For love or money, women carry drugs

December 05, 1993|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Staff Writer

Debra Anderson did it for money. Rose Times thought she was doing it for love.

For $900 to pay bills and buy her daughter Christmas gifts, Ms. Anderson carried 2 pounds of heroin in an overnight bag for two young men she knew only as "A.J." and "Snapper." Ms. Times brought a pound of crack cocaine in the waistband of her girdle for a man named Rudy, who had promised to marry her.

They became couriers, joining the underground artery that carries drugs from New York to feed Baltimore's insatiable habit. Aware of the hazard of arrest, most drug dealers recruit naive or desperate people to take the trip by car, bus or train from the wholesale markets of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx to retail cities like Baltimore.

Often, they recruit women.

Of the 612 people sentenced in state court for smuggling drugs into Maryland since 1983, three-quarters have been men. But the number of women has increased dramatically in recent years. Between 1983 and 1988, 13 times as many men as women were sentenced for bringing drugs into Maryland. Between 1989 and 1993, men outnumbered women only 2 to 1.

After detectives collared Ms. Anderson and Ms. Times in Baltimore, the women learned too late why drug dealers prefer to delegate the smuggling role to others -- usually to people who know few details of the dealers' operations.

Unable to offer prosecutors much inside information, each woman got five years in prison, though neither had a criminal record and both had small children. The men who gave them the drugs beat the charges. The women have not heard from them since.

"We all have the same stories," says Ms. Times, 24, sitting in a windowless office at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women.

Inside the Jessup prison, she says, the dozens of women serving time for drug smuggling swap tales of undercover detectives they never suspected, fail-safe hiding places that failed, dealers who assured them that women always get off with a warning. They speak of children left behind and vow to keep their daughters clear of the web spun by the drug dealers.

Ms. Times says she feels guilt, especially since inmates with "abscesses on their arms" have given her a crash course on the destruction wrought by drugs. But she also feels anger at the man who abandoned her after she broke the law to help him.

"He took the best four years of my children's lives away from me," she says. "I'd like to ask him,'Why?' "

She understands that no one sees as victims the people who deliver the poison that saps the city's life. But she sees inequity in the way couriers sit in prison while the dealers who hired them remain free to sell more drugs.

The couriers, says Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, are "disposable drug mules, who are used to carry the drugs from here to there and then get abandoned. . . . They're used in the worst possible fashion. They're the ones caught with heavy amounts of drugs. They're the ones who are prosecuted. They're the ones who have to scratch and claw to get a lawyer. They're the ones who go to prison."

Debra Anderson discovered that the hard way.

Now 36, she grew up in the Bronx and finished community college before spending a decade working for an insurance company. Then, like three of her four siblings, she got addicted to crack. She lost her job and spent a few years on welfare.

By 1990, she had kicked her habit and was working part time, hoping to get off welfare and back on track. But in her Bronx housing project, drugs surrounded her. A neighbor named Peggy, who was busy selling cocaine, began paying Ms. Anderson $25 a week to walk her daughter to and from elementary school with Ms. Anderson's daughter, Manda.

One night Peggy came by Ms. Anderson's apartment with an unexpected offer.

"You want to take a trip?" Peggy asked. "To take a package to Baltimore?"

"I asked her what the package was. She said, 'Don't worry about it.' I said, 'No, I don't want to do it.' She said, 'You'll get $900.' I said, 'I'm not going.' "

Peggy left. Ms. Anderson lay in bed and couldn't get the money out of her head. "I thought, 'Christmas is coming. I could pay the phone bill. For once I could get my daughter her wants as well as her needs.' "

After midnight, she leapt from bed, dressed, crossed the courtyard to Peggy's apartment and told her she'd changed her mind.

The next night, she was in a cab headed for the train station with two young men whom Peggy, the go-between, had introduced as A.J. and Snapper. Snapper gave Ms. Anderson $55 for a train ticket, $10 for a cab to "Martin Luther King and Pennsylvania" -- the Baltimore rendezvous point -- and a plastic shoe bag with a drawstring at the top.

She put it in her blue vinyl tote bag without looking inside.

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