By cheating poor Vietnamese people into transporting ‘clothes’ and ‘sandals’ across borders, the organizers of transnational drug trafficking rings have pushed many into life-long prison sentences.
This is an old, but still effective, way for traffickers to transport a banned substance while escaping punishment.
Many families have been shattered because the wives were tricked into going abroad to transport clothes and sandals into Vietnam. They did not know the goods were actually drugs.
Once they are caught and charged with drug trafficking, they often endure heavy penalties such as life imprisonment or the death sentence.
A shattered family
Nguyen Thi Hoa, 48, from Go Vap District of Ho Chi Minh City, is one such victim of a drug trafficking ring. Initially she was given the death sentence, which was later commuted to a life sentence, leaving her three young daughters in agony at the absence of their mother.
Hoa’s ordeal began when she was approached by Tran Thi Phuong Trinh, 30, also from Go Vap. Trinh offered to help Hoa find a well-paid job so that she could repair her house’s leaky roof.
When she left for Cambodia, in her first foreign trip, Hoa told her daughters, “Behave yourself at home, I will come back in two weeks. When I return I will buy you a bicycle.”
“I didn’t imagine that these would be my last words to my daughters. I was arrested on my first trip,” Hoa said.
“I didn’t want to meet my daughters in prison because I worried this would make them feel more miserable,” she added.
“But I can’t endure missing them.
“When I was allowed to meet them in prison, all I could do was cry after uttering, ‘My dear’.
“Upon seeing me, my little girl asked why I left her for so long, and why I have to be far away from her to cook meals for policemen,” Hoa shared regarding the emotional reunion with her daughters in prison.
“I just want to repair the roof of my house, but now even seeing my daughters is impossible.”
She revealed that she has a recurring dream in prison, in which “I see my dilapidated house, and my daughters lying curled up to avoid water leaking from the roof.”
Her husband died less than a year before she was arrested for a crime that she did not intentionally commit.
An old but effective trick
Hoa led a poor, but peaceful, life with her daughters before she was tricked.
She was living in a small house at the end of an alley on Pham Van Chieu Street in Go Vap District. Her eldest daughter is around 20, and the two younger girls are ninth and seventh graders.
Her husband died in a road accident in 2011, and the family’s economic burden fell on Hoa.
Hoa was offered ‘help’ by a neighbor, Trinh, in the form of foreign trips that would earn her US$1,000 each.
The job was described as transporting clothes and sandals from country to country.
Hoa was suspicious because she does not know a word of English, but Trinh assured, “You will have help.”
Torn between fear and the allure of money, Hoa told Trinh, “I will only do it if it does not violate any laws.” Trinh reassured her, “Don’t worry. You’re just carrying clothes. If you are discovered, just leave the cargo and go. That’s all.”
Hoa was then scheduled to travel to Africa and bring ‘clothes’ to the Philippines. However, she wasn’t allowed to enter the Philippines, so she was asked to return to Vietnam, along with the goods.
At Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, she was caught carrying almost five kilograms of drugs.
By law, a person has to be punished for damages he creates, regardless of whether they did it intentionally or unintentionally. However, it is terrible to see an innocent person sentenced to jail for a crime they do not know they are committing.