The Good Teacher

The Good Teacher - Zuleyma's Story

Zuleyma was known as a “good teacher” to her students and colleagues during the years she taught K-12. But her career in education came to an abrupt halt when she was arrested for selling drugs. An abusive partner had gradually come to have more and more control over Zuleyma, pressuring her to do whatever it took to keep her partner happy. That included selling drugs and becoming cut off from family and friends. In this video, Zuleyma explains what happened next.

Interview and videography by Greta Smith.

The Good Teacher - Chapter 2: Control and Abuse

By Zuleyma Figueroa


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Suddenly, in June 2010, I was caught selling drugs and went to jail. I lost my teaching and administrative license. After serving three months in jail, I got a lawyer and managed to get out. I was devastated. I still had my house and decided to rent out a couple of rooms for income. I got a job and began to work in a Mexican store. Not planning to continue my relationship with my partner.  

Suddenly, one Friday morning, she turned up at my front door asking me to let her in my life again. I said no and I asked her to leave.  She left, but she began stalking me and sending people to my house to spy on me and what I was doing. Then she showed up again and this time she got into my house and put a gun to my head. She told me that if I said anything, or called the police, that she would make me or one of my sisters disappear in an instant. I was terrified! I had been kidnapped in my own house. And the threat was real because her brothers are sicarios, contracted hitmen. These guys would make you disappear and no one would ever find out where you were or what happened to you. I was so scared for my life and the life of my sisters. 

This woman took over my house and my possessions. She used my name to do a lot of different things. Including opening up an automotive shop where her brothers were acting as mechanics. My life was a living hell. I became her maid and I would never talk to her in a way that would make her mad or upset. I told my sisters to not visit me or contact me because I didn’t want them around me or these dangerous people. I wanted to commit suicide several times. I didn’t have a phone because her phone was the main contact for everything.  

When the shop was opened, it was with money that I did not know where it came from but I am sure it was drug money. She ordered me to be in the front office to run the business because I spoke English. I never knew what she was doing in the shop, but I assume it was bad things because of what she was doing to me. I was a scared woman with nowhere to run to and nowhere to turn. If I said anything, I knew that I would end up in a grave. I slept in a room by myself while she slept in a separate room with her guns, vigilant of anything I did. She put up cameras in the back and front of my house. 

Eventually, the DEA showed up to the shop to perform a search and I was arrested. Again she seemed to have escaped justice. I was charged with possession and delivery of drugs and although the DEA knew I wasn’t their suspect, I was the only one they had in their custody. I was interrogated and told them several times I didn’t know anything. It didn’t matter and I was convicted of charges that sent me to prison for four years. 

Zuleyma’s story continues in an upcoming post - Chapter 3: Lost and Healing

The Good Teacher - Chapter 1: Role Models and Success

By Zuleyma Figueroa

“Good teacher.”  This is how my students and their parents would describe me in the schools that I have worked in. I was a teacher for over 15 years in bilingual programs, K-12. I have always had a passion to teach and serve the children and youth in our community. Indeed, I was happy. I had a house, a nice car, wonderful teaching job, friends, family, and most of all I made my mother proud for having put my degree from higher education to work. My mother was my hero and my older brothers were great role models in my life. Even as I came out, revealing I was gay, I had a great deal of support from my parents and family.

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It was winter 2007 when I met a woman that I fell in love with. We were happy and things were going well for a couple of years. Then I started to notice that my income from work was not enough to cover the life of luxury that my partner wanted. She began to invite people into our life and into our house, and suddenly there was a world that I never asked for. Reluctantly, I began to get involved in this lifestyle in a desperate attempt to keep my partner happy. Eventually I would succumb to her manipulation and eventually found out that she was heavily involved in a family drug dealing business. In retrospect, I now see how love can be so blind.

Gradually, I began to start selling drugs for money to keep my partner happy.  I also started to have fear as she began controlling me by yelling and hitting me. She had also drilled in my mind, because of my standing, that I would never have consequences behind my actions. She also promised me that she would always have my back and the police would never suspect me. I believed her and did whatever she wanted. I ignored the realization that I was contributing to a drug problem in my community and was destroying people’s lives, including my own.

I also did not realize the degree of psychological manipulation that was being inflicted upon me and all the strategies and tactics in which she was controlling my life. She gave me constant reassurance that everything was going fine. Certainly, domestic violence can take many forms and it was not fully apparent to me at that time. I was completely brainwashed.  After all, money did not seem to be much of a problem as she traveled back and forth to her family, buying expensive cars and have parties every weekend. Doing drugs was not the addiction, but selling drugs and getting money were. I lost my identity and I started to be very codependent of my partner. I stopped living my life and started living her life instead. I stopped seeing my family and friends too. The world that surrounded me belonged only to her.

Zuleyma’s story continues in an upcoming post - Chapter 2: Control and Abuse