Popped: Doing Time in a Tijuana Jail

Underground Tap

It started out innocently enough. He wanted to get bigger. He lived near the Mexican border so he crossed over and brought back some steroids for his personal use. No harm, no foul. That was his first trip, the first of many. They were all uneventful, until this last one. Now he's sitting in a Tijuana jail, contemplating best and worst case scenarios. If he's lucky, he'll spend two years in a Mexican prison and pay a hefty fine. If he's not so lucky... well, he doesn't even want to think about that.

He has four kids. Would the youngest even remember him after two years? Would his wife want him back? Would his job still be there when he got out? Would anyone hire a former prison inmate who'd been tagged with the label drug dealer? He didn't have any answers and he couldn't explain how it had come down to this – this tiny cell, these handcuffs, and this unquenchable desire for more muscle that led him here.

He knew he had a lot of things in his life to sort out, and sometimes life gives you the time to do that sorting. This was his time, his chance to make a change, but first he had to get back to the US. More than anything else, he had to get out of this cell.

This is his story.

Testosterone: Before you found yourself in this situation, how often did you cross over to buy steroids?

Anonymous: Probably once a month. I've crossed over at least a dozen times before. I'd drive through and park at the San Ysidro border, then pick stuff up for myself or my friends. I didn't do it to make money – though that was a bonus. I did it because I didn't think everyone should have to pay such high prices. People would let me know what they needed and I'd pick it up. I was just doing people favors at first and making enough profit to buy my own stuff. But in the eyes of the law, I was a drug dealer.

T-mag: Ever run into trouble before?

Anon: I'd never had a problem. I'd hear stories about people getting caught or harassed and say, "That's bullshit, they just don't do that." I'd gotten away with paying off the cops with twenty or fifty dollars, but this time they assumed I had money because of the amount of steroids I had on me. I had thirty-one bottles so they thought I was a dealer.

T-mag: So normally you weren't worried about getting popped?

Anon: You literally talk yourself into believing it's not going to happen. The first time I went I went alone, in and out, that's it. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I said I was never going to do it again. But then someone said they'd go with me if I went again, so I said fine. Soon I went again, and again, and again... It was almost a joke!

The dogs they use at the border can't smell steroids and even if they do take you to secondary inspection, all they do is run the dogs through, look in your glove box, knock on your doors etc. They're responsible if they tear anything apart, so you're pretty safe on the US side.

But on the Mexican side you can just be walking down the street. If they feel like stopping you, they can do anything they want. They have people that watch the pharmacies and people that follow you. I was stupid. I didn't even think about the Mexican side. I was worried about US customs.

T-mag: Walk us through what happened to you this time. Let's start at the beginning.

Anon: My friend and I went and got the stuff, came back and hid it in my Suburban's overhead AC vents. You'd be amazed at how much stuff you can put up there. I had 31 bottles of stuff: D-bol, Testosterone, Cytomel, Nolvadex, etc. On this trip I spent, let's see, 750 dollars for the person who placed the order, mine was about 400, and my friend's was about 200.

I always use the same parking garage. The pharmacists actually recommended I park there. This time the attendant who worked there looked at me and waved so I waved back. He never did that before. I had a bad feeling, a feeling I shouldn't have gone this time. Before I left I kept reading about all these people getting busted and it just sent chills up my spine.

T-mag: What happened after you hid your gear?

Anon: We always went to get a beer after we got everything put away. We did this to mellow out before we crossed over. This time, as we left the bar, two guys asked us in Spanish if we were causing trouble. My friend is Mexican and he told them no. We just looked at each other and wondered why the hell they would say that. We knew they had undercover officers there so this got us worried.

So we walked back to the truck, unlocked the door, and noticed two guys walking up to us. It was the tourist police. They told us to put our hands on the hood of the truck. They searched our pockets and found one Viagra tab on my friend. "You're in a lot of trouble," they told him, "You need a prescription for this." I told them that we didn't need a prescription for that and they just said, "Oh yes you do!"

T-mag: Weird. Then what happened?

Anon: Then they opened the doors of the truck and asked, "Where is it? We know you have something, the parking garage attendant told us." Of course, I denied it. I wasn't going to tell them I had 31 bottles of shit shoved up my AC vent!

So he kept searching my truck and then lifted up my seat. He said, "Ah, what do we have here?" and from where my amplifier is he pulls out a baggie. "This is a controlled substance," he said. I said to myself, "Oh shit, this is where it starts." Then he said, "How much money do you have?" We told him we had about 270 dollars between us. He said, "That's not enough."

T-mag: Wait, let me get this straight. They planted something in your car before they even found the steroids, then asked you flat out for a bribe?

Anon: Yeah! They never found the steroids until after they took the truck to the police station and tore it apart. But steroids are legal in Mexico so I told them I wasn't breaking the law. They said it would cost me 1200 dollars.

T-mag: So regardless of whether you had the steroids, they were going to plant something on you anyway to get your truck or extort money?

Anon: Here's how it works. In order for them to take your vehicle, you have to be doing something illegal with it, like smuggling. I had steroids in there but I'm still in Mexico. You can't get me for smuggling because they're not illegal there and I hadn't tried to leave the country. You need to have something illegal under Mexican law in order to get popped. They ended up scraping the labels off the Cytomel and saying it was something illegal. This happened later on.

T-mag: Okay, what happened after they came up with that mysterious baggie?

Anon: They made me give them ten bucks to get my truck out of the garage, then they drove it to the police station while we rode in the police car. Then the main lieutenant, who speaks fluent English and said he lives in San Diego, told us we had to tell him where the stuff was or we'd be in even more trouble. He threatened to bring the dogs through, so I was like, go ahead! Bring the dogs! Since dogs can't alert on steroids, this didn't bother me.

But they started ripping the truck apart instead. At first they couldn't find anything. Then they threatened to take us to US Customs. I said yes, take me there! At least there I have a chance! But they wouldn't take me there. Finally, they found the stuff. When they find out it's my truck they tell my friend to get back in the police car. At this point they handcuff me. I think, okay, now I'm fucked.

T-mag: What happened to your friend?

Anon: I found out later they took him to an ATM machine, demanded his PIN number, and then withdrew 400 bucks. After that they dropped him off at the border and let him go. They just pocketed that money, of course.

T-mag: What came next for you?

Anon: They took me inside the police station. In there they had all this stuff laid out on a table, some of it was mine – like the Cytomel with the labels scraped off – but some of this shit I'd never seen before. There were other drugs on the table and even this bag with powder in it. Then I notice this news camera there from Univision and I figure they're going to make an example out of me.

So they ask me where I got all this stuff. I told them I wasn't saying anything until I got a lawyer. Then the one guy tells me, "You're not in America, my friend." I told him I knew that and I wasn't his friend so knock that shit off right now. I told them I didn't have the money they needed and I couldn't get it that night. Just do whatever you're going to do to me, I said.

T-mag: So what did they do?

Anon: They throw me in the back of the police car again, still handcuffed, and started driving me around. I asked how they could do that to me, lying and all this other shit. They told me it was their job and to just sit there and shut up. We end up driving around TJ the whole night. By this time it's around 1 AM. The guy keeps asking me, "So, how much money do you really have? Can you get more?" I told him all I had was what was in my pocket and one of them said, "You're in a lot of trouble then."

Finally I managed to get them to let me use my cell phone to call my wife. Luckily my cell phone worked because we were so close to the border. My wife was crying and told me that my friend had already called her and told her.

Then they took me to the PGR, sort of a holding place for federal crimes. Saturday morning I got to talk to the US Consulate. I told her I'd been set up and she said, "Well, we can't help you. You're in Mexico. If the police say it, then that's what happened. That's how it works here. You have to prove what they're saying isn't true." She read the police report to me, which said they thought I looked suspicious, so they followed me. Then it said I ran from them and they observed me stuffing drugs into my AC vents.

I told her that, first of all, I wasn't alone like the police report said. I had a friend with me. She asked if I could prove it and I told her to call him. Then she read the rest of the report which said I had 98 pills on me that were a controlled substance and that they found these in my pocket, which wasn't true.

She told me the worst case scenario was I was looking at serving eight to eighteen years in prison. The best case scenario was me getting two years.

T-mag: Oh my God, how did you get out of all this?

Anon: My father-in-law, who's Mexican, had a friend in the PGR who was trying to work a deal out for me. They wanted 10,000 dollars to let me go. I told him I didn't have it. I was pretty much in a shit sandwich by then. No one could help me legally, I didn't have the money to pay my way out illegally, and I was going in front of the judge the next day. I hadn't seen a lawyer and the consulate told me that no one was looking at my case. There was no way for me to prove anything. So they took me back to my cell where I got to sit there and think about how fucked I was.

T-mag: What was the cell like?

Anon: The cell was maybe 7x5 with two bunks and a toilet. There were usually three people in there, most of them in for drug trafficking. You get beans, rice, and some mystery meat twice a day. That's it. And it's always daylight in the cell. They never turn the bright lights off, not even at night, so you don't know what time of day or night it is. You just sit there.

T-mag: What was going through your head?

Anon: A lot of things. My wife and four kids most of all. Then I started thinking about how I disappointed my father-in-law; how was I going to get the money; what my boss at work was going to think... I was thinking how I was going to lose my job, my house, all this shit. I thought, why did I do this?

T-mag: So what happened finally?

Anon: Sunday morning rolls around and they take me out of my cell for fingerprinting. All the guards are being really nice to me. Finally someone that works with the district attorney told me he'd help me out even though it wasn't his job. He said he'd act as an interpreter and explain what they were going to do to me next.

He said they were going to conclude their investigation that day and in two hours I was going before the judge. He said I had the right then to make a statement. I told this guy the whole story. He told me that the whole system's corrupt. He said I should call my wife because right then he didn't know about any deal that was being worked out and he'd be interested in knowing about any deals. About that time my father-in-law shows up. It turns out the prosecuting attorney wanted 10,000 dollars and my father-in-law was there to try to work out the deal.

T-mag: Wait, the prosecutor wants to get paid off?

Anon: Yes, he wanted the money to get me out, but all these other people were looking to get their cuts, too. The prosecuting attorney told my father-in-law he'd call him and keep him informed and handed him a piece of paper that he said had the phone number on it.

T-mag: Did it have a phone number on it?

Anon: No, it had "$5000" written on it. So my father-in-law said, "Why don't you give me a call at this number?" and handed him a piece of paper with $4500 written on it. They shook hands and the deal was made. They took me back to the cell for a few hours and then came back for me and took me into a little room.

In that room is the prosecuting attorney, the guy who said he'd be interested in knowing about any deals and who had told me the system was corrupt, a secretary, and a doctor. My father-in-law informed me that I went and saw this doctor who prescribed me the medication I was caught with. They have the whole story worked out and the money had been exchanged all around. The money had been split between the prosecuting attorney, the district attorney, and the doctor. The doctor only got a couple of hundred bucks, I'm sure. They erased everything and made it go away.

T-mag: Wow, that's right out of a movie! So they just casually come up with this whole story after getting paid off?

Anon: Yeah, the story was that I was experiencing back pain and went to this doctor who prescribed the medication. The steroids were left out of the story because they were legal in Mexico to begin with. The police officers, they said, had made a mistake and I was free to go, cleared of all charges.

They tried to keep my truck but my father-in-law finally helped me get it back after a couple of weeks. And as I crossed back over to the US in my truck, the police officer who first caught me in the parking garage was sitting there on the side of the rode waving at me. I would've liked to knock his nose into the back of his head!

T-mag: So, besides a lot of stress, humiliation, and a few days in jail, what did this trip to buy steroids cost you?

Anon: I owe my father-in-law the 4500 dollars, plus I lost the 2000 dollars I'd spent on the gear. They took all the money I had in my pocket, about 176 bucks. Then it cost me 20 dollars to get my title translated to get my truck released, then another 60 on top of that. It cost my friend 400 dollars from the ATM, so we're looking at over 7000 dollars. And one of my friends who had placed an order thinks I ripped him off, so I may have lost a friend in this as well.

T-mag: You know, you really lucked out having a Spanish speaking father-in-law to help you out. What do you think would've happened without him?

Anon: I would have been screwed. The people in the system are as dirty as the drug dealers. If people think it can't happen to them, then they're living in a goddamn dream world. It does happen. Americans are getting those calls everyday: For so many pesos, your son can go free.

T-mag: So everything is wiped clean now? You don't have a criminal record or anything?

Anon: No, in fact, "Nothing happened. It was all a big mistake." That's the official story.

T-mag: Well, I don't guess you're going back to Mexico any time soon for a steroid run, right?

Anon: You'd think that, wouldn't you?

T-mag: You mean you'd do it again?

Anon: You want the truth or a lie?

T-mag: This is Testosterone magazine, man, you gotta tell it all!

Anon: I'm thinking about going back. That's the stupidity of it all. They say you learn from your mistakes. Well, my mistake was using the same parking garage! [laughing] I just keep thinking about how not to get caught. I think about mailing it back to the States or sticking some pre-printed "essential oils" labels on them and mailing it out. I know there's no surefire way.

T-mag: I have to tell you, man, I think you're crazy. After all this, after almost losing it all, you're thinking about doing this again? For God's sake, why?

Anon: I have no answer for that. You play the game and you don't fully understand the reality of it until it comes down on you, or even that it did! Here I am still contemplating. I think, what the hell is wrong with me? Is all this that important? I don't know what drives people like that. Or like me.

T-mag: Okay, you got popped, you almost went to prison (in Mexico at that), you may have lost a friend, and you lost seven grand. And then there's your wife and kids. I don't mean to sound preachy, but are big biceps worth all that?

Anon: Anyone who really uses will understand. People get scammed and they just find another supplier, or they hear about all these people getting busted and they do it anyway. Yeah, I've got too much to lose, so why would I even do it? That's the question I can't answer. Maybe steroids are addictive, I don't know. I can't explain it.

T-mag: So, final answer, will you continue?

Anon: Probably. You know my father-in-law told me after all this that it's going to be okay if I learn from my mistakes. I keep going back to that. I want to change my life but it's almost like I can't. I think a lot of people who use steroids are actually very insecure. They had something happen in their lives that makes them want to be big on the outside so they can feel big on the inside. Maybe I'm fucked up in the head. Maybe with me there's always an emptiness there. I fill it, it gets drained out, and I want to fill it some more. I'm just not fulfilled. Maybe that's why I keep doing it.

T-mag: If this is too personal, you don't have to answer, but what do you tell your kids? Where did they think you were while you were in jail?

Anon: They don't know what I do. I hide it pretty well. When I was gone my wife told them I was on a fishing trip.

T-mag: How old are your kids?

Anon: I have one that's twelve, one that's seven, one that's going to be five and another that's going to be three. To be honest with you, Chris, I still have a personal stash here. And I haven't done it yet.

My wife could have cursed me out, but the first the thing she said was, "I'm glad to have you back." And here I am sitting here thinking about doing it again. Why would I even think about that? I can't answer that question. I think I need to resolve the situation with getting my friend's money back and then say goodbye and leave everything alone. I have a lot of decisions to make.

T-mag: It really sounds like you're struggling with some big issues right now. We appreciate you sharing your story with T-mag readers and wish you the best. I hope you make the decision that's best for you and your family.

Anon: Take care, Chris.


A couple of weeks after this interview had taken place, Anon gave me an update. After doing some serious soul searching, he's decided to get out of the steroid biz. He's resolved the money issue with his friend and says his wife and kids are more important to him than the juice. The temptation will always be there, he said, but he'll never take his family for granted again. In short, Anon sounds like he's gotten his priorities in order. Good for him.

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram