Tagged at the Border

The car in front of me was being searched. The Border Patrol officer made the driver get out and open the hood. Then he tapped on the gas tank to see if it was real or not. This was an old dope-smuggling trick – a false gas tank filled with drugs. Finally, the driver was given the green light and was allowed to pass through. Now it was my turn.

I felt pretty good driving up. I'd done this before after all, so there was no beginner nervousness. Plus they never search two cars in a row, at least that was the word on the street. I had my story ready and everyone in the vehicle knew to follow along. This was going to be a cakewalk. I drove up and was hit with the usual questions by one officer while another one seemed to be running my plates.

"What is your citizenship?" the Border Patrol officer asked.

"American," the three of us in the vehicle answered.

"How long were you in Mexico?"

"Three days," I said. Oh yeah, this was easy. Cakewalk city. I felt confident. My voice was strong and not shaky. I had injectable Testosterone in my pocket, some Winstrol tablets in my bag and a host of ancillary drugs stuffed in my suitcase. But I was cool.

"What was the purpose of your visit?"

"Just a little vacation, hitting the clubs, drinking a little."

Then came the rest of the usual questions. Where are you from? Are you bringing back any food items or alcohol? Did you buy anything? What exactly did you buy? I answered all the questions.

Cake, I thought. Pure cake. Then things began to go wrong.

"You drove for seven hours just to party in Juarez?" the burly officer asked.

"Um, yeah."

"And you stayed two nights yet only have one suitcase for the three of you in the vehicle?"

"Uh, yeah, we packed light."

"Does this vehicle really belong to you, sir?"

"Yes, it does."

I was being sized up. I could almost hear the thought process of the officer as he stared me down: This story is a little fuzzy. No one drives that far just to party. This is a nice vehicle for such a young, goofy looking driver. Lots of hiding places on a vehicle like this. Could he be a drug dealer? A couple of these guys look pretty big, too. Steroids? And what's the deal with that single piece of luggage? And why is this one guy from New York while the other two are Texans?

"Pull your vehicle over there, inspection area number five," he finally said.

"Sure, no problem," I said.

We'd been tagged. So much for this being cake. Here's how it works: If the Border Patrol becomes suspicious of you or if you just happen to be unlucky, you're asked to pull into a special area where your car will be more closely inspected. This is called a secondary inspection. More officers and a few National Guard troops ask everyone to get out of the vehicle as they pour through it. This is what happened to us.

Chris tries to look casual, despite the pocket full of 'roids.

While I watched the hood being popped and doors being opened, I stuck my hands in my pockets and made small talk with the other officers. They were friendly and joked a lot with the New Yorker who was a producer for a TV network. Inside my pockets, my fingers played with the Vitamin "T." I tried to keep the smile on my face as I realized I was making the numero uno mistake in the game of drug smuggling: I was unconsciously touching the product. It was something a former cocaine smuggler told me one time.

"You think you're being cool," he'd said, "but your body language is betraying you. You're ratting yourself out by nervously fondling the merchandise."

I slipped my hands out of my pockets, hopefully in a casual manner.

I tried not to watch what the inspectors were doing. I heard my gas tank being tapped by one of the hooked rods they always carry. One guy was under my hood checking things out. But the one that worried me, a member of the National Guard dressed in camo, was standing by my suitcase. I couldn't see what he was doing, but he stood there a long time. If he opened it, he must not have opened the paper bag from the pharmacy, and if he did, he must not have known what was in the little bottles with the mastiff's head on them.

Finally, the hood was slammed and we were told we could go. I'd made it. I'd successfully smuggled something illegal into the country even after the security crackdown fueled by the events of September 11th. Cue the Miami Vice theme song.

Truthfully, I wasn't that worried. While I did take some risks while prepping this article, I didn't take any stupid risks. And of course, I didn't actually smuggle scheduled drugs into the country. Since I'm using my real name and photos in this article, that would've been kinda' dumb. What I did was "smuggle" empties into the US from Mexico. If I'd been caught, I would have had some serious explaining to do and I may have been body searched while my vehicle was dismantled. But still, I wasn't breaking any laws. At least not yet, because I planned on coming back the next day.

Chris entering downtown Juarez.

Hindsight 20/20

The plan had been simple. I would travel to Mexico and buy steroids. Then I would test out the border security by smuggling the empty boxes and bottles back into the US using a variety of methods: driving across, walking across, and mailing the gear across. My goal was to see if it was harder to smuggle steroids and other drugs into the States since the events of September 11th and subsequent tightening of the borders.

I'd traveled to Juarez last summer to write an article on the bordertown drug scene, and on that trip we had no problem getting back through. I didn't see anyone getting searched and the lines were short.

Things have changed.

According to Maxim magazine, marijuana seizures at the Mexican border are up over 36%. Likewise, one inspector at the border told me that they're catching steroid smugglers on a daily basis now. Of course, they're not looking for pot and roids per se; they're after suspected terrorists, hard drugs (almost half the cocaine in the United States comes through Mexico), illegal aliens, and yes, even contraband food items and crocodile skin wallets. Most law enforcement officers I've talked to say that recreational steroid users are the least of their worries. Still, if they're looking for explosives and find a little Deca instead, you're still going to get into some trouble.

I sat in line over an hour during that first border crossing and from what I could see, the amount of secondary searches was way up. Cars were also being inspected more closely in the regular line, some being asked to raise their hoods and open their trunks. I'd say that gathering the supplies for your next cycle is much harder post-9/11. And because of the more thorough inspections, the lines are generally long and slow, at least in Juarez.

But still, we made it though. Our empty steroid boxes and bottles were never found, despite the secondary search. Here's what we learned about this brave new world of steroid smuggling:

Tell the truth, or as much of the truth as possible. Don't make up an elaborate lie or you'll have more chances of flubbing something in the questioning. In retrospect, I should have told the Border Patrol that I was a journalist writing about increased border security. My "We just came to go clubbin'" line was really lame given that they knew we had traveled a long way to come to Mexico.

Also, if you say you came to Mexico to shop, buy something! If you say you came to take photos, have a camera with you! And if you say you were on vacation, have more than one suitcase in the car! (The truth is that we were coming right back to Mexico after we crossed the border. That's why we had only one suitcase with us. I'd thrown it in as a prop at the last second, but my unnecessary lie caught up with me anyway.)

Use a smaller car. Large vehicles have a greater chance of being inspected. Also, I was later told that my vehicle (a big, black SUV) was a favorite of the drug cartels. Smooth move, Chris!

Expect to be inspected. Based on my observations, you probably won't be asked to drive into the secondary inspection stalls but be prepared anyway. In pre-9/11 days, about one in twenty or one in thirty vehicles were searched. These days, the estimations vary from one in eleven to one in three. Whatever the actual statistics are, it's safe to say that more cars are being searched than ever before.

If your vehicle is searched, you can still get away with bringing gear into the country. Border Patrol and National Guard (1700 were activated to assist inspectors after the terrorist attacks) are looking for big scores: large amounts of drugs and bad guys with bad things in their trunks. It isn't too hard to hide a personal amount of gear. Remember that, at least in my experiences last weekend, your car is searched but your luggage may not be. And if it is, it may not me searched intimately. In other words, put your gear in something and then put that something in the suitcase, backpack, or whatever. Take ampoules and tablets out of their boxes and put them in something else. Bury your stuff three-deep in your baggage (i.e. tablets in vitamin bottle, vitamin bottle in shaving kit, shaving kit in suitcase.)

After talking with numerous border crossers, some of whom had brought back illegal items, not one told me their bodies had been searched. I'm sure this can happen, but it doesn't happen too often. I'm guessing that a person would have to be acting really suspicious to get his car, luggage, and body searched. So you may be better off keeping your gear on you. No, I'm not telling you how to do this, but remember this tip: The first place you think to hide something, whether on your person or in your vehicle, is also the first place every one else thinks of, and that's the first place the inspectors will look. Be creative.

There may be camera filming the line of waiting cars. So don't do stupid stuff while waiting in line.

Never offer additional info. Politely answer the questions they ask you. Don't offer any additional info unless asked. Nervous people tend to spill their guts. If I were asked what I did for a living I should simply say, "I'm a writer" and leave it at that, not "I'm a writer for Testosterone, a mag that talks a lot about steroids and I've got a pocketful of gear but TC made me do it and I'm real, real sorry, okay?!" See, that would be bad.

Finally, keep in mind that we only brought in a few boxes and bottles of steroids and ancillary drugs, not even enough for a real cycle. Obviously, your chances are going to be much higher the more products you bring in. Avoid bringing in unnecessary items that take up space. Some bodybuilders and athletes buy syringes in Mexico, but this is silly since they can be purchased online in the US without a prescription. You don't want an inspector to ask you why you're bringing pins into the country because you'll then have to lie. (See the first tip above.)

Border Hopper

Most of the above info applies to those driving a vehicle through the border, but you can also walk through. Although we stayed at a hotel in Mexico, I wanted to experience what it was like to walk through customs. On the way out, my buddies Kyle and Chuck drove the SUV and I hopped out about a mile from the border. Inside my Boblbee backpack I stuffed a few empty boxes of Shering Primoteston Depot.

Chris makes a walk for the border because making a run for the border looks really, really suspicious.

This was Easter morning and there were no crowds in the pedestrian inspection area. In fact, besides the two Border Patrol agents, I was the only person in the room. I was asked to declare my citizenship and asked the same old standard questions. I was told before I left on my trip that most walkers aren't asked to open their bags. It happens, but not to everyone.

Now, perhaps security has also been tightened on pedestrians; perhaps they weren't busy and had plenty of time; or perhaps I'm just one suspicious looking sumbitch. Whatever the reason, I was asked to step aside and open my pack. I opened it up and one of the officers ruffled through the items in it: a camera, a notepad, some gifts, etc. He picked up one of the gift sacks and asked me what was in it. I told him it was a glass piggy bank for my daughter. He put it back, closed the pack and wished me a nice day. Again I'd been searched, but the roid boxes weren't found in one of the small compartments. I'd gotten away clean.

I don't normally hear voices, but that day as I walked back into Texas, I heard one. It said:

"He didn't even open the sack. How many amps could you have hidden in that little piggy bank? Dozens, huh? And how many tabs of D-bol could have fit in there? Hundreds? Thousands? You could have carried enough shit back for multiple cycles. And how much money could you have made by selling that stuff back home? Come on, it would've been easy. Even though you were searched you got away with it. You could get away with it again. Are you free next weekend? I am."

Maybe you've heard that voice at times in your life, too. Don't listen to it. Let's not forget that as lifters and athletes, we often speak casually about bringing gear back into the US, but we are talking about smuggling here – Title 18, United States Code, Section 545. This is a felony, not a misdemeanor.

Sure, maybe your roids will just be taken from you and you'll lose your money, but maybe you'll be fined a few hundred bucks, maybe have to hire a lawyer, do some community service, or maybe, just maybe, you'll have to do some jail time. If you're bringing enough back to sell, then all this is pretty likely. I don't deny hearing that red devil on my shoulder whispering into my ear, but I had the common sense to flick that little booger off and think about my family and career.

I stayed and chatted with the inspector awhile and he told me about a large steroid bust involving some Texas basketball players. He also hinted that roids weren't a priority, but they do catch athletes, bodybuilders, and dealers quite often. After the small talk, I headed out to wait on Kyle and Chuck. This is where I almost screwed the puppy. I took my camera out of my bag and tried to take a picture of an inspection in progress. No sooner than I'd snapped a shot off I was damned near bum rushed by a couple of Border Patrol agents.

They made me erase the picture and gave me a stern warning not to take any photos of them. They explained that they receive a lot of death threats from drug dealers and don't want pictures floating around of their faces. They also explained that as Border Patrol officers they weren't safe in Mexico and could never go there. Most wear large sunglasses, maybe to help conceal their identity. Scary stuff that I admit I never thought about before. These guys aren't the "enemy" of the recreational steroid user, but they do have a job to do, and it's a tough one. A steroid user may not like that job, but you have to respect the men and women protecting our borders. (On a related note, one pharmacist told me that one of his best customers worked for the Border Patrol.)

After making peace with the officers, I saw Kyle and Chuck pull up. They were made to get out and open up the back of the SUV, but weren't snagged for secondary inspection this time. They picked me up and we sailed out of there.

Smuggling Without Being There

With the increased chance of getting popped at the border, a lot of people are choosing to have their gear mailed to them from bordertown pharmacies. This may not be all that bad for the pharmacies, but it can still get you into trouble. If you order and receive illegal items from another country, it's your problem, not the sender's. (And if the sender is smart, he'll use a fake address on the package instead of his real one.)

Supposedly, though, if a personal supply of steroids is popped, you'll get a letter that basically tells you the products were seized. Usually, it ends there. You lose your stuff and your mailing information may be entered into a database of "watched" addresses. This means if you ever try to do it again, you'll need to use another address. Just remember that using fake info or sending to an unknowing person is also illegal and could constitute mail fraud.

During my visits to the Juarez pharmacies, I noticed a lot of people were having their gear mailed to them instead of packing it out. I watched the crowd for over an hour at one infamous pharmacia and only two people out of dozens of steroid buyers chose to risk the border. The pharmacist here used a mule to carry the orders into El Paso and mail them from there. Smart move. Since your package is coming from within the US, you'll have a much better chance of receiving it. A domestic mailing is always safer than an international one.

Still, things may have changed since 9/11. To see how all this worked, I bought a few amps of Test and had them mailed to the States. I paid for the roids, a five dollar shipping fee and then 20% was tagged onto the order to pay the mule. The package arrived safely right before this article went to press. Still, they don't all make it through and the risks are always there, regardless of the method used.

The Best Way to Get Your Gear?

On this trip into Mexico we discovered a new trend in smuggling (or at least it was new to us), but now I'm faced with a dilemma as I write this article. If I tell readers about this method, I'll also be telling da man. This doesn't seem to be a big secret anyway since everyone from pharmacists to waiters told us this was the preferred method of getting gear across these days, but still, I'm a little reluctant to just blast this info out over the net for all to see.

So instead of telling everyone outright about this method, I'll weed out the meatheads who'll use this info to mess it up for the rest of us. So here's your hint. There are other ways of getting into Mexico besides driving and walking. No, I'm talking about swimming the river or jumping the fence. This is a popular method of travel used by day shoppers and old people. Figure out what I'm talking about and you may have found the safest method (at least for now) of getting some muscle juice across the border. I'm told bags and backpacks are hardly ever searched with this method. Plus it's fast and handy. And remember, having the gear on your person is probably the safest method since body searches are still rare.

Pharmacias as far as the eye can see!

No doubt about it, security has been tightened at the Mexican-American border. Still, if you feel you have a right to use steroids in a safe and sane manner and you're not selling them to fifteen year olds, then it's still possible to get your gear home. The risks are always there and these days the risks are a little greater than they were before September 11th, but if you're smart, it can be done. Even if you're a suspicious looking sumbitch like me.

Editor's Note: While Chris was preparing this article, he was being followed around by cameras from a major cable TV network. We'll post more info in Reader Mail before the show airs. Stay tuned.

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