No easy money for drug mules

It sounded simple enough. But it led to a three-year nightmare in a gang-ruled South American jail.

And now former drug mule Floors Snyders (41) swears he knows better than to fall for the charms of drug syndicates which lure desperate people to illegally courier narcotics to international ­destinations.

Snyders is one of the lucky few who have been there, done that and lived to tell the harrowing tale of life in a Venezuelan prison, where he served three years of a 10-year sentence after he was arrested there six years ago.

“I wouldn’t do it again. Not for any amount of money,” says ­Snyders. “If you’re approached, just say ‘no’ and stay away.”

It all started in 2004 when ­Snyders lost his job as a mechanic in Johannesburg. A period of ­serious financial and emotional depression followed as he moved between odd jobs.

Then it happened. One day, while working on a friend’s car in Brixton, where he lives, Snyders was approached by a stranger who enquired if he would be interested in ferrying a parcel overseas in return for some good money.

“I suspected that it could be drugs. But I was desperate and I couldn’t say no to R25?000.”

What followed next opened his eyes to the reality of his decision. He was taken to a plush townhouse complex in a northern ­Johannesburg suburb where he was ­introduced to a Nigerian man.

He was given what looked like a peeled, thumb-sized cucumber-like item to swallow as a trial run to the real deal.

And when he swallowed without difficulty, preparations began in earnest. He was removed from his family home in Brixton and booked into a lodge in Bez Valley.

“They really looked after me. They gave me pocket money, about R120 every day and bought me the best clothes and a new cellphone,” says Snyders.

He stayed at the lodge for a few days while preparations for his trip were under way, handing over his passport to his handlers to sort out visa applications.

Then he was briefed about the impending trip: he was to fly from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo, ­Brazil. There he was to collect a piece of paper with details of hotel bookings from someone at the airport.

The handover would happen clandestinely somewhere in the airport building and they were not to say a word to each other.

He stayed one night in Sao Paulo and flew out to Caracas, Venezuela, the next day. It was there that he met another Nigerian man who took him to a housing estate where the real deal began.

He was given “bullets”, thumb-sized pockets of cocaine wrapped in plastic to swallow.

“I swallowed 84 of those,” he says. “It took about four hours. I was given pills to make sure I didn’t suffer any pain. I was not nervous. I never worried about being caught.”

The next day he was due to fly out to Zurich, Switzerland, where he was to meet another contact who would arrange for him to “take out” the bullets.

But as fate would have it, he was arrested at the ­airport and taken to hospital where he was x-rayed. It began to dawn on him that instead of the good money he had been promised, he now faced a prison sentence.

“I never thought they could ­detect the drugs by x-ray. But when it happened I began to realise I was in trouble. I was now on my own.”

He was put on laxatives and spent the night in hospital ­releasing the drugs.

The next day, he was taken into police custody and formally charged. After four long months, he was taken before a court, pleaded guilty to possession of drugs and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

The nightmare was only beginning. Venezuela has some of the world’s most notorious prisons, run by gangs and drug lords.

From scraping out a living fixing cars in Brixton, Snyders now found himself in the midst of thugs high on drugs, armed with guns and knives which they seemed to enjoy using on a daily basis.

“I saw people getting killed there all the time. It was horrifying because the prison guards were hard, the gangs were hard and if you violated the rules of either group you were punished.

“There is a room in which the gangs locked up those who violated the rules. There they would beat you up with everything – swords sharpened on both sides, drop you on the floor and kick you until you thought you were dead.

“I saw men cry like babies in there,” Snyders recalls.

In prison he met other South ­Africans locked up for the same ­offence. But he soon learnt to stay away from them.

“The best thing I did while in there was to stay away from drugs and gangs. The problem with the other South Africans was that they got sucked into the drug world and they got hooked.

“The gangs would supply them with drugs and when it was time to pay, there was trouble.”

Snyders took art and boxing ­lessons. He made money by selling his drawings and prison gangs ­always placed bets on boxing matches he participated in.

He was released in 2007 after serving only three years following recommendations from his art teachers and parole officers.

“Freedom, that’s what I missed the most in prison. And I never want to go back there again. I have learnt that if you want to make money, then do it the right way.”

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