His mother was one of the most feared drug lords of Colombia’s Medellín Cartel — and for the first time, he’s sharing his story on the small screen.
Michael Blanco stars in VH1’s Cartel Crew, a new reality show set in Miami that follows the lives of eight descendants of high-profile drug traffickers as they navigate adulthood — and the aftermath of their parents’ crimes.
“A lot of people might say that I go above and beyond to try to humanize my mother, but no matter what, my mother was my mother,” he tells PEOPLE. “She gave me milk from her breast. She took care of me.”
Michael is the 40-year-old son of the “Cocaine Godmother” Griselda Blanco, who began her criminal career as a pickpocket, eventually commanding an empire that reportedly shipped 3,400 lbs. of cocaine by boat and plane per month.
Griselda, estimated to have killed over 200 people, was gunned down in 2012 in Medellín after returning to her home country following a stint in U.S. federal prison.
Michael admits that it took his mother’s assassination for him to turn his own life around.
“Let’s just say that for 33 years of my life, I was a criminal,” he says. “When I got that phone call and I knew that my mother was dead, I realized that our previous cartel lifestyle was completely over. I had to make a choice right then and there.”
“I had to evolve and become a different person in order to break that tie, so my children wouldn’t have to live the life that I lived,” he continues. “It wasn’t easy, and until this day, it’s very hard for me because I was a mommy’s boy. My mother was my best friend and my brothers were my best friends. … I guess I understood once all my loved ones had passed away, that it was time to just forget about it, completely.”
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Now, Michael runs a clothing and lifestyle brand called Pure Blanco, selling t-shirts with his mother’s image alongside slogans such as “Boss Like Griselda.”
“We’re trying to show the world that we’re making a positive from a negative,” he says. “This is legal tender. I’m not hurting anybody. I’m trying to live the American dream. I’m trying to be successful with a legal product, something that I can feed my children with. And I do. That’s how I feed my family.”
Cartel Crew airs Mondays (9 p.m. ET) on VH1.