UOL: Flávia Maria da Silva tells her story, from prison to freedom, and recalls work with H360 cooperatives
The following article was published on the UOL website on May 9, 2023 by journalist Maurício Businari.
Widowed at 16, she became a ‘drug lord’ in São Paulo: ‘A cursed legacy’
She met her husband at 15, “an overwhelming passion”. At 16, she gave birth to a boy. She found out the love of her life was a gang’s drug lord, then a year later, she witnessed his murder on her doorstep. That’s how she then took over her partner’s business and became a drug lord herself, expanding her area of activity, becoming known and respected by her rivals.
This is the story of Flávia Maria da Silva, 44, who tells us in the testimonial below how she inherited, as a teenager, the command of the gang previously led by her husband, and the consequences of a choice made so early on in her life:
“I was born and raised in a small community in Guarulhos [São Paulo], called Jardim das Oliveiras. My family was very poor: my father worked as a server and my mother was a housewife. Despite my father’s efforts to support his five children, difficulties were inevitable. Despite it all, I had a happy childhood.
When I turned 15, I met a boy who lived nearby. I passed by him on my way to school almost every day and the flirting started. One day, he approached me. He was handsome, kind, lovable. But he was ten years older than me, so I was afraid of my parents’ reaction, so we started dating secretly.
I fell madly in love. He gave me things my family could never afford. Simple things, like dinner at a restaurant, going to the movies, a box of chocolates. I’ve always been a romantic, naive girl. He had come from Ceará to São Paulo to try to make a living, also very young, and he said he worked hard to get a better life, always honestly — and I believed him.
I got pregnant two months into the relationship, so he proposed to me and invited me to move in with him, because he wanted to take on the responsibility of being a father. I said yes, but still maintained a close relationship with my family, who after a while also began to recognize many qualities in him. He was my prince charming, he treated me like a princess.
I gave birth at 16. I learned how to be a real mother without having learned anything about it in school or at home, back then these subjects were not discussed. Our life was good, we weren’t in trouble. But right after I gave birth, he said he wanted to tell me a few things.
That’s when I first learned he sold illicit drugs. I didn’t even understand what that was, the difference between one drug and another. I never saw him bring anything home, so I ended up agreeing to it. He told me the only people who helped him when he arrived in São Paulo were from a family linked to drug trafficking. He got involved when he couldn’t get a job to make ends meet. He was illiterate, and opportunities were scarce.
When my son turned one, we started planning his first birthday party. My mother and my sister were helping me prepare the sweets when I decided to go out to get the snacks. When I came back, there were several police cars parked at my door. My husband was lying on the floor, murdered.
I was desperate, I didn’t know what to do. I managed to pay for the funeral with his savings and moved out with my son. I feared for us because I found out he had been killed by a rival, a stranger who wanted to take over the drug trade in my husband’s area.
It took me months to overcome the pain, I got depressed. I had inherited a curse. My husband’s friends and partners began to pursue me. They wanted to be with me just to take over his business. It was hard for me, I had to impose myself. When I realized that the situation was too risky, I decided to take over the business. I became a drug lord at age 17.
Back in the day, a female drug lord was very rare. I don’t even know how I managed to organize the business in such an efficient way that our partners began to respect me.
I never touched any drugs, I just took care of the logistics through my cell phone. Over time, I expanded the business to other regions of the country and started dealing internationally.
I helped my family and provided a good life for my son with my earnings. We lived in a good neighborhood, he studied at a private school.
At 33, I was already established. Negotiations involved tons of drugs, my network had grown extensively. I just didn’t realize the police were monitoring me and had bugged my cell phone.
We used codes to drug deal so I could not be incriminated. No one other than my family knew my address and I kept changing cell phones, but this time I had been using the same number for over six months.
The police intercepted a shipment I was dealing and arrested one of my partners. He couldn’t take the pressure and snitched on me. I was betrayed.
I was sentenced to 20 years for trafficking and association with trafficking. I spent the first five years in the women’s penitentiary of Santana, in São Paulo. From there, I still managed to deal drugs at a distance for a while. But they ended up finding out and sent me to the Tremembé Women’s Penitentiary 2. That’s where hell began for me.
Chance of a fresh start
We, the inmates, were isolated, and the treatment was inhumane. This is the prison where the crime leaders are, which they call “negative leadership.”
I began to immerse myself in books to cope with the way we were treated. I read a lot about spiritism, but I ended up drawn into self-help books. It was what I needed at that moment because I wanted to change my life, I just didn’t know how.
Ironically, it was in this prison that I had the opportunity to engage in a cooperative. With the volunteers, I learned various handicrafts, such as cutting and sewing, knitting and crochet. I was skeptical at first, but with the help of the Humanitas360 Institute, a pilot project that trains and generates income inside and outside prisons, we created a brand, Tereza, in reference to the rope of tied cloths inmates make to escape jail.
The project was a success. We managed to raise more than R$ 100,000 right from the first sales for the 26 poorest inmates who participated and accepted the task. I managed to finish high school.
Thanks to that experience, I decided to leave the life of crime for good. I met with leaders and explained I was leaving, that I would leave the path free and that I also wanted to be free from it. In 2020, I was granted the semi open regime and started studying law at Zumbi dos Palmares University.
At first it was difficult, because I had to attend classes with an ankle bracelet and tracker. But as people got to know my story, I was accepted more naturally.
There I met judges, prison guards, police officers, lawyers, very special people who are helping me in this process of reintegration into society. I started to tell my story in lectures and I’m thinking of writing a book. I know that my story can help other women who have faced or are facing similar situations.
I was released from prison in February, and I am living with my family and my son, who never stopped visiting me during the 11 years I was in prison.
I work as an administrative assistant at the institute. I want my legacy to show that it is indeed possible for a formerly incarcerated person to reintegrate into society.
I want to be one of those people who prove that changing your life is possible. This is the reason I go to Law School, to do good and to support other women who want and are willing to change their lives when they are released from the prison system.”