Mexico's Juvenile Drug Dealers

Doña Norma rests and watches TV after a tedious workday as a janitor in a Mexico City hospital. Photo by Ernesto Álvarez

"Are you looking for my grandma? She's not home. But if you want stuff, I can sell it to you," said the boy who opened the apartment's door. He was gone for a while and then brought along a wooden box which he carried with so much pride—as if it were new toy. His faint movements showed that he kind of knew what he was doing was wrong. The box contained little plastic bags marked with the words "Cristal" [crystal].
We had reached the fourth floor of an apartment block in downtown Mexico City, where 60-year-old Doña Norma (not her real name) lives with three of her grandsons (aged six, four, and one). Doña Norma is a drug dealer, but when she's not at home, the children take over the business.
To get there we crossed the building's entrance and walked along a narrow corridor leading to a flight of decayed cement stairs. Some of the apartments have metal railings in their doorways, while others have curtains instead doors. The whole block smells of piss.
You can barely hear the sounds of the street on the fourth floor—as if they were a whisper blended with music coming from different flats. I knocked on the metal door and was greeted by a bald headed six-year-old child in an Angry Birds T-shirt. 
One of the children offered us crystal meth. Photo by Emilio Espejel

"My grandma went to the store. But if you want stuff, I can sell it to you," he insisted. Another kid stuck his head out of the door. Inside the apartment, a small TV showed a cartoon and a pile of laundry on the floor next to an old sofa filled the room with a humid smell.
The kids did not seem to know what exactly they were selling, but they sure knew the price well: 220 pesos [$13] for half a gram of meth. They also said they sold cocaine, weed, and MDMA.
We told them we would wait for their grandma. We sat on the stairs outside their apartment and 20 minutes later, the children's stepfather arrived. He is 22 and the third husband of Doña Norma's daughter. The young couple lives in a little room in the same flat. He takes care of the children, although he's rarely around. He invited us in.
The apartment is quite small and its walls are painted blue. The ceiling has been eaten away by moisture, showing several leaks. On a squeaky bed, in the first room on the left, lay an one-year-old toddler looking attentively at everything that surrounded him.

Doña Norma's one-year-old grandson. Photo by Emilio Espejel


We took a couple of pictures and our cameras became the center of attention. The children insisted on borrowing them to take some pictures themselves. Then, they pulled us one floor up, to the deserted rooftop.
They ran, climbed, and played as if they were in a park. When you're a kid, everything's a game. When we went back downstairs, Doña Norma received us lying indifferently on her bed. She told us a bit about her business without going into detail.

Doña Norma works as a janitor in a hospital in Mexico City, but she's also been dealing for the last 15 years. "It's always money troubles that push people into crap jobs like this one. If you live in this city, drugs are the easiest thing to get your hands on."
She said she knows that by dealing she messes with "sick people," as she calls them, and that she feels very sorry for drug addicts. "They're people that don't love themselves, and that makes them evil. You can't love anybody if you don't love yourself and God," she continued.
The kids kept playing while Doña Norma told us that the business is getting harder and harder because the supply chain has increased. "These young kids, all they know how to do is show off. It is because of those dumbasses that business is so bad. One asshole's business takes off and I have to risk my life by carrying all that shit or by having to work with the same assholes. This gig is very dangerous. If I get caught, no one's going to have my back or take care of the children," she said without taking her eyes off the TV.
One of Doña Norma's grandchildren walking along a corridor inside the building. Photo by Ernesto Álvarez

The kids playing with toy cars in the living room. Photo by Emilio Espejel


Photo by Ernesto Álvarez

On the building's rooftop, one of the kids pretends to be a superhero. 


On the rooftop, another kid pretends the metal container is his house. Photo by Emilio Espejel


The two brothers look towards the street. Photo by Emilio Espejel


On the building's rooftop, one of the kids pretends to be a superhero and jumps over the water tanks. Photo by Emilio Espejel