Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The calling of the Bureau

When watching action movies about the agents in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) like “Silence of the Lambs” or “X Files,” there may be tendency by some to think of them as unreal or even larger than life.
But the job is very real especially for those who are saved by the agents committed to the bureau.
Thirty-five year-old Maritza Conde, a Puerto Rican mother and wife from a working class background, decided to apply to become an FBI agent after working as an attorney for a few years in the commonwealth island. She was accepted into the agency and her current job description with the FBI is fighting against human trafficking, the illegal buying and selling of people. Everyday she tries to protect those who are helpless and vulnerable in the seedy, urban jungle of the Space City.
Conde, a member of the Houston Operations Office, gave us a little bit of her time so we could pick her brain and learn about her experience.

Houston Examiner: What motivated you to become an FBI agent?
Maritza Conde: I’d always wanted to be part of the FBI ever since I was a child and watched them on TV shows or movies. I was also very interested in criminal investigation and, actually, I became a lawyer first.
After I graduated from college with a bachelor’s in political science, I applied to attend law school and to work for the FBI at the same time in 1992.
The FBI called a year later but I told them I wanted to finish working on my law degree. I graduated in 1997 and practiced law for about eight years and I decided to apply with the agency again.

HE: But why become a government agent if you already seemed to have it going as an attorney?
MC: It was in my heart and the idea never left my head. I enjoyed my experience as a lawyer trying cases in criminal and civil courts, but I got to a point where I wanted more than getting completed investigations on my desk; I wanted to be part of the process of investigation of a case. Being part of the FBI was a way to be able to participate and help develop a finished product, so to speak. What’s more, being a lawyer has helped me in my experience as an agent
Law gives you the knowledge of the interaction with people y that’s a great advantage in the FBI, even more if you’re bilingual, since they prefer people that speak more than one language. The physical training was intense, but they also prepare you in many other aspects.

HE: What can you tell people that find it hard or impossible to join the FBI?
MC: I liked that you asked that question. My mother was a working class woman and Ive never been really well-off and she was a widow; my dad died when I was 11 years old. I have two sisters and my mom raised us working many hours to make sure we had what we needed. She taught me -and I advise parents to do the same with their children- to have confidence in myself and the desire to study. My mother did everything possible to get us a good education and gave us love and care, but also instilled discipline to face life. To be educated is the only option in life.

HE: What kind of work have you done in the FBI so far?
MC: I work in human trafficking, which is a big problem in the states and internationally. I love what I do because, more than a job, it touches my human fiber and its one of the issues where you can make a real difference. For example, when agents investigate drug cases, theyre dealing with material things like amounts of cocaine or marihuana. When youre talking about human trafficking, youre talking about human lives as merchandise. When you get to rescue just one person, one victim of human trafficking, You feel it deeper and that night I can sleep a little better knowing that person is better than before. Its appealing to working in other divisions of the FBI and climbing positions in the agency, but Im enjoying what Im doing now. Besides, Im relatively new and Im still learning.

HE: How serious is human trafficking in the U.S.?
MC: It’s much graver than I thought or anyone can imagine it because for every case we find, there are thousands we don’t know about. Usually, victims tend to be minorities or foreigners, but we also see Americans that are exploited like runaway teenagers. But there’s confusion between what the community considers trafficking of undocumented aliens and trafficking to enslave people. In the traffic with the purpose to exploit, the criminal keeps a commercial relation with the victim like cases of prostitution. Typically, women are forced into prostitution for an outstanding debt or threatened to kill their families. 
Published in www.examiner.com in September 2009.

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