Not many people go from being raised as an orthodox Jew to becoming an international drug smuggler. Hank Cooper, a Canadian who grew up in Toronto, traveled that path. After becoming an adult (chronologically, at least), in the nineteen seventies and eighties, Hank lived anything but what his parents would have called a normal life during his 20s and early 30s. Maybe it had something to do with his orthodox Jewish upbringing, but then again it probably was a combination of a million other things, especially luck, which he discusses in his memoir, Smuggling with Jesus.
The Jesus in Smuggling with Jesus was a lord ” a drug lord. Though not exactly a big time lord. And Hank kept his faith ” his faith that everything would turn out for the best.
Okay, so let’s get this straight. Canadian, Hank Cooper, looking for some excitement at the tender age of 23, and maybe even a way to pick up some extra spending money, takes up a friendly offer one night from a stranger at a party in Toronto and the next thing he knows, he’s on a plane to Bolivia. During his trial run to La Paz Bolivia, Hank finds himself paralyzed by fear. A coup d’etat has turned the streets three stories below his hotel window into a war zone. How are Hank and his new business partner, Bernie, going to get out of the country with two kilos of coke? Who can they call?
We have to go someplace now. You will soon find out.” Within 30 minutes, the two are hopping up the steps to Customs at Toronto International. This is nuts, Hank is thinking. Inside a small room, they meet with a 20-something Customs Agent. The kid acts like he’s all but delighted to see Bernie. After working out delivery dates and times, the Customs Agent opens his locker and gives his new friend, Hank, an official Customs shirt and a badge.
Four weeks later, badges are flashing as the Canadian Mounties raid the home of Hank’s mother. Hank is screaming at them to leave his mother alone and get out of the house. The three cops net a bag of laundry detergent. Frustrated, one of the officers drops the cliché caveat: “We’ll be watching you. You’ll eventually slip up.” They speed off in their undercover cars. Two questions come to mind:
Why isn’t this guy dead?
Shouldn’t he be pushing his memoir in the Fiction category?
Or he’s blessed by traveling and forging a deep friendship with one of the most intriguing and atypical drug smugglers in history: Bernie Shull, is a nice guy, who everyone the pair encounters, seems to adore.
In Smuggling With Jesus, Hank Cooper’s first hand account of his life in the international drug trade, the author captures the lighter side of drug smuggling and makes a case for one life that is like a movie and is destined to become one. Only with these characters ”” Uzi-brandishing drug lords, hippies financing their art with coke deals, law enforcement officials providing carte blanche for a drug trade gone way off the charts, frankly, it’s hard to tell the criminals from the good guys.