Even Grandmas Go To Prison
Three years after a jury convicted Elisa Castillo in a conspiracy to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine on tour buses from Mexico to Houston, the 56-year-old first-time offender is locked up for life - without parole. Convicted of being a manager in the conspiracy, she is serving a longer sentence than some of the hemisphere's most notorious crime bosses - men who had multimillion-dollar prices on their heads before their capture.
The drug capos had something to trade: the secrets of criminal organizations. The biggest drug lords have pleaded guilty in exchange for more lenient sentences. Castillo said she has nothing to offer in a system rife with inconsistencies and behind-the-scenes scrambling that amounts to a judicial game of Let’s Make a Deal.
Castillo maintains her innocence, saying she was tricked into unknowingly helping transport drugs and money for a big trafficker in Mexico. But she refused to plead guilty and went to trial.
"Put yourself in my shoes. When you are innocent, you are innocent," she said. "I don't say I am perfect. I am not … but I can guarantee you 100 percent that I am innocent of this."
At the urging of her boyfriend, Martin Ovalle, Castillo became partners with a smooth-talking Mexican resident who said he wanted to set up a Houston-based bus company. But the buses were light on passengers and shuttled thousands of pounds of cocaine into the United States and millions of dollars back to Mexico. Her lawyers argued she was naive. Castillo claims she didn't know about the drug operation, but agents said she should have known something was wrong when quantities of money and drugs were repeatedly found on the coaches.
Castillo has faith that she'll somehow, some day, go free. Her daily routine doesn't vary: when she eats breakfast, when she works, when she exercises, and when she brushes her hair, which has gone from red-blond to black and gray. The gray gets respect in prison. "I will leave here one day with my head held high," she said. "I don't feel like a bug or a cockroach. I am a human being, with my feet firmly on the ground."
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