Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credits: Far Out / YouTube / Nusa Urbancek / Alfons Morales)


Travelling the world in the footsteps of the infamous drug smuggler Mr. Nice


Howard Marks managed to do something very few people ever achieve: live a life worthy of recounting. It may not have been an admirable life or one that we should take instruction from, but it was certainly rich in detail. Most people know Marks as the charismatic drug smuggler and raconteur Mr. Nice, the man who made his millions smuggling vast quantities of cannabis into the United States.

After serving a long stint in prison, he emerged and began a new life as a bestselling author, writing his iconic memoir Mr. Nice in 1996. While the book flew off the shelves, he embarked on a career as a stand-up performer, doing one-man shows where he’d tell witty anecdotes to packed theatre audiences while smoking on a tight-packed joint.

After unsuccessfully standing for election to the UK parliament in 1997, Marks became something of a cult figure, while his performances with the likes of Super Furry Animals, Alabama 3 and Gruff Rhys saw him become a figurehead of the Cool Cymru movement. In 2010, Mr. Nice was turned into a feature film starring Marks’ friend Rhys Ifans, introducing a whole new generation of young people to the wild and unruly ways of Howard Marks.

While distinctly countercultural in theme, Mr. Nice carries an archetypal narrative arc: the journey. From his humble beginnings in South Wales to his eventual imprisonment in Indiana, we see Marks’ attempts to secure a happy life for himself and his family thwarted time and time again. Here, we’ve bought you a list of the various places Marks’ called home during his time as the charming and rakish drug smuggler Mr. Nice.

Rhondda Valley, South Wales

Mr. Nice opens with Howard Marks recounting his childhood in Kenfig Hill, a small industrial village to the south of Moel Ton-Mawr mountain. During his school years at Garw Grammar School in Pontycyme, Marks was, by all accounts, something of a swot. So much so, that his teachers convinced him to apply for a scholarship to Oxford University.

When Mr. Nice was turned into a feature film, the crew used the nearby Rhondda Heritage Park as their base camp, capturing footage of Bryn Eirw in Trehafod, Rhondda Cynon Taf and the former Lewis Merthyr Colliery looming in the distance. The colliery now offers visitors an insight into the coal mining community that lived and died there.

(Credit: Alamy)

Oxford University

After impressing Ancient Historian Russell Meiggs in his interview, Marks secured a place at Balliol College Oxford, which claims to be the oldest college not only in Oxford but in the English-speaking world. Indeed, the college’s Headington stone facades – raised in the 13th century – are even older than Tenochtitlán, the Aztec imperial capital.

Balliol was founded in 1263 after the Bishop of Durham was abducted by John I de Balliol following a land dispute. As penance, he was publically beaten by the bishop and was ordered to support a group of scholars at the University. During his time in Oxford, Marks was introduced to drugs such as cannabis and LSD by friend Denys Irving. Although he swore off hard drugs, Marks’ use of cannabis caused him to neglect his studies, only managing to pass his Physics finals through a combination of cheating and last-minute cramming.

(Credit: Kaofenlio)

California/ Las Vegas

After establishing a partnership with Mohammed Durrani, a Pakistani hashish exporter and descendant of the Durranis who had founded Afghanistan in the 19th century, Marks established himself as one of the main suppliers to Oxford, Brighton and London. By 1972, he was making £50,000 with each shipment and was approached by a member of the British Intelligence Service to work for MI6, largely because of his connections in the Middle East and his knack for seducing women.

The next year, he began jumping between California and Las Vegas, selling drugs to the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, an organisation of US drug smugglers otherwise known as the ‘Hippie Mafia’. Around this time, Marks began smuggling cannabis into America by hiding it in the amps and speakers of touring bands. A masterstroke, but one that would eventually get him busted.

(Credit: Grant Cai)

Palma, Mallorca

Having staged his own kidnapping, Marks lived as a fugitive in the United States for six years before being arrested by customs officials. After securing his freedom, Marks and his family relocated to Palma, Mallorca, a resort city that feels the heat of the Balearic sun for 300 days out of 365.

In Palma, Marks set up one of his only legitimate money-making ventures: a wine import-export business. At the same time, he continued to expand his network and made huge sums of money smuggling hashish into America. In Palma, he lived a life of luxury in what was at the time one of the most resplendent pearls of the Mediterranean. He likely knew that the good times couldn’t last forever—and he would have been right too. While he was sipping wine in the shadow of La Seu cathedral, The DEA were tapping his phones and keeping him under close surveillance.

(Credit: Alena Vavrdova)

Terre Haute, Indiana

Eventually, the good times did indeed come to an end. In 1988 DEA agent Craig Lovato successfully arrested both Howard and Judy Marks. They were taken from Palma to Modelo prison in Barcelona, and from there to Alcala-Meco in the Spanish capital of Madrid. After being extradited to the United States, Marks was sentenced to 25 years in jail and given a $50,000 fine. He spent seven years of that sentence in Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute, Indiana, a notoriously tough prison that holds all the male death row inmates.

As always, Marks avoided conflict with the facility’s more violent prisoners by being his usual cheerful and charming self. During his time in prison, he managed to befriend four of the five New York Mafia families and began teaching his fellow inmates to pass their GED exams. He also found success as a jailhouse lawyer, managing to secure one overturned conviction.