In July 1999, I flew from New York City to Rio to begin the process of
interviewing Lucia. I had known Lucia since the 1980s, when I first
started doing research on Rio’s shantytowns, or favelas. In the last
few years, however, I’d hardly seen her. And that was because she’d
become romantically involved with what turned out to be a series of
drug dealers operating out of the western part of the state. But now
she was back home, with her family, in Jakeira. And it was her experi-
ences as a survivor of this cruel and largely undocumented world that
I was there to investigate. Except that when I got there, to her house,
there was a man, a man I’d never seen before.
His name was Bruno.1 He was sitting on a white plastic chair on the
veranda as I came in. Not knowing who he was, I nodded, extended
my hand, and introduced myself as a friend of the family, before mak-
ing my way through the living room into the kitchen. It was there that
Lucia told me, while she was preparing food for everyone, that Bruno
was her boyfriend, and that he had just been released, having spent
the last eight years of his life in prison. But that’s pretty much all I
knew at the time, until a few days later, when Lucia told me to go talk
to him about his experiences. And so I did.
Our conversation that day lasted around fifty minutes. During
those fifty minutes, he told me how he’d become involved with deal-
ing drugs as a corporal in the Brazilian navy while stationed at the
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