When Crystal Munoz sketched a map for a friend, she didn’t know that she’d be signing away the next 20 years of her life. The map was a favor for friends who needed help finding a ranch road in Texas’s Big Bend National Park, according to Munoz, who drew it on the page of a notebook and handed it over.
Two years later, DEA agents showed up at Munoz's home, asking questions. She admitted to drawing the map, and was taken into custody. As it turns out, her friends had used the map to circumvent a border checkpoint while smuggling drugs across the US/Mexico border.
Munoz was charged with conspiracy to distribute 1000 kilograms of marijuana, 50 kilos of cocaine, and five grams of crack cocaine. They eventually dropped the cocaine and crack charges, but she was found guilty and sentenced to just over 19 years for the marijuana.
"I was in shock," she told Civilized during a 15 minute phone call from Carswell FMC in Fort Worth, Texas. "I guess I didn’t know how to accept it or understand, really."
Now, over 10 years later, she’s still in prison.
Pregnancy on the inside
Munoz had an infant daughter, and was pregnant with another, when she was picked up in 2007. She ended up giving birth while in the county jail, during her trial. For her, the experience was a nightmare.
"I didn't have access to my prenatal vitamins or good food or good water," she said. "They wanted me to drink out of a little water spigot that's behind the toilet."
When she finally went into labour, she was brought to the hospital to give birth, with guards posted outside her door and inside her room.
"It was a very horrible experience," she said, "not allowing family in, and only being able to stay with her the time that I’m in the hospital, and then having to leave."
Munoz was only able to stay with her newborn for a couple of nights in the hospital, and then she had to hand her over to her husband so she could go back to prison.
"It’s a waste of life"
Her children are now 10 and 11, and she’s barely been able to see them. Her husband Ricky, who has stayed with her throughout the whole ordeal, brings them to visit whenever he can, but the prison is far away and he is a single father.
For Crystal, this is one of the hardest parts: feeling like you’re being forgotten.
"I compare it to being buried alive," she said, "because of course, life goes on, and I think that the families and the people who are affected by it, they go through the same trauma. It's similar to when somebody dies, they're just gone."
Except she’s not gone. Although Munoz doesn’t hold out much hope of receiving clemency, she will still get out of prison before her daughters are fully grown. She’s looking forward to her release, and can’t help dreaming about a future when she’s not behind bars.
"When I go home, I just want to be a mom to my kids and a wife to my husband, and enjoy life, not take for granted the time that we have together."
When asked about her own sentence, though, her dreamy demeanour instantly changes as she switches into activist mode.
"It just doesn't make sense," she told Civilized. "It's a waste of life, it's a waste of time, I think it's a waste of money. I've seen people in this place that have half my sentence for killing their own kid, you know, or rape or child pornography, and I have to sit and wonder."
"I just don't understand it and I've stopped trying to understand it."