Danny Santos, now 21, told CNN he got out after four years. He now has two jobs that pay him in two months about what he could make in one trip as a smuggler, while he trains at a boxing gym in El Paso.
Santos was recruited by someone he met at a party who introduced him to drug dealers in Ciudad Juarez.
"I didn't care. I had no conscience," Santos said. "You're young, and you're naive, and you think it's easy."
The cartels recruit on both sides of the border, Custom Enforcement agents say. Someone like Santos makes a good courier because, as a U.S. resident, he could cross more easily.
El Paso County Attorney Jose Rodriguez said that the money is a big lure for teenagers. But he said the business has its downside.
"We had a kid here who lost a load and had some of his toes chopped off," Rodriguez said.
Santos would agree.
"The peace of mind is good," he said. "I sleep good, eat good. I feel better now."