in customs I would just show them all the medical papers.”
Dwight made it through several South American customs checks and was nearly home free, but he was unable to fool one Mexican official who saw right through his charade. Dwight was tortured into signing a confession and sentenced to serve time in one of the world’s most notorious prisons, The Black Palace of Lecumberri.
During the Black Palace’s 76 year use as a prison, and it was home to some of Mexico’s worst human rights violations. Most of the people incarcerated were political prisoners, and they were subjected to hunger, filth, torture and extortion. Hundreds of inmates died annually, many brutalized by the hands of corrupt officials.
When Dwight arrived at the Black Palace, powerful prisoners expected him pay exorbitant sums for his prison cell or risk violent repercussions. His family was able to come up with the $10,000 extortion fee, but Dwight still had to endure brutal conditions with some of the worst criminals in Mexico. He didn’t think he’d be able to survive his sentence, but all that changed when he met Barbara Wilde. Eventually, the two would fall in love and plot one of the most famous prison escapes in recent history.
Although the Black Palace is closed now, it doesn’t mean corruption and prisoner abuse has disappeared from the Mexican penal system. If you’re looking for useful insights and tips on how to handle a Mexican prison, you should consult Dwight and Barbara’s book Escape From Lecumberri, which detailed their story. If you want to avoid Mexican prisons altogether, then watch Locked Up Abroad and avoid making the same mistakes Dwight made.
- Dwight concocted an overly complex plan influenced by heavy cocaine use. It seemed foolproof, but everything seems clear while on cocaine, according to Dwight, of course. Do your planning sober.
- Don’t take Valium when going through customs. The drug may make you feel calm and relaxed, but you look drugged out to police. Even if you’re not carrying anything, you’ll look suspicious.
- Never carry illegal drugs on your person.
- It’s hard not to do what your torturers want you to do, but resist signing legal documents as long as your life is not threatened.
Watch Locked Up Abroad: Black Palace of Horrors tonight at 10P et/pt and interact with Dwight himself as he tweets from @lockedupabroad on Twitter.