Lured by Narcos: How Sinaloa Schools Are Trying to Prevent Kids from Joining Drug Gangs

Mirna Cartagena spent 8 years in prison for drug-trafficking. Now she works in schools trying to prevent kids from making the same mistakes she made.
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Mirna Cartagena knows all about regret. Now in her early thirties, she spent most of her twenties in jail after she was caught trying to transport cocaine and crystal meth across her home state of Sinaloa, Mexico.   She is one of many young people tempted into the lucrative but risky trade of drug-trafficking. In Sinaloa, 'narcos' are folkloric figures, idolized in 'narco-corrido' songs and envied and emulated by impressionable youngsters. The world's most wanted drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman calls Sinaloa home, and is believed to be hiding there as the Mexican government continues its assault on the drug cartels.

Now Mirna dedicates much of her time to trying to stop youngsters in the city of Culiacan from making the same mistakes she did. She gives workshops in schools around town, telling boys and girls to stay away from the young men in brand new SUVs who she says prowl around looking for young, pretty girlfriends or new recruits.   "Young people these days all have a Blackberry. So if their parents can't give them that because they don't have the money they'll find other ways of getting them, which is when they start to go bad. How? By getting involved in drug trafficking and organized crime," says Mirna.

Simply discussing the issue is becoming more difficult.   Drug-related violence in Sinaloa is getting worse, and most of the hundred-or-so homicides that take place there each month go unpunished. The government crackdown and cartel rivalries have driven those working in the trade to be less ostentatious – gone are the decadent cars and clothes made famous by films such as Luis Estrada's "El Infierno."   As a result, few even use the word 'narco' and are reluctant to be quoted – especially on camera - on issues related to them.   But the local jail is full of men and women caught doing the cartels' dirty work. Mirna has made it her mission in life to try to turn the destiny of many of the state's young people around.

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