Alcohol, Relationships & My 36 hours in a Spanish Jail

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I’m not going into the sordid details here but alcohol was the main ingredient. Most Spanish cops likely still live with their Mothers and police a happy world of old drunks and petty criminals. Given the chance to bang-up a gringo tourist is like winning the lottery. I was that lucky winner!

Given my abject fear of trigger-happy American cops and my intimate knowledge of the passivity of Europe, I wasn’t too intimidated by these bumbling kids. The foot chase was in broad daylight through the middle of a small Spanish town in the middle of the day and straight out of Laurel & Hardy. It involved me being cuffed in front of my kid’s Doctor moments after he said “Our town needs more people like you!” He looked deflated yet shrugged and went back to eating his lunch. This pretty much sums up small town Spain.

“I don’t usually get incarcerated but when I do it’s in a foreign country.”

I had my trusty snowboard pack given to me by Jake Burton and my nasty tactical pocket knife, my version of a Leatherman and what I imagine MacGyver would use if he was real. They cuffed me tightly and proceeded to pilfer my stuff. I would imagine they don’t pay cops in Spain much because they steal a lot. Perhaps my exotic black $150 Kershaw switchblade (available at Bass Pro Shop) will be passed down generation to generation on this tiny island as a trophy from someone’s Grandfather. That would make a great story and worth the investment in someone else’s legacy.

When we got to the station everybody looked very stern and spoke absolutely no English. The Spanish don’t speak English, they don’t give a fuck, if you don’t speak Spanish (the greatest language on earth) then that’s your problem. They have a point, much of the world speaks Spanish and they have their own sizeable entertainment industry- who can forget Yolanthe Cabau Van Kasbergen? Let’s face it, if you don’t have to dub your TV you are a contender and don’t live in a “Sh*@thole Country”…

The booking officer was wearing a military uniform that would make General Patton blush, it was so covered with stripes and sashes that I was convinced that Muammar Al-Gaddafi had been revived. He looked at me puzzled and said in very broken English, “Why are you smiling?, don’t you think this is serious?” No, I’d seen this dog and pony show before. It works sort of like that Warner Brothers cartoon where the sheepdog and coyote each justifies the others existence…and paycheck. Maybe that’s true of all cops and robbers worldwide.

They booked me and put me in a teeny-tiny holding cell for hours, no windows, concrete bench, the usual Slayer logo graffiti and poorly drawn pornography. I got bored really fast and after a couple of hours started into my repertoire of African American chain gang songs and Outlaw Country classics- similar subject matter. Seeing as I was the one being oppressed I dropped by voice at least an octave waiting for that “Chariot to carry me home.”…

After a few more hours of torturing the local constabulary, they decided to throw me deep in a dark hole. “The Hole” sucks, hence it’s enticing name. It’s dark and filthy with shit on the walls and blood on the floor, I won’t even tell you what’s on the ceiling. There were rats, bugs and weird Arabic graffiti everywhere- there is a sizeable Moroccan population in Spain and therefore some very strong hash. Across from me I got a gangly drug addict lying in a puddle of brown water, despite my friendly ice-breakers he did not want to be friends. I was puzzled by the expanding puddle of water until I heard the torrential rains outside.

I picked a great day to get arrested, the biggest monsoon of the season and a leaky Franco era jail do bad cousins make. The pounding of the rain increased, which was strangely soothing, what was less soothing were the rising water levels. After a few more hours it was about four inches deep in my cell. It was cold and dark and wet and I started to understand the mentality behind the Inquisition at this point. Sensing my despair the jailer finally came by to see why my rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” had stopped. This man was a real specimen, a Victor Hugo creation complete with a deformed head and what looked like a huge lobotomy scar. I’ve cast some good actors in my time but this guy was beyond authentic.

We had now reached the eight hour mark with no food, water, hugs, quality conversation, etc. Quasimodo came a calling again, thankfully he sensed the disappointment at my accomodations and lack of basic human necessities, so he ushered me to the place where prisoners shit and piss, to call it a “washroom” would be a misnomer. I was instructed to put my head under the rusty tap and take a drink. 8 hours without water sucks and suddenly makes you realize how fragile humans actually are. The prison water tasted like pennies but was much appreciated. I tried to squeeze out a dusty pee but with 0 water in my system it proved impossible.

Back in my cold, wet, concrete home the hours crept by slowly. I listened to the junkie moan, cry and wail and decided heroin was not on my “to do list.” What a mess this was proving to be and it would have probably cost me my job but it was a Friday, a blessing and a curse. I had the privilege of listening to the Friday night riffraff being paraded in, drunks shouting and puking, wives yelling and even kids. I swear I heard a child crying in the darkness, “Do these savages incarcerate babies?!” or maybe since I hadn’t eaten in 12 hours I was hallucinating.

The hours dragged on, at some point a nice young man came by with a cardboard box full of stale bakery bread, I carefully chewed around the soggy and moldy bits. I decided it being Friday night to put on a show for my captive audience, I ran through all the saddest country songs I know: Johnny, Waylon, Willy, Kris, Hank I & II, even David Allen Coe- another jailbird! What I got in return was a lot of swearing, pleading and yelling in Espagnol, I do know some words. I am a bad DJ and had not played correctly to my audience… Anyway, it was good for a laugh, besides we were separated by three feet of concrete, so suck it! If I have to suffer, so do you!
The grinding of time continued, endlessly, the drunks, pissed and puked and passed out. The rain stopped and a indescribable stink rose from the stagnant water filled with the putrid excretions of the worst of humanity.

The junkie finally slept, dreaming his junkie dreams and I lay on cold, wet concrete feeling my 40 years. These were the hard hours, the ones where you wonder if there is a God and if he gives a shit about you. Every man thinks he’s hard but start taking away food, water, light, heat, meaningless conversation, clothes, status and identity and he’s a trembling child. This is the purpose of punishment. These hard hours are what defines you, you are alone, vulnerable and weakened and you start having those serious conversations with yourself the only truthful ones. The clock ticked past 24 hours, I was fully parched and my head pounded relentlessly, my stomach was full of the dull pain of hunger. I thought of Jesus hanging from the cross, pecked by vultures, dying, staring blindly into a cruel sun. I thought of every other prison who ever lived and died behind bars, a skeletal Bobby Sands, a bleeding Steve Biko, Magnitsky, Xiaobo, Gandhi’s wife, my hero Wolf Tone. We live in a society where punishment is celebrated, suffering encouraged, a biblical lust for an eye for a eye. It’s a bit medieval and disgusting.

I thought of everyone who had it way worse than I and how they got through it- I found strength in that, the triumph of the human spirit against tyranny and oppression- Ok, maybe I’m getting carried away, it was only a weekend in my life. By hour 30 the water started to subside, we had come full-circle, the groans of now Sunday morning hangovers filled the air, the shuffling of tired feet, the farting…welcome to men’s prison. The rusty door up the stairs creaked open and fresh from Church the warden came down to inspect his prisoners. I got up, pulled myself together and stood up head held high, I wasn’t giving them any satisfaction, although I felt like a drowned rat.

Today was judgment day, I guess I was the prison celebrity because I was handed a greenish ham sandwich through the bars. I carefully inspected it and threw it in the corner, I knew today I was getting out. We were lined up and shackled wrists and ankles and mached past a line of new recruits. 34 hours into the life of a convict I seemed to be getting some degree of respect from the locals for not welching. They hadn’t seen a gringo down here in who knows how long, especially one with a golden voice and few complaints. Fuck it, I’m Irish I thought- I’ll show them the gravel in our guts, I wasn’t the first Irishman to be persecuted and won’t be the last. In the paddy-wagon (again as an Irishman I find that offensive), I was chained to a low-level mafioso from Italy. This guy was a pro you could tell, he was just scanning me for an angle to get something. I felt a bit outgunned, hardened criminals have their own society, language and hierarchy, newbies are marks and prey but we struck up a friendly enough conversation. Still I couldn’t wait to be unchained from this guy.

The van lurched through the ancient cobblestone streets of Spain, the land of Cortes has always been set back in time. We bumped and banged and bitched. At the courthouse I was separated and marched in front of a throng of reporters but they weren’t there for me.
Unbenounced to me my arrest had coincided with the Godfather of the Island, I will call him K out of respect (and fear). He had been arrested for multiple murders, drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, tax evasion and more than likely failure to pay his monthly contributions to the local government officials. They lead me right past this guy, him looking slick with coiffed hair and patagonia puffy jacket, Rolex watch and designer eyeglasses. Right then I realized how crime is for real criminals, not amateurs. I should just stick to writing and be a nicer guy, just happy to be free and unchained. Based on his appearance I’m betting he didn’t get the same dungeon treatment as I. Money, power and privilege are real, so many people don’t have them and we simply don’t care about their suffering. I was unchained and the Judge simply looked bored, he glanced at me, a gringo in leather shoes and a crinkled dress shirt and let me go. I looked sheepishly at my fellow brother prisoners, I’m guessing it wasn’t so simple for them. No one was there to get me when I walked into the blazing sun, my eyes dilated an underground dweller no more. I lit a smoke and stopped in at one of the many open air cafes joints, I ordered an espresso and drank it down in the warmth of day. I didn’t even go home, I walked the main street and stopped into a decent tailor. I finished my smoke and ordered a mid-length jacket, navy blue with brass buttons. I still have this jacket to this day, it’s my getting out of jail free jacket and I wear it everywhere- LJ.