I just spent forty-eight hours locked up in a federale jail in Juarez.
Three days ago, my neighbor woke me rapping at my door and asked if I could run across the border and fetch her three cartons of cigarettes. I didn't mind, it was an easy trip, I had nothing planned that morning, and plus she has innumerable times assisted me when the need arose. It was the same kind, elderly woman who had shown me the apartment in which I now reside. Why not?
I took the three-hundred pesos she handed me and made my way to the border only stopping to transfer the currency to dollars. Walked over the bridge to the duty free shop a couple of blocks away. Purchased the cigarettes - they were on sale, three cartons for $16.50 - and quickly made my way back to Juarez.
Crossing the Stanton Street bridge, the Mexican customs have an x-ray machine in which you place your bagged goods to be scanned. I have done this countless times and twice before with purchased cigarettes without incident. However, this time the female custom agent snatched my bag off the conveyor belt and asked if the bag was mine. I said yes. She ordered me to follow her to the customs shed, punched in some numbers on a computer screen and then demanded 1147.00 pesos ($120 American) for the entry tax.
I asked why and stated that I had done this several times before and was never asked for any tax. I added that I lived in Mexico and was the cigarettes were for personal use and not for sale. She didn't seem concerned and continued to badger me for the pesos. She asked for my passport and then was approached by her supervisor who then both went into a stream of how was I to pay for the tax. I explained that my bank card did not work outside the States (thanking God that I did have my bank enforce that after witnessing Tijuana cops drain a tourists bank account at an ATM) when the fact occurred that I had no way of paying, they escorted me to a truck and whisked me off to their main offices a few miles away.
There, I was processed and booked with embezzling contraband across the border. I was then taken to another truck, escorted by three, machine-gun toting para-military guards to lock up. Visions of being driven out into the desert, shot, and left for dead swam in my confused mind. Within two hours of crossing the bridge, I was behind bars.
My Spanish is limited. However, the more times I explained 'I didn't understand' the faster they spoke. In my cell, I was visited by several people who babbled quickly and had me sign reams of paperwork. I could had been signing a confession to murdering all those missing women over the years and I wouldn't had known.
As I lay on the cold concrete slab that served as a bed in the tiny cell, I stared out through the bars with only one thought burning in my brain: How long was my sentence? I received several convoluted replies from 48hrs, to three months, to being relocated to a prison in Veracruz for several years. Ok. I simply shrugged and accepted my fate with silent abandon. I had no one to call and the friends I did have in Juarez I did not know their cell numbers since everything was spoken through facebook.
I do have to admit concerning my own account: the federale officers were extremely cordial. Not the brutal, malicious overtly macho assholes seen in movies or told through American lore. One young one was actually a writer and we spoke often on the subject when he entered the cellblock to deliver food or to check up on me and the four other prisoners.
That evening, I was photographed and fingerprinted. Their fingerprinting was so archaic: the officer slavered my hands in black dye, printed everything, then smeared Vaseline all over them to remove the dye. It didn't work.
Again, I asked several times in my feeble Spanish how long was my sentence? blahblahblahblah, senor. Sigh. I did catch that I would be speaking with members of the American Consulate the following day and that raised my hopes a bit.
After a cold night of fitfull sleep on freezing concrete, I was awoken by my fellow writer/federale guard and escorted to a small room with bars separating me from a young woman. It was the representative of the American Consul. She explained that I would only be serving 48hrs or less. However, the fee for the "Municipal Police" will be between me and the judge. I asked how the police were involved and she stated that she did not know. Okay.
I was escorted back to my cell were I spent most of the time thinking or dozing in and out of stupor sleep.
The following day, my federale friend stated that I would be leaving that morning. "That's good news." I muttered. However, there was another ignorant American in another cell yelling obscenities and causing all sorts of problems. That was when I saw the federales become their stereotypes. I don't know what they did in that cell, but I heard a lot off muffled screaming and thumping. Later, the American (since now we were the only two left in the cell block) confided that he was caught on Mexican soil driving a stolen car into Mexico.
"The American Embassy will come and expedite me, right?" He asked, fear in his voice.
"I don't think so. You committed the crime here. So, you are pretty much at the whim of the Mexican judicial system."
He was silent after that. A while later, I was escorted out of my cell, signed paperwork, and led outside. Free! Free, at last! Nope. I was then taken across the street and locked into a barred room with piles of confiscated shoes. Yeah, don't ask...
This timid character comes to the door and introduces himself as my lawyer. He then explains that his fee is $500 American and I needed to cough that up, him going down the list of friends and family members I needed to contact to help pay the fee. I looked at him and said, "You obviously don't know my friends or family."
Since he obviously wasn't getting dime one, the judge showed up and said I was free to go - after more paper signing and finger printing.The judge escorted me outside and said, "I did a back ground check. Here in Mexico, you're record is clean. Up until now. It would be in your best interest if we do not meet again." With that, we shook hands and I was let out.
Does this wayward account of woe end there? Nope. Halfway down the street, my "lawyer" comes bounding up to me and asks how am I to pay his fee? I again stated I didn't have five hundred (I did, safe in my bank) but fearing this fucker was going to arrest me again, I commented that my neighbor might help. (After all, they were her cigarettes!) So, taking a city bus - not a car, a bus! - to my neighbors (he nor any other official know my exact house. I gave multiple addresses) My neighbor, after much crying and hugging - she really does care about me - told the lawyer basically to fuck off. And he did. He left after the fact I stated I get paid the following Friday in which he said he'd return.
I guess I'll be leaving Juarez next Thursday when my royalty check clears my bank. Ho-hum...