Albert Jacobs: A person time forgot

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(La Historia del Rio Abajo is a monthly column about Valencia County history written by members of the Valencia County Historical Society.
Dr. Matt Baca, the author of this month’s column, is a native of Adelino who spent many years as a teacher and  administrator before retiring from the Belen Public Schools and as a university instructor.
He has contributed many articles to La Historia del Rio Abajo, focusing on our community’s traditions and cultural diversity.

Brent Ruffner-News-Bulletin photo: Albert Jacobs, now 57, spent years in a Mexican prison. The Belen native, who has talked with students about the dangers of drug abuse, is now back home hoping he can help others.

Opinions expressed in this and all columns of La Historia del Rio Abajo are the author’s alone and not necessarily those of the Valencia County Historical Society or any other group or individual.)

A bad decision
On a certain day in the spring of 1975, Albert Jacobs and several friends decided to drive to Cuidad Juarez to buy drugs.
Albert was 21 years old and his friends were teenagers. They were living the wild life in Albuquerque. Drinking and drug abuse were common occurrences. Thus, he and his friends were in trouble with the law.
Albert grew up in Belen, where his parents and grandparents owned and operated Jacobs Courts on South Main Street. But Albert moved to Albuquerque when he was a youngster.
His friends persuaded him to drive his car to Juarez. Arriving four hours later, they were joy riding around Juarez when they were pulled over by the Mexican police.
All the boys were taken to prison, but because the other boys were under the age of 21, they were released. Albert was incarcerated. His car, a 1969 Dodge, was confiscated and never returned to him.

His time in prison
While in prison, he was taken down to a dark dungeon. He could barely see dark human shapes moving around. Rough hands seized him, tied his hands behind him and he was submerged into a barrel of water.
They held him down underwater for a time and then they brought him up, gasping for air. They wanted to know where he had bought and hidden the drugs.
Besides a few choice words, he told them that he didn’t know anything about drugs. Again they submerged him, leaving him in the water for a longer time. They brought him up coughing and gagging and again he denied any knowledge of drugs. This was done several more times.
The Mexican police tried to obtain information by other methods of torture, but to no avail. Finally, the police got so angry that they beat him with a 2 x 4 board so severely that they broke his back. They finally threw him in a cell more dead than alive.
For weeks he laid in his cell too weak and ill to get up. Gradually he got better and was able to hobble around, although with a lot of pain.
To this day, 32 years later, he cannot walk in a straight upright position due to the severe beatings. He is stooped at a severe angle, in constant pain, and cannot walk for a long distance nor can do any hard physical work.
While in the Mexican prison, he was thrown in with older and more hardened prisoners, who would often abuse him. They took away most of his clothing and his shoes.
The conditions in prison were most severe. He had to sleep on the bare cement floor. It was a cold and drafty area. The cell smelled of feces and urine. His job was to clean the cell.
For 3 1/2 years, Albert Jacobs was in the Mexican prison system without actually being charged with a crime. He was a person time had forgotten.
His parents and grandparents tried unsuccessfully to get him out of prison. They spent a lot of money on lawyers and time petitioning the Mexican Consulate. They would visit him infrequently, taking him money that was suppose to be used for buying bathroom necessities, such as soap, but these funds were rarely given to him by the guards and prison administrators.      There was such a high intensity of drug trafficking in the prison that Albert was made a participant.
The food was full of vermin. His soup was full of cockroaches and other insects. He was ordered to work at such jobs as cleaning bed pans and buckets and other menial jobs within the prison, otherwise food was denied to him.

A chance to change
Luckily, after 3 1/2 years in prison, the United States negotiated a prisoner exchange with the Mexican government. Jacobs and other Americans prisoners were sent to La Tuna, a federal prison near Las Cruces, and the Mexicans in the United States were sent to Mexico.
When he arrived in the United States, Jacobs was pale and emaciated. He was malnourished, thin and unkempt.
He thought he would be released from prison, but because he had a prior arrest warrant in Albuquerque, plus the fact that he tested positive for a controlled substance, he was sent to a California prison.
Jacobs was placed in a drug rehabilitation program. He was also asked to volunteer to speak to high school students about the dangers of drug addiction.
In his talks to students, he warned the students not to start taking drugs, and told them how difficult it was to break a drug habit.
“You have nothing when you’re on drugs,” Jacobs told the students.
He stressed to students that illegal drugs were a losing proposition. Jacobs told them again and again about the possibility of losing one’s life by over dosing, winding up in prison, committing criminal acts to support a drug habit, losing all opportunities for a viable education, or a chance for a good job, and on and on.
“You are left with nothing,” he told them. “You are looked upon as the dredge of society. You don’t project a clean-cut look.”

His return home
After Jacobs was released from the California prison, he returned to Belen to live with his parents. Today he relies on Social Security for his livelihood. He is unable to work.
“I used to be a good mechanic,” Jacob said.
But in the midst of a tragic life, he has found and kept faith in God. At one point, he was bitter, but now, at age 57, he sees the goodness of God and prays frequently. He attends church on Sundays, receiving the Holy Eucharist.
Today, he has a deep concern about the serious drug epidemic in Belen, in the county and in the country. He offers his services to talk to the youth about the deadly dangers of substance abuse.
Albert Jacobs feels he can make a positive difference by telling of his life, of suffering — a life of drugs and his experience of being caged like an animal.