M. had been in prison for about three years. He was normally a regular at morning Mass, skinny and skittish, with light eyes, and he had recently grown a scruffy beard. “You look like you belong on ”˜Lost,’ ” [the Rev. Robert Coogan] said when he greeted him. Unlike other prisoners, M. actually had a family of some means, and in a prison system without uniforms, his style often seemed more appropriate for an indie rock club. His sneakers were clean and hip; his jeans had designer labels.
Inside maximum, M. shared space not just with hard-core Zetas but also with inmates too insane to be kept anywhere else ”” including one who refused to wear clothes and spoke to angels. He slept little, like any prey encircled by predators, and that morning he anxiously greeted Coogan’s arrival, signaling immediately with darting eyes that he needed to talk privately. Coogan followed him into the yard, where M. pulled out a Bible for cover and positioned himself near a faraway wall. There, he explained that the Zetas wanted him to pay them 2,000 pesos ($165), with the first half due at noon the next day. Coogan, brightening the dusty pen with his purple robes, nodded as M. spoke. He had paid small ransoms to keep M. safe from the Zetas twice already, but this latest demand was larger, more than a week’s pay. He wasn’t sure whether the Zetas were serious or if they were just toying with M. He also didn’t know if M. could be trusted. M. claimed to be locked up because a friend stole a television and he was taking the rap, but other inmates doubted his story and said he was a schemer. Coogan considered his options. Paying the Zetas would encourage extortion, but ignoring the threat, or confronting the Zetas directly, could get M. beaten or killed.
Read it all from the New York Times Magazine.