Some addicts are not convinced about going into the program, and they just do it for awhile. This short stay is what they call tiempo marrano (loose translation: “swine time”). This means they go to rehab to eat well, rest up, and get in shape so they can start using again when they get out. Heroin addicts call this time tiempo de engordar la vena (time to fatten up their veins). It’s an odd survival technique, but since there’s hardly any follow-up program after they get out, about 90 percent of addicts start using again.
There’s a special group of patients in every rehab center called los psiquis or los carnalitos (“the psychos” or “the little dudes”) who are psychiatric patients whose drug use has left them mentally disabled. Sometimes their families can’t take care of them, even when they don’t use drugs anymore. P., a recovering addict who has been in and out of many rehab centers since she was 14 (she’s 26 now), says, “The psiquis are spoiled. We take care of them. We change them, shave them...if we get something fancy to eat, like a cake, and it’s not large enough to feed everyone in the center, we give it to our carnalitos. They are a reminder that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we will end up like them.” P. ultimately discovered that regular visits to the psychologist and antidepressants were more effective for her than staying in a rehab center. But most addicts can’t afford a treatment like hers.
Another group of patients is called los ingobernables (“the uncontrollables”). These patients may or may not be addicted to drugs, but they are forced to go to rehab by their families because they don’t respect the rules and are out of control at home.
Drug addicts are one of the most problematic and vulnerable groups in Mexican society. In October 2010, a group of armed men went inside a rehab center in Tijuana and opened fire on the interns as they were watching television, killing 13 men. That same month, 16 recovering addicts working at a car wash in Nayarit were killed. During the month of June 2010, there was a similar incident in Juárez: 19 men were killed inside the rehab center in which they lived. In 2009, there was another incident in Juárez in which 17 men were killed. Authorities never found the killers or provided an explanation about why rehab centers were being targeted. Rumors raced around the country. Some people said that when drug dealers feel they might be in danger, they hide out in rehab centers, where drug lords send gunmen to kill them. After these incidents, many recovering addicts left the centers. Ever since, there are regular police raids at rehabs in order to find people who are in hiding.
Historian and poet Miriam García and a group of women artists and writers (myself included) developed El Proyecto de las Morras (the Morra Project), a literary workshop in El Mezón, a women’s rehab facility in Colonia Francisco Villa. (Morra is a Northern Mexican word that means “girl.”) Garcia says, “Getting rehabilitated in Tijuana can be a nightmare. One of the biggest problems is that there’s no follow-up once the program is finished and the addicts go back to the same marginalized place, disconnected from family and community. Their families have developed a large network in order to understand the problem and help each other. This is a response — a ‘you are not alone’ call against the incapacity of institutions and their denial of the gravity of this problem. I do believe that health workers understand it; a lot of them are engaged with the people that they treat and their families, but if [no] serious [rehab] program comes from the [government], indolence will prevail....”
There’s one question that I’ve asked repeatedly while I was gathering information for this article: do these rehab-center programs work? Most of the answers were “No.” But P. went further: “It depends on you. If it’s your time, you will go with the program, you will sell newspapers, you will go to meetings. But as soon as you get a chance, you will use again. You only stop when it’s your time. If it is, the program helps.”