Zulima Buitrago -- #59817-079

24 Years, Cocaine Conspiracy

Zulima Buitrago, prisoner of the drug war
My name is Zulima Buitrago, and I was sentenced to prison in 1992. I was born in Cali, Colombia but have been in the United States since I was 4 years old. I am considered a U.S. citizen. At my arrest I was living in Houston, Texas where I was charged and convicted for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, even though there were no drugs or money taken from me.

I was a single mother trying to support my two children, Alberto, who was 8, and Krina, who was 4 at the time of my arrest. My codefendant's husband's best friend asked me for permission to use my garage to fix his truck. I told him he could, and then my children and I went to the movies. Unbeknownst to me, he then conducted a drug deal in my garage. When he got in trouble with the law, he turned into an informant in order to receive a lower sentence. I was the ticket for his lower sentence. He told law enforcement agents that I was present at the drug deal where, according to the agents, 350 kilos were involved. I never saw this cocaine, nor did the investigation reflect any money in my accounts from drug dealing, but I was still held accountable under the conspiracy law way of thinking.

The judge sentenced me, with no criminal history, to 24 years in prison followed by five years' supervised release. I believe my Colombian nationality worked as a bias against me in the giving of this lengthy prison sentence, along with the inherent unfairness of the Sentencing Guidelines. Before my arrest I was studying real estate law and waiting for permission to take the state exam. My father was helping me until I could get back on my feet. Now I have lost everything, just for believing someone who told me they were going to repair their truck in my garage.

The hardest thing for me is being separated from my children and family. My 62-year-old mother is keeping my children in Colombia. I have not spent Christmas with them in 9 years. Alberto is now 16 and Krina is 13. What tears my heart out is not getting to see them grow up ... not being there when they need me ... and when they ask at Christmas, "Mommy, are you coming home this year?"