Tor·que·ma·da (tôrk-mäd, tôrk-mää), Tomás de 1420-1498. Spanish Dominican friar who was appointed grand inquisitor by Pope Innocent VIII (1487). Under his authority, thousands of Jews, suspected witches, and others were killed or tortured during the Spanish Inquisition.

jueves, 25 de octubre de 2007

Kendall's Prayer

Dear Pastor,

I walked down the busy footpath, knowing I was late for an important meeting.. My eye fell upon one of those unfortunate, homeless vagabonds that are found in every city these days.

Wearing what can only be describes as rags, carrying every worldly possession in two plastic bags, my heart was touched by this person's

Some people turned to stare. Others quickly looked away as if the sight would somehow contaminate them.

Recalling some long ago Sunday School admonition to "care for the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the naked," I was moved by some powerful inner urge to reach out to this unfortunate person.

Yes, where some people saw only rags, I saw a hidden beauty. A small
voice inside my head called out, "Reach out, reach out!"

So I did..........

martes, 28 de agosto de 2007

Kendall's Sense of Humor

The first surgeon, from New York, says, "I like to see accountants on my operating table, because when you open them up, everything inside is numbered."
The second, from Chicago, responds, "Yeah, but you should try electricians! Everything inside them is color coded."
The third surgeon, from Dallas, says, "No, I really think? librarians are the best, everything inside them is in alphabetical order."
The fourth surgeon, from Los Angeles chimes in: "You know, I Like construction workers...those guys always understand when you have a few parts left over."
But the fifth surgeon, from Washington, DC, shut them all up when he observed: "You're all wrong Politicians are the easiest to operate on. There's no guts, no heart, no balls, no brains and no spine, and the head and the ass are interchangeable."

Every once in a while you send out a puzzle.I found one you may enjoy trying to solve.Try to find the tractor in this picture.....You would think a tractor would be easy to find,but this one is a real challengeHint: I think it's a green John Deere .............

miércoles, 1 de agosto de 2007

inglesagil Stocks

Stocks on roller-coaster ride
Major gauges turn lower after crude sets record, erasing gains on economic reports.

miércoles, 4 de julio de 2007

See Ya in Argentina by the EOY


The Grass Isn’t Always Greener in Colombia
A Smuggler’s Diary
KendallEARLY 1979
La Picota Penitentiary, Bogotá
(the present)

Jesus fucking Christ, another day. It’s still dark outside but it’s time to get up. I don’t want to but I have no say in the matter. My two cellmates are farmers and have been up for an hour discussing unashamedly the best way to fuck a sheep. I grab my towel and soap on my way to the shower leaving them arguing the pros and cons of wearing knee-high rubber boots to put its back legs into while mounting it.
Great, not a soul’s up yet so nobody’s here checking out my penis and scrotum looking for a hiding place while they anticipate the 50 F water. It comes out of 1-inch holes in a pipe and feels like icicle pounding into my skull. I hop up and down trying to stay warm as I soap down rapidly. My body is in such shock when I step out that I’m actually comfortable as I return down the corridor to my cell.
Oh, oh, trouble. Three guards are standing outside Ernesto’s cell door being very quiet. He’s my neighbor and I have to pass by his cell to reach mine. I know he sells grass, everyone knows he sells grass for this is prison where everyone knows what everyone else’s farts smell like. The cell doors are made of sheet metal with a 2-ft square barred window at a height for easy viewing. Most prisoners hang a curtain in front of it to afford a modicum of privacy. I have mine boarded up which is strictly against prison regulations. It’s added security and not necessarily from the guards.
One guard quietly pulls back the curtain peeking inside his cell then bellows angrily, “Open up Ernesto, now.”
The other two guards start banging on the metal door with their clubs. His door is locked from the inside so they can’t open it.
“Open up, Ernesto, we can see what you’re doing.”
Ernesto’s a good friend so if I can help I want to. I sneak up behind the unwary guards spying over their shoulders into Ernesto’s cell. He’s eating grass wrapped in newspaper with enough weed inside for a good-size joint. He’s putting a packet into his mouth chewing it twice and washing it down with water. He’s not in any noticeable hurry though he’s not taking his time either. They’re only a few feet away from him and can see what he’s doing but there’s nothing they can do about it until he finishes eating them and opens his cell door. It took Ernesto three minutes to eat the fifteen or so packets of grass but it seemed like forever. The impatience of the guards is distorting time. He looks at me briefly, knowing the guards haven’t seen me yet, then smiles as he gets ready to swallow the last one. He knows he’s getting his ass kicked shortly, so with a flare for the dramatic, he brings it high into the air then slowly lowers it into his mouth swallowing it whole as if it were a live goldfish. He polishes off the water and saunters to the door. It opens outward so the guards step back positioning themselves to nab him.
One guard backs into me and barks, “Bueno, gringo, you get back to your cell pronto or you’re getting the same thing as Ernesto.”
I slowly respond stepping back three paces and continue to watch the drama unfold. The guards are waiting for their catharsis and payback’s a bitch. Ernesto stands a few seconds by his door taking deep breaths then unlocks it. He barely opens it when they grab him pulling him out into the corridor/pasillo.* One guard is choking him from behind with his club while another tries fruitlessly to open his mouth. The third is giving him sharp, hard jabs to the stomach with his truncheon at will. Ernesto isn’t fighting back for that’s the worst mistake a convict can make. Believe me, they WILL take the fight out of you if you fight back. I’ve seen it at close quarters and it isn’t pretty. But somehow this scene is almost comical as one guard strangles a limp rag doll while the other tugs at the doll’s poor lips and a third knocks the stuffing out of it. It’s almost comical except for the needless brutality of it all.
*Pa-si-llo (pah-sée-yo NOT pa-sil-lo) is the corridor in front of cells ONLY. I use this word repeatedly so it won’t be in italics.
The guard going for the stomach takes a step back. It’s Babe Ruth at the bat as he winds up putting all his body weight into it. He swings landing a powerful blow to Ernesto’s solar plexus. It’s a home run! Oh man, that had to hurt. Ernesto immediately vomits all over the guard trying to open his month. The guard strangling him is getting spewed upon also so he drops him. Ernesto goes to the ground on all fours still puking leaving the half-chewed packets of marijuana in a puddle of barf, bile and blood.
All three guards are splattered in upchuck as they decide what to do with the evidence, that evilness that is grass, that is now gleefully drenched in stomach acid. A guard squats down and starts to gingerly pick up one packet but thinks twice about it. He stands up taking Ernesto in tow as the trustee arrives with bucket and mop in hand to sanitize the mess in front of my cell. He’s been trustee in this cellblock for years and is a rat that would turn in his own mother. He’s dangerous and has to be handled with kid gloves.
I watch him scoop the yuk into a bucket as I open my cell door. The farmers are having a heated argument over the merits of each of their fighting cocks seemingly unaware of what just transpired. They’re here because they killed a man at a cockfight supposedly for not paying a bet. They’ve been best friends since childhood but are fiercely competitive when it comes to their cocks. Well, so am I in a manner of speaking. I sit on my bed and pull the sheet back exposing a hole in my mattress. I feel around inside the stuffing pulling out my stash. I roll it, light it and take a huge toke, and along with another 1,800 entrapped souls, one more day begins in La Picota – La Penitenciaría Central de Colombia en Bogotá.
I’m presently doing time for escape from an earlier coke bust in Cali. Being busted here was of my own making. It was 6 years ago when I decided to make The Big Deal – a cocaine run to Colombia. I’d done some smuggling in the past so this wasn’t out of character. I made plenty of mistakes and now I’m in prison. The trail leading here really started in the year 1964.

1964 – OCTOBER 29, 1973

Willing to put all on the line,
is a sign that one loves life intimately…

I began jumping out of airplanes at age 19 and did so most weekends for the next 3 years drinking beer at a local skydiving bar on PCH in Hermosa Beach, California called the Rumble Seat. They showed amateur 8- and 16-mm skydiving movies on Wednesday nights that the local jumpers had taken. I was watching a clip of me jumping out of a plane dressed only in my skivvies when I met a beatnik there who sold me some LSD.
September 1966. I was nearly 22 and would soon be marrying Roxane Mason, a wonderful lady who I’d been dating for 4 years. I was working as a computer programmer for Howard Hughes wearing a suit and tie to work every morning. I enjoyed my work finding computers interesting and challenging.
I tried LSD for the first time of many times the following Saturday morning though I’d never met anybody who’d ever taken it before. Acid didn’t have a bad reputation at the time as it would within the year when tens of thousands of mostly young mainstream, middle-class Americans experimented with it for the first time. So I took it not really wanting to drop out or rebel in any way whatsoever. I’d remembered reading an account of a person who’d taken an ‘acid trip’ and had sat in front of a tree staring at it for hours “…feeling the treeness of a tree.” That was all I wanted to experience then to go back to work very normal on Monday.
The trip on LSD had one very positive affect. I felt I was capable of driving my ’55 Merc the few miles to the Rumble Seat that night after having gone through the most bizarre day of my life. I entered the bar still tripping and saw all the regulars, badass jumpers as they described themselves, sitting around playing beer-drinking games as usual. These were my friends and I could see through acid-eyes the misery and suffering they were going through while they smiled and joked around drinking Coors. And I could see what was at its roots – beer by the keg. I was the youngest of the lot and felt that these older dudes should have some answers to something. I turned around leaving the bar and never drank alcohol again for 10 years until my first prison escape in Colombia. Strange, I never made another jump after that. It’d been my life and then…
The beatnik called me a few days later and came over to my house to see how the trip had gone. And would I like to buy an ounce of marijuana for ten bucks? I’d heard of it but never had tried it so he rolled a number. I was stoned after three tokes and loved it so I bought a lid.
I called Roxane inviting her over to my pad. I was still stoned as I opened the door. “I have something, babe, I want to show you.”
We sat on my bed while I rolled my first joint. Roxane was reluctant but gave it a go but all it did was make her cough. Whereas I took to it immediately for grass totally turned me on physically making my body all tingly. And I wanted to make love. I slowly undressed her feeling just how smooth and soft her skin was. Roxane was beautiful at 5’2” and 100 pounds and had a remarkable body with a thin waist and gorgeous breasts. And I loved exploring it all and my senses were electric as I entered her. Oh, being inside of her was total bliss for I then understood what the poets were talking about when they spoke of love – the earth trembled when I came. It was like I’d never made love before and I’d just discovered it. And so began my romance with marijuana and what became a nightly ritual for many years to come.
I met a surfer a week later who’d just come back from Mexico. He’d smuggled back a brick of Mary Jane – a kilo or 35 lids. I bought it for $70 planning on selling seven lids to make back my money then keeping the remaining twenty-eight ounces as stash. I was looking for another kilo ten days later after having sold it all. I was programming computers for Hughes Aircraft clearing $125 a week working under constant pressure. And $200 a week selling grass while meeting interesting people and getting stoned.
Spring 1968. Roxane and I’d saved $4,000 after a year of marriage in which to travel Europe for however long our money would last. Europe didn’t have grass so I cleverly disguised eight ounces of clean weed in a carton of Marlboros. We were ready for Europe.
We delivered a VW beetle from L.A. to N.Y. being paid $50. We flew to Luxembourg and hitchhiked through Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and down through Italy to its southern port of Brindizi. We boarded a ferry to Athens and spent a few glorious months exploring the Greek isles where hippies were in abundance. Then hitched rides through mainland Greece, Yugoslavia and into Turkey to Istanbul. I’d crossed all these borders carrying weed having never been searched at customs even with longhair, beard and being all hippied-out. I was though being careful. I studied the custom psyche for I knew I was playing with fire and it’d change my life entirely if I were bust. I never thought this was a game that wasn’t being played for keeps. I likened it to skydiving – if you didn’t pack your parachute right then “Adiós, amigo.”
We met a French hippie in Istanbul just returning from Katmandu. Where? I’d never heard of it before so Roxane retrieved our trusty world map, and sure enough, there was Katmandu in the mountainous country of Nepal bordering northern India. This was no trip for a woman so Roxane flew back to Rome to stay with an uncle stationed there for the US Air Force.
The Hippie Trail, as it would be soon known as, was truly an adventure for a naïve 23-year-old American who’d never been out of Western cultures. I traveled through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and was crossing the border into India when I met a German hippie. We teamed up crossing the border then caught a train to New Delhi where we shared a room. He opened up his rucksack pulling out his bedding along with fifteen kilos of gold-seal Pakistani hash! I was taken aback having just crossed the border with him carrying my Marlboros.
He handed me a slab to inspect. “Would you like to smoke some?”
“Yeah, groovy, man, that’s why I’m in India.”
The stuff was dynamite. He’d made many trips buying it in Pakistan for $5 a kilo and selling it in Goa for $50 where hippies flourished. This was good biz for a hippie wanting to survive in India but a key of good hash in California represented $2,000. So I bought three for $150 disguising them as incense and shipped them back to California. It was a hit-or-miss deal but was well worth the gamble.
I caught a train to the Nepalese border catching a ride on a truck to Katmandu. I legally bought grass and hash from the government store restocking my carton of Marlboros. I headed back to Europe the same way I’d come and finished by taking a train from Istanbul to Rome where Roxane was waiting for me. Three months had elapsed.
We took a train to France and hitchhiked down the Riviera and the Costa del Sol in Spain then a boat to the Spanish isles of Ibiza and Formentera. We spent two months there running around naked on the beaches then returned by boat back to Spain and onto Morocco. Roxane flew back home from there to Hermosa Beach returning to her old job and waited my return.
I had $560 and wasn’t going to return home until I was penniless. I boarded a ship in Casa Blanca heading down the African coast to Dakar, Senegal. I spent 2½ months traveling the West African countries of Senegal, Mali, Upper Volta and the Ivory Coast. This was the hardest traveling I’d ever experienced but I loved it. I was hitchhiking for there were no trains or buses and wherever I’d land for the night was where I’d lay my blanket down. I did get a lucky break when I caught a ride with two European journalists who picked me up outside of Bamako, Mali driving me the 700 miles to Abidján, Ivory Coast. This was half the trip so it’d taken me 2½ months to do the first 700 miles and 2 days to do the next 700. I boarded a ship in Abidján to the Canary Islands where I booked a flight back home. I lived in the Canaries for a week without a penny as I had wanted.
The point to this travelogue is that I’d spent a year traveling and had a passport with 70 full pages of stamps – and I’d smuggled drugs into and out of every one of these countries! I’d crossed over 60 borders, never for profit, only to have something to smoke – and the seductive border rush. I’d loved the adrenaline kick. Roxane should also be given credit for her courage for she’d trusted my judgment crossing the borders always standing by my side. We’d been young, in love, hippies and lucky.
Roxane picked me up at LAX the next day where she informed me a crate of incense from India had arrived at my parents’ home. Little hash ever made it to California so it didn’t take long to sell it to friends at $60 an ounce making $6,000. This was more money than I had before the trip and all I had to do to earn it had been to explore the world for a year. Sitting around Hermosa Beach doing nothing but smoking it would’ve bored me to tears so I decided to return to India to find a guru, live in a Himalayan cave, eat grass and meditate.
There was one big obstacle. Roxane was fed up with living in a different hotel room every night. She was happy making a comfortable home in which to live, working in aerospace and visiting with old friends and family. We truly loved each other but it wasn’t going to work for I couldn’t stay put.
Summer 1969. My friends, Val and Ann Rideout, had just moved to Maui and were on the phone. I explained my plans of shortly being on my way to Asia.
“Hey, dude, why don’t you come to Maui first?” Val suggested. “All fights to India have a stopover in Honolulu and Maui is just across the street.”
“I don’t know, man, it’d be easier just to go straight onto India.”
“The surf is far-out, dude, and there’s a lot of groovy chicks bouncing around in bikinis.”
“I don’t know, man…”
“Look, dude, the drugs here are out-of-sight. Ann and I live in our VW van and hang out in Paia. So come on down, dude, I promise you’ll love it.”
I was torn up about leaving Roxane, my lady for 6 years, but I flew to Honolulu a few days later and onto Maui. I took a taxi to the tiny town of Paia where I met some surfers. Ten of them lived in a large 3-bedroom house only twenty yards from the rocky shore. They knew Val and Ann and said they’d be there the next day and that I could stay with them. We smoked my hash that night and the surf was up the next morning.
I’d lived on the beach since I was fifteen never having surfed. Someone loaned me a board and I paddled out. It was breaking 4-ft coming in fast, and as dumb luck would have it, I caught the first wave I went for and stood up riding it fifty yards. I was totally stoked for I’d never felt such joy as I had on that wave. Skydiving couldn’t hold a candle to it. The next twenty tries were catastrophes but I was hooked for I’d found God on a wave.
A surfer at the Paia house wanted to sell his ’58 Chevy station wagon with a broken axle abandoned alongside the road to Lahaina. I bought it for $75 sight unseen. I met up with Val and Ann later and we drove to a junkyard where I bought a used axle and installed it myself. I bought a mattress for the back so I had wheels and a home to boot. I followed them to a lonely beach where they slept in their van. We ate brown rice and veggies at sunset and retired into the back of their van to smoke our brains out. We were laughing at just about everything as Val untied Ann’s bikini top. She cupped her enormous breasts playfully acting embarrassed and coy. Ann was barely 5’ tall and wore triple-D bras when she wore one. She giggled them playfully at Val pleading for her top back.
“Why cover them up, babe?” asked Val lasciviously. “They’re wonderful and I feel like…”
He began tickling a very ticklish Ann and groping for her breasts. Ann was putting up mock resistance but was getting turned on by Val’s advances. I wasn’t sure where this was going or if I should even be there.
Val pinned Ann down kissing one of her mountainous boobs looking at me slyly, “Come on, dude, jump in.”
I was still leery but all apprehension headed for the starry heavens when Ann made room for me on the narrow bed. The three of us proceeded to have as much fun as three naked bodies could have.
Surfing. I’d finally found something in life that was both ethereal and real. I knew for certain this was something I could do for the rest of my life without ever tiring of it. There’s nothing like riding a Hawaiian wave and I loved the lifestyle that demanded hard physical exercise and smoking lots of dope. I loved everything about living on Maui and would skin diving when the surf wasn’t happening. But time was running out. I’d spent $3,000 after six months – half my money. I’d looked for work as a waiter or whatever but for naught.
I bumped into Val on that fateful day of December 26, 1969 when he informed me a hippie from San Francisco was over at the Paia house selling cocaine for $55 a gram. Val had just spent a ‘white Christmas’ and thought I might like it. I’d never tried it but I was game.
I bought a gram doing a few lines and felt instantly awake after what had seemed like years of hibernation. I left the Paia house to find the surf breaking 8 feet and hollow. I went to my car snorting some lines and grabbed my board paddling out. I literally ripped these waves apart. It was the best time surfing I’d ever had. I knew instantly what I had to do to remain surfing. I had three grand working capital so I called friends in L.A. and found someone with a coke connection in Mexico. I flew back to the mainland the next day.
January 1, 1970. I was crossing the border at Tijuana, Mexico with a guy with a coke connection in Tierra Blanca near Mazatlán. It was a dirty, dusty town whose only claim to fame was that of large opposing mafias. I bought seven ounces for $2,500 and was left to smuggle it back by myself. I’d only snorted my first gram a week early on Maui. I was moving fast.
Flying would be the quickest way so I took a bus to Mazatlán. I went to a travel agent asking for the next flight to the States. It didn’t matter where for the coke made me move. There was a seat available to Phoenix, Arizona the next day.
I wore slacks and white shirt strategically placing the seven ounces of blow underneath my belt and flew to Phoenix. Kismet had kissed me on the forehead that day. Phoenix wasn’t an international airport so the plane had to first stop in Tucson, AZ for customs check. So 120 disgruntled American tourists deplaned being unhappy about the delay. They unloaded our entire luggage and had us in and out of customs in 45 minutes. They weren’t checking jack-shit. Going through customs at Tucson was easy but what a rush. I landed in Phoenix flying to LAX a few hours later.
I didn’t know anyone that snorted cocaine so I went to Hollywood to see my friend Tom Rosen who I’d met on Ibiza a year earlier. He knew plenty of people that were interested and it took off like a rocket. I went back to Tierra Blanca six weeks later buying 1½ pounds. This sold even faster.
April 1970. I was on Maui with bucks to burn and was doing lines with a well-known surfer named Buddy Boy. He was a large, burly Hawaiian big-wave surfer who was one of the most unpretentious, pleasant people I was ever to meet. It’s unlike me but I was actually in awe of him having seen him ride monstrous waves that I’d never even dreamed of having the balls to ride. The dude was awesome.
“You know something, Buddy Boy, I’ve got fifteen grand to invest in Peru’s best. I was thinking, man, you know all the Peruvian surfers who hang out here in Hawaii. Maybe you could call one of them and we could take a trip down south.”
He made phone calls to Peru and we flew to Lima within the week. It took a week there for his Peruvian amigos to connect with a chemist who made a special batch for me. They delivered the five pounds to my hotel room. It cost me $12,500 and was the finest ether-based Peruvian flake I’d ever seen.
It was one fiasco after another smuggling it back to the US via Mexico and Phoenix. I strapped it to my back wearing a suit and tie to hide it. I’d ten ounces undisguised in a plastic bag in my inside suit coat pocket because it wouldn’t fit into the back harness I’d sewn. I put on the harness and found I had to stand up perfectly straight for I looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame if I bent over. Only because I was quick thinking and more luck than anyone deserves did I finally smuggle it back to L.A. without getting busted.
I tried to sell it by the pound but I didn’t know anybody that bought that quantity so my big mistake. One of my connections knew someone who had a friend looking for a pound of cocaine. A meeting was set up at my apartment where two FBI agents, ostensibly cocaine buyers, busted me with three pounds.
July 1970. This was the second largest cocaine bust in US history. They also busted my stash; a kilo of opium I could never figure out how to smoke; a pound of primo, black, hand-paddy Afghani hash; numerous tabs of LSD; and a pound of seedless Michoacán grass. They also found my passport with a recent Peruvian stamp in it. The FBI would have enough proof with only that to convict me on smuggling charges.
I’d spent four days in jail when a dear friend put his house up for collateral for my $17,500 bail. Judge Manuel Real summarily convicted me two months later on five felony counts ranging from importation to distribution of cocaine. Each count carried a 5- to 25-year sentence with a mandatory minimum of 5 years. It was then up to Real’s discretion if he thought I should remain out on bail during the upcoming sentencing phase. My record didn’t indicate I’d abscond so I remained free. I began dealing in earnest to cover the bail money and run.
Tom Rosen would come over to my Hollywood house to score weed or coke for reselling. He came over one day with something new. He produced a syringe, a small bag of brown power and a blackened spoon.
“I’ve got something really far-out to show you, man, I think you’re going to groove on this. It’s the best high yet.”
“What is it, Tom?”
“It’s smack, man, you’ll love it.”
Tom poured the brown powder into a spoon adding water from the syringe and heated up the mixture. He tied his arm off with his belt flicking a vein a few times then injected himself.
With dull eyes he slurred, “You want to try it, man?”
I’d been a hippie for 5 years and had tried every drug that had come within my ken. I had never tried heroin much less a needle before.
“Sure, Tom, I’ll try it.”
I shot up heroin for the first time making a bloody mess of my arm. I didn’t feel very much and wasn’t impressed plus the shooting up thing bothered me. He left me the syringe so I shot up some coke a few times by myself but mostly missed.
Tom came over strung out on heroin and didn’t know what to do. I gave him $1,200 to fly to Ireland – money I sorely needed for bail. He’d friends there that were going to help him clean up his act. He returned to Hollywood six weeks later with a girlfriend named Penelope. I couldn’t believe it for he was 25 having been a homosexual all his life. He ran around in a very avant-garde gay scene with plenty of intelligent, interesting people in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. I’d no idea he was unhappy with his homosexuality.
Penelope Meyers was 22, thin, long brown hair and very hippie. They’d met in Ireland becoming lovers. Tom was proud as he introduced her to me, for see, his trip to Ireland had proved fruitful. Penelope had known she was Tom’s first woman and they seemed to be in love. I was offish when I met her for I thought it was great he’d a girlfriend and didn’t want to interfere.
Penelope came over to my house one night wanting to talk to someone. I invited her in and we sat down on the couch.
“I didn’t know who else I could talk to Kendall, so I came here.”
“So what’s the matter, Pen?”
“It’s Tom,” she wept, “he’s totally unresponsive and ignores me. I don’t think he likes me anymore. Or finds me attractive.”
“Now, now, none of that’s true. You’re just going to have to give Tom more time. He’s not used to having a woman around him is all. He’ll come around, you watch. He still loves you, I’m sure.”
“No he doesn’t” sobbing louder, “he hasn’t made love to me in three weeks.”
She leaned on my shoulder as I stroked her back telling her everything would be okay. Her tears abated while she clung onto me tightly. Her breathing became heavier as she pressed her firm breasts against my chest. We began groping each other’s bodies and were soon naked making love for hours. I didn’t want this to happen for Tom was a close friend. I told her to go back with him, give it a chance and not to return to my house.
She went back to Tom with things remaining the same. Then Tom came over one night telling me about his inability to have sex with Penelope and was having sex with other men again. What should he do? Gads, I hated this.
Penelope called me days later letting me know she wanted to live with me. I wanted to be with her also but this wasn’t the way to go about it. Their relationship went on the rocks so she flew to her parents’ home in Atlanta and phoned me. She told me she loved me and wanted to be with me even though I’d be going to prison shortly for a long time. I told her I’d call her back.
I talked to Tom explaining how Penelope and I felt about each other and that we wanted to live together. He was with other men and was all for it. She joined me in Hollywood where Tom and her remained close buddies.
Nine months had passed before I was to be sentenced. It was apparent I wasn’t going to make bail. Penelope called a friend in Atlanta who loaned her the ten grand I needed to pay my $17,500 bond. I thought up until that last moment I’d be in front of Judge Real waiting to be sentenced from 5 to 125 years that the five counts mandated.
May 1971. Ironically, things took an upswing once I was on the run, penniless, paranoid, no car or ID. I was hiding out in a rundown motel buried in the hills of Malibu off the beaten path for $45 a week. I spent my days mostly drinking cheap wine, strolling the nearby beaches and hills and feeling scared and sorry for myself. I’d thought up until the last second that I’d be wearing a black and white striped suit so being on the run was unplanned.
Penelope was staying with friends in the Hollywood Hills and would visit me every few days bringing me money and news. I was bored after a month and realized I’d have to get back into the mix if I were to survive. It took me only days to inform my old connections that everything had returned to normal. I was back in business.
Penelope and I moved into a small bungalow nestled in the hills near the Hollywood sign. I traded some weed for a rundown Porsche so I was mobile. I’d my first real break not long after that. I’d plenty of customers looking for quantities of marijuana so I’d swoop on the occasional load of a hundred kilos. But what I needed was a steady supply.
My hippie neighbor came by introducing his friend Bob C to me who had some blow for sale.
“Glad to meet you, man. Come in, make yourself at home. Can I roll a joint?”
“No, not for me. I came by because your neighbor said you might be interested in looking at some snow.”
“I’m always interested in looking but I’m not in the market right now but this is going to change.”
“Can I lay out some lines then?”
I handed Bob a mirror and it came out while doing lines that he had a car with a trunk full of grass parked outside. We went to his Cadillac opening the trunk, and sure enough, there were 75 kilos of weed. Bob could see no problem in fronting them to me, and as a matter of fact, another 75 keys were arriving that same afternoon. He had daily shipments coming in from Tijuana and I was soon paying cash. I paid back the ten grand to Penelope’s friend and was debt free. I’d capital which opens more doors than “Joe sent me.” But along with accumulated cash comes temptation.
Bob had a good coke connection so he’d come over to my place and share. He’d sometimes shoot up with an insulin needle that had its top cut off, plunger removed and a baby pacifier tied to the top that when squeezed would inject the liquid into his vein. His wife was against it so my place was sanctuary. I used to watch him do it and could see he was going to places I’d never been. The day eventually arrived when my curiosity was piqued.
“Well, Bob, you wouldn’t mind if I tried some?”
“No, not at all.”
“I’m not very good with a needle, man, I don’t supposed you could do it for me?”
“Sure, no problem.”
He poured a big pile of coke into a spoon.
“Hey, man,” protesting, “isn’t that too much?”
“When you slam coke, you gotta do it right. Otherwise, you don’t feel shit.”
He added water and dissolved the mixture. He deflated the pacifier and drew the concoction up into the modified syringe. I tied my arm off and he stuck the needle into a vein waiting for the blood to register then squeezed half the coke into my arm. I could taste the coke immediately inside my tongue and then freight trains came storming threw my brain. My heart pounded in my brain and I was in a place of pure terror waiting for my heart to explode – then he squeezed in the rest. I went straight to the bathroom spewing my guts out. My head was in total turmoil with some insane gnome banging a gong inside my skull. I held onto the toilet bowl for dear life – it was my lifeboat. I returned after minutes on wobbly legs.
“How was it?” Bob asked smiling.
“Fucking great, man.”
I loved it. There was nothing like it on the planet. I didn’t know where I’d been but I wanted to go back. Shooting coke is a very different experience than sniffing it and affects the mind and body differently. The rush lasts only thirty seconds leaving you muddled, jittery and totally fucked up so you do it again looking for that elusive rush. And you do it again until there isn’t anymore. Then watch out, the come down’s a bitch.
I began doing it nightly after business hours but one time only for that’s really the best rush you’re going to get. Doing it only once convinced me I was in control. I told no one about this and actually refused to deal with people who shot up for they couldn’t be trusted. I knew if anybody around me were to get busted that they’d be able to get off just by giving me up.
Life went on normal-like for the next few months. I was working long hours making money. Penelope and I were living in a nice home in the more exclusive parts of the Hollywood Hills. About then I met two comedy writers, Jerry and Harvey, who were each writing/producing their own very popular sitcoms for Paramount Studios. They were looking for some good blow. They were impressed with my product and trusted my discretion so they introduced me to some very famous actors. Actors live in a very closed and guarded society where everybody knows everybody else, but once you’re in, you’re in. It wasn’t long until I was dealing with people I’d seen on the big screen but had never thought I’d ever meet much less befriend. I’d go to Hollywood parties with fifty people in attendance and be able to name half of them even though I’d never met them personally.
Bob came over with some spectacular Peruvian flake and two new needles. He shot up first and I could see he was blasting off, and unlike him, he hadn’t injected that much. It was my policy to never shoot up during the day but I did so anyway. Whoa, straight to the moon. This stuff was too good but the come down was traitorous.
“The high from this shit, Bob, is from outer space but this coming back down to earth is bullshit.”
I was completely spaced out and my mind was racing out of control. I was looking out of eyes that appeared to be possessed – and were. I rolled a joint with shaky hands with the sound of my heart echoing loudly in my ears. I’d people to see later and I was in no condition to even drive.
“Well, man, some junk would do the trick,” Bob suggested.
I’d never tried heroin before except with Tom and I hadn’t found it enjoyable. Bob had been an addict when he’d lived in New York and Las Vegas playing drums but wasn’t ever going to let that happen again. He admittedly was still chipping but was keeping it under control.
“I have no idea where to score any junk,” I moaned, “but I’d sure try some, anything, to come back down.”
“How much would you like, man?”
Bob returned with an eight ball (1/8 ounce or 3½ grams) of smack I’d ordered. I figured this would last me an eternity. We then proceeded to slam speedballs for the next few hours – a mixture of heroin and cocaine. What a difference, you felt the coke rush without the come down meaning you could do it repeatedly. This can be extremely dangerous – just ask John Belushi. Thus began my love affair with Speedball Heaven. It hadn’t been long before I called Bob asking for more smack.
“I thought you said the eight ball would last you forever,” he lectured. “You have no idea what you’re getting into.”
“I know, man” sniveling big time.
“You know I don’t like to be around it. I’ll do it if I am.”
“I know but…”
“And besides that, man, you don’t need it.”
“You’re becoming righteous on me, Bob.”
He didn’t like being called a hypocrite because he wasn’t. He’d lived in the New York heroin scene and knew where I was headed. And that I’d be constantly at his doorstep. He didn’t need the temptation so he introduced me to his heroin connection. He was black, well mannered and kept a neat, clean house with all the latest electronic gadgetry that buglers could steal. And he didn’t use heroin! He was a perfect connection.
I was never to sell a single gram of heroin in all the years I dealt. I felt the drug was dangerous, though I was doing it, and that everyone else couldn’t control it. I always made enough money selling weed and coke to be able to easily afford a smack habit.
I was visiting my illusionary Heaven every night, much to Penelope’s chagrin, but it was soon becoming Hell. The cocaine was taking over control. I’d shoot up and it made me crazy. I decided to quit one night after injecting enough cocaine to kill a horse. I broke all my needles promising Penelope I’d never shoot up coke again as long as I lived.
I felt extremely ill the next night. I sweated this evil smelling slime, felt itchy and twitchy, my bones ached and my nose ran. I had a habit! I’d never shot up heroin by itself before thinking that nodding didn’t look like much fun. And there I was with a chimpanzee on my back from doing speedballs. I visited my diabetic friend with a bag of weed to trade for ten new needles. I returned home shooting up heroin by itself for the first time – and instantly felt better. I still had energy and felt normal.
Penelope had been visiting family in Atlanta for a week so I was home alone when Bob called. He’d be over later to talk shop. I’d scored a vile of 10mg Diladids, synthetic heroin, the night before. The small tablets dissolved in water without being heated and were perfect for doing speedballs. I’d some excellent coke and began to bang away. Wow, this combination was the ultimate. I couldn’t believe the rush then right back down again. I mixed up some more and whoa...And again. I was spun out but realized I was going too fast. I retrieved the egg timer from the kitchen and returned to the bathroom. I set the timer at five minutes but I usually didn’t wait that long between slams.
I woke up groggy with my feet dragging along my living room floor. I looked at my left arm draped over Bob’s shoulder that beamed relief. I was soaking wet and my legs were out of order so I was content just being drag around.
“Are you all right, man?”
Spiders were crawling inside my skull. “Yeah, I think so, what happened?”
“I came by your house and pounded on your door really loud. Nobody answered and I knew you were here. I broke the window next to the door and unlocked it. I found you on the toilet with the needle still in your arm.”
Bob had proceeded to put me in a bathtub of cold water. I hadn’t responded turning blue so he’d walked me around the living room for almost an hour. He’d probably saved my life but we didn’t discuss it. We sat there instead for the next two hours talking about everything but drugs. I was straight when he looked at his watch.
“I’ve got people to see, and if you’re alright…”
“No, no, I’m fine, Bob, and thanks, man. Really.”
“It was nothing, and please, call me later.”
“Okay, for sure, man,” opening the door for him to leave.
I went back to the bathroom where the syringe was still there along with the spoon. I found it curious that Bob hadn’t tossed them out. I immediately stashed them away along with the drugs thinking, “Fuck, where did I go this afternoon?”
I called Bob later expressing my appreciation for what he’d done and asked “I’m curious about one thing though, how did you know I wouldn’t go back to the bathroom and do it all over again?”
“Because I’ve been there.”
I was looking for a way to keep a lower profile. I’d been getting hot and making mistakes with plenty of close calls. I’d been busted several times but I’d always had good false IDs and bailed out. I’d a connection for birth certificates of dead people so I’d get a new one after being busted and paying bail. And that was all that was needed for a driver’s license. I was going through IDs like people go through potato chips while watching the Super Bowl.
I’d even been busted for false ID and arrested where I’d been adamant. “But officer, that is who I am. Truly. Yes sir, I know the driver’s license is false but John Walker is truly my name. I swear to God.”
They’d released me on bail because it’d required days and thousands of dollars to do a fingerprint check. I was on the road to the Big House if I didn’t take a quick detour.
I dealt only top quality coke so my price was relatively high. I dealt to coke dealers who bought ounces to resell in grams and eight balls. They had to cut it to make money. Could I get them some cut? The most popular thing being used was milk sugar. It clogged the nose and ruined the coke. There was only one excellent cut for coke – mannita. It’s a sugar derived from the bark of a tree that grows only on Sicily. It was used worldwide in IVs as a sugar supplement and as a baby laxative in Italy. There was a large market for good cut and it was legal.
I ventured off to Sicily to buy mannita. Penelope drove me to LAX where I caught a direct 5-hour flight to New York. I had a 4-hour layover then caught an 8-hour direct flight to Rome. I’d left the States without heroin not having a clue what was in store for me. I’d thought in my innocence that it’d be cool to go cold turkey and clean up for a few days to give my arms a much needed break. I was going through extreme withdrawals when we landed in Rome. I just managed through customs wiping the river of sweat from by brow with a handkerchief. I wasn’t carrying anything but looked a mess as I told a suspicious custom’s officer that flying made me nervous.
I caught a cab to a nearby Holiday Inn where I sprawled out shivering in a tub of hot water. I lay there soaking away the sticky film that oozed from my body – panicking. I’d never been a day without injecting heroin since I’d started 2 years before. The only inkling I had of what was in store for me were the horror stories I’d seen on short propagandized documentaries shown in elementary schools in the 1950s. I tried to get out of the tub but my body went into spasms shaking uncontrollably. My body was so sensitive as I lay there that I’d get an erection and all I’d do was stroke it a few times before coming – total insanity. It’d go limp for a few seconds then it’d be staring me in the face again. I was priapistic. I knew it’d be a week before I’d be in any shape to move. I didn’t have a week.
I put my act together enough after eight hours in the tub, and jacking off maybe twenty times, to take a taxi to the Spanish Steps in the center of Rome. I’d scored hashish there 4 years earlier when I’d been traveling Europe with Roxane. It was infamous as the place to score drugs. I noted a guy staring at me intently who knew I was carrying an angry gorilla on my back. Addicts have a way of sensing each other although I was carrying a neon sign. I approached him figuring if he knew the symptoms that he might have the cure. I walked away with a gram of morphine and a used needle.
Back to the hotel in a flash. I was drenched in slime and shook so badly I could barely pour the morphine into a spoon. I filled the syringe with water a few times trying to clean out some of the dried blood caked inside. It was still filthy but I didn’t care. It was a huge needle that was meant for elephants not people. Plus the point was well used, dull and barbed. I knew from the start this wasn’t going to be a pretty affair – not in the least.
I squirted a syringe full of water into the spoon but I was quivering so badly I couldn’t pick it up to heat up the morphine without spilling it everywhere. I filled the bathtub and lay in it chanting a Hindu prayer, “Om muni pudme hum.” My shaking was controllable enough at some point to handle the spoon while I heated up the mixture dissolving the morphine. I put a dot of cotton into the spoon when the shaking became even more intense than before. I was still trembling so badly that I spilled half the morphine drawing it up into the syringe. Shit, this really made me mad.
The trembling became worse. I was never going to be able to hit a vein? And worst of all, I’d have to use a plunger for the first time instead of a baby pacifier at the end of the syringe. A plunger takes a much steadier hand for the blood doesn’t register automatically. It was an art I hadn’t learned. I was totally palsied-out. I was in trouble. I sat on the toilet seat tying myself off and started poking holes in my arms trying to find a vein but in vain. The needle kept clogging so I couldn’t tell if I was hitting a vein or not. I was too desperate. I went back to the bathtub submerging myself in water being thoroughly fed up with myself. My poor arms looked a mess and I’d yet to hit a vein properly.
I tried again and managed to get half the morphine into a vein after numerous attempts. What I’d missed went into my arms leaving enormous black and blue splotches. I’d more than thirty big, nasty holes in my arms trying to shoot up only once. I’d just butchered myself but the gorilla was back in its cage.
I grabbed a cab back to the Spanish Steps where I purchased grams of morphine, new needles and a baby pacifier – then to Sicily. I made a deal in La Palma with a manufacturer of mannita for one ton – 2,000 lbs. It was wrapped up in 8½-gram cubes and was shipped to the Port of Los Angeles. I put the price at between $125 and $175 a pound depending on the quantity to be purchased. The load represented $3,000,000. I’d invested $2,400, but in reality, it was pure profit for the product had only cost me $600!
Cut wasn’t dope. People didn’t buy it in large quantities in case of scarcity. I was selling twenty pounds a week but it wasn’t fast enough. I was bucking the odds running around town dealing every day all day long. And heroin had become a habit – a very bad habit.
I was making over $1,000 a day but was spending it as fast as it came in. I was trading mannita for smack so my habit wasn’t costing me anything. I wanted to get away but still I bought nicer and faster cars. Penelope and I’d fly into Las Vegas every month for the night to catch a show and gamble. I was doing blow every day and was generous. I was spinning my wheels. I needed to make The Big Deal to escape my foes and woes. I began putting together a coke scam to Colombia. I’d enough money to buy twenty pounds whose profits would finance one last trip of sixty pounds. I’d be free forever. I was counting my chickens way before the eggs were even laid.
I was introduced to James Boyle who had a Colombian coke connection. He’d owned a disco called Papa Joe’s in Hollywood that had recently burnt down. I found him too flamboyant for my taste and was never to see him again after this meeting. He gave me the phone number of a man named Javier living in Cali. I called him up and he said to come on down.
September 1973. I had to clean up my act first. My arms were a disaster for I was shooting up 8 grams a day that my habit demanded. I decided to quit with Penelope’s blessings. Cold turkey. We drove to the Grand Canyon in my new Vette to get away from it all. There was advertised an 8-day, white water rafting trip down the Colorado River covering the entire 250 miles of the Grand Canyon. There was no way out once inside the canyon – perfect.
We found two seats on a 12-man raft filled with ultra-straight doctors and dentists from Texas. And I was going to be going through withdrawals! The two river guides were bearded, turned-on country folk who helped me smoke the hundred joints I’d brought along to ease the orangutan off my back. The trip had been the best ever for we’d gone over a hundred rapids some very dangerous. Having something to do all the time and the adrenaline had helped me through the ordeal.
I was clean as we drove back to Malibu, but three days later, I went to putting grams of heroin underneath my upper lip everyday like chewing tobacco where it’d slowly absorb into my blood stream. I’d a habit again but my arms looked human.
October 23, 1973. I’d encountered a pilot some months before that ended up working secretly for the Drug Enforcement Agency. I rented a 4-passenger aircraft to fly the 6-day journey to Colombia. Penelope hugged me, wished me luck and watched us vanish into the blue sky.
October 26, 1973. We’d only made it to Mexico City after three days so I flew into Cali on a commercial jet while DEA-Pilot continued flying our plane there. I called Javier going over to his house. I wanted 10 kilos (22 lbs) but in two 5-kilo lots. He called his connection and the first five kilos would be available in a few days after being processed.

OCTOBER 30, 1973

What is this pain,
filling my brain,
driving me insane?
All because of a drug
called cocaine…

The delivery was to be in the morning thereby avoiding the pitfalls of nightfall and police. I went over to Javier’s and picked it up paying $12,500. The cocaine was top of the line so we set up another buy of five kilos in two more days.
I returned to my hotel room with the five keys when DEA-Pilot called me from Cali Airport. “I’ve just landed and I’ve gone through customs. How do we get together?”
“It’s easy. Grab a taxi to the Intercontinental Hotel. I’m in room 504.”
Knock. I opened the door and DEA-Pilot in sitting on my bed only a foot away from the bags of coke. It made him clearly nervous so I tried to take his mind off of it.
“So do you have any ideas,” I asked calmly, “where we should hide the coke on the plane?”
“Is this all of it?” replying anxiously.
“No, there’s another five kilos to be delivered in a few days.” DEA-Pilot was fidgety so I gently noted, “You look all nervous. Is something bothering you?”
“No, not at all. I’ve just never been around this much cocaine before.”
“So where’s the best hiding place for the blow?”
“I guess the tail would be the safest and the easiest, I think.”
“Are you’re sure it’ll be well stashed there?”
“Well, uh, let me go back to the airport and check out the plane,” getting up to leave. “I’ll return shortly and let you know everything.”
He returned to my room an hour later knocking. I unlocked and opened the door to find an army of police numbering over fifty led by Interpol. I was busted. My life would never be the same.

(the present)

Am I to blame,
for the shame,
I refuse to claim?
All because of a drug
called cocaine…

Gads, that was over 5 years ago. I take another hit off the joint I just twisted as the two farmers ready themselves to leave the Patio and the prison, the lucky bastards, to help milk and raise the government owned cows just outside the walls. They’re only doing 2 years each for murder and aren’t flight risks. They’re not criminals really just murderers. La Picota is on the outskirts of Bogotá with the government owning all the land around it. The prison has maybe forty head of cattle they milk, and sporadically kill one, supposedly for the prison population’s consumption. In reality, the milk and most edible parts of the slaughtered animals go out the back door with the warden getting the biggest chunk of the money. While the bones and entrails make it to the prison kitchen to be drowned in watery soup.
I follow the farmers out of our cell when I notice Arsenio walking down the pasillo towards me. He lives on the 1st floor and I’ve never seen him up here on the 3rd floor before – El Barrio. It’s the poorest section and the furthest you can be from the roving patrols. You can see them enter the Patio from the 3rd floor window giving you plenty of time to finish your joint and skedaddle. You can tell Arsenio by his gait – easy going but don’t get in my way. He’s respected by all and is the top lieutenant in El Ganso’s gang – the most notorious, bloodiest mafia in Colombia. They control most of the emerald trade while still inside and are being prosecuted for 198 killings. I’ve always wondered why they didn’t come up with two more just to round it off at 200. Arsenio’s in his mid-30s, overweight, short and normally wearing a smile. He’s a straight-laced family man who doesn’t smoke dope. Nobody in El Ganso’s gang does.
I watch Arsenio approach along with his dog. His hobby is to bring German shepherds into the prison as puppies training them certain disciplines. He sends the dogs home months later with his wife on visiting day.
“?Cómo está, Arsenio? What brings you to El Barrio?”
“I’m fine. May I come in?”
“Of course,” closing the door behind us. “What can I do for you?”
“I’ve got some grass and want to know if you’d like to sell it?”
“Uh…” being taken aback.
“I’ll front it to you, of course.”
Colombians trust gringos so it doesn’t surprise me that he should make this offer. I’m not chomping at the bit for I decided from the get-go never to sell drugs in prison. I might be stepping on people’s toes so it’d be pure suicide. But shit, I haven’t had a peso in my pocket for many months. Arsenio is looking at me waiting an answer. My reasonable side comes to the forefront and starts to politely refuse, but is overruled by that side of me that’s hungry, that needs to buy a bar of soap and that wants to get stones.
“Of course, ” I sputter, “why not?”
He starts pulling out bags and bags of grass from all his pockets and crotch. I look down at my bed and don’t know what to say. I was expecting maybe…I don’t know what I was expecting but I sure wasn’t expecting this, no way, for there lying on my bed are ten 100-gram, cotton cloth bags – a kilo of grass! I’ve never heard of a key being brought in before. It’s too much to hide. Plus it’s worth so much money that I’d be dead if anybody were to find out. Count’s in ten minutes and this is when they’ll pull a surprise search. But greed’s little voice is urging me on. I’m not just in need of money – I’m desperate for it.
Arsenio can see I’m perplexed. “Is there a problem?”
“No, no, none at all.”
We still have to talk price and count is only minutes away. I shroud the ten bags with my blanket for there’s no time to hide it.
“So how much?”
“You sell it, gringo, and we split the money 50/50. And take out whatever you want to smoke as a gift.”
This is almost too much confidence. “How do you know I’ll be giving you your fair share?”
The fact that if he thought for a second that I wasn’t being forthright that I’d be dead the next was never entertained by either of us.
“I trust you, gringo.”
6am. “Cuenta, cuenta, cuenta…” Guards on the 1st floor are yelling and banging the metal doors with their sticks making as much racket as possible. I watch Arsenio moseys down the pasillo unhurriedly as everybody gets ready to line up in front of their cells for morning count.
I stand in my cell looking at the lumps under my blanket. Shit, I look around my 4½- x 6-ft cell as if a new hiding place were going to mysteriously pop out at me. Not going to happen. When someone brings in a quantity then he’ll stash it in one of the shops but never his cell. I exit knowing there’s only one place to hide it.
There are four counts a day. Each Patio has a commander and assistant assigned to it who work 24 hours on, 24 off. Both men work during the day and take turns sleeping at night. The morning count is when the guards change shifts by the incoming commander calling off the names of all prisoners assigned to his cellblock. Lights out count is also roll call with noon and evening counts being strictly head counts.
They’re on the 3rd floor calling off names as they walk down the pasillo. I stand in front of my cell quietly waiting for my name to be called.
“John Johnson,” bellows the guard.
“Presente,” I yell back.
I was popped in Cali with a false passport under the name of John Lloyd Johnson III. It’s always stuck with me although everyone knows it’s an alias.
The commander stops and stares at me intently. He’s a recent transferee and has a reputation as being a hard-nosed prick. This is his second shift in this Patio so no one knows the best way to handle him. This is rare for usually you have a commander that’s been around the prison forever and everybody knows what he can get away with. No one’s offered him money yet but it’d be rare if he weren’t on the take.
“You’re a pretty good friend of Ernesto’s,” he quizzes grinning, “aren’t you?”
“Sure, we know each other,” returning his grin.
“You guys are always hanging out together, true?” Translated: “You guys are always smoking dope together, right?”
“Well, mi comandante, he is my neighbor.”
“Too bad he was just busted.”
“Yes, it is,” confirming politely.
He nods pleasantly and continues calling role. I hate pleasant nods from commanders for they always spell trouble. Shit, as if I weren’t paranoid enough already. Here I am with a kilo of weed in my cell and not an hour’s passed since my neighbor’s been busted. And the new commander’s curiosity has been piqued.
I return to my cell with visions of the commander’s inevitable return. I lock the door behind me and take off the sheet exposing a very sorry looking mattress. It’s three inches thick except for where I sleep on it where it’s only an inch thick. It has twenty major slits in it sown up with black thread. It’s obvious the mattress was used to stash things – be it money, knives or dope. It reminds me of Frankenstein with all its stitch work.
“Well, buddy, back into surgery.”
I cut a black thread opening up one of Frankenstein’s old wounds. I’m working as fast as I possibly can for I’m paranoid out of my skull. I’d be in deep shit if a guard were to come to my cell right now.
I’ve two bags safely sown up when I hear, “Tap, tap…tap, tap, tap,” at my door.
The first tap gave me such a scare, I knew I was busted, that I’m visibly shaking by the 5th tap until realizing it’s only Manuel. The taps are his code. I open the door to my closest mate in prison. Manuel works for the Office of Social Services, a joke, and for the captain, not a joke. His job is to escort prisoners with a pass from their Patios to wherever they’re need inside the prison. He’s the only prisoner allowed to be anywhere in the prison without a pass. I open the door anxiously looking down both sides of the pasillo at convicts doing their morning rituals. Everything looks normal so I pull Manuel inside shutting the door quickly.
“Por Dios,” he breathes staring down at my bed.
I prefer not saying anything and return to the operating table frantically stuffing bag #3 into its new home. He sits down on my bed picking up one.
“I heard Ernesto got bust this morning,” whispering as if in church not wanting to disturb the angels. “The grapevine says he ate fifty packets of grass right in front of the guards. Then he called all the guards’ mothers whores, opened his cell door and came out swinging. I hear one guard has a black eye.”
God, save me from prison rumors. “Something like that,” I mumble not wanting to talk.
I’ve things I must make disappear. I stash #4 passing Manuel the needle and thread. He begins to sew but is quivering so badly his stitch work is worse than mine is. Manuel looks at his watch – almost 7am.
“I have to be in the captain’s office shortly, but I’ll be right back.”
Manuel lives in Patio 2 but has access to all Patios and agrees to sell the weed for me as he leaves. This would keep the heat off my cellblock and the mother lode. The adrenaline loses its grip as I find new homes for #’s 5,6,7,8 & 9. It’s amazing but it’s impossible for me to detect the grass by merely feeling my mattress and I know where it is. I still have to package up #10 for distribution but I must find someone to stand point. I won’t leave it loose in my cell for it’s safer on me. It’s too big to stuff down the crotch of my Levi’s so I put it down the back of my jeans being hidden by my T-shirt.
I leave my cell after an hour feeling like a large boulder was lifted from my genitals. I look down the pasillo spotting Manuel talking to the commander whose back is to me. Manuel is literally holding onto the commander’s shirt cuff. He sees me and is visible relieved. He says two more words to the commander letting go of his cuff. The commander turns and proceeds walking down the pasillo as Manuel wipes his brow at me. He’s been obviously stalling the commander for awhile. He signals he’ll be right back for I’m sure he has clients already lining up waiting.
The commander slowly walks down the pasillo. I stand by the window not exposing my back as he passes the twenty cells to reach mine.
“Buenos días, mi comandante, how’s your health?”
“Estóy bien, gracias,” always grinning “and you, Señor Johnson?”
“I’m okay, gracias,” mimicking his obsequiousness.
He’s heard of me for my reputation proceeds me everywhere I go in the prison system. I’ll explain shortly, but suffice it to say, it’s come out in numerous Colombian newspaper and magazine articles that I’d murdered a cop in the US and that I’d been given the death sentence for this heinous crime. I’m a man condemned to death and the only one around for there is no death penalty in Colombia.
“I hope you don’t mind me talking about it,” he lies, “but is it true when you return to your country, there going to…” searching for a word.
“…execute me?”
“It must be tough,” with mock sincerity as he casually looks inside my cell noting the collage pasted to its four walls. “Nice artwork you have in your cell.”
“Please, mi comandante, go inside and have a closer look.”
He declines and starts talking about his recent transfer from Santa Marta Prison and how La Picota was an okay place to work. He likes living in Bogotá though it’s more expenses than Santa Marta having a wife and young son. He’s just your normal Joe and not the hard-nosed prick he knows we think he is.
When a guard mentions family, he’s saying, “I need to feed them. And young sons need toys, don’t they?”
He’s getting ready to leave so I tell him I need a favor. “Can we talk later?”
“A su servicio.”
I return to my cell pulling out #10 thinking, “I’ve never had this much grass in prison – ever.”
And I’m not even thinking about #’s 1 through 9. I don’t like this but it sure beats the hell out of not having anything. I cut open the cotton bag to find the grass is dark green with tiny red hairs intermixed with the flowers. I smell it, ah, I don’t even have to smoke it to know it’s dynamite. My biggest fear was that the grass would be of ordinary quality for good shit goes fast and nobody complains – always a good thing in prison.
I grab my pocketsize Bible lying on the shelf next to my bed. I used to feel guilty using the thin rice paper pages to roll my joints with so I read the pages before burning them. This seems to satisfy any lingering feelings of guilt I might’ve harbored. I quickly roll up a 1-inch bud and light it taking a huge hit, whoa, just one toke and I’m there. I take a few more just to make sure and reminisce. Has it really been over 5 years since I was arrested in Cali?

F-2 Police Station,

I was still your basic hippie idealist when I was busted on that inglorious day of October 30, 1973. I flashed the peace sign to whomever, wished everyone a good day and every life situation I encountered was groovy, far-out or a bummer. And I felt that human beings were nice people who could live in universal peace and harmony. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.
I was taken to the F-2 Police Station after my arrest. This was a special branch of the Colombian police whose specialty was interrogation and information gathering before trials – all euphemisms for torture. All prisoners without exception were beaten and tortured in various and ingenious ways. I was a foreigner meaning they couldn’t leave visible marks. Though I couldn’t complain to anybody for my biggest fear was that the US Embassy might find out I wasn’t John Johnson. I still had 125 years waiting for me back home – not John.
It’d taken them late into the night to process me into their facility before interrogation. I’d brought along an amber bottle from L.A. with fifty grams of smack to hold me over until my return. I’d been putting five grams a day of it underneath my upper lip so I was beginning withdrawals. I was sweating bullets and clearly shaking although I tried not to. I knew this wasn’t going to be just cold turkey – this was going to be Turkey from Hell.

I was taken to the head commander’s office crowded with cops. Head-Commander was 35, a big man over 6’ tall with an enormous beer belly and a countenance that had never smiled. He won the respect of his men by fear and intimidation. He bullied everybody. The man was a killer who commanded men that tortured and killed others at his bidding. I was seated when Head-Commander came towering over me with a riding crop in hand asking me questions in Spanish. There was an interpreter there who couldn’t speak passable English adding to the confusion. I was poorly disguising that I was really sick and getting worse. The shaking became uncontrollable. My clothes were drenched from the poisons that poured from my pores. I was fucked up.
“What’s wrong with you, gringo?” Head-Commander growled contemptuously.
“Nothing, nothing,” I stuttered.
I’m sure he felt what I was doing was a ruse. His hand kept flinching around the riding crop as if he wanted to whip me. He eventually tired of the game and I was led to my own ‘private facility’. I was to stay at the F-2 Station for 35 days locked up in a…urinal. There was a low brick structure in the center of the walled compound whose roof was simply bars being held down by big rocks to prevent escape – but not the rain. There were eight tiny cells lined up together inside without doors. And lastly, a 3-ft square mini-cell whose floor slanted downward from all sides into a 6-inch hole in the middle. This urinal had a locked barred door to prevent people from shitting into the hole and clogging it up. I spent five weeks locked up in that 3-ft square toilet.
The urinal had been used for many years having never been cleaned. There are no words to describe the miasmic stench that made the air syrupy thick. The walls were covered in blackish green, moldy-fungus stuff and its barred door was thick with urine from many years of people pissing through it. This prevented me from leaning or touching the walls or barred door. An F-2 officer pushed me in that first night and I slipped falling against the walls with this blackish green goo sticking to me like paint. I curled up on the urine-soaked floor in a half-fetal position around the piss hole and trembled. I was cold from my sweat-drenched clothes with the smell of piss permeating everything.
I was experiencing extreme withdrawals by morning. I was balled up around the piss hole when an F-2 officer entered with water and a bowl of rice. He handed them to me through the bars.
“Here, gringo, eat something,”
I wasn’t hungry but I ate a few spoonfuls of rice and a sip of water that tasted of urine. I instantly started vomiting, the worst kind, the dry heaves. There was nothing in my stomach though I continued retching violently. I’d gasp between stomach convulsions with most of the air going down into my stomach tasting of urine. This only made my stomach try harder to void itself of this poison. I stopped barfing after many minutes long enough to return the uneaten rice and cup of water through the bars.
He was to be the only F-2 officer allowed to deal with me. He spoke a little English and confided that he’d be living where I was for 2 years if he were to lose me. This was tantamount to a death sentence.
Noon. F-2-Officer unlocked my toilet where I lay shivering badly with every inch of my body covered in urine-goo. He took me to Head-Commander’s office where he was sitting behind his desk. I sat down on a chair covered in newspaper in front of him. He wanted me to confess but I wasn’t in the mood. He stood up looming over me wanting to beat it out of me, and could’ve, but it’d become obvious I wasn’t faking what I was experiencing. The reason why they didn’t beat me was that I was covered in filth and nobody wanted to touch me. Plus whatever I had might’ve been contagious.
Head-Commander went to my suitcase opening it producing an amber bottle. “What is this?”
Oh shit, I’d forgotten all about it. “Just some heart medicine,” the interpreter relayed to him in Spanish.
He grunted and started to throw it into a trashcan, thought twice, and tossed it back into my suitcase. He asked me some questions I didn’t understand and waved me off after becoming frustrated. I was returned to my cell where I lay shaking terribly until the next morning. My brain had stopped functioning. I knew I was in trouble but all I craved for was heroin. It wasn’t I felt I was going to die, I wanted to die. But life is never that forgiving.
F-2-Officer came by with more rice and water. There was no way I’d eat the rice for I was still getting sicker but I did sip a few drops of water. It was like I was drinking piss and it came right up though the vomiting was less intense than the day before.
I hadn’t slept for three days while snaked around the urine hole when it struck me, I couldn’t think of a worse place to be going through withdrawals than there. And it made me laugh. There were a few moments of comic relief while I chuckled about the karmic implications of all the junk I’d slammed into my veins. The gods were getting even.
The fourth day found me still twirled around the piss hole shaking violently. I spied F-2-Officer ducking under the passageway escorting four police officers in suits holding handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses. They were appalled when they saw me even though they were police. One officer gave me paperwork and a pen though the urine-caked bars that I signed. He then handed me $15,000 and some pesos! This was all the money on me when I was busted. Wow, they sure didn’t give you your money back in the States – particularly behind bars.
I wasn’t sitting there long when F-2-Officer returned. “Gringo, you want food? I go restaurant.”
“Some soup, maybe” handing him some pesos.
He brought me back a bowl of chicken soup opening my cell door handing it to me.
“Eat slow, gringo, I be back later. Get plate.”
I hadn’t eaten for days so I sipped the soup little by little trying desperately to hold it down. Then my spoon brought up something from the bottom of the bowl – a chicken head! I leaned right over my piss hole and puked. I had to eat something so I put a few drops on my tongue and swallowed. Of course it tasted of urine. My nose, my throat, my lungs, my stomach and every pore of my body was saturated in urine. Every breath I took, every bite I chewed tasted of urine but I had to eat and did.
It was like a pardon from Hell when they’d take me in for questioning for nothing was worse then the toilet I lived in. I was feeling human after a week when they finally let me shower. This was only because I was so filthy from the paint breeding on me that they couldn’t stand the rank odor.
The money I’d on was enough to buy off anybody. Most prisoners who escaped did so by buying off guards or police. There were strict orders by Head-Commander that I was not to be let out of my cell without his personal orders. He was a large brut of a man who when he ordered his men to do something, God personally wouldn’t have been able to countermand it.
I was joking with F-2-Officer about my living conditions. He informed me that I wasn’t being kept in this toilet as a punishment so much as it was the safest, most secure cell on the compound. It was the only cell with a door that could be locked! They normally didn’t house people there for their sole purpose was to have confessions signed and ready for the courts before they’d send the criminals to Villanueva Prison. Everyone they brought there signed a confession almost always within hours. The only exceptions were those they drove out of town that ‘tried’ to escape. I never did sign one for I knew they wouldn’t murder me. The Colombians didn’t have that going for them.
I’d communicated by sign language with most prisoners that had passed through the F-2 Station while they recuperated between beatings in the mini-cells there. They’d politely piss on the trough of shit next to my cell/urinal, but somehow, this would filter through the shit and leak onto my floor. Rancid. They numerated many of the tortures used there. But F-2’s favorite for the more recalcitrant was to take a prisoner to a certain river outside of town half drowning the suspected criminal until he’d confess. If he wouldn’t talk then they’d drown him and he’d simply drift downstream into the jungle where his corpse would nurture its inhabitants.
The Colombian press was to play a major role in how cops, courts and convicts were to treat and regard me. They nailed me to a cross. All newspapers in Cali picked up the banner. I received top billing where they constantly printed that I’d been arrested with five kilos of coke worth 5,000,000 pesos ($200,000). I’d paid $12,500. And they always quoted me as having been captured with 2,000,000 pesos ($80,000). I felt people in the background were influencing the press to keep my name in the papers as a security ploy. And it’d worked.
I couldn’t believe my personal escort the first time I went to court. I was delivered there in my own canvas-covered truck accompanied by twenty heavily armed F-2 officers, other types of police and army soldiers carrying rifles and automatic weapons. It was clear there were some very concerned people in the background wanting to make sure I didn’t disappear.
I’d retained a lawyer who met me at the courthouse explaining the deal he’d made with the judge. I was to pay $2,000 up front to the judge and $1,000 to him. I was to pay a balance of $5,000 upon my release. The deal would’ve transpired if it hadn’t been for the press. The lawyer was giving me daily messages that I’d be released as soon as the press quieted down. The judge decided to go through with the deal after two weeks of non-stop articles. The paperwork would be arriving in a few days.
My judge was suddenly dismissed and a new one, Judge Justo, was assigned my case. Cases worth serious money weren’t just arbitrarily taken away from a judge. All judges in Cali received bribes with one exception. Judge Justo was wealthy with political ambitions and had a reputation of not receiving bribes. The Invisible Ones were messing with me. My eventual conviction was then a certainty along with the mandatory 3-year sentence at hard labor. I wasn’t going to let them steal 3 years of my life so I became obsessed with escape.
A lawyer then came out of nowhere with all the proper credentials. He spoke excellent English and was a senator in Bogotá with all the right connections. He assured me he could get me off and to put my future into his capable hands – along with $2,000. I paid him and for several weeks he’d bring papers for me to sign. They had been petitions to the court that had served no purpose. I was being scammed. He wanted more money but I cut him off. He insisted on remaining my lawyer promising to make court appearances with me.
I should’ve suspected something was amiss right then though it wasn’t to become evident until 6 months later. I was at Villanueva Prison when I read a newspaper article lambasting this then ex-senator running down a brief history of his life. He had been recruited into the CIA as a future operative while going to college in the US. The CIA in the 1960s would recruit rich South Americans going to university in the US from influential families that had promise of having political clout later on. He’d remained on the CIA payroll for years. It became crystal clear he’d been working with The Invisible Ones. What better way to keep tabs on a prisoner than to pay off his attorney?
Head-Commander and F-2-Officer came visiting my comfy little abode inquiring about my money. I patted my pockets in response.
“You shower, now,” Head-Commander ordered staunchly, “then go bank.”
F-2-Officer explained after I’d showered that they were taking me to a bank to deposit my money for safekeeping because there were very bad people where I was going next. This one was easy to translate: I was going to be robbed by the nice people before those bad people could get their grubby little paws on my money.
My army of escorts waited outside the bank while Head-Commander and two officers delivered me upstairs to a lavish office. A bank official sitting behind a desk pointed to a chair. He offered me a cigarette, but I declined, so he quickly jumped up and opened the door yelling to someone down the hall. A secretary waltzed into the room seconds later with a large mug of café con leche and a plate of sweet rolls.
“No symbolism here,” I thought facetiously, “nope, just fattening me up for slaughter is all.”
I gave my generous host the $9,000 in my pocket. He said I could keep the few pesos I had. He put the dollars into a large envelope that he beat to death with official rubber stamps. Head-Commander and pals signed it making it all very official. He then meticulously wrote out a receipt explaining in great detail what it all meant. I would’ve been peeing in my pants with laughter if I would’ve seen this scene in a Pink Panther movie. I wasn’t laughing then.
I stood up to leave asking politely, “When will I be getting my money back?”
He as politely replied, “After you’re released from prison.”
Shit, back to being poor. Head-Commander stayed behind divvying up the booty while his lackeys delivered me back to my niche where I made confetti of the receipt. My money situation was desperate so I was eating only rice twice a day.
F-2-Officer came to my toilet asking, “You know woman Penelope?”
Fuck, what was she doing there? “Is there any way I can talk to her.” God, if only…
“Sorry, Head-Commander order, you no see Penelope.”
Next day. F-2-Officer dropped by being more talkative than usual. Something was up for this wasn’t the place you’d come to casually shoot the shit. I was only interested in one thing – Penelope. I wasn’t masking my despair so he tried to calm me down reassuring me they wanted to simply question her. He then smiled unbuttoning his shirt and pulls out an envelope, paper and a pen that he’d secreted there. I opened the envelope to find a letter from Penelope and $7,000! I would’ve been ecstatic except I was more concerned about Penelope than anything else. I read the letter but it gave me little info. She assured me that she was okay and to let her know I’d received the money. And that she loved me.
“Hurry,” he prodded, “I go. Write Penelope, okay?”
I wrote a note thanking her for the bread. Adding she should take care of herself first for nobody could help me presently but myself. I swore there was no prison anywhere that could hold me and I’d be out before she knew it. And I sent my undying love.
They kept her there for two days of questioning. They never touched her and provided adequate housing at night. Those two days were the hardest days I was ever to do in prison. I’d spent 2½ years living with her and we’d shared much love and plenty of adventures together. This was truly the tragedy that plagued me for months to come. But life goes on, and in this case, she with hers and me with mine.
I turned 29 years old.
The morning arrived when F-2-Officer informed me I was being transferred to La Carcel de Villanueva. Prison. The 35 worst days of my life, but definitely not to be the most dangerous, were finally coming to an…oops, sorry to cut this off in mid-sentence but someone’s coming into my cell.

(the present)

Now I’m in chains,
without a name,
it was all in vain,
All because of a drug
called cocaine…

Manuel swaggers through my open door with exaggerated arm movements as if he were a pompous king out for an afternoon outing. He’s beaming from ear to ear as he sits on my bed keeping every erect looking everywhere but at me. He’s just saved my life and he’s here to collect his well-deserved reward – recognition.
“So Manuel, I saw you, uh, holding hands with your new…girlfriend.”
We bust up laughing and I can see the pent up tensions starting to slowly ease from Manuel. We’re laughing that laugh when you’ve escaped something very unfunny with very unfunny consequences.
“Bueno, hermano, what happened?”
“I was coming to see you in your cell when I saw the commander heading in the same direction. I could see your cell door closed and wasn’t locked on the outside. I figured you were stashing the grass.”
He stopped the commander ostensibly asking for somebody the captain needed to see. The commander first wanted to know what he was doing here in Patio 1. Convicts are never allowed to enter other Patios they’re not assigned – period. Even Manuel technically isn’t supposed to be here but he’s been the captain’s orderly for 4 years and knows everybody in the system by name. He’s short and looks like a cute Hobbit which helps to mask just how clever he is. He doesn’t abuse his privileges, he just uses them to their fullest extent.
He explained to the commander why he was here giving a long-winded explanation of what his duties were for the captain and Social Services. The commander was getting bored and turned to leave.
“I didn’t know what else to do, manito, so I grabbed his shirt cuff talking about myself and asking him dumb questions. I’d run out of things to say so I started making up shit. Pura mierda.”
The commander kept looking down at his hand but every time he started to make a move, Manuel grasped onto it even tighter. All the while he was smiling like holding hands with guards was something quite normal. He continued grinning and gabbing and, FINALLY, I opened my door. He’d been there for ten minutes! We break out in laughter again for now the thing really is funny.
“I think,” Manuel adds, “the commander thinks I’m queer.”
I need to find someone to lock us in my cell. My window is boarded up so they can’t see in with the door locked from the outside. Manuel will help me package the first twenty bags that he’ll leave with to feed the hungry hoards. I see a neighbor pacing the pasillo. He’s old and forgetful but talks to no one. I stop him outside my cell with lock in hand.
“Nice weather we’re having, old man, don’t you think?” He blankly stares at me. “I’ve a favor to ask. I need you to lock me up in my cell for fifteen minutes.”
He looks into my cell spotting Manuel sitting on my bed. His expression doesn’t change but I know what he’s thinking – Manuel and I are intimate friends wanting some privacy.
“Okay,” he mumbles.
“Remember, old man, fifteen minutes no longer.”
He locks the door behind me. I begin cutting out 4-inch squares from a magazine with a razorblade.
“The old man thinks we’re lovers,” I snicker.
Manuel eyes me suspiciously, “Who does the old man think is on top?”
It takes 15 minutes to wrap up Manuel’s 20 bags but no old man. Manuel goes to the door getting down on his belly to spy through the 1-inch gap between floor and door. He lies prostrate waiting for him to walk by. My fingers are flying and packaging away when Manuel rejoins me and mouths, “The old man’s disappeared.”
This could spell trouble for the captain will look for him if he needs him. And he needs him all the time. It takes us thirty minutes to bag up #10 into seventy large packets and still no old man. Manuel decides to take forty bags – a ridiculous amount to hide on his person. He stuffs his pockets, socks and crotch and pulls out his shirt hiding the hard on in his pants. He fumbles in his pocket handing me all his money. I’m to count it later but I can see two 100-peso notes and some change.
There’s a key in my lock and I watch the old man open the door. Manuel runs him over and is down the pasillo like a bullet.
The old man looks at me lamely apologizing, “I’m sorry, I just forgot.”
I finish sewing up the monster and go down to the Patio and over to the barred entrance. There’s a desk and two chairs outside the door where the commander sits alone. I sit in the unoccupied chair next to him and hem and haw about the two nice farmers now blessing my cell.
“It’s a bit cramped in my cell, mi comandante, and I’m sure they’d find it more comfortable living in other quarters.”
Commanders do cell assignments and is the most lucrative thing going for them. Think of them as landlords. The rest of the prison is grossly overpopulated while 95% of Patio 1 has single-cell occupancy with all convicts paying rent on a monthly basis. This guarantees you nobody’s going to invade your space and is insurance against smoking violations. I ran out of money months ago when a commander came by implying my rent was due. I was broke. It wasn’t long after that the two farmers arrived.
He agrees wholeheartedly that my quarters must be cramped and oozes sympathy. “But what can I possibly do?”
I take out a 100-peso note so he can see it. “How much?”
“Two hundred pesos,” he smiles.
He pockets the 200 pesos grinning, “Which cellmate, Señor Johnson, do you want out of your cell?”
I can’t believe what he’s doing. I give him my last 80 pesos heading back to my cell. Oh no, what’s he doing here? The trustee is standing in front of my cell mopping a perfectly clean floor. He’s here to see me, but why? We’ve never spoken to each other since I’ve been here. I don’t trust him.
“Buenos días, señor watchimán,” greeting him as I unlock my door.
All Colombian prisons refer to a trustee, whose sole purpose is to keep the pasillos and toilets clean, as wat-chi-mán which is bastardized from watchman.
El watchimán comes up to my side craning his head in all directions. Subtlety’s out the window. He pulls out six balls of paper with twisted tops like a Hershey’s Kiss with weed inside. He’s never dealt this before and I can’t figure out where he got it. Then it hits me.
The stuff makes him jittery so he hands it to me. “I trust you, gringo, that’s why I’m giving this to you.”
I definitely don’t want them. “I’ve no money.”
“I don’t care, I only want 20 pesos. You can pay me later.” And scurries off.
I go to stop him but think better of it for it’s best to have him on my side. I go to the latrine flushing the six Hershey’s Kisses down the shitter. I think Ernesto will appreciate the irony that the trustee was selling his pot that he’s obviously sold to others. It makes me cringe just thinking about some unsuspecting soul smoking puke-pot.
Now where was I when Manuel interrupted me?

DECEMBER 3 – 31, 1973
Villanueva Prison, Cali

The usual heavily armed gang drove me from the F-2 Station to Villanueva Prison. They delivered me to an outside holding area near the front of the prison the size of a basketball court. The bright sun blinded me but I felt free for I’d finally been flushed down the toilet.
I paced Admissions Patio wondering what they were going to say concerning the $6,900 and the fistful of pesos I’d on me – and oh yeah, the heroin. I set my suitcase on a bench opening it. I couldn’t believe it but there was the amber bottle. I put a hard, brown rock under my lip and poured the rest just loose into a clean Levi’s pocket figuring they wouldn’t feel it. Man, the heroin tasted good but it was slamming I was thinking about.
My name was called and I was taken to a room where I was ordered to empty my pockets and to disrobe. I put the dollars and pesos on the table in front divesting myself of clothing. The guard looked at the money but didn’t touch it. He began to search through my clothing but decided they were too filthy to fuck with. I slipped him 20 pesos that quickly disappeared. I put on my last clean pair of Levi’s and black shirt – all my shirts that weren’t black were confiscated at F-2. I pocketed my money, grabbed my bag and followed the guard up to the 2nd-floor offices above Admissions Patio to meet the warden.
Note: A guard earned 1,000 pesos ($40) a month, a captain twice that and even a warden only made 4,000 pesos – $5.50 a day. No one could live on these salaries.

We entered the warden’s office where a man in his late 30s sat behind a desk. He was bald, looked of European descent, over 6-ft tall and immaculately dressed. There was an air about him that made me trust him. He asked the guard to wait outside while we talked. This was the first time I was ever around someone in authority without being completely surrounded by cops, soldiers and F-2 officers. I felt strange for he had to know I was a wild animal poised to pounce. The man spoke passable English introducing himself as Señor Buenagente (buay-na-hen-tay). He had my F-2 file in front of him.
“I’ve read your police file, Señor Johnson, and the newspaper articles about you. So I wanted to get to know you personally.”
“Newspapers don’t always report the truth,” speaking in my defense.
“The press here is scandalous and always exaggerates and prints mostly lies. It’s what the people want to read.”
It concerned him that I’d never been to prison before but said I’d learn the ropes quickly. All prisoners were normally sent to Patio 2 upon arrival. He suggested it was extremely violent there and that it’d be better for me to go to El Patio Especiál – Patio 1. He mentioned certain expenses would have to be paid – probably 1,000 pesos. I went to take the money out of my pocket…
“No, no, I’ve nothing to do with this. You talk to the officer.” Smart.
He called in the guard telling him something in Spanish and off we went. The meeting left me with a good feeling for I felt that I’d a man at the top on the take.
“What would be his price,” I wondered, “to let me walk out of this place?”
We arrived at a huge metal door separating the prison from the outside world. The guard inquired, “?El Patio Especiál, no?”
I counted out 1,000 pesos. I’d no idea what lay behind this monstrous door but surely nothing good. But I reminded myself, “Nothing could possibly be worse than that tiny toilet where I couldn’t sit or lie down comfortably for 5 weeks. Nothing.”
All Colombian prisons are divided into Patios. The Patios are meant to segregate the most dangerous criminals from the not so dangerous criminals. All prisons have El Patio Especiál. These special Patios are always much better and safer than general population but you have to have money to get into and to remain in them.
The guard led me through the ominous door into another world. Patio 1 was just left of the door where sat the commander. The guard dropped me off and left to give the 1,000 pesos to the warden and to let him know I was carrying much more. The commander was putting my name down in his log when the barred door leading to the other six Patios opened. Two guards were escorting a prisoner whose left cheek was dangling next to his nose. It’d been done with a broken bottle. This image stuck in my mind as my First Impression of prison. It was the first indication of what might be in store for me. He was only the first of hundreds I was to see stabbed or killed in Villanueva. This place was an awakening.
He finished his logbook waiting for something. I sat there dumbly until he rubbed his fingers together. The 100 pesos delighted him. He opened Patio 1 door calling over el watchimán to take me to my bed. The Patio was the size of two basketball courts with around a hundred men milling about. A small shack in one corner was serving food and coffee. Uniforms aren’t issued in Colombian prisons so everybody was dressed in fine street clothes.
I entered my dormitory and quickly opened my suitcase stashing the heroin back in its bottle. The dorm was crowded with 30 beds crammed into a small room. I was to find it impossible to sleep there for it has always made me nervous sleeping with others. Plus the world-class snoring going on. But I was more concerned about the seven grand than I was about sleep.
Patio 1 was a world apart from the violence that was pandemic in all the other Patios. If you had money on you in another Patio then you’d have to defend it all the time. And there was an endless line of would-be takers.
I was nibbling only slightly at the heroin not wanting to finish it before obtaining a syringe. I was the cleanest I’d been in years and felt great. I really didn’t want to do the heroin as much as I wanted to shoot up something. I then understood myself with more clarity and didn’t like what I saw. I was addicted to the needle. The heroin only gave me a good excuse to slam. This is sad – no, sick.
I was pacing when I heard my name being called. I was led to the warden’s office with the guard remaining outside. He seemed genuine in his desire to know how things were going for me. And could he do something to make me more comfortable.
“How about letting me out?” strictly in jest. He wasn’t smiling but was studying me instead. “I’m only joking, Señor Buenagente.”
It was too early in our relationship to be talking about something as serious as an escape. I didn’t want to broach the subject until I was sure he’d be receptive.
“That’s okay, Señor Johnson, maybe something can be done. But only maybe.”
His main concern was that I should tell someone. He was paranoid about this for good reasons for all convicts talk amongst themselves. They form friendships where telling one’s most intimate secrets is common. I tried to convince Buenagente I’d keep my mouth shut pointing out I stayed to myself and didn’t speak Spanish. We agreed on another meeting.
I returned to the Patio floating on clouds. This was the first time in over a month that I felt a ray of sunshine. I could be out of there soon if things went smoothly. We’d several meetings over the next couple of days for him to get to know me. We struck a deal within a week. He knew I’d seven grand but wanted fifteen. For this he’d send me out on some ‘legitimate’ court business with a guard who’d deliver me anywhere in Bogotá I wanted. The guard would be sentenced to 2 years but would be paid accordingly. He didn’t want any money up front but gladly accepted the $500 I gave him. He said I could use his phone to call back to the States to obtain more money but I felt this too dangerous. I wrote to Penelope explaining my situation giving her the warden’s phone number.
She received the letter promptly calling the warden who said to call back in two hours. I was in his office when she did. God, it was good to hear her voice. All I thought about was Penelope as I paced the Patio and spent endless nights of insomnia. We confirmed our love for each then it was down to biz.
“I’ve explained everything to Tom,” she stated, “and he’ll be coming right down to Colombia to make things right.”
“That’s cool, babe, but will he be bringing the bread I need?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart, but he did come by earlier today to pick up the money for the plane ticket.”
“But it’d be senseless for Tom to come all the way out here now without the money. And wouldn’t he then have to make the trip twice?”
Tom Rosen had been very insistent with Penelope. He’d wanted to do all he could do to help. After all, what are best friends for? Forget about the fact he’d gone way out of his way risking life and limb to help her get rid of the dope in my house valiantly guarding it over at his. He was also selling my cars for me. He was there to go the extra mile. And, oh yeah, let’s not forget the 1,500 lbs of mannita he was so courageously keeping safe for me. I asked her about her situation and she said that Tom would be able to answer all my questions.
The day arrived when my dear friend Tom came to town. Buenagente allowed us to meet in Admissions Patio. It was so good to see him, I mean, what a friend to be flying all the way out here to Colombia to visit me in prison. What a joy it was to see him.
“Did you bring the money?” was the first thing out of my mouth.
“No but…” he muttered.
The ‘but’ was that things weren’t going all that well back home. ‘But’ a couple of very good deals were ready to come down, very lucrative, if he only had the capital.
“How about the mannita, Tom? It’s worth a few million dollars.”
“It’s going slow, Kendall, some people are buying a little, ‘but’ nobody is buying much.”
“Then how about the Corvette?”
“I’ve found a buyer, ‘but’ he’s waiting on a loan from the bank. ‘But’ if I only had some capital then…”
“How much do you need, Tom?”
“Six or seven grand should do it. Then it’d be easy to double that money in a week. In two weeks, I’ll be back here for sure. Sooner if I can.” Always implying we’d all live happily ever after.
I’d no reason to disbelieve Tom or doubt his integrity as I counted out $6,000. The six grand meant very little to me for I was still living in Fantasyland where I made a grand a day. He wanted $6,500 pointing out the $300 dollars that would leave me with was plenty to hold me over until his return. I vetoed that one for things sometimes take longer than expected.
I desperately wanted to know what was happening with Penelope. She’d always been evasive when I’d asked so Tom filled me in on some details.
I’d phoned home nightly to Penelope while flying to Colombia to let her know I was okay. We never talked business for I’d an ironclad rule since when we’d first met that my business was my business. It’d been obvious what I’d been doing but she’d remained the fly on the wall. The Feds had threatened to indict her as a co-conspirator because of these calls and her trip to Colombia unless she’d talk. She was being continually questioned but had my ex-lawyer, Michael Nasatir, helping her out.
I instructed Tom to tell Penelope to answer the Feds’ questions telling them everything she knew. Nothing she could tell them would hurt me. My only concern was that she should not be indited under any circumstances. I’d been playing a dangerous game and had lost. She wasn’t even supposed to be one of the players.
Tom cleared up one mystery for me. James Boyle had been busted for burning down his disco and had turned informant to save his own hide. He’d ratted me out to the cops that same night we’d first met when he’d given me the phone number of his Colombian connection. So the cops had been onto me from the start.
Tom Rosen then gave me his Golly-Aren’t-I-The-Nice-Guy dialogued. He’d probably rehearsed it on the flight coming down. It went something like this: DEA-Pilot had called Penelope after he’d led Interpol and the police to my hotel room informing her I’d just been busted asking what he should do. Interpol had taped this conversation using it as part of the evidence for the impending indictment that might be issued against her. Penelope had immediately hung up calling our good friend Tom who’d come bravely to the Malibu house.
“I was terrified, man, I didn’t know if the house was being watched or what.”
He’d courageously picked up all the drugs Penelope had rounded up. He’d then gallantly relieved her my stash of pounds of grass and hash and four ounces of Mexican brown heroin. He’d promised to find a safe haven for the fifteen crates of mannita – which was legal. Tom had been her Knight in Shining Armor. Whatever he could do for her, he was her man. She’d trusted him implicitly giving him the mannita, my ’73 Corvette and my other cars.
I held onto Tom’s knee the entire 45 minutes he’d visited. I was a man needing a friend and there he was. I watched him leave Admissions Patio to let the warden know he’d be returning with the money shortly.
I was thinking as he disappeared, “No friend could do more.”
I’d been right when I’d thought Mr Thomas Rosen, I’d use his middle name if I knew it, as a friend could do no more – could do no more to make sure I’d remain in prison. The cops couldn’t have done a better job.
Tom I-Wish-I-Knew-Your-Middle-Name Rosen had picked up my stash from the Malibu house immediately getting into the heroin. The four ounces had represented a 2-week supply for me. Tom Rosen had been a beginner so four ounces meant he could stay stung out for months. The mannita had represented a massive amount of money and he’d stolen 1,500 pounds of it. He’d taken the cars because it’d been so easy. Forget all the dope, the cars had been worth more than the eight grand I needed.
He’d panicked when Penelope had said I might be getting out soon. He’d be in deep shit if I were to come back. Penelope had been distraught needing someone to lean on. What Tom Rosen had wanted, he’d been given. It must’ve been like going to a department store for him, for every time he went to my house to help Penelope out, she’d always give him money or trinkets from our home. A bugler couldn’t have done a better job. To nip the possible audit in the bud meant making sure I hadn’t any money to affect an escape. He’d come to Colombia for the sole purpose of insuring I was to remain in Colombia. I’ve wanted nothing more for 5½ years now than to thank him personally, oh, so personally, for all that he’s done for me.
I’d given Penelope the address of Villanueva and was receiving letters twice a week. But all she’d write about was the Welsh corgi I’d bought her before coming to Colombia. It was maddening. Then she wrote me a letter hinting that Tom Rosen might not be the friend we’d thought him to be. She’d thought he was on something and had seemed different. He’d not only wanted to fuck me in the ass, which he’d surely done in grand style, but he’d wanted Penelope’s butt also. He’d found her to be an easy target. Penelope had had her own problems with paying off lawyers and fighting off the Feds. He’d sucked her blood until the day she’d cut him off. He’d known our financial situation so he’d always known exactly how much he could suck. And he’d gone vigorously for the last drop.
I figure if I ever get out of Colombia and make it safely back to the States that it won’t be hard to locate Tom Rosen. All I’ll have to do is to venture down to Florida going back into the Everglades where I’d look for the biggest pond around with plenty of scum in it. And there he’d be for sure – the bottom feeder feeding.


Life doesn’t exist here
nor death,
---Only its desire---

I met two ‘prisoners’ who spoke good English which should’ve been my first clue. We’d known each other for a few days when they approached me with an escape plan they’d hatched.
“If you want, John, we can explain the whole thing to you. There’re still some minor points to work out. Do you want to hear it?”
“Can’t do any harm in listening.”
I listened to their fabrication but I thought the plan was too farfetched. These two gentlemen, F-2 agents, went back to the street that same afternoon.
I was drinking coffee the next morning when a guard came up to me ordering me to do something. Another convict interpreted. “Guard say get your stuff. He say you try escape. You go punishment block.” The guard wouldn’t give anymore details.
I hadn’t learned any Spanish during the one month I’d been in Patio 1. There was always someone around who spoke some English including some Americans that had come and gone. But I mostly stayed to myself, though I hate to admit it, I was still waiting for Tom Rosen.
Patio 1 was very shielded from the rest of the prison and from the other 2,000 criminals so I’d no idea what to expect. The trustee ushered me back to my bed where I immediately poured the remaining three grams of rock heroin into my pocket. Nothing could’ve prepared me for what was to come as I was led by a guard through the barred door onto the main corridor. I was dressed in slacks, fine shirt and cowboy boots as I carried my suitcase down the main corridor. I could’ve been a businessman just arriving at Cali Airport. The main corridor led passed the other six Patios on the way to the kitchen and factories. It reminded me of a tunnel going into Hell because of the thick, solid walls that collided into the concrete ceiling twelve feet above me. The only things that disturbed this vision of the tunnel were the barred door entrances into the Patios but it didn’t distort the fact – I was headed for Hell. I walked passed the entrances to Patios 2, 3, 4 & 5 as hoards of criminals hanging through the barred doors were yelling my name, “John, John.” Everybody in the joint had heard and read of me but nobody had seen me yet. I was rattled for I hadn’t expected anybody to know who I was. I didn’t like it though the shouts and clamor weren’t threatening. This was my first glimpse of what Patio life was going to be like. A bunch of men crammed into a small walled area. Everybody was dressed in rags. There were no fat prisoners there for these men were hungry and it showed. Prison philosophy/policy: ‘A hungry prisoner isn’t likely to try to escape.’ Hunger was but another wall that had to be climbed before the ones of stone.
I passed by Patio 5 with morbid curiosity. I’d heard many grizzly tales about this Patio for it was the deadliest there. You had to kill another prisoner or two to get there. If a convict killed another the prison considered a troublemaker then he was sentenced to four days in the hole and would return to his original Patio. This was the standard punishment for killing someone – never a court case. It was only two days for stabbing someone! Punishment was never a deterrent to committing violence. If you killed someone and you were the troublemaker then they’d send you to Patio 5 where nobody cared if you killed another or not. Everybody in this Patio knew how to kill and had a 50% mortality rate for stabbings whereas the other Patios had a 5%. A 5% mortality rate might sound low but that’s because most people’s idea about what this kind of death entails is gleaned from watching TV. It’s hard to kill someone in real life with a knife or broken bottle and that’s even if the victim’s unarmed. It’s a bloody fucking ordeal also.
The punishment block shouldn’t be confused with the hole. When a convict had served his hole time and the prison didn’t know where else to put him then he ended up there. These prisoners were considered too dangerous to be released back into the Patios and general population. Most of them were terribly, demonically insane. (The only facility for the criminally insane is here at La Picota in Bogotá.) Villanueva didn’t have cells to keep non-dangerous prisoners segregated from general population because they did this by placing certain prisoners into certain Patios. If you were considered an escape risk, as I was, they’d just keep closer tabs on you.
The guard guided me up to a 3rd-floor landing. There were four pasillos that greeted us that each led down a row of twenty cells. Each pasillo had a barred door in front to keep the animals penned in. There were between 3 to 12 nutters in each pasillo so that each would have their own cell though these cells didn’t have doors! If you were a particularly badass bastard that reigned terror then the horde would wait until you fell asleep. The guards would never enter these pasillos to save a convict for there was nobody there worth saving.
The guard was unbolting the barred pasillo door with his wrenches* as I looked at the dozen monsters I was going to be housed with – panicking big time. My knees weren’t working right. There they stood at a respectable distance from the barred door otherwise the guard wouldn’t have opened it. There were only two of them with pants on – they were the biggest. The others were naked or wearing the filthiest underwear imaginable. I told the guard I wasn’t going in there, no way, for going into that pasillo meant losing everything I had including my clothes. This was the first time in my life where I’d encountered a situation where bravery would’ve been pure stupidity. It may tarnish my self-image to admit it but I was scared shitless. They would’ve killed me if I would’ve entered that pasillo fearing retribution for stealing my stuff – or just for the fun of it.
*Nuts and bolts were used to lock all pasillos and Patios in Villanueva because the criminals there used to pick every lock they’d tried in the past. Villanueva was the only prison I was in that resorted to this method of locking up prisoners. Strangely enough, the prisoners hadn’t been picking the locks to escape but had been attacking their enemies while sleeping or for thieving.
This guard lived with these creatures 24 of every 48 hours so he knew what I was going through. One pasillo had only three prisoners in it. He was being cagey for he was aware of what was in store for me. A fight for my life I was going to lose. He was playing with me for he knew who I was and had millions. I asked to be put into the pasillo where the three convicts were for which he charged me 200 pesos. I then looked at these three realizing they were probably being segregated from the rest because they were even more dangerous than they were. I was facing the same thing as before though it’d only take these three a little longer. It’s impossible to describe just how dangerous these individuals were for they were the worst kind of human predators that killed not even knowing why. These were not human beings. He moved the three nutters elsewhere for another 100 pesos.
He strip-searched me, not finding the smack, and rummaged through my suitcase then allowed me to enter the pasillo. I put the brown rocks back into their bottle and grabbed pen and paper scribbling a letter to Buenagente. He’d surely be able to straighten out this misunderstanding. I called over the guard giving him the note along with 50 pesos. He’d promised all afternoon to deliver the letter but never did. He promised the next morning at shift change that he was going straight to the warden.
The guard taking over the shift for the next 24 hours came to my pasillo wishing me politely, “Buenos días, señor.” He even smiled as he produced his wrenches unbolting my door.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked nervously.
He pointed to the pasillo in front of mine that I’d been threatened with just the previous day. These two pasillos faced each other so I’d spent the entire day before looking at these fiendishly insane monsters glaring hatred and madness at me nonstop. They lusted after my suitcase and wanted to taste my blood. I kept going over in my head just exactly what had transpired the day before and just exactly what to do if this were to happen again. I’d no idea until then my life was so casually going to be forfeited. I’d concluded that I’d actually behaved correctly by refusing to enter the pasillo. I’d done so yesterday from sheer terror. I’d be doing so today because it’d be my most intelligent choice. I was fighting for my existence for the first time in my life, and over what?
I offered the guard 100 pesos to remain where I was. He acted as if I’d just insulted his manhood and flatly refused the money. I suspected he was simply toying with me for he knew I had money. The guard pointed at my suitcase wanting me to follow him. I upped the ante to two hundred but he wanted three. I was green being played with by experts. I gave him the money with a promise he’d take a note to Buenagente. We were then best of friends so he’d be happy to oblige. And what else did I need? I was starved having been too nervous to eat the day before. He yelled out a barred window to the Patio 5 shack that eventually delivered eggs, rice and potatoes. He pocketed 35 of the 50 pesos I paid for the meal.
The guard went out to lunch swearing he’d deliver the note to the warden. He returned stating he’d talked to a sergeant. I asked about the warden but he only shrugged. It was late afternoon when I greeted mi sargento at my pasillo door. He spoke some English and was a plethora of information. The warden had received both my letters but his hands were tied. He was under strict orders from Judge Justo that I was to be segregated from general population and kept under constant surveillance. Justo had sent over an affidavit from F-2 about an elaborate escape plan I’d been involved in. The report had been as outrageous fabrication of the hare-brained scheme proposed to me earlier – and Justo believed and loved it. The Invisible Ones were pulling my strings and I was merely the dumb puppet.
“I have money, mi sargento,” pulling it out of my pockets. “Please do something, anything. Maybe you can talk to the warden about sending me to a Patio? I don’t care which one.”
He promised to speak with Buenagente but he didn’t mask the fact the talk would be fruitless. The judge didn’t trust anybody connected with the Colombian Prison System. He’d sent the warden very clear, enumerated orders on how I was to be treated and housed. He’d specified that any request for me to leave the prison could only be okayed by him and not the warden. And that I was to stay put in segregation and could only be moved by his direct orders.
I spent the night in the pasillo thinking while a dozen ghouls gawked at me with eyes devoid of life. My life changed that night. There are events in all of our lives when we can say, “Before this happened, I was this kind of a person. Now I’m not.” Be it good or bad. It was definitely for the better in my case. I’d gone through a horrible ordeal while caged in a toilet at F-2 but I’d arrived at Villanueva untainted – still your Fun-Loving-Hippie-Cocaine-Smuggler-On-The-Run-Nice-Guy. I began erasing most of my old useless values and replacing them with ones that worked. Peace and love, respect for one’s fellow human beings and caring about others above myself flew out the barred windows that night.
I finally understood hatred and felt it intimately. No, it wasn’t for the guards for they’d been just doing their job. Not even for the judge who’d been only being righteous. Not even for DEA-Pilot for he’d done what would be expected of a DEA pilot. The FBI had been just out playing cops and robbers as they were supposed to be. I scorned James Boyle for being a rat and for having been the root cause of my predicament but he was only a low-life rodent who’d squealed on many. If you stick your thumb in enough pies then you’ll come up with a rat every now and then. I’d stuck my thumb into too many pies. I scoffed them all but I never hated or blamed any of them for my troubles for they were just players in the game I’d been in.
But Tom Rosen was different for he’d pretended to be a friend. I would’ve been out or in a better situation if he’d stayed out of my business. More than anyone else, besides myself, I blamed him for my woes. He’d deliberately and with malice put the cork on the bottle I found myself in. I’ve nurtured this hatred that spouted that night and have done so for years for it gives me strength. Only two months had passed but I knew that Penelope and I would never be together again. I was then cognizant of the game I was playing and knew the rules. This wasn’t a game to be played with innocent bystanders hanging about such as wives and girlfriends. So my love for Penelope waned and could never have endured the years it might take for my return to the US. But not so with the loathing I felt for Tom Rosen that would endure a lifetime.
The guard was in a particularly cheery mood the next morning. He joked about how scared I’d looked when he’d been opening the pasillo door that first day. He did a great imitation of me standing there wide-eyed, knees shaking and not being able to move. He did this all in mime punctuating every nuance of my terror with laughter. I failed to see the humor for I’d rerun this scene countless times in my head and it’d never once invoked even a chuckle. I’d come to the conclusion though I hadn’t been in as much danger as I might’ve thought. I didn’t believe the guard would’ve put me in with the demented set if only to protect his own interests. This didn’t diminish how I’d felt for those few moments the guard so lovingly joked about.
Communication was then my major concern. Survival and pulling off an escape meant speaking Spanish. I’d an English/Spanish dictionary my senator lawyer had given me in F-2 so I wrote down a question trying to translate it. The guard was helping me when the sergeant came in to see me. He was being realistic explaining that rarely will a judge tell the prison, much less the warden, how and where to house its prisoners.
“Buenagente understand this no good pero,” thinking for a minute. “I talk to lieutenant maybe he do something. Maybe cost mucho dinero.”
“I don’t care how much it cost,” beseeching desperately.
He returned later advising me he’d talked to a lieutenant who worked the graveyard shift that was willing to transfer me to Patio 2 during the night without anybody realizing it.
Emphasizing, “Not even the warden.”
Hardly, for wardens know everything that happens in their domain for they have more spies than the CIA. So I figured the warden and sergeant had devised a scheme in which this lieutenant would order my transfer. He’d knowingly be the fall guy and would claim ignorance if any problems would arise.
The sergeant returned the next day to let me know everything would be handled at midnight. He wanted 3,000 pesos though he could’ve charged me anything he wanted. I handed him a $100 bill and 500 pesos. In all fairness to Justo, he’d no idea where I’d be housed when he’d sent his order to Buenagente. He’d been simply reacting to a fictitious escape plan concocted by F-2 and The Invisible Ones.
A guard came by at midnight and marched me down to Patio 2 cellblock turning me over to the commander who’d just finished my paperwork. He led me upstairs to the 2nd-floor landing where stood a very sleepy watchimán waiting for me behind a locked pasillo door. He was a skeleton of a man who looked to be 70 though was in his mid-40s. His face looked as if someone had put on a tight, thin layer of skin over the Grim Reaper’s skull. His color said Indian. He was extraordinarily thin-skinned and his muscles were like taunt knotted ropes that followed his every movement. The commander unbolted the door saying a few words to the trustee. I was just testing the waters as I passed the commander twenty pesos.
El watchimán, Calavera, shook my hand as the commander bolted us back in. I think he wanted to smile but was disinclined to as most people who are toothless. He showed me to a cell with a curtain hanging in front of a partly opened barred door. I entered to find a prisoner waiting for me sitting on the floor next to a lit candle. I was being taken care of so I slipped Calavera twenty pesos that made his gruesome face grin.
My cellmate, Pedro, was a decent sort who’d read all about me and was happy to make my acquaintance. Passing my dictionary back and forth, he explained how an hour before the commander had ordered Calavera to move the other two occupants of his cell to other cells. He’d expected someone but he hadn’t known whom. He quizzed me about my attempted escape stating the entire prison knew all about it in surprising detail. A guard had been privy to the F-2 report and had been talking about it to convicts. Gads, I didn’t even know what the report said. I spread out my blanket on the floor next to his as the candle flickered its last. I closed my eyes and a thousand thoughts all jamming the airwaves trying to be heard ceased instantly. I fell asleep for the first time in two months – a profound and dreamless sleep of total blackness.
Clang, clang, clang sounded wrenches against metal bars. I woke up with a start. It was still dark so I could barely make out Pedro’s features. He was already dressed and knew I didn’t know the routine and hadn’t wanted to disturb me so he’d been patiently waiting for me to wake up. I could hear men in the pasillo filing passed the cell towards the landing. Pedro said to hurry for we had only minutes to exit the pasillo before they bolted it closed again. I’d slept in my clothes and was ready to move but I was concerned about my things not having a lock.
“No hay problema,” Pedro reassured me.
We went out into the crowded pasillo where he called over Calavera telling him to keep an eye on my things. Calavera and his 14-year-old kid, there were several hundred juveniles in Patio 6 to choose from, washed clothes during the day in the pasillo paying the guards daily to remain there. They were the only two prisoners allowed to do so in the entire prison. It was blatantly against regulations but Calavera had been there for 12 years which was longer than any other prisoner there had. Villanueva was a prison for holding criminals while they were going through the court system. And once convicted, they were shipped out to a penitentiary normally in the boondocks.
I followed Pedro into a packed throng of 500 men filing out heading downstairs to Patio 2. We were stuffed together with guards yelling at us to move faster. My apprehension of being in a mass of poorly dressed and hungry convicts was short lived as they made more room for me. Many were calling out my name and giving me thumbs up yelling, “Fuga” – escape. I followed Pedro closely down the packed stairwell onto the main corridor. We were slowly crossing it when prisoners suddenly started battering me back and forth scattering in all directions. I almost slipped on something as twenty guards materialized out of nowhere pushing prisoners aside. Pedro dragged me off to the wall pointing to the guy who I’d just been standing next to. He was holding a knife and had stabbed another prisoner several times but the guy had miraculously disappeared into the mob. I’d been slipping in his blood.
The guards closed off the stairwell corralling the remainder of us quickly into Patio 2. Pedro guided me to a shack/caspete* where coffee was sold. I ordered a cup and gazed into the heavens thinking just how amazing all the stars looked glistening in the crystal clear, black morning sky.
*Cas-pe-te (cas-páy-tay) is prison slang for a shack owned by a prisoner that sells food, drinks, cigarettes, toiletry, et al. I use this word repeatedly so it won’t be in italics.
I just had a glimpse of what Patio life was going to be all about without ever having reached the Patio so I analyzed what I’d felt. I’d felt more alert and confused than threatened and intimidated by the other prisoners. I’d been standing only a few feet away from the guy getting stabbed and hadn’t seen a thing. I felt I’d somehow had faced the lion escaping its maw. This was to be the start of my first real day in prison.
I looked down at my cowboy boots and one was clearly smeared in blood. Pedro insisted I go to back Patio and wash it off. He was concerned they could implicate me in the stabbing if the guards were to find blood on my clothing. I walked towards back Patio to the laundry area to a fervor of activity. Prisoners were washing blood off themselves and their clothing then hanging them out to dry while donning only their underwear. I thought this would tip off the guards, but no, most prisoners there only had the clothes they were arrested in. They’d wash them occasionally and walk around in their skivvies until dried.
I was scooping water out of a trough with my hands cleaning my boot when I looked up towards the top of the cellblock. There were men on the 3rd-floor pasillo dropping hand lines through the barred windows as if they were fishing. Men around me were frantically tying knives and dope to the strings that were quickly yanked up. Those around me mimed we were going to be strip- searched.
I returned to the caspete where Pedro was dabbing a rag into some water washing small droplets of blood from his shirt. I looked out Patio door where was gathering the largest contingency of guards I’d ever seen before. They had their clubs out waiting patiently for the order to enter the Patio en masse.
My major concern was that other prisoners would see how much money I had on me if we were strip-searched. I’d heard enough stories about Patio 2 to be on the lookout. There were stabbings in this Patio nearly every day and mostly over nothing. You didn’t carry money on you even if you had it. Nobody did.
“Pedro, I have mucho dinero.”
“How much?”
“More than $100.”
He definitely agreed I shouldn’t have the money on me during the search for I’d be gang-robbed the second the guards left the Patio. He suggested giving my money to the commander for safekeeping. I was leery of giving all my money to a guard when I’d have no recourse if he came up with a story. Pedro called over the caspete owner. Cacorro was in his mid-30s being big, burly, bald and hairy with large protruding eyebrows guarding very shrewd, beady blue eyes. He told Cacorro the problem who agreed I’d never make it back to front Patio after the search. We were discussing the best place to put my money as I noted most of the Patio coming by to check me out. I was fresh fish.
I didn’t know what to do when the guards came rushing in telling everyone to move to back Patio. I knew I didn’t want to go there with the money. Three guards were forcibly moving me back so I grab the money from my left pocket with all my dollars and 100-peso notes giving them to Cacorro. I looked over my shoulder as I was being forced away and could see Cacorro showing me he was putting my money into an empty pocket. I’d no reason to trust the man for I’d only known him for a few minutes, and in prison, but I never doubted for a second that a peso would be missing at the end of the search.
Patio 1 was never searched so this would be my first one in what was to become an almost daily occurrence. I reached back Patio where prisoners were lined up naked in straight lines with their few pesos in hands. It struck me just how quiet it was for nobody even whispered. The quickest way to get sent to the hole was to make a sound or overt movement during a search. Prisoners hated it and guards knew it. A naked man gets no respect and the guards used this to lord over us to fill up some vacuum in their lives. Miserable people always feel better if all those around them feel even more miserable than they do.
I grabbed the 300 pesos ($12) in small bills from my right pocket and quickly disrobed. I stood there scoping out the other thousand testicles hanging there around me. Some prisoners were total nut cases who lived in their own filth and would only bathe when forced to by playful convicts who could no longer stand their stench. Guards usually left these prisoners’ clothing alone for there were too many things living in them. Everybody around me looked at my hand with the money but I knew no one had a knife readily available so I didn’t care. It also didn’t send shivers down my spine looking at everybody’s very skinny, naked butts. But they’d still be the meanest, most dangerous prisoners I was ever to encounter anywhere.
I’d watched others being searched so I’d the routine mastered. A guard stood in front of me as I stuck my arms out straight with palms upward showing my money. I opened my mouth wide sticking out my tongue then lifted up my testicles so they could see behind them. I turned my backside to the guard putting both arms out in front of me doing a deep knee bend to show I’d nothing squeeze between my cheeks. The guard searched through my clothing warning me to be careful with my money. I kept forgetting that 300 pesos were his week’s salary. They thoroughly searched the Patio finding little disappearing onto the main corridor.
We remained in back Patio while the incoming commander called out the 500 names of those residing in Patio 2. I yelled “presente” and filed passed him going back to the caspete. Cacorro quickly passed me back my money when nobody was watching. The word was already out that I’d mucho dinero and was being hounded for “…un café y cigarillo, hermano.” I’d suddenly become the entire Patio’s brother.
I had $500 and over 1,000 pesos. Cacorro agreed to safeguard the money for me keeping the $500 in his cell and putting the pesos on the books. I decided not to have any money on me because of all my new amigos with nicotine and caffeine habits to support. Camaraderie had to be limited to only highly selected individuals if I were to survive in these environs. The money I had would only last me a few months and money was essential for escape.
I’ll differentiate between front, side and back Patio because life was so different in each one. Many prisoners hovered around Patio door in front Patio because it was supposed to be less dangerous. Everybody had to piss which meant venturing to back Patio. They figured you had something worth protecting if you were afraid to be there. Those who showed fear were devoured daily.
I was meandering back Patio where most of the action was. Convicts were leaving me alone but I still felt claustrophobic. All criminals from the Cali area were sent to Villanueva with all newcomers being sent to Patio 2. The population would swell up to 700 and was so crowded that everybody couldn’t sit down at the same time – not enough room!
I bumped into Pedro standing next to a group of guys huddled together smoking a number. I asked Pedro about it.
“He sell 5-peso bag, you want?”
“Sí, Pedro, we smoke tonight.”
I was passing him 20 pesos when I spied the commander in side Patio looking around for something. Those around me quickly palmed their joints. The commander saw me and returned to his post. Odd. Pedro shrugged his shoulders as men resumed smoking their dope.
Pedro stayed behind to score while I went to Cacorro’s who was reading the day’s paper and there I was. I was armed with my dictionary but still had a hard time understanding the article but I caught the gist. Judge Justo had given an interview with the press where he’d stated that I’d been in the final stages of an elaborate escape plot that he’d single-handedly thwarted with information sent to him by F-2. He’d even handed out copies of the contrived F-2 report to reporters. He’d also stated how he’d ordered me to special lockup in Villanueva and that I wouldn’t be going anywhere soon. Shit, this meant everybody would know I wasn’t where I belonged. I looked up from the paper spotting the commander looking directly at me through the barred entrance. He returned to his desk writing something in the daily log where they keep track of who’s drinking coffee with whom kind of things.
I was hungry but Cacorro didn’t sell food. He sold primarily coffee, cigarettes, toiletries and sodas having the only refrigerator in the Patio. His biggest moneymaker was his coffee for it was the best and cheapest in the joint – 40 centavos (2 cents). He catered to those with only a few pesos in their pockets and had the best moneymaking caspetes there.
11am. I was contemplating where to eat when suddenly the Patio exploded with loud yells and cheers of “Loco, loco, loco…” I was taken aback because all the convicts were in on it but everybody was smiling while lining up to receive the meal about to enter the Patio. Loco was prison slang in Villanueva for prison grub. It probably had its roots in that only crazy people would dare eat what they served as food. I was to witness this playful screaming of loco over a thousands times, twice a day for 17 months, and it always amused me. No one raises his voice in prison unless he’s pissed off, getting stabbed or running from someone trying to stab him. You don’t even whistle in prison. Yet everyone was shouting this litany of “Loco, loco, loco…” as a catharsis. Not one prisoner in Patio 1 ate loco hence my ignorance.
The commander opened Patio door allowing two tall men to enter carrying two enormous 25-gallon caldrons of steaming hot rice and soup. The pots had two large loops at the top with a log running through them that the men had slung over their shoulders. The biggest danger when lowering this was that the soup should splash upon them for it melted the skin. All the kitchen workers had burn scars they proudly bragged about and wore as badges. You paid with patches of skin to eat well in Villanueva.
The two kitchen workers were barefooted, dressed in cut-off pants and were thickly covered in soot as they stood their positions behind the pots with scoops in hand. The food was disgusting. The rice was of the poorest quality and soggy. The soup had a few potatoes and yuca, a tuber, flouting around in it. Everybody was stone quiet once it was being served, for in prisons everywhere, this is a nervous time between guard and prisoner for it’s when trouble breaks out. One worker was bent over the steaming caldron of soup sweating buckets of black droplets into it.
“A little salt never hurts,” prisoners joked. Hungry men will eat anything.
I went over to Samuel’s caspete to eat per Cacorro’s recommendation. The menu was simple; rice, potatoes, a thin piece of not-so-tender meat and beans. Samuel was overly polite when he brought me my food for I’d be paying cash. I’d finished eating when I heard my name being called out at Patio door. A guard there escorted me to the warden’s office. Buenagente shuck my hand pointing to a chair. A newspaper was lying face up on his desk.
“How are you doing in Patio 2?” he queried politely.
“Everything is just fine, señor, and thank you for helping me out.”
“No, no, I did nothing,” and in the same breath, “Have you read the article in today’s paper?”
“Sí señor, I have.”
With skepticism, “I don’t think the judge will find out, John, about you being transferred to a Patio.”
We both tacitly knew Justo would eventually find out but…
Buenagente suggested that if questioned about this that I was to act dumb – not a difficult task for me. He was insulated from the affair and was only interested in seeing that I remained in a Patio. He knew the punishment block was a death sentence. Then he dropped the bombshell.
“I’m being transferred to a prison in Bogotá in two weeks. I’m sorry about Señor Rosen not coming.”
I thanked him for everything he’d done promising tight lips. We parted company shaking hands for what I thought mistakenly would be for the last time. I was led back to the Patio realizing my chances of escape were leaving along with the warden. I looked around Patio 2 knowing this was going to be home for awhile – if I were lucky.
I was wandering back Patio when shoved into three prisoners smoking a joint. All smiled at me and I back at them. The guy smoking passed it to me so I took a toke passing it on. I nodded my thanks not wanting the smoke to escape my lungs and rambled off. The smoke was super so it took only one decent hit to bring me back down to earth. Something could always be done – not to give up.
Pedro and I were in back Patio when we heard bottles breaking by the showers. There were a hundred men huddled around something so we slithered into the crowd to a vantage point. Two gamin street thieves were going at each other with broken bottles. A broken bottle can be deadly though rarely is but it can really fuck you up. The first thing I noticed was that the smaller one was a much better and practiced knife/broken bottle fighter than his taller foe. This was the first gladiator fight I was to see so I looked on with interest.
“This could be me,” reverberated in my mind.
The taller one had wicked slashes across a shoulder and his waist. His T-shirt was already drenched in blood and he wore terror on his face. The smaller guy could smell blood and was going in for the kill. He got inside reaching up going for the guy’s face, just barely missing it, and ran the bottle down his chest and stomach. The tall one blasted off running for Patio door as the crowd of us onlookers parted like the Red Sea trying to avoid the blood. The smaller guy quickly went to the showers washing his clothing and himself clean.
We were all lined up in straight lines getting naked within minutes. Their concerns were mostly directed at finding clues as to who was the bad guy rather than looking for dope and weapons. I’m sure they didn’t care who the bad guy was but it was a game they liked to play. Fair enough, they were bored with nothing better to do. They threatened to keep us line up dressed as jaybirds until the guilty party confessed. It was 3pm when this whole fiasco began. The bad guy wasn’t going to give himself up and nobody was going to point a finger. So we stood there as the guards went around accusing this one then another of doing it. An hour went by with all concerned getting bored. The guards had run out of men to accuse when loco arrived. The guards were in a quandary for they couldn’t just let us go eat after having just threatened us with being lined up forever. So a guard just picked someone at random not hiding the obvious. The innocent convict and the guards marched off heading for the hole.
I went to Samuel’s ordering grub. I felt absolutely drained of energy. Exhausted. They could’ve left me there and I would’ve stayed forever. So the cynic in me came out when Samuel brought me my food.
I asked him in a proper British gentleman’s accent, “Do you have a proper knife, kind sir, I could use to cut my meat with?”
He looked at me as if he’d done something wrong. I drew the moment out letting him squirm for I was enjoying making someone else miserable if only short-lived. I grabbed the spoon stabbing the meat as if it were a fork. I pretended having a knife in my other hand cutting it. I suddenly looked at my hand finding nothing there.
“Samuel, my fine friend, do you have the missing knife I need?”
He smirked for his pigeon hadn’t flown the coop. He returned to his kitchen and reached underneath the counter pulling out a proper 10-inch butcher’s knife! He did it so blatantly out in the open that I nervously looked around to see if any guards were watching. Samuel was enjoying my angst as he leaned over and politely offered it to me. I waved him off snatching the meat with my hands biting off a piece to show him how tender it was. He nonchalantly put the knife back under the counter as if everybody owned one and watched me eat my food.
I finished eating and slid the empty plate towards the counter passed the convict sitting next to me. The Patio had been fed so an audience was standing around. Samuel enjoyed playing to a crowd so he again pulled out his knife offering it to me handle first while reaching for the empty plate. There were fifty men watching so I knew this to be a test of sorts but I hadn’t figured it out yet. I likened it to a man who has a gun collection and pulls out his favorite revolver to show someone. It’s an act of trust. I’d figured while eating there had been an explanation for his over-pretended casualness.
The Patio would be talking about this so I accepted the knife and ran my thumb across the blade nodding my appreciation as to its sharpness. I played with his toy for awhile then passed it to the guy sitting next to me who passed it onto Samuel. He shaved a few hairs off his forearm then stashed it underneath the counter. Have to admit I liked the feel of that knife in my hand – a security blanket. It’d become evident hours before that men no longer looked at me as a novelty but as prey. Prisoners there came at others with weapons robbing just their clothing. The meek and mild walked around in their Fruit of the Loom’s. You’d have to kill the guy or come down to the Patio naked every day if someone took your clothes off you. I was no longer in Patio 1 and carrying a weapon sounded just fine – an ounce of prevention.
Samuel was satisfied he’d avenged my little game so he explained the prison permitted the knife for the preparation of food – and that all caspete owners were allowed a registered knife! They closely guarded them for it’d cost them thousands if the knife were lost or used in an incident.
5:30pm. Bang, bang, bang rang wrenches against the bars of Patio door and up to the pasillos we went. Calavera was waiting for me with a lock for 20 pesos. He reminded me he did laundry so we went to my cell where I unloaded all my dirty clothes on him. He gave me a monstrous skeletal smile scampering off down the pasillo to his cell and kid.
Note: Calavera had been convicted of some heinous crime 12 years back. It would’ve been too dangerous to send him to any other prison so it’d been arranged he could do his 24-year sentence at Villanueva – the maximum penalty for murder. Ironically, he was probably getting the best sex he’d ever had for when his different kids would get released, a tearful affair, a new one would always magically appear from Patio 6. This Patio housed juveniles and was so dangerous the kids weren’t allowed to wear clothes in case they might be hiding a weapon. The Patio was dirt instead of concrete so knives and weapons were buried everywhere. Because of the differences of size and age, between 8 and 15, violence and rape reigned. A kid was much better off living with an old, perverted skeleton and getting it up the ass than remaining in Patio 6.
I was in the cell when Pedro arrived. He smiled spitting out four packets from his mouth to be rolled up later. We ventured into the pasillo where I met my new neighbors. Pasillo life is very different than Patio life for everyone there gave the pretense of getting along with his neighbors. Everyone had heard of me and was polite and friendly but no one spoke English so communication was sparse.
6pm. Nobody said “Boo” while the commander and assistant counted us silently. They reached pasillo door comparing numbers and bolted us in for the night. Calavera ran a tight ship. If he thought someone was thieving then he’d find himself in another pasillo. He’d been there long enough to consider this pasillo his home and the men staying there as his invited guests. The man was mad.
We entered our cell where Pedro rolled a number, lit up, took a toke and passed it to me. I inhaled a long, slow, deep hit making sure every nook and niche of my lungs weren’t missing out. I leaned against the cell wall closing my eyes feeling my entire body vibrating. I was beginning to feel alive as the smoke escaped my lungs. We smoked half stashing the rest for later. We were giggly-stoned and every time we’d mention Calavera we’d crack up laughing. Pedro looked up calavera in my dictionary – it meant skull. Pedro tried to pronounce it and came up with ‘es-cool’ making us laugh even harder.
Two of Pedro’s friends joined us having heard the laughter. They produced some weed asking if we’d any papers. We were smoking when it came out one of them worked in the infirmary. He had some great gut and gore stories seeing it every day at close range. They were fun stories but I was interested in something else.
Pedro brought out the half joint we’d left and lit up. Calavera had the spirits that haunted the pasillo to let him know what was happening in his realm, so he nodded as he passed our cell going to pasillo door as lookout. It was Pedro’s custom to give Calavera his roaches for which he stood point in case of roving patrols. We’d finished the joint so I went into the pasillo to give Calavera the two roaches we had saved.
Calavera waved me over quickly to pasillo door. There was a convict who’d wrestled another to the ground on the 2nd-floor landing only a few feet away. The one with the knife had been chasing the other convict up the stairwell. He’d tackled him and was stabbing him in a frenzy wherever he could. I felt safe in my cage looking on as if I were watching a movie. Guards came charging up the stairwell with their batons in hand but none approached Frenzy for a baton was never a deterrent to someone with a knife. They formed a loose ring around them shouting at Frenzy to stop. But he rolled the other one over who’d ceased resisting and stabbed him twice more in the chest leaving the knife in the body where the heart should be. He stood up and was duly marched down the stairwell and onto the main corridor where we could hear him being beaten. I couldn’t believe what I’d just witnessed. I’d just seen my first man killed only inches away from me – or so I thought for 5 years. I shall digress for a moment.
Back briefly to early 1979 (the present). Two Patios are allowed to play soccer against each other out on the main yard on rare occasions (Diagram 5, page 188). Those that want to play or watch from the two Patios are searched, counted and marched orderly double-file to the soccer field. This is a treat for prisoners who spend their days on a concrete Patio for the field is grass and many times bigger than the corral we’re normally penned up in.
Patio 1 was one day pitted against Patio 5 – the Patio for the criminally insane. I was out on the soccer field walking laps enjoying the sunshine, fresh air and open spaces when one spectator from el Patio de los locos waved me over. He was halfheartedly watching the match as he gave me his hand introducing himself.
“Maybe you remember me, hermano? You know, in Villanueva.”
“Not really, hombre, I met a lot of people there.”
“You know, John, one night I was getting stabbed right in front of your pasillo. I saw you there standing behind the door.”
“Yes, of course, I remember but I thought you were killed that night!”
Stating proudly, “No, hermano, I’m still alive.”
I was stunned for the first person I’d ever seen murdered was there resurrected. I’d been the closest to him while he was getting stabbed but we’d never met formally. Resurrected had seen my name and picture in the numerous articles about me before I arrived at Villanueva. Even so, how he remembered seeing me standing behind a barred door while being stabbed to death was truly bizarre.
Bragging, “I was stabbed 18 times that night, hermano, that makes 43 times altogether now!”
I’d never heard of a prisoner who’d been stabbed so many times and was still around to talk about it. He then went into great detail enumerating upon the little scar-slits covering his body. And the finer points about each fight where he’d stabbed and killed others. He’d told these stories many times so the tales had been filled with plenty of details and humor. I declined to look at the three scars on his butt for I thought it might look unseemly if he were to be showing me his ass out there on the yard.
“Prisoners might talk,” I joked.
Our encounter was brief, quite pleasant and a lot more interesting than the soccer match going on was. But I’ve always wondered what Resurrected had done to provoke so many men into turning him into a human pincushion.
I stood watching the guy bleeding on the landing floor thinking just how cheap life was there and how easily its spark could be snuffed out. One guard pulled the knife out of what I thought was a corpse. A few guards came over to check the weapon out and were more interested in what it was made of than the guy bleeding to death on the floor did. His eyes were still open but were unblinking so he appeared dead. They eventually got it together to haul the body down the stairwell.
Only a few in the pasillo even bothered to come to pasillo door to see it. I was the only one standing there when they removed the body. I felt self-conscious having stayed to watch the drama through its entirety for everybody else appeared blasé. I misunderstood their apathy until I was to arrive there shortly myself. It wasn’t they’d seen it so many times that they’d become inured to it for many had been stabbed themselves. But instead, they’d seen and experienced it enough times to find it appalling. Men there were also pragmatic lending to the appearance of coolness – better him than me.
Pedro filled me in on the dirt. The two had been old-time enemies working in the factor making cardboard boxes. They’d worked overtime and the commander had been escorting them to their pasillos for lockup when Frenzy had attacked Resurrected in the stairwell. This stairwell was infamous for this kind of attack for someone couldn’t get away if you trapped him in there.
9pm. Pedro blew the candle out and the cell went pitch black. He lit a Pielroja cigarette asking if I wanted one. I’d never smoked tobacco before thinking people who smoked something that didn’t get them high were crazy. But fuck it, why not? He passed me one already lit. I held the cigarette between thumb and index finger as if it were a joint. Pedro couldn’t restrain his laughter as he watched me puff on my cigarette instead of smoking it. He even felt inclined to politely show me how it was done. Funny, I’d seen it smoked a million and one times, in a thousand and one ways, from the Arabs in Morocco to the hillbillies in Tennessee. And here someone had to show me how to smoke the damn thing. So I leaned against the wall practicing how to smoke a cigarette and appearing super cool; a I’m-a-mean-ass-bastard-don’t-dare-fuck-with-me cool; a truly pensive cool…And I learned that night that black tobacco sent you tripping in a dizzy kind of way making you want to puke.
I lay there using my clothes as a pillow sorting through the longest day of my life. I didn’t particularly want to be in Patio 2 for it was dangerous but it was paradise in comparison to the punishment block. My last thoughts were about money as my mind collapsed onto itself from sheer exhaustion. Five hundred dollars weren’t going to last me long and I was dead meat without it.
4am. Pedro was stirring so I whispered his name. He rolled over lighting a candle. He mimed something about a guard coming to our cell several times during the night looking at me closely before leaving. He’d only looked in our cell. They were obviously keeping close tabs on me for heads would roll if I were to disappear. Justo would make sure of that.
He offered me a cigarette that I was inclined not to take, but what else do you do in a prison cell at 4am? I propped my head on an elbow and contemplated if I should ask Infirmary-Guy about a syringe. There wasn’t much privacy in this pasillo but there had to be a way. This wasn’t very bright for I didn’t even know the lay of the land but the demons inside of me wanted another blast into the ether. I could hear the showers being turned on, which reminded me, I sniffed under an armpit and whoa…I tried to remember the last time I’d showered and couldn’t. It’d been awhile by the state of my armpits.
I found Calavera and his kid at the shower filling up buckets and soaping down clothes. Most prisoners did their own laundry and remained in back Patio guarding them until they were dry. Definition of guarding in this sense was not taking your eyes off your clothes for a second. You sneeze and a T-shirt WILL be gone. I soaped myself down spending minutes under the shower trying to wash ‘it’ all off, everything, the grim and me down the drain never to be seen again. Other men wanting to shower interrupted my fantasies of self-annihilation so I made myself ready for the Patio.
5:30am. I make fun of Pedro’s clothes as we went down the bloodstained stairwell to the Patio. He’d a thin tie draped over a white shirt for an afternoon court appearance. He’d be released shortly if bribe money could be raise for the judge. We went to Cacorro’s for coffee where we bumped into Infirmary-Guy.
“Buenos días,” I greeted him.
He returned my greeting. I pulled him off to the side and opened my dictionary pointing to the word ‘syringe’ asking, “?Es posible, hermano?”
“Sí, todo es posible.”
“How much?”
“Bueno, for you, John, 100 pesos.”
I should’ve bargained but didn’t.
7am. We’d been counted so I wandered the Patio checking it out. There were two kinds of men there and it seemed to work out okay. Most men like myself preferred to remain moving or standing in groups all day. While other would set up their piece of concrete table they’d occupy each day playing chess, checkers, dominos and Parcheesi. There was always gambling going on even if only for a few pesos.
I brought a notebook, and armed with my dictionary, I set out to conquer Spanish. I love trivia and had read that a person needed to know 3,000 words to speak another language. I decided to write down and memorize at least 50 words a day. I found Pedro and asked him the names of everything I could see jotting them down in my notebook. We were going over the pronunciation when they called his name for court.
I leaned on a wall writing down all the English meanings to the words that I was to learn that day. This took several hours in which I was completely immersed in something besides me, myself and my fucking problems. I finished up with the words as loco arrived.
Time for Samuel’s. I was eating when I noted certain prisoners walking by checking me out. They’d been doing the same while I’d been looking up words earlier. I stared them in the eye and they smiled all friendly like. I asked Samuel about them who said they were street thieves whose second home was Villanueva. Ratoncito, meaning Little Mouse, had formed a gang that was stealing everyone’s shit in the Patio. Honor amongst thieves was on the endangered species’ list.
You are expected to kill someone in prison if he steals your stuff. It’s prison law planet Earth – probably the galaxy. Thieves there would snatch your stuff right in front of your face if they thought you were afraid to defend it. This little gang of idiots was stealing from the daily newcomers who’d things on them they coveted. You didn’t bring your portable radio to the Patio if you weren’t willing to die or kill for it. I’ve dozens of stories about portable radios being stolen that I won’t bore you with.
I found a piece of back wall to lean against memorizing my words for the day. One of Ratoncito’s gang came over to chat me up, not easy for someone who didn’t speak English. I knew he was up to something but I hadn’t figured it out yet. He was the type of street scum who was always up to something and had been down on his luck too long for it not to be transparent. I was also putting on an act – ostensibly the courteous nice guy. Street-Scum asked me a question I didn’t understand so I was looking up the word in confusion. He suddenly grabbed my dictionary wanting me to pass it over to him as if he were going to find the word. I held onto it feeling like a fool. This was the first time I’d ever denied someone such a simple thing as looking at a book I’d in my hand. I didn’t like what I’d just done but I’d finally figured out what this fool wanted – my dictionary. It didn’t occur to me at the time but I’m sure he couldn’t read. It was hot outside and there was a blazing sun that bounced off the whitewashed cellblock walls that blinded me. I was tiring of his bullshit. He put on the airs that I was some special VIP and he was but a lowly servant who simply wanted to help by looking up a word. He wouldn’t let go of my book.
“Get your fucking hands off my dictionary – NOW.” I shouted in his face in English.
He was pestering me and I blew it. I pushed him up against the wall dropping my notebook and lifted him a foot off the ground with dictionary still in hand. It’d been so fucking easy it startled me for he couldn’t have weighed a hundred pounds. I’d never done this to a fellow human being as I mistakenly thought all Homo sapiens were. I enjoyed it. In the previous two months, I’d been tortured, humiliated, my fortune lost, my lady gone and here was some fucking imbecile trying to steal my dictionary. He weighed nothing in my hands as I slammed him up against the wall several times more than I had to – to get the point across to him and the hundreds watching. His eyes never showed fear only loathing. I was changing dramatically for I would’ve killed this silly bastard right there if I thought I could’ve gotten away with it. And I don’t even kill spiders. I was to develop a hated for these parasites that sucked the blood of other convicts. These prisoners were understandably twisted having lived all their lives on the tough, mean streets of Cali. Whatever misery I’d gone through in life paled in comparison to these poor creatures. But they’d be devouring my corpse shortly if I treated these men as humans and not as creatures. They scared the shit out of me for they were much more dangerous than I was. And we all knew it. I wasn’t in a particularly good mood when Ratoncito came over to protect his partner in crime from further embarrassment. I’d a language to learn if for no other reason then to tell these fools to fuck off. Ratoncito also came off as the obsequious you-are-better-than-I bullshit. I let his partner down slowly from the wall enjoying the moment.
“Nobody touches my fucking dictionary,” I screamed at him in no uncertain terms. “You got it, asshole.”
Ratoncito smiled at me pulling his friend away dissolving into back Patio. I couldn’t have done anything more stupid if I’d tried. But I couldn’t have given a big rusty fuck. I was fed up with everything by then including life. I was on a short fuse. It was evident that whatever I owned back in the States was gone. I was a fugitive without a life and these petty little fuckers were going to give me the blues over a dictionary? The first moments when this had begun had scared me and not just a little. I hadn’t used violence against another since elementary school. These idiots did it on an hourly basis. My first thought had been to leave my dictionary in my cell. But I then realized I cared more about keeping my dictionary on me than I did about life. And I’d greet them with a smile if there were any assholes out there who didn’t believe this. I’d made a decision to arm myself by then. This whole bunch of bullshit over a mere book had terrified me and I didn’t want to get cut up. I knew there were going to be repercussions.
I should’ve been more afraid than I actually was for I was way underestimating the enemy. They weren’t physically strong so they compensated for it in a thousand ways. You’d think these petty assholes wouldn’t embarrass easily but that wasn’t the case at all. They had nothing going for them and occasionally would develop temporary loyalties with a few pretended friends. But basically, they were self-reliant and didn’t trust a soul. Consequently, the most important thing to them was themselves and how they felt about themselves so losing face meant losing self-esteem. It was misplaced but it was all they had. They were sewer rats that knew it and would aggrandize their self-respect by being the biggest and baddest rat around. This meant fucking over their best buddy on occasion as he would to them. Nobody there was going to help granny to cross the street without taking her purse.
I went to Cacorro’s ordering coffee. I was shaking so badly from the adrenaline I was spilling it. What I needed was a cigarette. I bought my first of many packs of Pielrojas and lit one. I told Cacorro what had happened. He knew Ratoncito and agreed I should arm myself. His little gang had tried to sell him stuff they’d stolen in the Patio but he’d refused to deal with them. Most violence in the Patio was over stuff that had been stolen. I asked him if he knew anybody with a knife for sale. He didn’t for he’d been out of the market for awhile because…he put his hand underneath a shelve pulling out a large 12-inch butcher’s knife! They’d allowed him only a small table knife when he’d first opened but he’d found the right palms to grease. Guards weren’t concerned he’d use the knife on them for guards were good judges of men and character. It was vital for their survival.
I went over to Samuel’s standing at his outside counter. He’d already heard about what had happened. I needed a little comic relief so I mimed in great detail what I’d just done. Samuel and the others standing around enjoyed the antics.
“Be careful, hermano,” Samuel warned.
Then he did something I’ll never forget. He retrieved his knife offering to loan it to me. He’d spent half his life there so he knew the situation much better than I did. This was something you’d only do for a good friend. I replied that I was okay though conveying this could change. Things were happening too fast for I hadn’t planned on killing anyone that day when I awoke that morning. This was the last morning in prison where I’d wake up not aware that I might have to kill someone. There were days to come when I got up expressly to kill someone. I was armed and meant it. Men tried to rip me off daily and I’d wake up some days not in good mood – with all buttons set on self-destruct. I was pestered to the point of desiring to hurt others and fantasized how to chop them up. I was scared, all the time scared – and I wanted to live. If I had to kill so be it.
I was truly grateful for Samuel’s offer for he made it clear it was mine if need be. He was taking a chance I’d be able to use it and get it back to him before the search. He was one of these people that appeared simple on the outside because he spoke Spanish differently than most people. This surely wasn’t true for I found his mind to be a myriad of mazes filled with fantasies and God-awful truths. He’d a quick wit and would have the prefect witticism to say to someone after he’d just stabbed him. I was to know Samuel for a year and he was to teach me a truism: If the lights are on and nobody appears to be home then they may well be in the basement lurking.
My first reaction had been to take his knife and scare these assholes that were NOT making my day. The fact I’d probably have to stab someone was still trying to compute. One reason I hadn’t taken the knife was that I hadn’t wanted to get Samuel in trouble so I talked to him about getting my own. He said there were some knives around for sale and would have something brought over for me to look at. A zillion men were watching as I looked at an assortment of fabricated bullshit that I felt a broken bottle would’ve made a better weapon.
Samuel pointed out, “You got good knife, you no sell.”
He was aware there was nothing in the Patio worth buying for effective weapons were rare. And usually well stashed and hard to get to in emergencies because of the constant searches. A proper weapon was only brought out when it was to be used. Samuel knew the danger I was in for he’d been stabbed numerous times in the street and in prison. He told me the guard who brought in his supplies would be on duty the next day. He’d talk to him to see if he’d bring in a knife similar to the one he had.
“Cost mucha plata,” he added, “maybe 200, 300 pesos.”
“Por favor, Samuel, talk to guard. I get money one hour.”
“Tranquilo, hermano, me have money.”
He’d get me the best deal he could if the guard would do it. The guards there knew some convicts became troublesome and that you had to defend yourself at times.
Note: A year later, a half-page newspaper article about Villanueva stated there had been over 1,000 prisoners stabbed and 173 prisoners killed during the previous year. I remember this number for it was so close to one killing every other day.
I had visions of killing this bastard who’d become the personification of all my ills. I wanted him out of my life. I didn’t like being intimidated by such a piece of predatory shit. Fuck him and the whore whose pussy he squirted out of. I’d never dealt with the flood of motions I was then being drowned in. It all boiled down to one thing – I wanted to live. The entire Patio was watching the drama and knew I was looking for a weapon. My biggest concern was that the guards would find out for it’d become obvious that the commander was checking up on me hourly.
I was still standing around Samuel’s undecided as to what to do. Then my attention was diverted by commotion at the far end of the concrete tables thirty feet away. I couldn’t see what was happening except the disturbance was coming at me. Two prisoners went right by me to a stack of soda bottles sitting outside Samuel’s caspete. They each grabbed a bottle breaking them against the cellblock wall. I couldn’t see a thing though I was only feet away. Samuel patted his outside counter with his hand giving me permission to stand on it. The fight had only started moments before but they’d both been cut. There wasn’t any of this movie shit of dancing around each other checking your adversary out. No, they were coming at each other slashing and both had taken terrible wounds. I looked quickly at Patio door where the commander was standing on a stool trying to see what was happening. I could already see guards amassing outside Patio door.
The two were slashing away when the commander and a gang of guards stormed the Patio pounding their sticks on the ground in front of themselves opening a path to where the trouble was. Nobody was moving very fast for everyone wanted to see how the guards were going to break up the fight. One guard passed by me and yelled at me to get off the counter. I feigned I was going to jump down then asked him something dumb in English instead. He screamed at me again but had his hands full helping his comrades to part the Sea of Thieves to get to the fight. I’d paid for the ticket in full and I wasn’t giving up my seat until I’d seen the end of the movie.
The guards took minutes to clear a path to the fighters who were both bleeding profusely. It’d always amazed me just how much blood was spilt during these skirmishes. These guys were fucked up but neither one of them would let the guards break up the fight. There were twenty guards standing around the fighters yelling at them to quit. The two were halfheartedly going at each other when a guard crept close enough to swing his club down hard on one combatant’s arms holding a bottle. It went crashing to the ground while several guards raised their clubs and stood in front of the other guy. I saw my opportunity and escaped to back Patio. A few guards yelled at me as I squeezed into the front row of bodies quickly disrobing. I looked over my shoulder spotting Ratoncito looking daggers at me. This seemed childish, and was, only his childhood involved killing others to survive. My main concerns were just how many of them were there and what did they look like.
Meanwhile, there were twenty angry guards demolishing the Patio while eight guards slowly searched us 500 naked prisoners. Several guards swept the concrete tables clean of chess boards, decks of cards, cups, handicraft, you name it to the ground trampling on them. Most guards had been there for years and knew all the cracks in the walls, the loose bricks around the toilets and the hundreds of stash places in the Patio. They knew them better than the convicts for they’d been there longer. The search was turning up packets of grass, different pieces of steel and an assortment of already broken bottles.
The search had gone on for an hour when one furious lieutenant came into the Patio. The higher up a guard’s rank then the more aloof and authoritarian was his persona. When the mask came off – watch out. The guards even felt intimidated by the lieutenant as he stood there for fifteen minutes lecturing us. A guard brought over a nasty piece of steel for his perusal. He grabbed it waving it in the air threatening us with something. How do you threaten a prisoner with seemingly nothing to lose? Hint: It wasn’t the threat of banning Coca-Cola from the Patio.
The lieutenant’s big stick was that of canceling Saturday and Sunday visits which had been done when the violence had been out of hand. I was to see seven men get stabbed in one day just in Patio 2! The prison norm was ten stabbings a day. It was all the time and everywhere. Many of the killings were at night in the pasillos where the good weapons were hidden. But only 1 in 20 ever died because of the scarcity of good knives. The lieutenant threatened to cancel the visits if there were to be anymore violence in the Patio before Saturday’s visit and dared us to try him out. And left with the other guards following suit.
A brief description of weekend visits. All male visitors on Saturdays who’d a picture ID were allowed into the Patios between 10am and 1pm. The search was degrading so only family members and close friends would endure this type of humiliation. This visit was most important because of the influx of pesos. But it was the threat of canceling the Sunday visit that would most grab a prisoner’s attention. Women in general would come into the Patio from 8am to 3pm to see their men. Wives and girlfriends were allowed to go to the prisoners’ cells for conjugal visits. Canceling the visit meant that nobody was getting laid – and no money. Also, moms could bring in children to see dad the first Sunday of each month.
I had my back to a wall studying my words when Ratoncito walked by me meaningfully for the third time. It was apparent the dictionary was no longer an issue. I was being sucked into a vortex by Mickey Mouse, and like it or not, I had become a character in his cartoon. I was rich beyond his wildest fantasies and he couldn’t fathom why I didn’t want to share it with him. He was undergoing a legitimate experience we’ve all gone through, that is, he wanted, craved, envied something that belonged to another. And he wanted to kill for it. He’d been living his whole life on the street and was a mean crazy that scared even his comrades. Fuck it, I didn’t know how to act for he frightened me. Plus I’d no control over the hundreds of fools watching at close quarters. All I wanted to do was to have a cold cerveza, lie in a hammock and take a siesta. But that wasn’t going to happen for a long time.
I was tired of Ratoncito’s chicken-shit games and went back to Cacorro’s for coffee. I stood there nursing a cup forever then ordered another. I’d never thought about killing anybody, but at that moment, it was something I desired more than anything else ever had. I was entirely new to this macho-bullshit-stabbing thing that was to become my world for the next bunch of years. I was finishing my coffee when I realized there was no holding it – I had to take a leak. I hadn’t even been there for two days and I’d to go through all this bullshit over nothing. The situation was idiotic but had developed its own life becoming an entity. It was alive and had to be dealt with.
I went to Samuel’s ordering a warm Coke. I didn’t want to ask him for his knife without buying something first. I told him I needed to piss and that I didn’t trust Ratoncito and friends. And that I needed his knife that he quickly handed to me matter-of-factly. He’d been involved in these silly wars a thousand times whereas this was my first.
I hid the knife down the side of my 501 Levi’s pulling my shirt over it. I walked passed Ratoncito and fellow fools to reach the open hole where everybody pissed. I stood there looking over my shoulder as Ratoncito played his staring game. It was during a fantasy of eating his eyeballs that I began to unbutton my 501’s. Whoa, I’d never worn a belt so I stopped after the second button when I realized the knife would fall down my pants if I unbuttoned more. I’d no intentions of showing the weapon for I’d only wanted to be prepared if any shit had come down while taking a whiz. I didn’t want to tip off Ratoncito I was armed. A peaceful pee was all I wanted.
I took the knife out with my right hand and let it dangle at my side not pretending to hide it. Everybody immediately stepped away from me so that I could comfortably piss and I laughed for I’d finally got the punch line. I forcibly pulled my genitals out and over my pants because my Levi’s would be dropping down to my ankles if I would’ve unbuttoned more and attacked. There was so much to learn and so little time.
I wouldn’t have felt so smug if I’d known what I was provoking. I returned to Samuel’s passing him back his knife and ate something. It hadn’t been smart for they’d be expecting me to be carrying it if they attacked me. Poker is my favorite game and I enjoy the excitement of a well-done bluff. But this wasn’t poker and this was definitely not the time to be bluffing.
Pedro came strutting through Patio door having just returned from court. He found me standing at Cacorro’s smoking a fag. He grinned while peeling a large joint from underneath his lip and quickly pocketed it. Several of his friends joined us and were curious about what had transpired in court. He explained that his wife had borrowed the money and had paid the judge off that morning. Pedro would be on the street in two weeks.
5:30pm. Back to our cells. Pedro produced the joint he’d smuggled in breaking it open. He was rolling the first of four smaller joints as he explained how his day had gone. His wife had already paid off the judge before he arrived. They’d been in the courtroom only minutes so the escorting guard had agreed to take a taxi back to Villanueva. The taxi had dropped them off first at his pad where he and his wife had been in the bedroom alone for 45 minutes while the guard had waited in the living room. He’d made love, rolled a bomber and returned. A hundred pesos made everybody happy.
This was not unusual and was a moneymaker for guards. If an escorting guard saw at the courthouse a convict was to be let out soon and the wife was there, then why not if pesos could be made? Sometimes guards were unaware a prisoner had other much more serious outstanding charges in other courthouses with other judges and they’d use this as a ploy to escape literally out the bedroom window.
Pedro had heard the gossip about Ratoncito and asked me about it. I wasn’t in the mood to discuss it having lived the day with nothing more than this mouse on my mind.
Pedro had invited several of his buddies to come over to smoke a doobie. Infirmary-Guy was one of them.
“?Qué pasa, hermano?” I greeted him.
“Nada, gringo, maybe two days, three days. Pronto.”
Shit, I was thinking about doing it after lights out.
Pedro lit up the first joint passing it to me and then lit another passing it on in the other direction. Pedro was a free man and it was time to celebrate. Everybody in the cell besides Pedro had watched the dark comedy all day I’d been involved in. Everyone had an opinion on how I should handle it. I’d already decided to kill the little rodent but I had to be careful not to get stabbed or killed first. All agreed I should slay the bastard and be done with it but ever looming was the lieutenant’s threat. Most men in the cell would be having visits that weekend and he’d been dead serious when he’d threatened us to try him out. But Ratoncito wouldn’t be concerned if there were visits this weekend or not. We decided it best if Pedro and a few buddies would talk to Ratoncito in the morning to find out exactly how explosive this situation was. All were in agreement that if Ratoncito were bent on my destruction then I’d have to take him out and deal with the wrath of the Patio for not having a visit that weekend.
9pm. Lights out. I informed Pedro I was looking for a knife but I’d no idea where to conceal it. A mattress would work best but I didn’t own one. Calavera hated knives and knew all the stash places in the pasillo and he’d turn it in to a guard if he found one. This was unusual for a trustee normally helped other prisoners to make good stash places for their weapons. There were too many synapses vying for my brain’s attention so I put them all on hold. I was beating a dead horse.
I’d memorized all my words when I blew the candle out that night. I’m myopic when I start something and it was imperative I spoke Spanish well if I wanted to escape. Escape had become the reason for my existence and I didn’t mind dying doing it for death was preferable to living in this shit hole I was in. Nor did I care if I’d to kill someone to survive. There were times when I would’ve killed someone just because they were just one of those thousands of gnats that were bothering me all the time. I was immersed in a world where life was measured in centavos and I became a part of it.
I lay there in darkness as Mickey Mouse came flying back into my consciousness. How could such an insignificant being have totally invaded my universe? Oh yeah, he wanted to kill me over having lost face for not stealing my dictionary which he would’ve then had tried to sell back to me. Literacy was not a strong suit there and men that wanted to learn another language – give me a break.
4am. Pedro awoke to find me awake. It was spooky quiet and coal mine dark as Pedro lit up the remaining joint. What a delicious way to start the day even though there was nothing but disaster awaiting. I heard Calavera walk passed the cell informing him I needed a mattress.
5:30am. Pedro and I were herded into the Patio for the day. We were standing in front of Cacorro’s when Ratoncito and buddies walked by us seriously checking me out. Pedro even felt Little Mouse was being overly melodramatic but we knew this wasn’t good news for it was obvious he was pumping himself up to do something that scared and/or excited him.
6am. Pedro and I retired to back Patio for morning roll call. I avoided looking at Ratoncito who was standing behind me glaring. Pedro was watching my back so I wouldn’t be pulled into a staring match. I didn’t want to do something until I was ready for I was going to get fucked up if I didn’t handle this properly.
I needed more words for the day’s quota so I turned to the Spanish side of my dictionary to ‘a’. I wrote ‘a’ in my notebook along with its many English definitions then went on to the next useful word. I did this religiously every morning, and after eight weeks, I was halfway through the S’s when I reached my 3,000th word. I finished with the Z’s a week later.
Pedro had met with Mighty Mouse giving me his assessment of the situation. Ratoncito had apparently felt utterly insulted by the knife I’d threatened him with while talking a whiz. And nobody threatened Ratoncito.
We could see men forming a circle around the shower area but we couldn’t see anything because of the mob watching. Nobody yelled when fights broke out so as not to alert the guards. A hush would come over the Patio so as to allow for a fair fight giving the winner an off chance to clean up before the search. Though it was mostly assumed that you’d be caught and have to do x amount of days hole time which was always more preferable than x amount of days in a hospital – or the morgue.
Someone ran out of the mob covered in blood with another prisoner hot on his ass armed with a knife. He stabbed him in the back once but slipped and fell. The other guy was at Patio door by the time he stood up so he went back to the showers.
Pedro and I buzzed over to Cacorro because that cup of coffee before having to stand naked for two hours was the best. No smiling faces. Men wanted to see their wives and the lieutenant’s wrath cometh. The fight had been over something petty by Patio scum. The groans wouldn’t have been so vociferous if the fight had been over something serious. The guilty party had washed himself clean and was wearing different clothes by the time the guards blasted into the Patio.
We were standing there naked as a dozen unanimated guards were doing their routine when the lieutenant came through Patio door. He pompously marched through the Patio with the attitude of a hard-nosed bastard who was in control of a gang of idiots who were testing his authority. And he was badass enough to deal with it. He began another fifteen-minute harangue and wasn’t in a good mood because his dear comrades had let him down. He wandered through our ranks and lectured us while stopping in front of individuals calling them by name explaining his sheer disappointment in them. He wanted the guilty man to give himself up and he wouldn’t cancel the visit if he’d do so. He was tried of the blood and wanted the guilty one to own up – there were no takers.
The lieutenant had used this tactic because it worked. It was safer for the guilty one to be in the hole than to deal with the Patio’s rage. He walked slowly amongst us asking for the guilty party to give himself up. He didn’t want to but we, his friends, were forcing him to cancel the weekend visits. He passed right by the guilty party beseeching us for the last time and you could see the suspense in everyone’s eyes. The lieutenant stopped three paces passed the guy asking one last time, and with everybody remaining silent, he turned around looking at the fool and ordered his men to take him away. He’d known all along who it was.
The Lieutenant’s Show was over. He finished by telling us how disappointed he was in us. It wasn’t his fault but there would be no weekend visits. He threatened us even further that he’d take away the visits for a month if there were anymore stabbings before Saturday. Moans from naked bodies for three days without someone getting stabbed was unheard of.
They were leading the guilty man away when someone yelled, “Por favor, mi teniente, don’t take asshole to the hole, leave him here.” Even the lieutenant laughed at this one.
I retired to Samuel’s to gulp down a meal. Samuel was pissed off for no visits meant that no one would have money to pay his bill. Most of Samuel’s clients were holly dependent on weekly visits. I was eating when a guard walked straight up to Samuel handing him a parcel. He ushered the guard off to the side where they talked for a few minutes. Samuel returned and was emptying the contents of the box as I walked up.
“The knife?” I asked bluntly.
It seemed the guard was extremely reluctant and Samuel wasn’t very optimistic so I offered to up the ante but that wasn’t what was at issue. The guard had never brought in a weapon before and if the weapon were discovered then…But Samuel promised to press on when the guard returned later that day.
I was studying my words when a convict came up to me with a petition everybody was signing. It stated the hardships the mothers, wives and children, this being the first Sunday of the month, would have to endure. It wouldn’t be fair if the little kiddies couldn’t see daddy. It pointed out the guilty parties were constant troublemakers while the rest of us angels were simply trying to live a peaceful existence. It ended by promising no more violence for three days. It would’ve been easier to have promised the lieutenant the Taj Mahal and made good on this promise than three days in Patio 2 without somebody getting stab. I signed it along with everybody else. Curious, 80% of the Patio was illiterate though almost everyone could sign his own name. It was humiliating for a man who couldn’t and had to us an ‘X’. The petition was given to the commander who promised to deliver it to the lieutenant posthaste.
I’d been glancing at Patio door all afternoon waiting for the guard to return to Samuel’s. Ratoncito had walked by me several times and was drawing me into his staring game. There was no disguising my hatred. Pedro had offered to accompany me to back Patio with friends for Ratoncito was armed and was talking a heap of shit about carving me up. The guard finally came into the Patio with another package for Samuel. They talked then Samuel handed the guard a list of things he needed for his caspete and money.
I walked to Samuel’s with much trepidation. If I didn’t want to be escorted every time I needed to piss then I’d have to arm myself and settle the matter. Samuel looked grim and serious shaking his head back and forth – then he smiled. The guard would bring the knife in the next morning at shift change – price 500 pesos. What a fucking relief for Ratoncito was much more treacherous and cleverer than I was. My first instinct was to arm myself waiting for the first opportunity when his cronies didn’t surround him, lure him if I had to and take him out. This idiot had been terrorizing me for two days and killing him would’ve been a better catharsis than a hundred hours of therapy.
The lieutenant came into the Patio later that afternoon. He’d read the petition and would give it some consideration giving us an answer the next day. You could hear a collective sigh of relief. He threatened again us if there were to be more violence…and left.
5:30pm. Calavera met me at my cell with a mattress for 200 pesos so I bought it. I dragged it in while Pedro was rolling up some weed. We smoked it after count and talked about asshole.
“Mañana, Pedro, I get knife. Big one. I hide in mattress.”
“No hay problema.”
I went over a thousand possibilities of what might happen when armed the next day. I knew one thing for sure, I was going to put an end to this drama and later wasn’t in one of the thousand scenarios. I realized I’d be sent to the hole and probably never resurfaces again but it didn’t matter. I knew Buenagente wouldn’t stick his neck out for me twice particularly if I’d murdered someone. But I was neither the writer nor the director of this play but simply an unhappy, hapless protagonist forced to play on someone else’s stage.
I’d seen Infirmary-Guy earlier who’d said he’d bring in the needle the next night. My thoughts were a mixed bag as I lay in bed waiting to sleep – that of killing someone and how high I was going to get on heroin.
I went down to the Patio the next morning worried there would be no weapon otherwise I’d be in big trouble. I was in trouble even with a weapon but I’d at least get my licks in. I went straight over to Samuel’s who was all business while frying up eggs for some factory workers.
“I have,” he said simply, “talk after count.”
I almost didn’t believe it for I’d been setting myself up for a fall. But no, everything had gone smoothly.
The wrenches rang signaling count. I met Pedro in back Patio where I noticed Ratoncito rocking on his heels smiling at me. The incoming commander had just began calling roll when the lieutenant came into the Patio sauntering over to our ranks very officiously. He told us he’d read the petition and felt…he’d permit weekend visits if the Patio didn’t have any fights until Saturday. A mass sigh of relief was heard. He’d allow the children to come in on Sunday but there’d be no one going to his cell getting laid.
I was scoffing down scrambled eggs and rice at Samuel’s when he sat next to me passing me an 8-inch butcher’s knife. The 4-inch wooden handle had been removed leaving a bare metal grip. It was a beauty and I couldn’t thank him enough as I handed him the money. Then he went on about something repeating himself hoping I’d understand. He kept saying “Tranquilo” every third word for he could see the lust in my eyes. The lieutenant had miraculously rescinded his order and Ratoncito couldn’t give a shit. Samuel had heard the mouse was armed and boosted about making a move.
He said, “Tranquilo, hermano,” then scooted back to his kitchen, concealed his knife and went to back Patio.
I was to learn Samuel had stabbed over a dozen men during his various stays at Villanueva. He’d been arrested at age 14 for killing another street gamin who’d been bigger than him and a known bully. He’d been released a year later for self-defense but he’d been stabbed several times and had stabbed a few himself during that year in the juvenile Patio.
Samuel returned ten minutes later sitting across from me putting his knife on the table. What had come down was this: Ratoncito had been pissed off at me for treating his friend so poorly for he’d been only trying to help me. Samuel had reassured him that I’d personally told him how sorry I’d been for acting the way I had. I wouldn’t have doubted their honesty if I would’ve known who Ratoncito and friend were. Samuel, the consummate diplomat.
I’d mixed feelings for I was puffed up for battle yet not so macho to think I’d get the better of Ratoncito. Samuel’s money wouldn’t have been riding on me for sure. I had tentative feelings of relief for I still didn’t trust his truce. I found it impossible to hide the fact I’d 12 inches of steel concealed running down the side of my Levi’s as I exited Samuel’s. It’s easy to note if someone was packing by certain subtleties in the way he move. It was obvious I was carrying a knife.
I was in front Patio when Ratoncito and pals walked by, and although he was looking at me, he wasn’t staring me down. I returned his gaze giving him an almost imperceptible nod. He didn’t respond and walked off with his buddies. He walked by me alone later that day giving me a slight nod. The war was over – or so I thought.
5:30pm. I made haste to my cell wanting to stash my knife. My nerves were on edge from having watched Patio door all day in case of a surprise search. I was making a slit in the mattress as Pedro entered.
“Por favor, Pedro, shut the door.”
“You get knife?”
“Sí, a nice one,” handing it to him.
“Come from street, no?” testing the edge with his thumb nodding his appreciation.
I slit the topside of the mattress three inches and forced the blade in between the stuffing as far as I could. Pedro produced needle and thread and my new buddy was safely asleep within minutes. I could still feel it through the stuffing but it was hidden as well as twelve inches of steel could be under the circumstances.
Infirmary-Guy came to my cell just before lights out handing me a glass syringe.
“Gracias, hermano,” I grinned handing him 100 pesos, “muy apreciado.”
“What’s that for?” Pedro inquired.
“No, nada,” answering lamely.
Fuck, I’d completely forgotten about it with Ratoncito on my mind and there it was in my hand. I felt ambivalent for this was not the time and place, but was it ever? I’d been clean for months, the longest time since I’d started slamming, and I’d analyzed my fascination with injecting myself. Needles had terrified me when I’d gone to the doctors but not so when I’d been in control. The syringe, I was ashamed to admit, was the ultimate in masturbation. I knew when I’d found a vein that I was only seconds away from an orgasm. I’d never admitted to anyone about this most evil side of the spike – that in reality, my heroin addiction had been just an excuse to jam that needle into a vein.
“Should I do this tonight or wait until later?” I asked myself.
“But the longer I wait,” reasoning, “the more danger I’ll be in. And the more I slam, the faster I’ll rid myself of this shit.”
It was impossible for me to have a needle and drugs and not to do them immediately. I waited until after lights out and went to the toilet with a candle, spoon, cotton, heroin and syringe. I sat on the shitter sticking the candle on the floor lighting it and poured a gram of heroin into the spoon accidentally.
“Whoa,” I thought, “this could be too much. Fuck it, I used to do a lot more.”
I drew up water into the syringe from a rusty barrel used for flushing toilets and squirted it into the spoon. I heated the mixture over the candle then drew it up into the syringe. It was too dark to see a vein sitting on the toilet so I sat on the floor next to the candle and tied myself off. The glass syringe was new and worked better than the plastic ones in the past. My veins were all healed and I hit one immediately plunging the heroin into my arm. Bam, it hit me hard. Oh shit, my stomach became traitorous retching its contents into the toilet followed by the dry heaves that went on forever. I was horribly sick and my gut kept convulsing. My head was in turmoil spinning out of control. I began nodding thinking I’d just overdosed.
I had to get back to my cell before I passed out but I was to dizzy to stand up. My eyes wouldn’t open so I channeled all my energies into remaining awake. I stood up with the help of the wall but for just a second then back on my butt. I knew I’d have to wait to come down enough to walk but the hardest part was remaining awake. I pounded on my legs telling myself, “Stay awake, fool,” as my mind wanted to slip off into oblivion.
I waited some minutes then crawled to the pasillo with the junk and needle in hand. I stood up and was bouncing off both walls trying to find my cell when I heard something behind me. I turned around to see the commander unbolting pasillo door. I panicked, and like a fool, I throw the amber bottle and needle through the pasillo window onto the empty Patio below. The commander stopped what he was doing to investigate. Shit, I knew I was busted for sure. And I was. The commander returned to find me nodding in my cell. Pedro helped me outside as he tore up our cell looking for drugs.
“Oh no,” remembering the knife, “and I haven’t had it for even a day yet.”
Miraculously, he didn’t find it. I stripped down to my skivvies as was customary when going to the hole. Man, was I fucked up as he opened a barred door into a large 15-ft square holding cell with three walls and a caged front. There were twenty others there dressed as I was or naked sitting squeezed together lining the three walls. They made room for me and I sat down. I knew I was in trouble but I didn’t give a damn and passed out.
I awoke the next morning to discover my entire body covered with hundreds of mosquito bites from a cloud of mosquitoes hovering over us. I’d heard so many bad things about the hole but the F-2 Station had been much worse. Sure you had to piss through the door and shit into a bucket but there was a floor at least to sprawl out upon.
They took me before a kangaroo court where I could see the syringe on a table in front of them – but no heroin. They asked me questions that I didn’t understand which only pissed them off. They sentenced me to one day returning me to the hole. Many complained they were only feeding us a bread roll and a cup of water a day. I couldn’t see the big deal for nobody there was doing more than four days. If they gave you a harsher penalty then you’d do the extra time in the punishment block where they fed you. I spent the day castigating myself and concluded that fixing up had to stop. Period.
I was returned in my underwear the next morning to the commander seated at his desk. It was the same one that had busted me two nights before.
“Buenos días, gringo,” smiling as if nothing had happened.
And as pleasantly, “Buenos días, mi comandante.”
I followed him upstairs to my cell to put on some clothes. The commander entered with me producing an amber bottle.
“?Qué es, gringo?”
“Uh, medicina, mi comandante.”
“You want, 500 pesos.”
I pulled out the 80 pesos I’d remaining in my pocket. “That’s everything, mi comandante.”
He accepted the money escorting me to the Patio. The needle was out of my life so I ate what remained feeling little.
Saturday. Men’s visiting day. I arrived at the Patio where men was behaving themselves and showering for the visit. Nobody was playing Patio games. Nobody was washing clothes walking around naked. Nobody was going to get stabbed for the next few hours. We were a large number of men stuffed into a small walled area pretending all was as it should be. A masquerade ball where Little Mouse could pretend he was gentry and not the jetsam that floated in the black marches of his mind.
10am. Prisoners started greeting their visitors usually going to a caspete to drink coffee or whatever. Samuel actually had lines waiting for a seat when loco arrived. Cacorro owned the only frig and was doing a landslide business selling ice-cold sodas. So the turbulent seas were without storm for three hours.
Sunday. Women and children’s visiting day. The day started off differently right off the bat. Pedro and I left the pasillo to a mob pushing and shoving to get to the Patio first. I ventured to back Patio to see what all the running around was about. I couldn’t believe it for all of side and back Patio were covered in blankets all laid out neat and tidy – picnic at close quarters! This picnic phenomenon was most prevalent when kids visited for a prisoner would normally meet his wife or lover at Patio door and go straight to his cell for conjugal visit.
The conjugal visit was a lot different in Patio 1 which had three dorms housing thirty prisoners each. This meant that the fifteen prisoners in each dorm having conjugal visits had to put their names on a list and were allowed only thirty minutes with their lovers. Money would sometimes pass hands and a man could spend an hour which wasn’t nearly as nice as the seven hours allowed one in all other Patios. One paid for safety and security by getting less pussy – not much of a trade-off.
I was stuffed in front Patio when the women began arriving with the kiddies who scrambled off screaming for daddy. Back Patio was becoming a massive feast with women bringing in baskets of food. Real food that you could smell everywhere. There were kids with balloons running between legs making the mayhem fun. Some kids were kicking a small soccer ball through the throngs or playing tag using the huddled bodies seated on their blankets as obstacles from those that chased them. We were an enormous sea of people squeezed together like sardines in a playpen.
Pedro’s wife came in. Women from Cali had the fame of being the best looking and the sexiest that Colombia had to offer. And Pedro’s wife bolstered that image. She was taller than him, thin, a meticulously made-up face and wore a top that allowed her maximum advantage to expose her breasts that she enjoyed doing from time to time. Pedro was wearing a smirk when he asked me for the key to the cell. The lieutenant had stated that there’d be nobody getting nooky only meant that the commander-turned-landlord would be renting by the hour. It started at 100 pesos but dropped down to 50 pesos as the afternoon progressed. The lieutenant was surely getting his cut for the commander wouldn’t have dared to go against his direct orders.
The number of visitors swelled to the point where it took me five minutes to slither my way the fifteen yards to Samuel’s. The Patio was jammed during the week with prisoners but no one touched each other. But at that moment, everybody was literally squashed together as if we were all in a giant How-Many-People-Can-Fit-Into-A-Telephone-Booth Contest. We were hordes of tightly packed animals but the vibe was always mellow.
2:45pm. “Visita, visita, visita...” yelled the commander with the sound of clanging wrenches. The women and kids began snaking their way out through the jungle of men onto the main corridor. They herded us to back Patio immediately after the last visitor had exited so they could count us. They didn’t want any convicts dressing up as women and sneaking out the front door which had been done on occasion. Brothers and relatives on Saturdays had also been known to change clothing with a prisoner so he’d look similar to the picture ID the visitor had left at the main entrance. The maximum sentence for helping in an escape was 2 years, not a bad trade-off if your brother was doing 24 years.
Men escaped from Colombian prisons in the most imaginative ways. I became more confident as I heard the many tales circulating the prison that I could do it. But I needed something new for escapes that had worked in the past were less likely to work. Prisons hate it more than anything else when prisoners slip through the fingers of their tightly clenched fist.
Pedro invited me for the evening smoke. Grass was always plentiful after Sunday’s visit because half the smoke getting in was butt-packed by wives and girlfriends. Men supported their families by selling the 20 to 50 grams their women brought in. Pedro was lying back smoking the doobie feeling content after a few hours of screwing earlier. He sat up slightly reaching underneath his pillow pulling out these very sexy, red-laced, see-through panties. He lovingly sniffed them while wearing a leprechaun’s smile for Pedro adored his wife. He uttered something handing them to me for a slight whiff. I was hesitant for this was pretty personal stuff but, fuck it, I was in prison and hadn’t smelled it in months. I let my nose do the walking for several seconds savoring the bouquet that is Woman. I wanted to wrap them around my face sleeping with them on but I thought that might be asking a bit much. I handed back Pedro’s treasure with my nose in pheromone heaven. I’d forgotten.
My anger and frustration grew in giant strides as the weeks crawled on for a variety of issues; my inability to understand what was happening around me and not being able to explain myself properly; that Justo might hear about my whereabouts; that my money was going to run out; and in reality, escape was beyond my capabilities.
I found a strip of side Patio right behind Cacorro’s where I’d pace three steps back and forth declaring it mine. I no longer waited for men to get out of my way for I started pushing if they didn’t figure it out at first. I didn’t give a fuck. I’d psyched myself up and was poised to stab someone and was amazed at how fast men caught on. I’d a crazed looked in my eyes and if I stepped on your toes and it was my fault – then fuck off anyway. There were those that thought because I couldn’t speak their language that I wasn’t as smart as they were and probably easy prey. I was constantly terrified but I began deriving nourishment from terror. I sprinkled it on my corn flakes each morning and relished in its deliciousness. It was adrenaline of a different sort.
I heard Ratoncito’s name being called out one morning by the guard that calls those going free each day. He walked by me quickly with his tote bag and I thought, “Cool, this is the end of that.”
I was in side Patio when Street-Scum walked by me much closer than he had to as if scoping me out for a weapon – which was unfortunately sleeping in my mattress. Shit, he’s planning to pull off something. I hated this macho shit for it was obvious he was planning to do something and was trying to frighten me – which he did. Which also angered me. I hated being scared all the time and felt myself capable of battle. I’d already decided to act quickly if I felt I were in danger ever since I’d owned the knife. Quickly being that it couldn’t be brought down until the following day giving me time to think.
I was over at Samuel’s explaining my observations of Street-Scum. “What do you think he’s up to?”
“Ahora, Street-Scum gang leader. Maybe want revenge.”
Fuck, this had gone far enough for I’d been scared to the point of not caring. I contemplated all the ramifications of stabbing this bastard. Doing time in the hole was definitely not a problem. Being sent to another Patio or residing in the punishment block wouldn’t be nice but I’d still be alive. And that was all I thought about while working myself up into arming myself the next day.
I kept my back to a wall for the rest of the day watching Street-Scum walk by me and visualized all the different scenarios that could possibly happen. I wished that I’d been better equipped in handling a knife but I’d get him from behind if I were lucky. I’d made up my mind. I had the better weapon and I wouldn’t be circling him like a shark as he’d been doing to me all day.
I told Pedro about my plans that evening in our cell. “I’m going right up to Street-Scum tomorrow morning before count and kill the son-of-a-bitch.”
Pedro agreed I should to do something but knew I’d no idea what I was getting into. We spent the evening sparring with combs in our hands. Pedro had taught me a few moves to watch out for and a few that I might try. I had also practiced sneaking up behind Pedro and getting him in a headlock while repeatedly stabbing him in the back. This was my fantasy plan. I knew in my mind I could do this for I’d seen it done numerous times. I was mentally ready. It’d be early morning and still dark and he wouldn’t be expecting it. I didn’t care if his gang of petty thieves surrounded him or not.
I didn’t sleep that night.
Pedro wished me luck the next morning while I retrieved the knife from my mattress. I wrapped a rag around the metal handle and hid it down my right cowboy boot. My nerves were shot and I was visibly shaking until they opened the pasillo for our exit into the Patio. I knew what I had to do if I were to survive living in Patio 2.
I felt joy while I stood at a vantage point waiting for Street-Scum for I knew I could do it. My heart began racing when I saw him and I started trembling again but from adrenaline not fear. I took deep breaths calming myself down. I watched him arrive to his usual spot in back Patio where he stood surrounded by his circle of lackeys. I’d psyched myself up and was anxious so I seized the knife from my boot letting it hang at my right side. I had to squeeze by a hundred convicts to reach him and it was amazing just how few had seen my weapon. I spied the back of Street-Scum’s head just feet away and I knew he was mine.
I was almost on him from behind when someone yelled, “John.”
Street-Scum turned around as I pushed someone out of the way. He backed up from me right into someone as I slashed out at him slicing him across the chest. I went for him again but he jetted off like a jackrabbit pushing men out of his way. I almost had the bastard in the back but ended up only cutting him. I knew the faces of his mini-gang and began looking for them. I should’ve been stashing the knife but I wasn’t thinking for I was pumped up for a fight and had missed my target.
Four guards came at me through the horde of prisoners within moments with their sticks in the air. They screamed at me to put my knife down which I did. Every eye in the Patio was on me as I was led off to the hole. Some convicts were staring at me deadpan while others raised their fists in cheer. I first stopped at Cacorro’s where Pedro was waiting. He was happy to see me but couldn’t say anything because of the guards. I stripped off my clothes leaving them in his care and was marched away.
I was logged in and interrogated. They wanted to know how I’d obtained the knife. I didn’t understand any of their questions of course. One guard slapped me hard across the face in frustration several times. I was thrown into the same cell as before with twenty other naked bodies. Everybody had already known that I’d stabbed someone and were full of praise and wanted details. I just wanted to collect my thoughts. I’d fucked up by not killing him. I should’ve taken more time to stalk him and had done it right. I felt I was in more danger than I’d been before. I knew one thing for certain, I was capable of hunting a man and killing him if possible. Society would never condone this kind of act but in prison it was expected. I also understood that killing someone in a crowded Patio was extremely difficult. This was why convicts would attack others in the pasillos around the shower area or in their enemy’s cell. It had to be planned well if you wanted to eliminate someone.
I’d been busted so early that I went before the kangaroo court a few hours later. I was given two days for the stabbing and seven days in the punishment block for the weapon. The knife pissed them off more than the stabbing did. It could only have been brought in by one of their own and they wanted to know who it was. They soon tired of my inability to answer their questions returning me to the hole. I was sitting there analyzing my return to the punishment block when a guard came by for me taking me to Patio 2. Cacorro had paid 300 pesos for my release. This included 100 pesos for the commander who had agreed that Street-Scum should be taken from the infirmary to the hole and assigned to another Patio. Colombian justice.
I enjoyed men giving me the high sign and not being hassled but it only lasted days. It’d taken a week to acquire another knife from the metal shop. It was a wicked weapon with a sharpened 6-inch blade.
Pedro received his walking papers. I paid fifty pesos to both commanders to have the cell to myself – a piece of the planet in which to sleep alone.
I’d sent letters out every week to Penelope asking a score of questions but all I’d get in return would be doggie news about her Welsh corgi. I’d always reiterated my stance – tell the Feds everything they wanted to know. I received a last letter from her stating she was going to cooperate with the Feds and answer their queries. She had been totally fed up with the Feds, drugs, suspense, paranoia and the good-cop, bad-cop bullshit. I never heard from her again.

Author: Penelope immediately moved to Maui marrying a Dr Blackwell. She became a midwife who assisted in over 250 natural childbirths on the island. She had a daughter giving natural birth to her in front of over twenty people who all later partook of a meal that included her newborn daughter’s placenta.
I was pacing side Patio studying my notebook when I felt someone being pushed into me from behind. I felt the back of my neck, fuck, someone had just cut me. I looked at my hand and it was covered in blood. I turned around and saw a skinny, scrawny nut case with a double-edged razorblade in his hand. I was sure he’d cut some artery and that I was seriously injured. I pictured myself running out of blood right there in the Patio so I blew it. I attacked Nut-Case who looked surprised that I should do so. I pinned him to the ground and beat him with my fists until they hurt. I grabbed onto his matted hair yelling, “You fucking bastard,” over and over again accenting the word ‘bastard’ by repeatedly smacking his head onto the concrete Patio. I thought he’d killed me and so to Hell we were going together. I then noticed just how quiet it was around me. I looked up to see convicts with blank expressions on their faces while they watched me brutally bash in the brains of a then unconscious nutter. I didn’t know how long he’d been unconscious as I felt the back of my neck again. There was a huge amount of blood covering my hand so I set out again to methodically crush Nut-Case’s skull. I wanted him dead.
Something finally woke up inside of me when I realized what I was doing. My blood was all over Nut-Case’s face and hair and I was sure that I’d killed him. I stood up and kicked him in the side as hard as I could and slipped backwards onto my ass. I sat there on the ground touching the back of my neck trying to access the damages. It was a deep, vertical wound that ran two inches down my neck along my spinal column. It was the amount of blood I was losing that scared me but the wound really wasn’t that bad. I looked around me trying to figure out which one of these idiots standing about had set Nut-Case up to do this. Someone had given him a razorblade and had pushed him into me. I stood up and walked to the laundry area to wash the blood from my neck with everybody following. Infirmary-Guy came over to help me clean the wound for he’d been fired from the infirmary for stealing pills.
“How bad is it, hermano?” I asked.
“Not bad but deep. You want I sew.”
Oh shit, being sewn up without Novocain. I wanted to go to the doctor, but for some imbecilic reason, I let Infirmary-Guy convince me he could do the job. I understood him to say that he’d done this many times and he emphasized, “You no go hole.”
Infirmary-Guy requested a curved needle so someone went looking for the guy who made leather goods. I sat there realizing I was the highest I’d ever been in my life. Emotions and drugs didn’t taint it nor did I care that I’d probably killed someone. Everything was crystal clear. The million faces surrounding me gawking were as if painted on glass in the minutest detail that I could scrutinize at leisure. Meanwhile, the wound bled profusely. The needle and thread were obtained and I inspected them thoroughly becoming dubious. The needle seemed huge and the thread was merely cotton for sewing clothes but I was into the moment.
But still I asked, “Isn’t that needle to big?” “And is this thread going to work? Is it strong enough?” And of course, “Isn’t this going to hurt?”
Infirmary-Guy understood nothing as he repeated, “Tranquilo, gringo, tranquilo.”
The worst part of the sewing procedure wasn’t the pain, for there was little, it was the tugging the needle did as he forced the dull instrument through the skin. Someone continually cleaned the blood from the wound so that he could see what he was sewing. The attention I was experiencing was strange for I could see men flinching as he jabbed at my skin with the blunt needle. I could only feel his work but he seemed to know what he was doing once the needle penetrated the two flaps of skin to be sewn. I couldn’t see the wound when he finished the three stitches but it felt fine to the touch.
I went back to Nut-Case to spit on his dead body but the bastard was lying there conscious. I thought I’d killed him. Some prisoners helped him sit up as I walked over but he didn’t recognize me. My anger had abated for I knew that third parties were involved and had set this thing up for Nut-Case never would’ve had the money to buy a razorblade.
The neck wound became infected and painful to the touch after two days. It was infuriating not being able to see the damage done for the stuff leaking from the wound smelled hideous. I asked Cacorro to inspect it.
“Much infection, John. You go doctor.”
Cacorro assured me the doctor wouldn’t say anything so I went the commander showing him my wound. He took me directly to the infirmary where I waited with others with minor ailments for hours for a doctor. He entered the room looking around and walked over to me.
“?Qué pasa?” he asked.
I showed him the wound. He poked around squeezing it and grumbled something. He found scissors cutting open the three stitches. He cleaned the wound with soap and water but there was no stitching it up again. I inspected the injury for the first time with the aid of two hand mirrors. Oh man, there was an enormous hole in the back of my neck filled with yellow stuff. He bandaged it sending me back to the Patio. It required many months but it eventually healed leaving a vagina-like crater behind.
Saturday. I was at Cacorro’s and he was swamped so I offered him a hand. He was a most suspicious man trusting no one for there were a thousand ways to rob a man. Although it’d become his custom to ask me to watch his caspete while going to back Patio to piss for he’d been doing so in a bottle before. He’d nobody behind the counter because there was not a soul there to be trusted. He nodded and I went behind the counter pouring coffee. It was hectic with forty men squeezed around the counter waiting to be served. Afterward the rush, I worked his caspete alone while he went back to his cell for merchandise. He returned an hour later giving his store a quick gander and seemed satisfied handing me a Coke.
Sunday’s morning rush was even more frantic as I helped Cacorro serve coffee. I was still behind the counter when his wife arrived handing him the meal she’d prepared. He wolfed it down and asked if I’d run the caspete while he went to his cell to fuck his wife’s brains out. The situation seemed strange for I was politely servicing the prisoners I’d just been growling at. Being on that side of the counter meant that nobody could ask me for anything unless they’d pesos to pay so the conversations were more real.
Cacorro returned hours later visibly revitalized. This was a task that could only be accomplished by a session of hard, dirty sex and everybody in the joint knew what Cacorro’s preference was. There wasn’t a stigma in Colombian prisons against a man who liked to butt-fuck his punk kid, friend or whomever as long as he was the one on top. Cacorro had no bones about telling all that wanted to hear about his all-night escapades with the cuter kids from the juvenile Patio. And how he’d fuck them in the ass till they couldn’t walk. He’d sometimes have a kid delivered to his cell on Saturday night and do his thing and fuck his wife the next day. This was because his wife hated it up the pooper and would only give it up on special occasions – like when she wanted something. He dished me out a large plate of fish, rice and veggies giving me 20 pesos to boot.
I became Cacorro’s part-time helper for which he’d throw me a pack of smokes and free coffees. Cacorro started trusting me more so he used me more and would feed me whatever it was he was fixing for himself.
I ran the caspete one Saturday alone while he and his brother discussed something in much detail. I was overrun at times but I always motioned to him I could handle it. He informed me after the visit that the witnesses in his case were changing their testimonies. The judge would shortly be a position to release him and still have his ass covered.
My immediate reaction was, “Great news, Cacorro, how much for the caspete?”
I’d always thought of Cacorro as a permanent fixture there and had never entertained the idea of buying a caspete. He figured it’d be worth $600, a huge amount considering it was 1½ years’ wages for a guard. Cacorro knew my finances as well as I did. I’d $350 meaning I’d be out of money shortly making escape impossible. I was the only one in the Patio that could afford it so our negotiations began.
My Spanish was improving rapidly. I’d memorized my x amount of words and had figured the verbs out so I was putting grammatically correct sentences together.

APRIL 1974

I was working at Cacorro’s when Flaco Osorio came into the Patio. He was a flight risk and was the only other prisoner I was to meet that was also subjected to an hourly watch. He was an interesting gentleman and as thin as a rail as his nickname Flaco implied. He was six inches taller than I was but we weighed the same. And I was thin. He was in his late 20s and always dressed in expensive slacks, fine shirts and soft leather shoes that he’d polished daily by a prisoner with a shoeshine kit. His presence added a particular ruggedness to his very angular facial features. He’d just been arrested for a dozen assassinations with the number growing as the months were to roll on. He was an amazing marksman who’d been paid top bucks, real money like in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars, to snuff very hard targets. The authorities had known exactly who he was for 4 of the 7 years he’d applied his trade. He spoke little as if it hurt his esophagus if he did so. I liked the man immediately.
Forty prisoners watched when we were introduced where Flaco spoke the fifteen words of English he knew. He was fluent to all concerned and would use these fifteen words in our conversations whenever he could. His Spanish was superb and he was the only person in the Patio who refrained from using prison slang, though I tried not to, it was infectious.
Cacorro began preparing arrepas for morning rush. They’re made of corn and look like a thick tortilla and are typically eaten for breakfast. Someone had to be manning the electric burners at 4am if enough were to be ready so I started coming down to the Patio early.
The first time I entered the Patio at 4am was truly eerie. Cacorro was busily making buckets of coffee with arrepas coming off the burners. I went to back Patio to relieve my bladder of its nightly salvage noting just how low back Patio wall really was. A simple rope and hook and the 14-ft wall could be scaled in seconds. Of course, there was a large no-man’s land to venture across and another wall with towers that were manned with men with rifles. “One wall at a time,” I reminded myself. Back Patio was a monolith reminding me of my main purpose for being there – to get the fuck out of there. It’s easy to become complacent in prison for time slowly beats you down chipping away at your resolve. It becomes exponentially more difficult as time passes to muster up the enthusiasm an escape demands. Over 99% of prisoners there never contemplated escape for it was too dangerous and life too precious even behind bars. This never applied to me.
A few weeks passed when the one event happened that would change the way the prison system, guards and prisoners would view me. ‘GRINGO CONDEMNED TO DEATH’ read 4-inch headlines on a full-page article that was only adorned with a 6- x 8-inch photo of an old-time electric chair. The article mentioned my name Kendall for the first time. “Fuck, fuck, fuck…” was all I could say repeatedly after seeing my name in print. It was crammed full of crap and I’d spent hours translating it but I couldn’t imagine about whom they were talking, surely not me? I hadn’t a clue as to what this article alluded to but it was simple to see that it was negative propaganda directed against me by The Invisible Ones. They’d thought this would make it easier to extradite me back to the States – only this one backfired. The article was a concoction of muddled vignettes of my misadventures of late. One atrocity it purported was the killing of a police officer, and for this hideous crime, I’d been given the death penalty. I figured the entire article was pure fabrication but I slowly began to believe this story had its roots in something that happened somewhere. But what and where? And what was my connection?
Guards and prisoners would ask me about it and would always give me a knowing wink when I’d denied killing a cop and living under the threat of death. I finally stopped denying it preferring to just leave the question up in the air. Colombia didn’t have the death penalty so I’d the sympathy of both prisoners and guards alike. The guards then knew why I was so closely watched – or so they thought. Most guards would joke not so jokingly that I should skip town.
I had new outstanding charges stemming from Penelope’s testimony so The Invisible Ones had been in a hurry to have me back home to slap my hand. They’d figured if I were a loathsome cop killer condemned to death then Colombia would be happy to be rid of me – major mistake. Colombia already had a law enacted that stated Colombia wouldn’t extradite a man condemned to death for it was against its Catholic morals. The Invisible Ones had shot themselves in the foot. Extradition was never an issue again but deportation wasn’t going away. This gave me 3 years to dig a hole out of there.
This was always mentioned when the still numerous articles would come out about me. I was, and still am in 1979, the only prisoner in Colombia facing the death penalty in a foreign country. I’m not but everyone thinks so.
11am. I heard my name being called by a guard rounding up prisoners slated for court. It was Judge Justo – my worst nightmare. The usual escort of assorted F-2 officers, soldiers and prison guards accompanied me to the courthouse. Most of my guardians remained at the entrances and exits within earshot of those who never left my side. Justo was in a cheery mood as he inquired as to my health and seemed genuinely interested in how I was doing in Villanueva.
“Are you comfortable?”
How should I answer? How much does he know about my situation? Does he know about my being in a Patio and buying a caspete? I figured he knew everything by his extreme casualness in asking the question. And this was a man who didn’t like to be lied to.
Oozing contriteness, “Yes, sir, things are okay at Villanueva. I’m, uh, in a Patio doing okay.”
“I’ve heard you’re opening a business, is that correct?”
“Well, kind of, sir, but something small where I can sell coffee and arrepas. Nothing more.”
He never intimated he’d change the way the prison was housing me. He just wanted me to know that he knew I’d pulled off something to get to a Patio, and with HIS tacit permission, the moment would remain status quo.
My ex-senator lawyer had only come once to court always coming up with excuses as to why he couldn’t appear.
“Will you need your lawyer or an interpreter for the following inquiry? I promise you it’ll be short.”
“I don’t think so, sir, I speak Spanish well enough now.”
Cutting straight to the chase, “Is your real name John Johnson?”
I was expecting the question but still hadn’t decided on what to say so I remained silent thinking of how to answer.
“I’ve heard from several sources, including the US Embassy, that your real name is Kendall. True?”
Well, if he put it that way, “Yes, sir.”
He asked me a few more questions then closed his book indicating the interview was officially over. “I want to know only one thing more just between you and me, Kendall, are you truly condemned to death?”
“Sir, I’ve never killed anyone. And I’m definitely not sentenced to die.”
Again the knowing look – I was as guilty as sin.
I’m speeding up the pace passing over the constant violence and stabbings that plagued the Patio on a daily basis. I’m also not commenting on the absolute boredom of prison which would only bore you.
4:30pm. The daily newcomers had been duly registered in the log, assigned a cell and released into the Patio. I was in the caspete watching them filing in when this poor fellow without legs came rolling by on a 2½-ft square piece of wood – Halfman. The wheels were from metal roller skates that were normally strapped onto shoes. I felt sorry for him for he was crammed in with all these men who could easily trip over him. And what could he see from his 2½-ft square perch? Crotches. Not pretty. I couldn’t imagine what he could’ve done to be sent to Villanueva for it was obvious he lived on the street by the condition of his clothes and trolley. And begging was one of his trades.
He pushed himself along with two wooden handgrips shiny from years of propelling himself on the wretched streets on his not so magic carpet. A group of men stood over him bombarding him with questions. I think he liked the attention if not the circumstances. Everybody wondered as I, what could he possibly have done?
Halfman had worked the numbers game in his neighborhood for the local bookies as handicapped people would do and along with begging had managed to eat. He’d been playing dice with the neighborhood riffraff when a cop had walked by arresting hapless, legless Halfman for gambling.
5:30pm. Halfman crossed the main corridor then was carried up the stairwell where he wheeled himself into my pasillo. He was assigned a cell at the far end near Calavera’s cell. It was after lights out when I heard his metal wheels going clank-clank, clank-clank across the square tile floors on his way to the toilet. This sound of his roller skate wheels echoing off the grout seams would always be indelibly etched in my mind’s ear.
I’d listened to Halfman’s wheels for a week until his release going clank-clank, clank-clank and it always left me feeling melancholy. I’d sometimes hear his hand-hooves pushing him along – clank-clank, clopity-clopity, clank-clank…
Cacorro’s brother came to visit. Cacorro was going crazy for two months had passed in what should’ve taken ten days. His brother had seen the judge the day before insisting Cacorro was to be out that week – or else. The judge had assured him that he only needed one more testimony changed from one last reluctant witness. His bother was personally picking up this witness the next day and taking him to the judge’s office. He’d already been paid so it was time to act.
Cacorro came up to me after his brother had left whispering excitedly, “I’ll finally be out by Wednesday so the caspete is now yours.”
Cacorro ended up with all my remaining dollars for the caspete. There was enough coffee and stock to make a run for it. We met with the commander to finalize the transfer of ownership. One stipulation was that the caspete owner had to show that he had his registered knife. The commander freaked when he saw the 12-inch butcher’s knife and wanted an explanation on how he’d obtained permission for it. I was allowed to keep it after much debate and 100 pesos. He assigned me a 1st-floor pasillo cell where caspete owners lived.
Running the caspete alone that Sunday was pure madness with people lined up patiently waiting for coffee and Cokes but the sorely needed money was then mine. It was a step down from selling pounds of cocaine for $10,000 to selling coffees for 2 cents – but I no longer had to put gas in a Corvette.

MAY – JUNE 1974

I would rather be remembered
by a few women,
As the greatest lover
they ever had,
Than by the world
as a great writer…

The caspete meant I’d my own space, and just as important, my own registered sword. It more than fed me for this was about the time the complexion and size of the Patio changed. There were 50 to 100 prisoners who wore decent clothes eating part time at caspetes and had money for coffees, Cokes and smokes. Business was good so I hired an assistant but fired him for stealing and hired someone else.
Then came Orlando Rodríguez Rodríguez into the Patio. He was dressed in a fine tailored suit, an expensive pinstriped shirt and was in stocking feet for some cop had fallen in love with his shoes. And they’d also confiscated his money. He was 28 with a boyish face always ready to laugh and the bushiest mustache in the Patio. He was short carrying a few extra pounds that were to slowly fade away with time. He was from Bogotá, spoke superb Spanish and wasn’t afraid to use his extensive vocabulary. He was college educated but hadn’t graduated though this had been where he’d first started applying his trade – passing bad checks. It’d been too hot for him in Bogotá so he’d moved to Cali. They’d busted him after several months at one of the local universities buying books with a bad check. His MO had been to go to a college campus bookstore where he’d impersonate a college professor or medical doctor ordering books and medical supplies valuing around 10,000 pesos ($400). He’d done this after banking hours so that the checks couldn’t be verified, and with his charm and laughter, he’d passed bad checks. His fence had given him half price for the merchandize that he’d usually ordered in advance. He’d been making good money.
“But that was yesterday,” he chuckled.
He was definitely down on his luck for his suit was all that he owned. He’d never been in prison before and was terrified of the Patio and would be walking around in boxers if they wanted his clothes. He mostly hung out at my caspete that first day and I noticed he hadn’t eaten. I’d given him a couple of coffees for I found him much more refreshing than the normal Patio 2 convict. He was an exceptional storyteller who found humor in everything so I enjoyed listening to his misadventures and close calls.
They were serving 4pm loco when I asked him if he were going to eat something.
“I don’t have a bowl,” admitting embarrassingly then grinned.
I handed him a plate and off he went to stand in line to receive some prison grub. I asked how it was when he returned.
“I ate a little rice,” commenting laughingly while grabbing one of his love handles. “I need to diet anyway.”
I hired Orlando to work part-time in the mornings making arrepas and serving coffee. Salary was food and drink. I found my full-time worker’s hand in the till so I fired and replaced him with Orlando. He was to work for me for the next year until I was to be transferred to another facility.
A nicely dressed youngster named Fernando came by my caspete. He taught ballot and had recently been married and was there on a complaint involving some kind of stupidity. He introduced himself and was actually in awe of me for he’d read all about me in the newspapers. I found his naïveté charming for he was living the adventure of a lifetime. Something he never thought he’d ever have to experience. He was like a kid at summer camp that first day I met him though he was to grow up a lot in the weeks and months ahead.
Fernando had figured it out by Saturday that he wasn’t at summer camp but was in a lion’s lair and he was fresh flesh. He introduced me to three friends visiting him. His friends thought it was cool to come to the infamous Villanueva for they were the types that would never be inside a prison except to visit someone. They were from decent families and were kids unaware of what the criminal element in Colombia was all about. They discretely intimated that they’d heard I was condemned to death. Could it possibly be true? It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence for visitors to ask me about this. Deny it or not, they knew and wanted it to be true for it excited them to talk to someone so dangerous that he’d be killed on arriving upon his own native soil. And they could drink coffee with him – not bad for 40 centavos. Being condemned to death was good for business and added to the mystic that I had nothing to lose fearing no one. The truth was I felt I’d nothing to lose for I’d the biggest knife in town. And everybody knew I carried it on me at all times. A commander had once noticed I had it tucked down my pants being hidden by my shirt asking about it.
“Harder to lose it, mi comandante.”
Fernando introduced me to his wife Marta on Sunday. His cellmate and lover would be in his cell until noon. I invited the two to enter my caspete and sit on empty Coke crates while they waited for their ‘afternoon’s delight’.
Monday. Fernando sent a letter to his wife Marta. I’d noticed on Sunday they were very much in love as newlyweds are and that this was a trying ordeal that they were going to endure together. This would only strengthen their resolve for each other.
Midweek. Fernando had received a letter from his wife and was reading it while at my caspete. “John, a friend of Marta’s would like to come here on Sunday to visit you. Her name’s Pancha. She was a ballet student of mine and really a nice lady. She’s never come to a prison before to visit someone.”
“I don’t know,” with reluctance for I didn’t see the purpose of someone visiting me.
“Marta told her you were an American and that you never get visits. And if you didn’t mind, she’d liked to come here to see you. What do you think?”
“I don’t think so, Fernando. First, Sundays are my busiest day and Orlando will need my help.”
“No, no,” Orlando butted in protesting, “I can take care of the caspete alone.”
“She’s very pretty, John, I think you’ll like her.”
I didn’t need other people in my life right then for I’d a wall to scale but I acquiesced in the end. I’d never talked to a woman in Spanish before except those that I’d served at my caspete. Spanish has different words that are used when speaking to and about women than men. I knew I’d make mistakes and feel self-conscious but I’d agreed to it so Orlando gave me a crash course on how women should be addressed and referred to.
Sunday. Many prisoners and visitors were standing around the caspete consuming coffee when Fernando, Marta and Pancha wormed their way up to the counter. I insisted they enter so they made themselves comfortable on empty Coke crates. Fernando introduced Pancha to me.
“Esperanza Ruby Sánchez,” standing up extending her hand.
Seconds hadn’t passed when I realized something was stirring inside of me. She was 22 and petite with a waist I could almost put my hands around. She was dressed conservatively in skirt and blouse and was as pretty as can be. Her face was beautiful, but what most intrigued me about her looks, was this sensuality she exuded that promised she could open the door to the Mysteries of Life.
I brought them over drinks running back to Orlando whispering anxiously, “Hermano, I keep saying ustéd instead of tú. I can’t remember simple words. I can’t seem to talk…”
Orlando was enjoying the entire show. “I can handle the caspete alone,” winking all the while, “so why don’t you entertain your guests.”
“But I’m pronouncing everything wrong.”
“If your tongue were in your mouth instead of hanging down to the ground,” chuckling, “you might find speaking easier.”
Pancha and I were shy that first Sunday. Fernando and Marta retired to their boudoir leaving us to entertain ourselves. Pancha could sense I was nervous and unsure about the way I spoke Spanish so she kept the conversation flowing in such a way that I slowly became more comfortable with the situation. I went into this meeting rather naïvely for I’d no intentions of this being anything more than purely an altruistic act on her part.
I needed a break so I went over to Samuel’s ordering three meals for being around her was turning my world inside out. I returned with the food taking over the caspete while Orlando and Pancha ate. The two had sat there eating and laughing for thirty minutes before Orlando, all smiles, returned to serving coffee.
Pancha had an easy way with conversation so we passed the time pleasantly until Fernando and Marta rejoined us. Pancha wasn’t letting on that this was anything more than a social call and I hid how I was beginning to feel about her. So it surprised me when she handed me her address asking me to write her and promised to answer if I did so. She left giving me a discreet hug, shook Orlando’s hand and followed Marta out Patio door.
I didn’t know what I felt when I returned to the mindless task of selling cigarettes for pennies. I was being stormed with emotions I’d no control over. I was in prison and every day I dealt with men that wanted to stab me and suddenly I was falling in love. I thought of Penelope and the complications I’d brought into her life. Wouldn’t I be doing the same thing again? Probably, so I decided to pull the reins in from the start.
I handed Orlando 100 pesos extra for virtually running the caspete by himself. When Orlando had become my one employee, I’d started him off at 50 pesos a day on weekdays and 100 pesos a day on weekends plus food. Guards made 30 pesos a day and he’d complained it was too much, but I’d pointed out, he could slip 100 pesos out of the till and I’d never know it.
I talked over the pros and cons with Orlando concerning Pancha. “Hermano, I don’t think I need to fall in love right now.”
“Mira, John, you’d be a fool not to let nature take its course.”
“But my nature is escape.”
“When she and I were eating, she told me how much she enjoyed talking to you. And wants to come back again though she wasn’t sure how you felt about her.”
I’d acted distant for it’d been my way of masking how I’d felt. I figured she’d been just being polite with Orlando. I’d promised her a letter so I scribbled one in English translating it into Spanish. Orlando had offered to help so I gave him my finished translation for his approval. His face immediately lit up like it wanted to explode into laughter but you could see his sad-face muscles fighting desperately to keep his countenance in control. But his sad-face muscles would lose it for a few seconds as he read it and little bursts of giggly laughter would issue from his throat. He grabbed my pen and the first of many lessons began. Orlando wrote as eloquently as he spoke and was well read. We discussed how I’d say things in English and how it’d best be said in Spanish. I was then putting sentences and paragraphs together in Spanish in the manner I thought and spoke. The randomness of my Spanish was sorting itself out.
I rewrote the letter sending it with a guard to deliver to her home. Orlando had talked me into being softer in my approach and to mention, as I’d done a hundred times to him, that her dark brown eyes lit up my soul. He’d reminded me that Spanish was a romance language and one would sound rude and impolite if not used so. So I mentioned how pretty I found her and how nice it was that she suffered my terrible Spanish.
A sergeant came by a few days later with a letter from Pancha. It stated how much she’d liked my letter, our time together and she’d like to visit me on Sunday if I didn’t mind. I wanted desperately to see her after reading her letter. I knew whatever reservations I might’ve had no longer existed. The ball was in motion and I’d no longer be an impediment. I was assuming a lot, as idle minds do, for she could come the following Sunday and find me a bore. I sent a short note that I’d be delighted to see her.
Sunday. Marta and Pancha joined Fernando and me in the caspete. Fernando had borrowed a cell so this left Pancha and me to our own devices. Many prisoners were coming to the caspete craning their heads to get a look at the latest gossip circulating the Patio. The gringo had a girlfriend. I found it uncomfortable even though I was immune to being constantly watched by a hundred idiots at any one time. Our knees accidentally collided while talking but we weren’t inclined to move them.
“I think it’d be more comfortable, Pancha, if we went to my cell where we can talk with more privacy.”
“Sí, está bien, John.”
We ventured to my cell with promises of me being a gentleman. We sat on the bed talking when our knees not so accidentally touched and our hands found each other’s as our words stopped from kissing lips. Oh, such pleasure from her lips. She’d let me know from the start that she wasn’t going to sleep with me so we lay there fondling each other’s bodies until close to 3pm. We returned to the caspete where Fernando and Marta had been waiting for an hour. Pancha and I were flush from heavy petting as we apologized for keeping them waiting. They couldn’t have seemed more pleased as they made little innuendoes.
Fernando wanted to know all the smut after the women had left. “So what happened, John? Marta told me that Pancha was excited about coming today.”
It amused me, as I told him I’d been a perfect gentleman, that he and his wife were so in favor of their close friend having a romantic liaison with a chainsaw murderer. Okay, I know I haven’t killed anyone but I was sure Fernando felt the neon chair still awaited me. I think Pancha might’ve believed me when I’d maintained I hadn’t killed a cop, but now knowing Colombians as I do, it probably hadn’t mattered to her. Colombians considered police just uniformed thieves they could do as they wished as long as they supported the Powers That Be. In their defense, how did a man support a family on a cop’s salary of 1000 pesos ($40) a month? But then again, what kind of man sought a job he knew wouldn’t support him unless he took bribes?
Tuesday morning brought a missive from Pancha. It stated she’d had a wonderful time and how much she’d enjoyed our time alone cuddling in the cell. And would I mind if she came next Sunday. Would I mind? God, Pancha was so sweet. I was stranded in the middle of nowhere and here was this beautiful creature wanting to see me again. I then knew I loved her dearly. She sent me letters with a guard every day while I only managed a few in reply. Our letters left no doubt in each other’s mind how we felt about one and another. We waited for Sunday.
Sunday. Fernando was standing at my caspete waiting for his wife and teased, “Marta wrote me saying how much Pancha was looking forward to today’s visit. She said you two were going to have some kind of fun.”
“You know how women will talk.”
Pancha and Marta found us at the caspete. Fernando and Marta went straight out Patio door to his cell. I asked Pancha if she’d feel more comfortable in my cell and away from prying eyes.
“Sí,” answering simply.
I left the door opened when we entered my cell as I’d done the week before.
“Why don’t you close the door, John? I trust you to be a caballero.”
We hadn’t been in my cell ten minutes before we were wallowing in each other’s nakedness. We’d spent a week getting to know each other through our letters. I’d read her mail many times and had fallen asleep reading it again. We only wanted one thing – that being each other. It was a mixture of bliss and sadness being with Pancha that first Sunday we made love for our bliss was on the clock. So we made love for long hours sometimes slow and sweet and sometimes hot and heavy where I’d cover her in my sweat that poured freely from my body. I felt for Pancha a love that I’d never experienced before. Our souls mated that day.
Pancha was close to tears as the visit was coming to an end. We talked about it deciding we’d been privileged those precious hours together. And yes, she had to leave but only to be returning the following week. Translated: We had plenty of time to feel sad on our ‘own’ time – not on ‘our’ time.
I lived for Sundays. Our daily letters were what made the week bearable. I’d run out of things to say after several weeks, and even Orlando with his gift for gab, had stopped coming up with ideas. So I started writing poetry, and with Orlando’s help, I began to learn how to express abstract concepts. Things like, how much I wanted to explore Pancha’s body with my tongue – having them sound more romantic than lascivious.


The judge sits in judgement
judging the soon to be judged –
While the judged
judges the judge’s judgement…

Flaco Osorrio came up to my caspete seemingly pleased about something and asked if we could talked in the Patio alone.
Flaco had come up to me when I’d first met him and had complained about having problems with the ubiquitous thieves in back Patio and had been ripped off for some clothing. I’d offered him the use of my knife for I’d remembered Samuel’s gesture and how appreciative I’d been. He’d declined for the moment.
I’d found it ironic for he was the most infamous Colombian assassin ever. The press had stated, with names and dates, he’d killed over twenty people and counting. I’d estimate from what Flaco had told me that the man had killed between 35 and 50 people in his 7-year career. One victim had survived and it’d taken months to get him back into his sights so he’d made sure after that to do it perfectly each time. He’d usually stalked them for weeks or longer and never had failed to kill his prey. He rarely spoke, but when he did, he was the consummate storyteller whose tales were truly the stuff that fiction tries to imitate.
So it’d surprised me one day when he’d come up to me asking to buy a knife. “The knife’s for a close friend who is having a lot of problems with someone very dangerous. And he needs to arm himself quickly.”
“If you like, Flaco, I know somebody in the metal shop I can introduce you to.”
“It’d be better if you got the knife, John, then you can give it to me later. It’s important that no one knows I’m involved.”
“Okay, hermano, I’ll talk to my friend and let you know later.”
I’d talked to a metal shop worker explaining what I’d needed asking, “I want a really fine weapon. You know, hermano, something that’s going to work quickly.”
“Sí, manito, se puede.”
“How much?”
“Just for you, manito, only 1,000 pesos.”
An outrageous amount but he wouldn’t budge adding, “I have one already made hidden in the metal shop. It’s very long and will kill fast.”
I’d talked to Flaco describing the knife as it’d been to me telling him the price. He didn’t blink at the cost asking, “When will it be here?”
It’d taken three days for the right guard to be on duty to get it out. I couldn’t believe this piece of steel when it’d been delivered to me. The blade had been seven inches long, extraordinarily sharp and thick. It’d been honed on both sides with a razor-sharp barb one inch from the top. This dagger would do damage going in but it’d rip a person apart coming out. Flaco had been delighted when I’d passed it to him.
We were standing away from prying ears when Flaco asked, “Did you hear about the killing last night in the bathroom on the 3rd floor?”
Everyone had heard. They hadn’t discovered the guilty party which only added fuel to the gossipmongers turned detectives. The only knife found was that of the victim so everyone had his own theory as to the murderer.
“The asshole that’s dead,” Flaco explained, “had a weak bladder. He went to the toilet all night long.”
His weak bladder had cost him his life for Flaco’s friend had been hiding in the shadows waiting for him in the bathroom. It’d been a particularly grizzly affair with the guy getting hacked to pieces. The killer hadn’t been very practiced with a knife was everyone’s conclusion. And that the guards had been paid off in advance. Those living on the 3rd floor had said it’d taken ten minutes to kill the guy with him screaming as loud as he could the entire time.
I asked Flaco about this who only smiled commenting, “I just wanted you to know that my friend is very thankful for the knife.”
8am Sunday. Pancha was the first visitor to enter the Patio. She explained that with Marta she’d arrived at the prison at midmorning having to wait in line for hours but today she’d arrived at 5am instead. I pointed out she still had to wait for several hours to get in. She countered it was better to wait in line those hours we couldn’t be together than those hours we could be. Women are such great creatures.
Our lovemaking was sometimes desperate though this mellowed with time until it became just one of the hundreds of emotions on those lovely Sundays we shared together. Our sex was continually new and inventive with Pancha sometimes bringing in women’s magazines suggesting interesting ways to liven up one’s sex play. While I’d spend the week thinking of all the things I wanted to do to her – and what I wanted her to do to me. Pancha had an exquisite body I never tired of touching and playing with. Our bodies matched perfectly together in all the variable positions my small cell allowed us. Her skin was a light brown color I was constantly trying to lick off. Her breasts, oh, her breasts, they were small and rock hard with dark nipples that my hands could easily cup.
I’d pled guilty to speed up the court process not long before a half-page article came out with the headline ‘GRINGO THREATENS JUDGE’S LIFE’. Justo had claimed at another press conference that I’d threatened him with his life if he were to find me guilty. And even though his life would be in danger, he’d found me guilty sentencing me to 3 years. It’d been mixed in with all the sins I’d committed against mankind, and finishing, he’d proclaimed that society was rightfully and morally obligated to demand its pound of flesh. He’d gone into so much detail about me threatening his life that it’d upset Pancha for it’d sounded credible as judges will and are supposed to be.
Next morning. I was called out to court and would be the last time I was to be escorted by this ecliptic sea of differently uniformed men. Justo was amiable as he shook my hand motioning for me to sit down.
“Did you read yesterday’s newspaper, Kendall?”
“I sure have, sir.”
“So you know I’ve sentenced you to 3 years?”
“I sure do, sir.”
He made light of how the press sometimes was sensationalistic and misrepresented the facts. He was referring to the supposed threats on his life I’d made.
He became officious passing me a stack of papers to sign that stated I was officially a convicted felon with 25 months remaining on my sentence. I signed the papers.
Pancha and I normally talked via pen during the week. We’d normally speak the language that needed no words on Sundays but this one was different. There was no more putting off discussing the what-ifs and what should be done once I’d been convicted. A felon was shipped out once he was sentenced to a penitentiary to do the time prescribed by law. Prisoners were sent to penitentiaries all over Colombia from Villanueva with most being located at impossible distances. Fuck, life was total chaos for I could disappear resurfacing almost anywhere at any moment. We’d endured one Sunday to the next always knowing that next Sunday would be there. This was no longer the case so we then spent each Sunday together as if it were our last. Our love was on borrowed time.
The caspete was making me plenty of dough. I’d sell 400 cups of coffee, 100 arrepas, which were 400% profit, cold sodas and lots of individual cigarettes on a normal weekday. I did three times that much business on weekends! I’d Pancha open me up a bank account where she deposited the money each week I’d give her.

OCTOBER 1974 – MARCH 1975

Pancha had mentioned that her mother would like to meet me. She’d read all the lies the press had written about me and wanted to meet the cop killer her daughter had been seeing each week. I was all for the meeting if it’d make her mother feel more comfortable about her visiting me. It was totally understandable.
I received a letter from Pancha saying she wouldn’t be coming Sunday and that I’d understand why. My deflated ego knew the worst was coming and that she’d probably found another.
Sunday. I was serving coffee and stuff when a short woman in her mid-40s came to the counter ordering a Coke. She watched me intently while I served her and others. It was unusual for a lone visitor to drink something without being accompanied by their visit so I approached her.
“If you’re having a hard time finding your visit, maybe I could be of help.”
“Gracias, I don’t need any help. My name is Señora Sánchez.”
Pancha’s mom! I invited her inside while Orlando took care of biz. We’d talked for hours getting to know one another before she left saying she’d make sure Pancha was up bright and early next Sunday. We had her mom’s blessings.
I turned 30 years old.
Samuel received his walking papers. His girlfriend had everything ready to open up a small restaurant so he’d be making an honest peso for the first time in his life. And was proud of it for he’d finally escaped those traitorous streets. His lady was what had motivated Samuel in this direction for she’d come in on Sundays, by far his busiest day, helping to cook and serve food to customers. Of course they’d squeezed in a half-hour quickie in the afternoons.
A guard came in for coffee telling me not to say anything but he’d heard people discussing my transfer. He suggested I begin selling off my inventory.
Shit, not good. Six months had passed since my conviction and Pancha and I were waiting for the other shoe to fall. Still the big question remained as to where they were going to send me.
Some days had passed before I waved down the captain. “I’ve heard rumors, mi capitán, about my upcoming transfer.”
He wasn’t surprised. “You’ve been up for transfer for quite awhile. We just don’t know where to send you.”
“How about letting me stay here?”
“That, John, is impossible.”
“How about the penitentiary in Popayán?” It’s only hours away by bus and Pancha would still be able to visit.
“I have no personal objections, but remember, you still have security problems. But if I can be of any help, I will.”
“How much time do I have left, mi capitán? Should I sell the caspete?”
“It’ll take several weeks but you definitely can’t sell the caspete. There’s no paperwork of ownership and it’s to be torn down soon.”
I wasn’t concerned if I sold the caspete for I’d 50,000 pesos ($2,000) in the bank. My only preoccupation was just how far away from Pancha they were going to send me. I wrote to her I’d soon be history and that Popayán was a possibility.
We’d talked those last few Sundays as much as we’d made love. There’d been so many things we’d never discussed preferring each other’s naked bodies. So we’d begun revealing our most feared fears and expressed verbally our love for each other for we might never have this chance again. Pancha would sometimes cry which she’d refrained from doing in the past. God, we’d been so helpless so we’d hold onto each other so tight that nothing could tear us apart. I’d thought throughout our affair that somehow we’d manage to stay together, for surely the gods would take pity and provide a path for two people who loved each other as much as we did.

APRIL 1975
San Ysidro Penitentiary, Popayán

The month it took them to figure out where to send me had been one cliff-hanger after another. The captain had kept me posted as to what the prison system had been suggesting. One being that I should be sent to a prison far away for security reasons. He’d known about Pancha, everybody had, and that she’d been coming for nearly a year to visit me. And he’d been surprisingly empathetic.
The captain came by the caspete my last Friday there. “I’ve come to let you know, John, that early next week that you’ll be transferred.”
“Which penitentiary, mi capitán?”
“Don’t say anything but you’re being sent to Popayán.”
I told Orlando who’d by then resigned himself to returning to Patio life. It was hard saying good-bye to him over the next few days, for without him, I never would’ve learned to write and speak the Spanish I then enjoyed. He was responsible in grand part for my ability to accumulate 50,000 pesos. I never would’ve found another who was honest and able to run the caspete on Sundays alone.
Sunday. I informed Pancha this would be our last Sunday there. But the good news was, I wasn’t being shipped to another planet. Pancha had been to the bus station finding out there was a 4am bus arriving in Popayán at 7am. Business was done so we spent the rest of the day making violent love where she left deeper gashes in my back than normal. The next time we’d be seeing each other would be on a strange and yet unexplored world. Would she be able to find me? Would we ever meet again? We didn’t know. So our lovemaking took place in a space in infinity where no one could intrude upon us and take away the timelessness that was us.
Bang, bang, bang. “Visita, visita, visita…”
All things timeless also need a place to hide or Earth’s reality will gobble them up. What we’d felt and experienced was safely hidden away in the recesses of our souls. But reality’s maw is rapacious so I walked Pancha to the main corridor where we tried to squeeze each other in half and kissed and squeezed…She walked onto the main corridor and waved good-bye.
It was always those hours right after the visit that were the worst to endure. I needn’t describe this feeling for we’ve all experienced that helplessness when we wave good-bye to someone we love desperately and we won’t be seeing them for awhile. Or maybe never.
Monday came as it does too often along with the captain. “You’re being transferred tomorrow along with thirty other. Only five of you will be going to Popayán.”
I was actually ready for I’d been incarcerated for 1½ years getting nowhere with my struggle for escape preferring to survive between Sundays – which had seemed escape enough. Orlando and I hated long good-byes and this one was going on forever. The caspete that afternoon was barren having sold everything. I’d be moved at 4am so we embraced one last time.
“If you’re ever in Bogotá, John, por favor, look me up.” Then that smile-chuckle-laugh thing he did so well.
4am. They rattled my cage yelling at me to get my gear. A prison vehicle delivered five of us handcuffed to guards to a Cali bus station. This day was truly a spot of pleasure as the bus drove through the verdant sea of trees and the superb Colombian landscape. Then the road became steep, narrow and serpentine as it twisted its way up the massif that surrounded Popayán (ele. 5,770 feet). I stared out the window sponging it all in for it’d been 18 long months since I’d seen the outside world. And it was glorious. God, what would it be like to share this with Pancha?
The guards delivered us to La Penitenciaría de San Ysidro. When I first saw the walls and towers, I swore to myself, “If there’s a way over, under or through them, I’ll find it.” I’d only 18 months to do something.
San Ysidro Penitentiary (pop. 750) was far outside of Popayán in the countryside. It was built on the side of an active volcano, Mt Puracé (poo-rah-sáy), where continual seismic activity had left the prison walls and towers cracked and crumbing down in places. We were escorted to the warden’s office just outside the prison walls where the warden studied our files giving us a pep talk.
“I don’t care what crimes you’ve committed or what kind of disciplinary actions the prison system has dealt you. Here you’re starting with a clean slate. Keep it that way.”
He waved us off with some guards taking us in tow. They led us into the prison where the first thing I noticed was space – it was everywhere. We were led through the entrance of a 1-story building with an enclosed 40-ft square Patio with a flat roof that surrounded it. This roof was only ten feet high and could be easily scaled with a chair. And you could get to any part of the prison from there. This roof had possibilities. We passed by a caspete with four tables in front occupying the corner of the building. We’d been walking through Patio Especiál (Patio E) and this was their caspete.
We walked out Patio E’s back door onto a thin grassy area in front of an 80-yard long, 14-ft high wall. There were three metal doors with sliding peepholes along the wall leading into Patios 1, 2 & 3. A table stood at the side of each door where sat a commander with logbook at ready. I was sent to Patio 2, logged in and entered. The first thing I felt again was space for the Patio was three times as big as Villanueva with only a third of the convicts. There were maybe 250 prisoners lining the cellblock walls grabbing some shade or casually prisoners lining the cellblock walls grabbing some shade or casually prisoners lining the cellblock walls grabbing some shade or casually
pacing its length. I knew some from Villanueva and said hello but I was no longer a freak on display.
Solitude, blessed solitude. I didn’t have to serve a thousand idiots coffee while listening to their woes. I’d a place to pace, granted not lovely but comfortable. I didn’t have to carry a knife to take a whiz – always a plus. I also had an eerie feeling I couldn’t shake for something was very different. I stopped pacing and looked all around. Who was I looking for? Oh yeah, they’d missed their hourly watch. It wasn’t until they called us in for lockup was I convinced I was no longer on an hourly leash. Another plus.
5pm. Time for lockup for the next twelve hours. I grabbed my bag making haste to my cellblock. The pasillo was thirty cells long being poorly lit with everything being wet from the constant moisture that permeated the walls from lack of circulation. I stood outside my cell looking through the open door and found it to be a dark, dismal, dank affair.
“Everyone into his cells, NOW,” bellowed a guard loudly. “Watch out, doors closing.”
What? Doors being shut? I hadn’t asked any questions about the cells figuring they’d be your standard issue, which they were, but not the doors. They were heavy solid metal doors, on rollers top and bottom, that slide in unison by a large lever at the front of the pasillo. All the doors were connected so they all close at once.
“Watch out, doors closing,” a guard warned again.
I quickly leaped into my cell as a guard put all his weight down on the lever. The doors slowly began moving but gained an unbelievable momentum and crashed, BANG, closed. Very disconcerting. I lit a candle checking out my environs finding four grungy, moldy walls that might’ve been whitewashed once. The floor was damp concrete so I retrieved my blanket sitting on it next to the door. Convicts were talking to one another behind the metal doors so I sat there getting to know my neighbors. I was most curious about the doors and was told horror stories of them eating fingers and toes, demolishing arms and crushing legs. The doors were narrower than normal so the speed at which they slammed shut was deceiving. And they closed with the force of many tons.
Nobody was talking much after an hour when someone asked me, “Is it true, manito, you’re getting la silla eléctrica when you leave Colombia?”
“I don’t think so, but one never knows, does one?”
Everyone was doing serious time and was polite so it had a completely different atmosphere than Villanueva. They weren’t obsessed with killing each other though it definitely happened on a periodic basis.
9pm. I’d been warned to be standing in front of the peephole door for lights out count, not sitting or sleeping in bed, otherwise to the hole. They came by my cell flashing a light in my face squawking, “John Johnson.”
Cali was never cold, al contraire, but San Ysidro at 6,000 feet was cold at night. I curled up into the fetal position on some clothes I used as a mattress and wrapped my blanket around me. Maybe it was the dampness of the concrete floor I lay upon but the cold went straight to my bones. I slept little that night.
Bang, bang, bang. “Watch out, doors opening.”
It was still dark as I stood in front of the door. I’d already been warned to quickly step out onto the pasillo for we had only seconds to exit. The doors moved slowly at first then slammed open. I was groggy and not used to the routine as I flew out the door. I felt relieved until I looked down at my stocking feet. Something was missing. There standing next to my crumbled clothes/mattress were my cowboy boots. I dashed back in grabbing them just as they were closing the tons of doors. They were moving slowly so I thought I could make it but I knew I was in trouble as I started through the door. I managed to squeeze one arm and my head through as the thirty doors came to a crushing stop upon my upper chest pinning me there. I was no longer groggy.
Prisoners all around shouted for the guard to open the door. Swoosh, the doors opened. I staggered out bent in half with boots in hand as a guard came running over asking excitedly, “Do you want to go to the infirmary?”
“No, no,” I gasped.
I was walking completely askew, and did so for several days, but I knew I wasn’t seriously injured. I was lucky I’d taken it on the chest for a leg it would’ve crushed like a sledgehammer. You didn’t do this one twice.
I needed a mattress to get me off the wet concrete floor but mattresses were scarce. Those that had weren’t selling for convicts there were doing years and sleeping on a damp floor wasn’t good for their health. Someone stopped my pacing offering to sell me his mattress for 250 pesos.
“It’s in good shape, gringo, and I’ll work it out with the guards so you can pick it up before lockup.”
I bought it sight unseen.
My first day’s impression of Patio 2 was that boredom lurked everywhere. A few Colombian Indians were rubbing 50-centavo coins on the concrete ground doing their art while most satisfied themselves standing around in small groups watching us diehard pacers content in going nowhere. And time also hung heavy in the air and was content in going nowhere. That first day lasted forever. Someone was always fucking with you in Villanueva so there was action and things happening. Nothing was happening there. There were no new faces on a daily basis, no, everyone’s face there you were going to get to know. But doing time in San Ysidro was a thousand times, a million times better than Villanueva. Men were still stabbed there but on a weekly basis – not hourly.
5pm. I collected the mattress heading for my cell. I lit a candle inspecting it finding it to be tattered with the stuffing finding freedom in the more worn spots. And filthy. The guy probably had been sleeping on it for years without sheets. I stilled figured it was better than concrete. I lifted the mattress up to figure out which side was less funky. Fuck it, I put a sheet over it, bundled up some clothing for a pillow and stared at the walls until counted. I went to sleep but I kept waking up all night thinking mosquitoes were attacking me.
5am. I awoke with my eyes grossly crusted shut like the Sandman had gone nuts. I vaulted through the door wearing my boots this time and marched to the Patio. It was twilight, brisk and clear outside when I viewed a most spectacular sight. The sun was rising over Mt Puracé spraying the world in pastel reds and oranges over its 15,603-ft peak that puffed black smoke.
I showed some men the bites I’d discovered all over myself. Every square inch of my body was bitten except for my palms. I counted a hundred bites on one forearm and gave up counting. Most agreed it was probably a massive mosquito attack, but my eyes? There were over thirty bites around each eye and they didn’t feel like mosquito bites.
“Chinches,” someone suggested.
“?Chinches?” not understanding the word.
“You know, gringo, those little bugs that live in beds.”
Dictionary. Bedbugs! “Shit, what to do?”
It was actually simple. I bought a liter of kerosene used for cooking from the caspete and washed down my mattress, suitcase, floor and walls with it. It worked like a charm.
I had to write Pancha but felt embarrassed to invite her to my dungeon for this wasn’t a place to invite a lady. Even so, I gathered up all the info on how to find me and mailed it off.
I’d known from the first day while walking through Patio E that I had to reside there. Sure, life would be easier and less crowded there but I was more interested in the possibilities the roof represented. It’d be easy to get out into the prison at night via the roof, scout around and return to the cell safely. It was impossible where I was. But it would’ve been easier to gallop a fully burdened camel through the eye of a needle than to get transferred there. Only the warden assigned prisoners to cellblocks so I wrote him a letter outlining why I’d make a good candidate for Patio E. He entered Patio 2 that afternoon so we could talk. He listened politely to my prison snivel for I really didn’t have a better reason to be there than anyone else.
“Señor Johnson, you’ve been here only a few days whereas some prisoners have been trying for years to get there. One condition to live there is that you have less than a year left on your sentence.”
“I’ve only 18 months to go, sir. All I want to do is finish my sentence and go back to the street.”
“Don’t you have some other problems in America?”
Lying, “Not really.”
“I don’t think you’re ready yet,” and left.
Everything the warden had said was reasonable and I’d no rebuttal. I’d already ascertained that the warden wasn’t on the take and told I’d never get there. Everyone tried to because it had eight 4-man cells with four beds, a sink and a plain wooden door. Plus lockup was 9pm.
Patio 2’s caspete served food that made Samuel’s meals seem like French cuisine. I obtained permission from the commander and went to Patio E’s caspete’s outside counter window. I ordered food and talk to the owner. He complained business was bad, that nobody had money and prisoners weren’t paying their debts.
Just making conversation, “How much did you pay for the caspete?”
“Around 30,000 pesos,” whining, “but the business is just barely paying for my meals.”
A plan was developing on how to finagle my way into this Patio. I’d talked to the caspete owner over the next few days about selling me the caspete.
“How much do you want for it then, if it’s such a bad business?”
“Well, I still have a year to do, and how am I to support himself?”
He thought 50,000 pesos would twist his arm but settled on 20,000 ($800). This was twice as much as I’d paid for a very viable business in Villanueva. It was nearly half my fortune but would be pesos well spent. My biggest hurdle would be convincing everybody I wasn’t going anywhere.
I was eating at Patio E’s outside counter when the captain came by to talk. He knew I wanted to buy the caspete but confided that the warden was dead set against it, for wasn’t I awaiting execution back home?
“Not really,” but why deny it. “They’ll never deport me, mi capitán. I have a fiancée that I plan to marry and settle down with here in Colombia.”
“I believe the warden’s mind is made up.”
He ask about Pancha wanting her name so he could help her find me on Sunday if he were there. He was there but sent a guard in his stead. The guard ushered her out of line bringing her straight to Patio 2 where I was impatiently waiting for her. It was an appreciated gesture so I tipped him. He did it most Sundays after that.
It seemed like years since we’d seen each other. We only hugged briefly because all eyes were staring at us. We walked to my cell squeezing each other’s hand tightly. All cells were open so I’d hung a curtain for privacy. I lit several candles as we lay on the mattress. The cell was chilly and dank as we lay there with our clothes on holding each other tight. Once we’d been convinced we were truly in each other’s arms then we slowly undressed each other. She was playing hard to get and teasing me.
“Do you think that I’m some kind of cheap tramp who sleeps with every prisoner she meets?”
“No, not at all, sweetheart, I just think you should try it out with at least one.”
Mockingly, “That being you?”
Bemoaning, “Well, yes, I think that’d be a wise choice.”
I loved her sense of humor. Our lovemaking was joyous and inventive as always but was overshadowed by the fact I lived in a prison hours away from her and that my cell was nothing more than a musty cave. But she’d found me.
I walked her to Patio door with a guard opening it after the visit. She stepped outside turning to wave when the door was slammed in our faces. Reality check. My frustration turned to anger, and I swore to the gods, I’d find a way out of there, gather her up in Cali and off we’d go into the sunset where we’d make our fortune.
Several things happened that week to prod along the buy. The caspete owner had bribed in full for a transfer to another prison a year before and had been informed the paperwork was on the warden’s desk. And that he’d be transferred within the month if certain funds could be raised. I’d seen the warden and captain doing rounds and I could see they confided in each other. A warden’s salary was 4,000 pesos so I asked the captain rather bluntly if he thought 5,000 pesos would help grease the Wheels of Progress.
“I don’t think so, John, but I’ll let you know if I do hear something.”
I was delivered to the warden’s office a few days later. He was amiable enough but his questions were clever and meant to trip me up.
“Why should I trust you, Señor Johnson, to buy the caspete and live in Patio E?”
“Well, sir, I need to make a living and support my fiancée during the next 17 months I have remaining.” He continued staring at me. “I owned a caspete for a year in Villanueva,” stressing, “and I never had any problems.”
“I’ll consider your request. You may go.”
The captain came by later for the 5,000 pesos. One reason the warden was going for this was because he was instrumental in the owner’s transfer and that part of the 20,000-peso purchase price was earmarked for him.
Sunday’s were then truly a delight. We had an entire 4-man cell to ourselves, not a small cave, giving the illusion we were on a tryst in some secluded hotel room.


Bars, bars everywhere,
but not a drop to drink…

And life went on. I settled into a routine, as everyone does in prison, trying to make one day seem like all the rest so that time melts away easier. I’d get up at 5am to make a pot of coffee or two for a few customers. I had a helper who prepared the few meals I sold a day. The caspete was a disaster as a financial investment but it’d a kitchen big enough that a pair could be doing a tango and never interfere with the chef. Plus two butcher knives I kept under lock and key. But it was a white elephant.
I’d confided in Pancha of my pending problems back home while at Villanueva and that escape might be my only alternative. She’d made it clear that she didn’t see how she could be with me if I escaped. So we’d talked about ways in which I could’ve stayed in Colombia legitimately. She’d found a lawyer with connections in Bogotá looking into the matter of staying my deportation but I had to clear up the matter of the cop killing.
I’d been in contact with Mom through Pancha for months. Mom had heard from Penelope years before that there had been a cop killed by someone close to my case but she had no details. I’d to clarify in the paperwork I was preparing the circumstances involving the dead officer. Michael Nasatir had been Penelope’s and my lawyer in the past so he’d know everything. Mom had phoned him and he’d been cognizant of all aspects of the cop killing, and upon her request, he’d sent me a shit-load of copies of newspaper and legal journal articles about this case.
It’d been James Boyle that had killed the cop! He’d ratted on so many people to the narcs getting off his arson charges that everybody had been looking for his ass. He’d needed to get out of town but had been broke. He hadn’t been able to deal because he’d given up all his connections so he’d set up a deal with a middleman, a supposed friend of his, to sell seven kilos of excellent cocaine he’d claimed to have in his possession. Asking price – $144,000. Middle-Man had set up a buy between Boyle and Blackie, an undercover narcotics officer, at the Holiday Inn in Santa Monica, CA. I’d been in Colombia for ten days when the following had come down.
Nov. 8, 1973. James Boyle had driven to the Santa Monica Holiday Inn with a carload of people who’d no idea what was to be going down. He’d parked the car telling his two friends to wait there while he and Middle-Man did some biz. They’d proceeded to Blackie’s room with Boyle carrying an empty attaché case. They’d entered the room with Middle-Man making introductions. Middle-Man had been an undercover informant so Boyle had been the only one ignorant that the room had been bugged and that the rooms on both sides had been full of cops waiting to crash into his room – nabbing him with seven kilos of blow. But what Boyle had known that nobody else had, was that he hadn’t had any coke on him or hadn’t had any intentions of ever selling drugs that day – it had been purely a rip-off from the start. Take the money and run.
Boyle had been all business after introductions asking Blackie to see the money then he’d show Blackie the coke. Fair enough, so Blackie had shown Boyle the $144,000 but Boyle hadn’t needed to count it. Nope, he’d pulled out his gun shooting Blackie numerous times in the chest at point-blank range – killing him. He’d been probably gathering up the money when the police had come storming into the room. Boyle and the dummies in the car had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
Pretty much an open and close case. Boyle had alleged self-defense even though Blackie hadn’t pulled out his gun or had there been any evidence of a struggle. It’d been clearly a robbery with a dead narcotics officer as the victim. Middle-Man had taken the witness stand where Boyle’s lawyer had asked a very vital question whose answer would end up setting the Santa Monica DA’s Office and L.A. Police Department on their ear. And the tens of thousands that were following this case closely for Blackie was respected and loved with thousands of police attending his funeral.
The question (paraphrased): “Did you, Mr. Middle-Man, see Blackie reach for the inside of his buttoned suit coat?”
“Could there have been a weapon there?”
The jury with this had acquitted Boyle and the others of murder charges stating that Boyle hadn’t known what the officer had been reaching for so it’d been in self-defense that he’d murdered the man. The Feds had consequently reneged on their promise of immunity and had convicted Boyle as a co-conspirator on my Colombian case with me in absentia.
Patio E was full except for my cell so the commander informed me I was to have a cellmate. Ivón was 25, thin and immaculately dressed. He was from Popayán doing a year for a quarrel involving a girlfriend. I liked Ivón for he knew intuitively how to act in prison though he wasn’t a criminal. He was a master welder with the prison needing repairs so the warden gave him space in one of the shops. He’d requested to the warden on my behalf that I be made his assistant. He wouldn’t hear off it and had stressed that I was to stay in Patio E at all times.
But it’s a small world we live in. It’d been rumored the warden was going to be replaced as they routinely were. The day came when they marched every convict to the soccer field for the changing of the guard. And who should be his replacement but Buenagente! He gave a speech stating conditions would be getting better as long as the prison remained calm.
Buenagente and the captain came by the caspete the next day during their inspection of the prison.
“How did things work out for you, John, in Villanueva? Any problems?”
“No, everything was fine,” giving him a synopsis of what had transpired. He wished me well as he and the captain continued their exploration of his new domain.
With Buenagente came change. He permitted each Patio one day a week to play soccer and allowed convicts to work in the shops who’d been denied before. Men from different Patios had asked me if I’d teach them English so I asked the captain about the small schoolhouse. I was willing to give classes with Buenagente’s permission.
The warden came by the caspete to hear my plan. I explained I could teach a morning English class at the schoolhouse and that I estimated thirty students were willing to participate.
A guard escorted me there. It was a single room housing a blackboard with sixteen desks in four rows bordered by long benches on both sides. There was a large bookcase near the door filled with English books. The US Embassy had collected books from their staff for Americans prisoners so the books were ecliptic and wonderful and I devoured them during the following year.
The guard left me the key to the schoolhouse! He gave instructions to the commander that I was free to leave the Patio between 9am and 10:30am. I was given virtually free reign of the prison as long as I had an excuse for wherever I was – and excuses were many. I was the only prison allowed out of the Patio without a pass. I went to all the Patios gathering names of individuals who wished to take my class. It’d be the first time prisoners from different Patios would be allowed to congregate together. I was inundated with candidates who more likely wanted to escape the Patio more than to learn English. So I only accepted those that could read and write.
Being able to leave Patio E at 9am gave me a new sense of freedom. I’d leave the caspete to my assistant and open up the schoolhouse each morning as the guard rounded up the students. I’d no textbooks so I began with ‘to be’ and your fundamental guidebook English. That is: “Hello, what is your name?” “Where are you from?” “How do you get to the bank?” “Stick your hands up, please.” “Give me all your money, thank you.” Useful stuff.
We also spent a month translating tangos from Spanish into English that some of the men had memorized. If you would’ve asked the typical prisoner at that time what his favorite music was, he would’ve answered the tango. It exemplified the suffering prisoners felt about life and love for there are no happy tangos.
One student was Silvio Herrera. I found him to be flamboyant and a braggart but not offensively. I attributed these traits to the fact Silvio was only 5-ft tall and chubby. How do I describe Silvio? He was like a plump sausage link with little arms and legs stuck on – a Mr Sausage Head. He didn’t have a neck but his head just swiveled when he looked around instead. He was 40ish, pale complexion and had hair I thought was multi-colored red, blond, black and gray. It soon became apparent the red and blond had very gray roots. Silvio was a complex individual who was college educated and smart – maybe too smart. He was from Bogotá and had worked for a governmental ministry for years and had embezzled 15,000,000 pesos ($500,000). Knowing Silvio, he’d lived high on the hog spending lots of money impressing his friends. He loved to talk having a fine sense of humor. “It’s the last thing you lose,” he told me. He’d go on for hours if you’d let him but I never found his stories repetitious or boring.
He’d a particular nervous tic we all have. It’s when you sit with one leg cross over the other, and if nervous, you kick at some invisible mosquito. Silvio always crossed his legs when sitting for his legs were too short to touch the ground. He’d emphasize whatever he was talking about with his constant kicking and it was as if he were fighting off a swarm of bees. He’d serve 7 of 10 years and had reached a point all prisoners do that are doing too many years. Some convicts reach there only after a few years while others will last longer. It’s when you realize the brave front you’re putting on is full of shit and that you’re never going to get out. Never. Depression. Many deal with it by becoming reclusive or becoming even crazier than they were before.
Silvio was at this point when I asked him jokingly about his hair changing colors. A convict hairdresser had been dying his hair twice a month for years for some reason he couldn’t remember. He’d worn tailored suits and silk ties the first few years he’d served, but that had stopped also, for he couldn’t figure out why he’d worn one to begin with. Silvio was stressed out about something he’d tell me about later.
Buenagente occupied the Warden’s House located near the prison. It was rumored he had a young mistress from Popayán living with him so I was only a little surprised when I saw Buenagente accompanied by his very young mistress, Cristina, attached to one arm! And trailing behind them were his teenage son and daughter!! He was giving them the grand tour stopping to introduce them to those they passed as if he were in an office introducing his new secretary and assistants to his staff. It was obvious by his kids casual politeness they’d toured prisons before and knew convicts were people like everyone else. They lived with their mother in Bogotá and were there to visit dad for a few weeks, when surprise, a new mom their own age. The three would become close friends.
Cristina was a cute little thing who was carrying a few extra pounds that didn’t detract from her very voluptuous body sporting a tight sweater and short skirt. Her most striking feature was her face for she looked fourteen. She had a country background and was naïve so she acted that age always being thrilled at whatever Buenagente said.
Buenagente was tall, good looking, cultured from Bogotá and was always donning tailored suits that exuded masculinity and power. Power he’d been allotted by the state and had earned. He was the quintessential father figure and she was smitten – and so was he. Being warden was a full-time job requiring Buenagente’s daytime hours so Cristina and kids would wander the prison freely. Cristina soon overcame her fears and realized nobody was going to touch her, just ogle, so she wallowed in the attention of hundreds of men.
I asked the captain about Cristina’s safety. He reminded me that prisoners were notorious for hating convicts that have committed sexual crimes. It’d be the prisoners themselves that would come to her rescue if anybody touched her.
I’d stop by at Ivón’s metal works after school to watch him weld. I had rarely seen an artisan work so pristinely. He wore his usual tight slacks and turtleneck sweaters that were never smudged. I’d help him to do something for ten minutes and I’d be covered in soot, minor burns and numerous cuts on my hands. I received permission from the warden to spend the afternoons as his assistant where I was to learn how to weld. He was a superb teacher and there was plenty of scrape metal to practice on. He’d an acetylene torch and an electric arc welder so I’d fun torching this and affixing that.
Buenagente’s son came to my caspete with a letter from dad wanting a loan of 4,000 pesos ($160) to be paid back soon. I returned to my cell handing him an envelope with the money. His mistress was costing him money for she’d prance around the prison always wearing new clothes that shouted, “Do I have curves or what?” And bangles dangling from neck, ankles and wrists of course.
I trusted Ivón and informed him I wanted to escape. He mentioned friends that would hide me out until I could move safely if I were ever to break out. A few months somewhere to cool off would increase my chances of survival tremendously.
Ivón loved to do metal sculptures. There was plenty of scrape metal so Buenagente gave him permission to build one just outside the prison wall. And I was given permission to assist him! We were assigned a guard during different hours of the week to escort us outside while we welded together an 8-ft abstract rocket pointing to the heavens. It was glorious to be outside looking around not seeing walls even with a guard standing with his rifle resting on his boot. I’d explained to Ivón during construction that I’d come up with a dozen schemes to get myself sent to the hospital to escape but none I’d felt would work. It had to work on the first try otherwise they’d be on to me.
“Just how dangerous is it, Ivón, to weld without a mask? Does it really fuck up your eyes?”
“Sure, hermano, it burns the eyes really bad. You can’t see for days but it’s nothing serious.”
“Are you positive?”
“I’ve done it to myself many times and endured a lot of pain but the blindness never lasts.”
It was perfect.
Roberto visited the prison upon Ivón’s request. The man was 30, dressed well, a demeanor that bespoke his quietness and a face that wasn’t used to smiling. It was apparent the man would be cool under fire and that his word was his obligation. Ivón and I’d decided it’d be best if I only met with Roberto for a few minutes to get to know each other. There’d be an investigation if all went well and it wouldn’t look good if I’d been seen talking to someone new the Saturday before.
Ivón knew the hospital well so it was up to Roberto and him to finalize the scheme. It was to go like this: Ivón and I’d work on the sculpture on Friday morning – me without a mask. My eyes would be red and inflamed by noon so I’d request to be sent to the hospital. Roberto and friends would be watching the hospital entrance waiting my arrival. They’d steal me away with guns if there were only one guard and was easy. Otherwise, they’d wait until nightfall to take me out of the hospital. It was important no one was hurt for then there’d be a rigorous manhunt. Roberto was doing this as a favor to Ivón but would need 10,000 pesos for his compatriots. It was to be paid only if the escape went well.
I told Pancha the next day not to come the following Sunday and that I’d write to her as to when to return. She knew I was desperately attempting to find a way out though we never talked about it.
Ivón and I were escorted outside the prison on Friday where we welded – me minus a mask. I’d done so for an hour before deciding I had better stop. But nothing happened for a few hours – nothing at all. Around 2pm my eyes started watering then the floods came with my eyes turning solid red – no white at all. My eyes were bluish green orbs in a sea of blood. Then they suddenly became lighted candles with the pain scorching my brain. I cupped my eyes with my hands for any light whatsoever exploded in my skull. I was sure I’d blinded myself for I knew my eyes could never have experienced this kind of pain without having been seriously damaged. Ivón reassured me I’d be fine in a few days and to trust him. Trust him or not I couldn’t see. They could’ve opened up the front gate and I never would’ve found it.
He returned with the commander who took one look at my eyes and went straight to the warden to get me to the hospital. He came back shortly with bad news. A convict with less than three months to do had made an appointment at the hospital having permission from Buenagente to do so. The patient had escaped out the back window while there and vanished. There would soon be an investigation and absolutely no one was being sent to the hospital for any reason whatsoever. Prisons hate it when prisoners escape and hospitals are always an easier venue from which to disappear than prison. You had to be severely injured to get there so nobody had escaped in years. Then some dumb prick had decided to flee with only days left to do, and where was he to hide out, at his girlfriend’s house where they busted him that night.
I was sick for I’d less than a year to go and this would’ve worked. Oh, how I shook my fists at the heavens damning the gods for the Muses no longer amused me. What are the odds of some imbecile doing a prison escape from a virgin hospital just hours before I was to be doing mine? The odds were too great for the gods NOT to have intervened.
I suffered the most severe pain that night I could ever remember experiencing. The minutest amount of light was pure agony so I kept my eyes closed as tightly as possible covering them with my hands. They’d fill up then with salty tears adding flame to the pain.
“I’ve done this to myself many times, John, and the pain was intense. Just as you’re experiencing.”
I didn’t believe Ivón for I’d visions of dogs and red-pointed walking sticks.
Saturday came and so did Roberto. He’d spent the afternoon and early evening the day before in front of the hospital with friends so Ivón clued him in on the haps. I thanked Roberto profusely for he and a few friends had gone way out of their way for someone they didn’t even know. Colombians love adventure and are like that, and before leaving, Roberto offered to be of any assistance in the future if I needed it.
Sunday. I could open my eyes half the time meaning I could move. I was glad Pancha wasn’t coming in for I was a mess. My eyes were still roadmaps in red the next Sunday when Pancha visited and would be for months but my vision had returned to normal. I’d some explaining to do and it didn’t go over very well. Pancha and I’d talked about it before, and no time like the present, so I asked her to marry me. She happily accepted. We decided to get married after Christmas.
I asked Buenagente about it and he was all for it. I was just to let him know ahead of time. Silvio had a lawyer in Bogotá looking into the matter of deporting a foreigner married to a Colombian and was looking for a loophole to get a judge involved. But it was imperative that I’d be married.
I turned 31 years old.
3pm Saturday. It was right after the men’s visit and everyone was lined up in formation to be counted except the three caspete owners. So I was seated in my caspete casually nibbling a bread roll and drinking a Coke. I was staring blankly out my outside counter window at the front wall the Patios were behind. Suddenly, not twelve yards away, the door to Patio 2 flew open with a convict running out holding onto his intestines that were cascading from his stomach. It was almost comical watching him attempt to hold onto his intestines that kept slipping from his grasp. Then a short Indian came blasting out the door stabbing the injured one once in the back. Several guards followed hot on his trail intervening with threatening clubs. The stabbed man staggered onto the grassy area in front of my counter window. He definitely wasn’t moving very well as he stumbled the ten steps to me saying, “John.” He turned making it ten more steps to Patio E’s back door where he fell to the ground going immediately into death throes.
I’d never seen anyone die that quickly before from a stab wound for the slash across his stomach had never been life threatening. I watched some guards escort Indio to the hole while others gathered only a few yards away from me looking at the corpse. This was when I noticed that I’d been eating my bread roll and washing it down with a Coke the whole time! All those I was to recount the story to remarked how spooky it was when the last thing a dying man said was your name – my alias actually.
I was to hear all the gossip from numerous prisoners in Patio 2. The dead prisoner had been a prison thief living in Patio 3 doing what he shouldn’t have been doing – ripping off men doing more time than God would allow them to do. He’d been in a knife fight a month back with one of his victims in Patio 3 looking for retribution. He’d stabbed the guy who’d ended up in the hospital. He’d been sent to the hole and transferred to Patio 2. He’d been all puffed up from the attention he was receiving for having stabbed someone so he’d felt himself invincible.
There’d been only a few potable radios in Patio 2. Indio had been doing time for murdering a tribesman and would sit quietly every day with his back to the cellblock wall. He’d spent his time making jewelry that had paid for the batteries for the radio he’d constantly listened to. Invincible had walked up to Indio a few days prior taking his radio away from him hoping he hadn’t liked it. Indio hadn’t moved, only stared, and had sat there for days doing nothing while Invincible bopped around singing tangos.
Everybody had been lined up in formation in his assigned place to be counted after the visit. Invincible had had the radio long enough for it to be considered his own and probably had been off guard. Indio had broken formation with knife in hand knowing exactly where Invincible would be and had quickly crept up to him slashing him severely across the stomach. Invincible had rocketed off flying out Patio door where I’d been the only convict actually to see the ending.
It may seem foolhardy for Indio to have stabbed Invincible during count in front of God and everybody. But it actually had been a good strategy and had been done before. It’d taken Indio several days to procure a knife, and once he’d brought the knife into the Patio, he’d have to use it not wanting to lose it due to a surprise search. He’d assumed Invincible had been armed as he’d been the last time one of his victims looked for revenge. So Indio had waited all day probably never having the chance to attack Invincible from behind. But he’d known where he’d be standing in formation during count and that he wouldn’t have a knife in his hand.
Indio, who never talked much less made waves, did two days in the hole and had his radio returned to him.


January 23rd. I’d already had a guard making arrangements with a judge to marry Pancha and me. A single guard drove me without handcuffs to the judge’s office where Pancha and her mother were waiting. I’d considered escape while en route, and it would’ve been easy, but Pancha and her mom would’ve then been involved. The judge had been sent all the particulars days before so all the legal papers were ready to be signed. Pancha’s mom was glad to see me and was apologetic for not visiting. I told her not to worry and thanked her for the cookies and fruit she’d sent with Pancha.
We were married during a short ceremony but it was frustrating not being able to consummate it. I was allowed to take everybody out for a long lunch then driven back to the joint. We found our sex play on Sunday hadn’t been affected by our marriage – thank God.
Rubio came into town being assigned directly to Patio E. This was unusual but he’d known Buenagente from years back in another prison where he’d served time for murdering his homosexual lover. He was presently sentenced to 3 years for something he refused to admit to. He was in his 40s of slim build and his claim to fame was that of being a stage actor and boasted of acting in the bigger venues in Bogotá.
Rubio and Cristina soon became close friends so Buenagente at last had someone of confidence, him being gay, to help with babysitting chores. Rubio convinced Cristina he could make her into a great actress. He’d written a play called La Casa Macabra and there was a part in it she’d be perfect for. He had a copy of it in a trunk filled his writings, drawings and posters of performances he’d been in. Cristina dreamed of becoming an actress, and whatever Cristina dreamed of, the warden made come true.
Rubio showed Buenagente the play discussing how many actors would be needed, what sets had to be built, etc. Buenagente took to the idea immediately promising Rubio if he liked the play that he’d pull strings so they’d be able to perform at the Popayán Opera House. Rubio rounded up actors mostly from Patio E where security wouldn’t be a problem. He was allotted half of Ivón’s metal shop in which to rehearse. The idea of acting had never appealed to me so I’d watch the troupe with disinterest while helping Ivón weld. Then I discovered that Buenagente was arranging a date at the opera house. There were enough men playing ghouls running around the stage menacing our fair maiden Cristina so I offered my services as a man of rhymes to the director.
“What the show needs, Rubio, is a poet. I have a stack of poems in my cell if you’d like to take a look?”
He jumped at the idea for his play wasn’t an hour long and he needed more acts. Cristina was to open the show lip-syncing a popular love song and I was to follow her act with a poem. Some convicts would then play their guitars followed by the play. Buenagente had to okay all actors and had already rejected several men. I told Rubio he had better check with the warden before I became too involved. I didn’t want to ask him personally for it would’ve been too obvious. Rubio surprisingly obtained permission so I was to become a stage poet.
I pick a poem called ‘Tiempo’ with thirteen verses that dealt with the duality, the give and take, of time. I was also given a non-speaking part in the play as Wolf Man because of my hairy chest.
Meanwhile, the warden came by the caspete wanting to borrow 6,000 pesos ($240) more. He apologized for not having paid me back the other 4,000 pesos but promised to pay the entire amount back soon. Cristina came by later to pick up the envelope. I wasn’t sure what to make of this for I was low on funds and looking for a buyer for the caspete. The fact Buenagente was spending my money at the discos that Cristina talked about at rehearsals didn’t sit well.
I sometimes needed help with my letters and poetry to Pancha so I’d go over to Patio 1 drinking coffee with Silvio while talking grammar. I went there one morning and saw a prisoner sitting at the caspete’s table with a small crowd around him. Silvio and the commander were standing next to him as I snaked my way over. The man had one of the most striking wounds I was ever to see. It reminded me of my own experience with a razorblade and just how lucky I’d been.
Only a minute before my arrival, Silvio explained, he’d been sitting next to a convict drinking coffee with their backs to the Patio. Silvio had suddenly heard him screaming and had looked over to see a man standing right behind them holding a double-edged razorblade. Meanwhile, the guy seated next to him had been howling and holding his neck. The guy with the razorblade, a known nutter, had come up behind this guy for no apparent reason and sliced his throat from his Adam’s apple past his ear. The wound was 8 inches long and deep but what I found so fascinating was looking at the man’s jugular vein. The vein was massive, around the thickness of a man’s finger, with the vein membrane being gossamer thin. I kept waiting for it to explode as it pulsated rhythmically for just another 100th of an inch deeper would have meant death.
The show must go. Roberto was cognizant of the upcoming show from previous visits and knew of my plans. He showed up the Saturday before the production on my behest. The plan was simple for there’d be only a few guards watching twelve of us and wouldn’t be expecting a thing. Guns wouldn’t be needed for it was going to be easy to just disappear out an exit. All Roberto had to do was wait outside the opera house with a car. He was game.
We had dress rehearsal so all was ready for Saturday night’s stage performance. I woke up Saturday morning early anxious to rock and roll for this was going to be the last morning I’d ever wake up inside these fucking walls. It was noon when I was called into the warden’s office. I exited the prison with bounce in my step being escorted to his office. Buenagente was behind his desk with a man seated in a chair in front of him, who when I entered, stood up extending his hand, “Mr So & So from the American Embassy.”
What the fuck…I’d been in San Ysidro for nearly a year and the embassy had only come out twice in the beginning when other Americans were there. They hadn’t been out since their releases, and for some reason, Mr So & So had decided to take a long drive from Cali on his day off to check up on me. I’d already made it crystal clear to the US Embassy while at Villanueva that I’d no need of their services and to not bother me. I’d refused to leave my Patio when they’d come to visit me there.
“How kind of you, Mr So & So, to take your own personal time out to visit, but I don’t think I need anything right now. Thanks, anyway.”
The bastard.
I was dismissed and returned to the prison. I walked five yards and screamed into the sky with clenched fists at the gods, “Go fuck yourselves and just leave me alone. Why don’t you go off far into the heavens where you belong? And get off my fucking back.”
Mr So & So had been adamant with Buenagente that I wasn’t to participate in the play. No way, José. Buenagente had pointed out I’d only months to go and had been an exemplary convict, and if it’d satisfy Mr So & So, then he’d assign a guard just for me. And so it was to be.
Buenagente came by the caspete with the news. I never thought the embassy would okay this under any circumstances so I quickly started apologizing to all the gods I felt might be useful. My chances had been diminished by many fold but I was going to be out of those fucking walls for the first time and closer to an escape than ever before.
Mid-afternoon. The troupe of twelve was rounded up and out the prison we went. We boarded a van along with three guards armed only with revolvers – one being assigned just to me. Cristina sat in the front seat with a guard who dropped us off in front of a tall round building. We were met at the entrance by theater folk that were tickled pink to have real convicts from their infamous prison actually acting upon their stage. They were pleasant people who delighted in showing off their magnificent theater. The Popayán Opera House was decades old and had been immaculately maintained. All the hundreds of aisle seats were upholstered in red velvet and looked new. There were many tiers of balcony seats that circled the 40-ft high wall. The molding that surrounded the artwork was covered in gold leaf that shined brightly from the crystal chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling. I’d never been inside an opera house before so I chatted up my guard trying to put him at ease as we took a look-see where I noted the different exits. Only one side exit was unlocked plus the entrance.
My guard stuck to me like Super Glue while the other two guards stood around casually talking together not concerned about their charges who were running around finding dressing rooms and setting up the stage. We’d been there an hour and I was on stage helping with the set when I looked up at the entrance spying Roberto. We made eye contact so all was set outside. I surreptitiously pointed at the guard stuck to me like stink on shit and I was sure he understood.
Superglue would allow me ten yards of leash but was always between the exits and me. We’d four hours before the show in which it would’ve been easy to have just walked out the front door. The two other guards were sitting in the aisle seats shooting the shit watching fuck all. He’d checked out the bathroom for windows when I wanted to take a leak. He’d be sentenced to 2 years if he were to lose me – not my concern.
This one really got my dander up. Several prisoners had been sent unescorted outside with theater staff to help pick up coffees and sodas for us. I’d innocently volunteered but had been vetoed. I’d become internally livid as the hours dwindled away before the 8pm performance. I was once again being foiled by some actor who didn’t belong in my play and was crashing upon my stage just hours before I was finally to flee. How could it happen twice?
I was so mad that I was forgetting the lines to my poem. The poem started all thirteen verses with the word ‘tiempo’ and sounded repetitious so I had someone behind the curtain to shout out “Tiempo” before I’d continue with the next verse. I did a few test runs with the guy who seemed to know when to say his line.
I was getting nervous for I’d never had the intentions of ever having to recite this poem in front of a group of people donning tuxedos and evening gowns. I should’ve been long gone. I’d never liked being in front of a crowd of people for it made me uncomfortable and nervous.
But then I thought, “Who’d be coming to the opera house to watch a gang of losers prancing around on stage, anyway?” We filled the hundreds of aisle and balcony seats with very fancy dressed people. We could’ve been in New York.
The curtain rose with Rubio introducing the very pretty Cristina who was to sing us a song. She was standing with a dead mike in her hand ready to lip-sync her song and looked as frightened as she was. She’d gone to the bathroom several times just before curtain call and hers was the first act. A convict behind the curtain placed the needle on the 45-RPM record. Cristina lipped the words with body movements much stiffer than at rehearsal when suddenly the record stuck repeating a tiny piece of the song over and over again. There were a few muffled laughs as the disc jockey started the record once more and of course it stuck again. Cristina’s knees were shaking as she tried to be cool for the next go. And again it stuck with the DJ unable to remedy it. And one last try but everyone was laughing by then and poor Cristina was mortified. Rubio hurriedly escorted her off stage with lots of polite applause.
Not an easy act to follow. I was cursing myself for having put myself in this spot. I mean, reciting poetry in front of a zillion people with everyone looking critically at me. Then I came up with a much better idea and that was to just take off flying down the aisle taking a bullet in the head. Preferable, for going over a wall would’ve been less scary. But Pancha would be coming the next day and she was always more preferable than a bullet in the brain. I went up on stage with everyone politely sitting still and didn’t find it intimidating at all. I’d experimented with the microphone earlier deciding against it. Besides, the opera house had superb acoustics so everyone heard my intro without problems. The curtain yelled, “Tiempo,” and I began shouting out the verses making my voice as resonant as possible. The 10th verse was the longest and had a pause in the middle. The curtain yelled, “Tiempo,” during the pause meaning I’d to go to the next verse, which for the life of me, I couldn’t remember. It’d always come after the last line of verse 10 that was hiding somewhere in the ether. I went straight to the last verse finishing it with the audience applauding excitedly as I took my bows.
A few musical acts followed then the play. I was lying on the operating table playing Wolf Man while Dr Frankenstein, Rubio, performed surgery. He did his evil magic and I leaped off the table with bared chest growling menacingly at the audience. There were other ghouls acting ghoulishly that reminded me of the movie Night of the Living Dead. I exited stage left where Superglue congratulated me on my fine acting. But all I wanted to know was, didn’t this guy ever piss?
It was a half-hour wait until the grand finale when all us monsters went screaming off the stage and ran helter-skelter up the two aisles and through the audience to the exits where Superglue was waiting. We remained near the exit waiting for our hero, who’d just saved our fair maiden Cristina from being molested by monsters, to end the play with a kiss. And to applause as we returned down the aisles and up onto the stage taking our bows.
The braver members of the audience, wearing bow ties and spaghetti-strap dresses, came backstage to talk to us afterwards. They’d enjoyed the evening though I hadn’t for it’d been the most frustrating night of my life. I knew I’d never have a chance like this again. I’d only seven months until deportation and the clock kept ticking.
I saw Roberto across the street with his arms crossed looking at me when they herded us into the prison vehicle. I wrinkled my brow at him as I stepped into the van a broken man.
I regress for a moment. A convict had joined me in my pacing when I’d first arrived at Patio 2 in San Ysidro nearly a year back. He’d introduced himself boasting, “I’ve been convicted for so many robberies all over Colombia that I can’t even remember them all.”
I’d been playing sponge as he’d bragged about how long it’d taken them to find him and how many men he’d murdered along the way.
“And I’ve even killed a cop, John, just like you.”
To which I grunted.
“I’m doing 48 years, manito, and that’s too many for a man to do.”
“It sure is, hermano,” agreeing without inflection.
“I’m planning an escape and I’m anxious to do so.”
Anxious had ignored my silence adding he’d known I’d been sentenced to death for murdering a cop. He’d met some prisoners from Cali who’d suggested I’d be a likely partner to join him. Gads, the whole Patio probably knows of his plans. The guy had made me nervous. I hadn’t wanted to hear any of this for I’d decided before that I was going it alone. Always better.
“I’ve found a guard, John, who’ll open my cell at 2am letting me out into the Patio. I don’t know how to scale the back wall exactly, but it has to be easier with two people, right?”
“I’m going to buy off one of the towers soon, manito, so do you have any ideas?”
“Not really, hermano, for I don’t have any intentions of escaping.”
He hadn’t known how to take this so I’d assured him I’d never tell a soul anything and wished him luck never talking to him again.
I arose early as usual and opened my caspete not knowing there had been an attempted escape the night before. I put a pot of coffee on the burner and opened counter window to find guards running around everywhere. The commander came up to me and gave me a short synopsis of what had transpired during the night. A convict had been shot climbing the vertical stairs in the tower just behind Patio 2. The tower guard had fatally shot him and the victim was lying in state in the infirmary. He mentioned the dead convict’s name but it rang no bells. He instructed me to finish my coffee and return to my cell for the prison was on lockdown until they’d searched the compound for others and counted us.
8am. The prison was back to normal and was abuzz with gossip for there were rumors, quite true, that the victim’s two brothers were outside the prison armed with rifles demanding the warden turn over the tower guard to them who’d shot their brother. Buenagente had explained to them that he’d interrogated the tower guard founding him innocent of wrong doing and had transferred him – even though an hour hadn’t elapsed! It’d been only a convict going over the wall – open and shut. It was an obvious assassination to everyone else.
The brothers had claimed, and it was true, that they’d paid the tower guard 12,000 pesos ($480) to let their brother exit via the tower. I’m not quite sure why the towers had been designed so but the steps leading up to all towers were reached from a door on the inside of the prison wall. The brothers had been waiting for their brother outside the prison in a car parked down the road when, BANG, one shot. Buenagente had been doing all he could to calm the brother’s down and had finally convinced them the tower guard was no longer on prison premises. And had said they could pick up the body that afternoon. They’d retreated just outside prison property waiting with rifles out.
Several convicts had requested to view the body so Buenagente permitted five prisoners at a time to be escorted to the infirmary for viewing. I asked Ivón if he wanted to go.
“At least, we’ll see who this mystery guy is anyway. Besides, I’ve never seen a man shot to death before.”
We walked to the infirmary where on a table lay Anxious with a facial wound that was not only horrific but also bizarre. The stairs leading up the inside tower wall were C-shaped iron rungs embedded into concrete and were straight up and down. Anxious had been looking up as he’d climbed the stairs. The tower guard had pointed his rifle down at him firing a single deadly shot that had entered the corner of his left eye near the temple. It was just a tiny slit of a wound but as the bullet had exited Anxious’ chin, it’d left a gaping hole blowing away a section of his long sideburns. The bullet then re-entered at the top of the shoulder blowing away a giant piece of meat as it went straight into a lung. I’d hate to think, and don’t, that Buenagente had known the guard had planed to murder Anxious but all the procedures had been completed and the guard shipped out only an hour after it’d happened.
I had everything but given up, for why didn’t I just finish my few months there and face the music back home? Then I thought of Tom Rosen and my fantasies of what I was going to do to him when I found the bastard. He’d be a grandfather by the time I’d get out if I served my time in the States so it was imperative I made it out soon. I had one final plan if all else failed and the time to implement it had come.
I sold my caspete receiving only 7,000 pesos ($280) and 5,000 pesos in credit for food which would be enough to eat for the next few months.
And again the warden came visiting. “John, I need a favor if you can. I need another 3,000 pesos.”
I was getting dubious for I’d already kissed off the other 10,000 pesos he owed me for he had no way of paying me back. “I’m short on cash, sir, this is only a loan and I’ll be needing it back as soon as possible.”
I handed him the money personally for the first time and hinted that I might need his services. And that the debt would evaporate.
Smiling sincerely, “If I can be of help, please ask.”
I’d met a guard several months earlier in his 20s nicknamed Costeño (coh-stáin-yo), a mulatto from the coast as his nickname indicated. He’d come from an area of high unemployment and had become a guard not knowing what else to do. He’d worked at the local prison near Tumaco for 2 years before being transferred to Popayán – a million miles from home. He’d drop by the caspete at night where he’d hang out and I’d buy him coffee. The man was funny and would go on and on about the women and whores he’d screwed and the barrels of beer and rum he’d drunk to drunkenness. He’d complained on one occasion about the prison food that they fed the guards so I’d bought him dinner. A plan had been formulating and Costeño could well be one of the major pieces in the conundrum to freedom I contemplated.
It wasn’t easy being transferred to another prison and was expensive with everyone’s palm upward. And there had to be a good reason. Silvio had been in several prisons before landing in Popayán and would have information about the normal security procedures implemented during transport. So I explained briefly my plan.
“Silvio, the law I’ve been convicted under calls for 3 years at hard labor. I think I can get a transfer to such a camp.”
I’d heard of these hard labor camps but had never met anyone who’d been there. Silvio had but had scant information. He’d met someone who’d done time at a hard labor camp called Acacías outside of Bogotá. It wasn’t a walled prison but was a work camp where everybody slept in long wooden dormitories. They worked in the jungle chopping down trees where the mortality rate was 40% after 6 months – mostly from jungle diseases, infection, malaria and murder. It didn’t get any worse. I wasn’t equipped to scale the walls so I had to get outside first. One way was to be transferred. I didn’t have the funds to pay off a guard so I’d have to vanish when he turned his back.
I never wanted to do this one for it meant leaving Pancha and she was truly the essence of my existence. God, I never wanted to leave her but all legal channels had been explored and had turned up dead-ends without money. I was also putting all my eggs in one basket. If they delivered me to another prison then I’d only have months before deportation – not enough time to affect an escape. But I had only one basket left.
Buenagente had been avoiding me but I finally caught his attention. “It’d be nice, sir, if we could talk in your office.”
He offered me a seat when we arrived looking attentive and so without preamble, “I want to be transferred to another prison. If you can do this I’ll forget the debt.”
Buenagente explained that getting transferred required months or years of paperwork and I’d only 6 months left which was the minimum requirement for reassignment.
“I don’t see how I can possibly be of help for what would I tell Bogotá?”
“Well, the terms of my sentence are 3 years at hard labor. Maybe I could be sent to Acacías.”
“John, I’m not sure if I can do anything…”
Interrupting, “And if you can hurry this up, sir, I’ll be happy to pay more. But only on one condition, that I be escorted by only one guard during the transfer.”
Smiling broadly, “And do you know which guard you would like that to be?”
“Yes, sir, I want it to be Costeño.”
We discussed price where he insisted on another 15,000 pesos but settled on 7,000 pesos ($175) for that’s all she rote. I was to pay him in the days ahead but I wanted to see something being done first.
“I’ll definitely look into it, John.”
Buenagente had me delivered to his office days later where he showed me the finished paperwork for Bogotá. “I’ve done some clever wording that you’re to be sent immediately to Acacías to serve your time at hard labor.”
“As you pointed out, sir, it’s prison policy to never transfer a prisoner serving less than 6 months. I’ve only 5½ to go.”
“That shouldn’t be any problem for I’m sending the papers to a friend in administration in Bogotá along with this letter. Here.” He handed me the letter for a quick perusal. “I’ve already talked to my friend by phone, and for another 2,000 pesos, the paperwork will be on my desk within two weeks. Guaranteed.” And he wanted the rest of his money.
“How about 3,000 pesos now plus the 2,000 for administration costs? I’ll give you the rest when I see the transfer papers.”
I returned to the Patio and was reading when the captain came by for the 5,000 pesos. He knew what I was up to and that I desperately wanted to escape – and was all for it.
“Mi capitán, you know I may soon be transferred to Acacías?”
“Sí, I’ve seen the papers.”
“Can you tell me the normal security procedure during a transfer?”
“First, John, guards will take you by bus to Bogotá. And from there you’ll catch another bus to a village near Acacías.”
“Will I be handcuffed?”
“Yes, of course.”
“What is it like there?”
The captain painted a much bleaker picture of what went on in these forced labor camps than Silvio. There were killings there all the time mainly because of the tools the convicts used to chop down trees with. You still worked the jungle when you were sick, as everyone was, for the food was ghastly and inadequate and the work brutal. The more problematic convicts were shot for ‘escaping’. Also interesting were the gladiator fights set up by the guards where they armed prisoners with axes and let them battle it out betting amongst themselves as to the outcome.
“I shouldn’t arrive there,” I proposed with the captain agreeing wholeheartedly.
I decided not to tell Pancha anything until I heard something definite. The time I’d told Pancha not to come the following Sunday, she’d written me letters about how she’d cry herself to sleep at night not knowing my fate and when to return next. I was breaking her heart and this was breaking mine.
I went over to Patio 1 to let Silvio in on the latest. He was pacing instead of slumped over a cup of java. Silvio normally had a hard time keeping up with people with his miniature legs. It was me this time.
“Are we running a marathon, Silvio? What’s up?”
Silvio was energized as he related how several years back his lawyer had negotiated a deal with his judge costing mega-bucks. The judge was to release him after 7 years allowing him 3 years off for good behavior under an obscure law that had applied to certain crimes. The ministry he’d worked for had found out putting a halt to it.
“My lawyer sent me word today, John, the judge is finally going through with our deal. I’ve paid them both plenty so in a few more months I’m out.”
I told him I’d be in Bogotá en route to Acacías so he mentioned a house he’d bought his parents years back. If I escaped and he were outside then I’d a place to stay. But these were just pipedreams by convicts marching as if on speed. His was to come true 8 months later, mine...

MAY 1976

Not ten days had passed and it was back to the warden’s office and, un-fucking-believable, there were my transfer papers. It’d still take a week to arrange transport and to make arrangements with Acacías. Costeño and I were then on our way so I paid him the remaining 4,000 pesos I owed.
I began chatting up Costeño in earnest and would buy him dinner all the time. I’d talk about how excited I was about getting out in only a few months and how my wife and I were going to start a glorious future here in Colombia.
I was in the Patio pacing when the captain came up to me. “You have visitors in the warden’s office. I’m to take you there.”
“What kind of visitors?”
“There’s two reporters here from Vea. They want to talk to you. ”
“No way, mi capitán, no interviews.”
The captain understood and went off to relay my message.
Shit, some other fucking unscripted actors were again invading my play at the last minute, only this time, in the guise of reporters from ‘Vea’ (váy-ah) – the most notorious smut magazine in Colombia. I likened it to the National Enquirer but taken to a level that could only be tolerated and adored in Colombia. They showed chopped up bodies, murder victims in puddles of blood and closely follow most major crimes there. They printed down and out lies for nothing was sacred to Vea. A dozen people read it for every copy they sold. Everybody read it.
The captain returned bringing me out of my reveries. “Buenagente is insistent that you at least talk to these reporters. They say if you won’t be interviewed then they’re going to make up their own story from their archives.”
These archives included several articles I’d been featured in previously and one when I’d first met Pancha. It’d been a horrible story with nothing true in it whatsoever. It’d featured a terrible picture of me on the front cover with the headline ‘CONDEMNED TO DEATH’. The story had names and dates of a trail of people across the States that I’d wounded and murdered avoiding the electric chair. Pancha had been in tears for all her friends had read and believed it.
I acquiesced being escorted to the warden’s office where I was introduced to the reporters. I aired my complaints about their magazine for which one apologized for the editorial staff at Vea.
“The main reason I’m here is to get the story straight.”
“I don’t know,” balking, “Vea has always crucified me in the past.”
“The article will be strictly the truth, John…or should I call you Kendall?”
“John will do.”
“Está bien, John. I promise to be fair. I’ll give ONLY your side of the story. I swear. Or I go to the archives…” and another tale of horror.
Buenagente assigned us a guard and carte blanche of the prison. I was dressed in Levi’s, black shirt and cowboy boots, as always, as I showed them the metal sculpture I’d helped construct just outside the prison – with one reporter snapping photos. We entered the prison where I showed them the schoolhouse where I taught English. He asked me a million questions some about Pancha who the warden had mentioned that I’d married. I answered mitigating everything of course. We returned to my old caspete after the tour of the prison where they bought me a meal. Buenagente joined us with Cristina where the photographer snapped a group picture of Buenagente, Cristina, some other convicts and me. They thanked me and were escorted out by the warden and Cristina.
It was the Colombian press once again meddling in my affairs. Give me a fucking break, I was old news something that had happened nearly 3 years before – and Vea no less. Buenagente wanted to see what the article said before transferring me. If I were to escape at the same time the article was published then the heat would be directed at the prison – ergo the warden. He’d already been paid in full so he was much more in control of the situation than I was.
My money situation was scary. I’d been eating two small meals a day for months to save money for I’d need it to survive while on escape. And Costeño was costing me bucks for he was coming by the Patio every other night for meals, coffee and filtered cigarettes he couldn’t afford.
Pancha brought in a copy of Vea two Sundays later. Its article had been as bad as before painting me as the bad guy corrupting the youth of the world with killer cocaine. There was a picture of me on the cover with the headline ‘CONDEMNED TO DEATH’. It was five pages long crammed with photos of me at San Ysidro. It’d related my prison life and how I’d denied ever killing anyone. Then had gone on to quote other sources that had stated, I’d murdered a cop and had been sentenced to death by electrocution – but had escaped capture by devious means and murder. And most damning of all had been the group photo with Buenagente and me sitting next to each other along with Cristina who they’d said was the warden’s daughter. Pancha was in tears for Vea’s articles were just too much for her. But we still had each other which would have to do for that was all we had.
Buenagente had read the article and wanted a cooling off period of at least a few weeks before transferring me – but with no promises. I was damning the fickle-middle-finger-of-fate.

JUNE – JULY 1976

When evolution wanted to figure out chewing,
it came up with the cow –
When man wanted to figure out misery,
he came up with prison…

Sunday. I informed Pancha of my impending transfer and what I wanted to do. She didn’t want to talk about it for all options were bad. She was always sure some miracle would happen and that we’d be together forever. And that we’d actually be able to sleep with each other at night, for weren’t we married?
Weeks had passed when I hinted to Buenagente that I was ready to move. The Vea article was worse than he expected, it being so long plus the photo of him and me sitting together. He wanted more time vowing it would be soon but no promises. I was panicking for I felt that Buenagente was stalling and going to renege for he was definitely avoiding me. The clock was ticking fast with only three months to go. He’d always respond that it would be soon when I would see him but soon wasn’t coming – it was on vacation in Rio. What this was doing to Pancha wasn’t right for we’d spent too many last Sundays together. It was time.
I finally cornered Buenagente demanding harshly, “The article was two months ago, sir, do something NOW.”
Striving to simmer me down, “I would’ve transferred you earlier, John, but Bogotá hasn’t sent the money for bus fares.”
“What, no money for bus fares!” This was too much. I was furious. “How much are bus fares?”
“About 500 pesos.”
I flipped and growled, “I’ll pay the bus fares but I want out NOW. Like now as in now.” I was tired of his bullshit.
“Okay, okay, John, I promise I’ll make contact with Acacías immediately. You’ll be on your way in a week.”
“You’re going to contact them today, right sir?”
“I swear, but there’s one thing you must now promise me.”
“What’s that?”
“You must not escape before Bogotá.”
“What?” My mouth is open.
“Once you and Costeño are there, the escape will be out of my jurisdiction. Hence, the investigation won’t be centered in Popayán but rather in Bogotá. Any irregularities in the transfer papers won’t be looked at.”
“Three-quarters of the trip is getting to Bogotá. It’s only a few hours to Acacías from there.”
I was extremely hesitant for I’d have to take advantage of whatever opportunities that presented themselves – if any.
“I want your word, John, otherwise no deal.”
Sounding as reluctant as I felt, “Está bien, señor, I give you my word.”
Obviously not convinced, “Are you sure?”
“I don’t want to but I have only one word. If I give it to you then that’s what I’ll do.”
“If you do it my way, John, then Costeño’s fate will be in my hands and he won’t go to prison. But you mustn’t escape before you get to Bogotá, okay?”
Both our nerves were frayed but we still trusted each other. I went over to Patio 1 to tell Silvio the good news but he was slipping back into depression.
“It looks like, Silvio, Buenagente is finally going to ship my ass out of here.”
“I’m happy for you,” replying despondently.
“Oh, you’ll like this one for sure. He made me swear I wouldn’t escape until I arrive in Bogotá. I wanted to be way gone by then so Bogotá it’ll have to be. And at whatever cost.”
“One good thing about escaping in Bogotá,” warming up to the conversation, “is that nobody will recognize you there. It’s a big city and easy to become lost in.”
“That’s true, the further away from Cali I am the better.”
Silvio was emphatic that I should look up his parents if I were to escape there. He drew up an elaborate map showing me how to get to their house from downtown plus a letter of introduction.
“My bedroom is unoccupied and you’re welcome to it. I’m sure my folks won’t mind.”
It’s not really my style to barge in on strangers looking for a place to sleep – particularly being on the run. I thanked him profusely promising to look them up at some point if all went well.

AUGUST 1 – AUGUST 7, 1976

Sunday, August 1. This was the last time I was every to see or hear from Pancha again.
Softly caressing her, “Pancha, mi amor, I won’t be here next Sunday. I’m going to be transferred to Acacías next week.”
She sensed how desperately I wanted to be free and that our time was truly running out. Being brave, “Are you sure, mi querido, this is the last week you’re here.”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
Our bodies melted together becoming one for the last time. I gave her stacks of letters she’d written to me to take back home with her for I planned on traveling light. And we cried.
This week was extraordinarily long. My impatience was easy for the captain to read but he reassured me the wheels were in motion.
Friday, August 6. It was early afternoon when a guard entered Patio E coming up to me demanding, “You’re to be taken to the hole immediately. The warden’s orders.”
“But why?”
“I don’t know,” grunting tersely as he guided me there.
I didn’t have a clue as to what was happening. I looked at the stark walls thinking I’d been double-crossed but that would’ve been out of character. I’d spent two hours in the hole before they returned for me. I was marched back to my cell and ordered to pack my belongings for I was being shipped out.
The commander permitted Ivón to bring Silvio over to say good-bye while I packed. I haven’t mentioned this before but I’d been keeping detailed journals religiously writing the day’s events, thoughts, etc. I found a metal wastepaper basket and was ripping the pages out burning them one at a time when they returned. I explained it was my sacrifice to the gods being the most valuable thing I owned. It was my Alexandria Library. And I prayed.
Silvio pulled out his wallet giving me all his 100-peso notes. “It’s only 400 pesos,” apologizing, “ I wish I had more.”
I would’ve normally declined his generous offer but I was broke and pesos meant survival. They wished me luck as I was guided to the warden’s office where I encountered the captain and Costeño also. The captain shook my hand wishing me the best of luck and left. Costeño waited outside while Buenagente pleaded with me once more not to flee before Bogotá, and restated his case, if the investigation were centered in Bogotá then Costeño would be far away and under his jurisdiction.
“I have only one word, sir, and you have it.”
And I meant it, begrudgingly, but I understood and agreed with the logic for he was going way out of his way for peanuts, thank you Cristina, and he didn’t deserve more headaches. I liked Costeño and his fate would then be in the warden’s hands.
Costeño handcuffed me to himself as I left the warden’s office. We were taken to the bus station where we boarded a bus. Costeño was dressed in a cheap blue suit with open collar and a gun without holster tucked under his belt. I complained of being embarrassed wearing handcuffs and maybe…No dice. He was acting peculiar and seemed paranoid keeping a constant eye on me. Had Buenagente told him to keep tight security on me? That wasn’t the deal. Or maybe he was just nervous because he’d never transported a prisoner before. I didn’t know. I did everything possible to put him at ease. I talked mostly of my wife Pancha and that I’d be free in 2½ months. I continued on about all our plans of buying a house, picket fence and kids. “Gosh, ain’t I a nice guy.”
I felt he was receptive so suggested, “Mi amigo, Costeño, what do you think about us maybe having a few beers together when we arrived in Bogotá? It’ll be my last chance to have a little fun before I’m sent to Acacías and have to chop down jungles with a machete.”
“I don’t know, John, I’ll think about it.”
The bus stopped to eat hours later. Costeño removed his cuff and cuffed my wrists together.
“This isn’t fair, aren’t I buying the meals?”
He found my sense of humor great. He offered to unzip me when I wanted to piss but the cuffs were to remain in place. I managed to unbutton my fly solo. We boarded the bus where he handcuffed us together again.
Saturday, August 7. The remainder of the trip to Bogotá was uneventful arriving there midmorning. We exited the bus cuffed together and found Buenagente’s teenage son there to make sure we’d arrived! He greeted us asking about our journey and vanished.
“Hey, brother,” very enthusiastically, “how about breakfast and a beer? I’ve got money to burn for I can’t spend it in Acacías, right?”
Costeño changed personalities once Buenagente’s son had left so I extended my wrists coercing, “I’ve got 500 pesos for you, mi amigo, and if you take me to a whore house, I’ll buy all the women you can fuck.”
“Okay,” baring my wrists just like that.
I swore to all that was holy that I’d never be cuffed again. I decided not to pay Costeño his 500 pesos right then for I didn’t know if he’d return to being Super Guard. God, what a pleasure it was to be walking down a real street looking for a real restaurant in which to eat real food – Avenida Jimenez I noted keeping myself oriented. My plan was simple: Get him drunk, into a whorehouse and vanish. At no point did I ever think of having sex with a prostitute for it’s hard to run with your pants down. It was Costeño’s pants I wanted on the floor. Money was a major problem for I’d only 2,000 pesos ($80) and was in a strange city. I’d to get Costeño drunk and possibly laid with this and a few pesos hopefully left over.
It wasn’t hard to talk Costeño into hitting the bars early. We found one half-filled with people who’d been drinking there since the night before. I hadn’t had any alcohol since I’d given it up 10 years earlier after my first acid trip so I wondered how it’d hit me. We started with beers with me drinking fast inviting Costeño to do the same. We were chasing our beers down with shots of rum by noon but the man had a hollow leg. I went to the bathroom the first time and he joined me looking for windows. We relieved ourselves going back to drinking. He’d seemed less concerned about me going somewhere as we changed different bars. I was amazed just how clearheaded I remained as we consumed large quantities of booze. He was slurring his words and wasn’t walking right but the man had endurance. I suggested we get laid but he put me off preferring to get wasted.
It was afternoon and he was staving. Damn it. We ordered enormous meals at a restaurant but I wasn’t hungry. I hadn’t eaten much so Costeño finished his then mine. The man was stone sober. He wasn’t shadowing me but he also wasn’t giving me any breathing space. We went back to drinking in earnest and stopped chasing the beers down with rum preferring to chase rum down with rum. And two more bartender, please. It was early evening and several bars later when he was finally getting drunk. We’d each drunk countless shots of rum and numerous beers so the pesos were running out. I wondered if I’d enough money to get this guy drunk enough to escape.
Around 8pm. Costeño was tipsy and slump over his drink. It was time to act for all I needed was a 5-second head start and hoped not to get shot in the back. One scenario was to hit him over the head with a bottle and flee but his head was so numb from rum he probably wouldn’t have felt a thing. There were other scenarios my brain was playing with when I exited the bar’s bathroom alone. He’d checked it out earlier for exits and was sitting fifteen feet away with his elbows on the bar and his back to me. He’d switched his revolver from his front waistband and was then sticking halfway down the back of his pants being held in place by his belt. He was leaning on the bar with his suit coat no longer hiding the revolver. All I’d have to do would be to grab it and it’d be mine. There’d never be another chance like this one for he couldn’t even see me approach from behind. I came up quietly in back of him grabbing the revolver’s handle with both hands and yanked up on it as hard as I could. I literally brought Costeño up off his barstool but the fucking revolver was still hung up on his belt – it wouldn’t give it up. He felt around for his gun and wanted to know what the fuck I was up to. Shit, I’d probably blown the whole thing.
“I saw your gun hanging out of your pants, mi amigo, and I was just having some fun. It was only a joke.”
“Only a joke?” He wasn’t laughing.
“I was going to give it back to you,” smiling contritely. “Really, I wasn’t going to keep it. Honest.”
He wasn’t happy but seemed to believe me.
“And oh, by the way, mi amigo, here’s the 500 pesos I promised you.”
He’d been subtly hinting for hours he’d like to get paid, and after doing so, he seemed pleased as we began guzzling alcohol as if nothing had happened. I couldn’t believe he’d accepted my story so easily except he’d been blitzed by then. It was time to run for he probably wouldn’t have hit me even if he did get some rounds off.
Midnight. Costeño was staggering when we left the bar with his behavior becoming erratic. He ordered me to put the cuffs back on which I flatly refused. I offered him more money emphasizing that we should go to a brothel where we could get laid but he wasn’t going for it. We were arguing when a cop walked by who he called over. He informed him that he was a guard and I was his ward asking him to hold me at the police station for the night for safekeeping. How did this ever happen? I was kicking myself in the ass as the three of us, me in cuffs, walked the blocks to a large police station on Avenida Caracas and 12th Street. We entered the station with a large wooden bench in the reception area that he handcuffed me to. He was to pick me up the next morning and left.

AUGUST 8, 1976
to flee or not to flee

Patience is the essence
of impatience…

Sunday morning. Costeño came strutting into the cop shop all washed and ready to go. He’d dumped me off the night before and had picked up a whore at a bar and spent the night fucking. I was ecstatic to see him, though not behind my mask, for I figured I’d blown it. He bragged about his sexual escapades to a few bored cops standing around then handcuffed himself to me.
I’d less than 500 pesos ($20) left but he didn’t know that. I complained that the night before he’d promised I could get laid and that it wasn’t fair he’d been screwing all night and I hadn’t. We came upon a restaurant with tables outside. He was overly friendly as he removed the cuffs and we joined a woman sitting there by herself. She was 40 with very pale skin, bleached-blond hair, grossly overweight and was the most painted up woman I’d ever met. Her breasts were enormous mountains she used to their best advantage exposing as much skin as possible so men wouldn’t notice her massive hips. He proudly introduced her to me. Blondie had heard all about me and was pleasured to make my acquaintance. She’d stopped eating just long enough to shake my hand before getting back to stuffing her podgy face.
I’d spent all night cuffed to a bench damning myself for letting this thing drag on forever. The cuffs weren’t going back on ever, and if need be, I was prepared to hurt Costeño. I was escaping no matter what. I was out and I was staying out.
He beamed asking me what I thought about Blondie’s tits. Weren’t they fantastic? Blondie lovingly touched his arm between mouthfuls of food as he went into detail what they looked like and how he’d played with them all night long. Oh boy, isn’t love grand?
I tried to enlist her help in my search for a bordello. “Don’t you have friends, beautiful?”
“Sure, but no one’s going to be up this early on Sunday morning.”
Though she did know of a whorehouse not far away where something might be happening. I offered Costeño 200 pesos for a quickie but only after I’d been screwed. He’d already spent all his money and couldn’t even pay for Blondie’s breakfast so he was receptive.
We arrived in a taxi at a 2-story building right off of Avenida Jimenez in a respectable neighborhood. The 1st floor was a large convenient store with stairs inside leading up to a 2nd-floor cathouse. The shopkeeper led us upstairs to a large room with couches lining the walls and a hallway leading to several rooms in the back. The only person there was the bartender sleeping on the couch. He woke up and I ordered a couple of rums then cased the room ostensible looking for a place to sit. Costeño and I’d looked out the windows earlier and had both tacitly agreed it was too high from which to jump. There were no Angels of the Night around but the bartender promised to make some calls. I didn’t press the issue for I didn’t know if I’d enough money to pay for one.
We were drinking our second rum as I watch Costeño leaning against Blondie on the couch. She was snoring softly as he closed his eyes and was slowly lulled into unconsciousness. It hadn’t even taken two drinks!
I took off my boots, and with them in hand, shushed the bartender and walked down the noisy, squeaky wooden steps to the shop below. I found a locked barred door blocking my exit so I called the shopkeeper over to open it. He flatly refused for Costeño had told him I was a convict and was to be locked in. Fuck. I tiptoed up the creaky steps again. The bartender was being outrageously cool as I put my boots back on. I opened the window climbing outside and hung there then let go. Everything was in slow motion while I looked the shopkeeper right in the eyes through the front window as I fell. I hit the ground and sprang up running straight to the corner and tuned right flagging down a taxi. I jumped in taking Silvio’s parents’ address from my wallet relaying it to the driver.
My heart was racing. I couldn’t believe it – I was out! I was making myself comfortable when the driver turned left down the same street I’d just come from. He parked his cab under the window I’d just leaped from telling me he was on his way home. And where I wanted to go was out of his way.
“Please,” begging desperately, “just take me a few blocks and drop me off.”
I kept waiting for Costeño to stick his head out the 2nd-floor window.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere just go straight a few blocks, please”.
Those were the longest thirty seconds of my life as I’d convinced him to move his cab the few blocks that he finally did. He didn’t want money so I thanked him giving him the nylon jacket I was wearing as a gift. I felt it was a piece of clothing someone might recognize me in. Bogotá is cold at night dropping down to freezing. And there were many a cold night on its streets when I was chilled to the marrow wondering, “Who was it exactly I thought was going to recognize me in my jacket anyway, Santa Clause?”
I was free but I’d no idea where to run. I had Silvio’s map in hand so I started walking to his parents’ house asking people along the way if I were headed in the right direction. They lived outside of town so everyone suggested I should take bus so and so but I wasn’t in a hurry. I enjoyed walking the streets looking at people walking freely. I’d called his parents several hours before arriving, though hesitant, they’d agreed to meet me. I found the address on a nice 2-story home in an upscale neighborhood. His parents were sitting out front in the patio having finished lunch. I entered the gate and handed them Silvio’s letter explaining I was a friend. They invited me into the house while they read the letter. They were pleasant people who’d enjoyed my observations about how their son was doing – all lies of course. There were lulls in the conversation so it was time to go. They thanked me for the letter suggesting I called back next month for they expected Silvio to be out by then.
Back to the street with no place to go. I headed towards downtown around sunset and entered a small market purchasing a sweet roll and a beer. I sat at a table out front that afforded me a fine view of Bogotá’s cityscape. I took a swig of the beer and let out a huge breath feeling free for the first time since I’d escaped. I watched the sun making colors in the sky in celebration of my first day of freedom as it became tired and set. The euphoria had only lasted through the sweet roll, beer and the sunset before reality reared its ugly face. I counted my money – 180 pesos.
Bogotá’s nightlife had just begun as I meandered around not knowing where I was. I met some Americans who invited me into a bar for a drink but there were uniformed cops drinking there. I drank a beer excusing myself and returned to the street. I didn’t know what to do, for didn’t hotels ask for passports? That was out so I decided to find a whorehouse for refuge. I didn’t want to waste money on a cab so I walked around for an hour asking people for ‘una casa de citas’ – feeling conspicuously stupid. I was standing near a large intersection that looked disturbingly familiar when I invested in a cab asking to be taken to a cathouse. He drove me around for ten minutes then stopped and pointed down an alley where a lone red light glowed dimly. I thought that was only in movies. I was new at this having never been to a bordello before. Did I need a password like ‘José sent me’?
I knocked and a grubby middle-aged man opened the door giving me the once-over mumbling, “What do you need, a woman for the night, maybe?”
A mind reader.
I was led to a room with a round coffee table in the middle where two obese women were sitting stuffed into chairs of insufficient size grinning coquettishly. They donned see-through negligees showing me enough skin to make me ill. Tents would’ve been sexier. I smiled broadly remembering I wasn’t there to get pussy –only a place to stay for the night.
“Would you like to buy these fine ladies a drink?” Grubby asked.
“How much?” being sociable.
“Only fifty pesos a drink.”
I declined.
“Do you like the women?” he queried.
I was hesitant so he left returning with two more whose gluttonous masses of cellulite were clearly visible through lacey, frilly things meant for a hippo. Blondie was a princess in comparison to these four. I was trying to figure out who actually paid these women to fuck them when Grubby brought me back to reality.
“Which one do you want?”
“I don’t, uh, know,” then pointing to one. “I guess this one will do.”
The lucky one’s chubby cheeks gave me an expansive smile revealing many missing teeth as she asked for the 400 pesos up front. Four hundred pesos! I was in trouble. Grubby was sympathetic agreeing to rent me a room for 100 pesos. He led me upstairs to a nook with a large bed and plenty of blankets. I paid for the room and gave him my last 60 pesos for a rum and Coke. I sipped my drink alone in the room, and once again, felt that same elation I’d experienced at the small market a few hours before. I felt safe for the time being as I went over the day’s events. I’d been lucky that a working girl hadn’t been present at the bordello that morning for my poverty would’ve been exposed and the show over as soon as she would’ve asked for the money. I smiled when I remembered Silvio’s gift of 400 pesos before leaving San Ysidro for I would’ve had to act sooner without it. I’d only a few hours in which to wallow in my happiness but it’d be enough for I’d finally escaped.
And mused, “Even if I’m recaptured tomorrow, they’ll never be able to take this away from me – the way I feel right now.”

AUGUST 9 – AUGUST 31, 1976

Next morning. I woke up a free man and penniless. I went downstairs to find Grubby drinking coffee where I offered my services as a maid or whatever for a couch and meals. I did windows. He oozed sympathy but…I told him that I was broke with literally the clothes on my back. He saw my wedding ring from my marriage to Roxane.
“You can always pawn your ring.”
Pawn my ring? I’d never thought about pawning anything before, particularly a ring I hadn’t taken off for 8 years. I’d never worn jewelry but I loved that ring. Nevertheless, Grubby and I went out the alleyway and turned a half block onto a large street lined with bars. It was exactly where the cab driver had picked me up the night before. He’d only driven me around the block. Everything looked alarmingly familiar.
“Where’s the bus station?” I asked.
“Just five blocks down Avenida Jimenez,” pointing down the large boulevard.
This was the same street where Costeño and I’d partied. Not good. I kept my eyes peeled as we walked to the pawnshop. I pawned my ring for 400 pesos ($16) promising myself I’d have the 600 pesos needed to retrieve it in 60 days. The ring was lost.
I needed a cheap hotel that wouldn’t ask for papers so Grubby recommended one only two blocks from his bordello. I wanted to leave this part of town but took a look-see anyhow. The hotel owner was 30ish having brownish red hair, freckles and a face never touched by the sun. He wore a leather cowboy hat that he never took off. I liked Cowboy and knew I could trust him after only minutes. He had dormitory beds for 10 pesos – perfect.
“Why don’t you any have luggage?” he wondered.
I told him I was broke, an escapee and that the Bogotá police were looking for me. Most hotel owners would’ve freaked but not Cowboy. I wasn’t to worry for he knew all the cops that frequented the hotel. He’d let me know if he saw danger. I then had a cheap bed and 390 pesos. This would be enough to last several weeks if I stopped eating so that was what I did. Cowboy would watch me make a loaf of bread and a jar of jam last me three days. A meal cost 30 pesos which equated to three nights with a bed. I didn’t want to sleep outside for there were cops all over Bogotá.
Cowboy showed me a short 4-inch article in the Bogotá newspaper, El Tiempo, about the escape several days later. Man, was I glad I wasn’t in Cali. We discussed what name I should use for John was definitely out. We came up with Davíd for it is also the same in Spanish though pronounced differently.
I’d been in Bogotá for five days when Cowboy and I were walking on Avenida Jimenez near the bordello. Bogotá had street vendors with carts selling raw oyster concoctions with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, chilies and squeezed lemons that they served in a glass – and down the hatch. Scrumptious.
“Do you want one?” Cowboy offered.
I gratefully accepted and watched Vendor shaking and stirring his potion when he looked up casually saying, “Your friend has been looking for you, John. He’s come by my stand several times asking for you.”
Then I recognized him asking anxiously, “Did you tell him anything?”
“No,” standing up straight proudly adding, “I didn’t say a thing.”
Costeño and I’d stopped there to do shots of oysters. Vendor had asked me at the time if I were John Johnson. What? He’d been at a friend’s house a few days earlier who’d had a stack of old Veas in the corner. He’d picked up the copy I’d been featured in and had read the article and seen the pictures. I’d been dressed identically.
“Yep, in the flesh,” I’d answered, “and this gentleman here is a guard taking me to Acacías.”
Costeño would move his suit coat to expose his gun whenever he’d stand for very long as he’d been doing then. So Vendor had known when he’d come looking for me that I’d somehow slipped away. He’d seen me several times for I lived only a block away but he’d kept his mouth shut.
“Is the guard still here in Bogotá?” looking all around me.
No, but he’d burdened Vendor with his woes about how he’d lost his man and hadn’t had enough money for a bus back to Popayán. He’d finally come up with the bus fare three days later and had come by one last time to see if Vendor had seen me. The world is too small.
I’d spend my days exploring the city thinking how to make a buck without putting myself on Front Street – but came up with a blank. I wanted to leave this area but I never would’ve found anything else for ten pesos a night. My money was running out after several weeks and my Levi’s needed washing. Cowboy had given me a couple of shirts so they were clean. I didn’t know what to do. I was stymied. Avenida Jimenez intersected Carrera Séptima which went across town for over a hundred numbered blocks to the suburbs. I’d walked these hundred blocks many times hoping that something would happen to change my fortune. I knew I didn’t want to get recaptured which limited my options.
I was walking as usual one morning with one peso and some centavos in my pocket. I’d stopped in front of several bakery shops tantalizing myself deciding how I was going to spend my last peso. I could go no further after two hours. I bought a small bread roll sitting on the curb outside the shop watching the traffic go by and ate most slowly this wonderful piece of bread. That was it. Funny, I hadn’t felt the hunger with a few pesos in my pocket so much as I did then. I hadn’t spent the money on food but I’d always known I could eat if I’d really wanted to. So the hunger hadn’t felt so bad but this was no longer the case. I stood up and felt in my pocket for the centavo coins I had left. I pulled them out and tossed them into the sky as an offering to the gods thinking, “I can’t go anywhere but up from here.” Wrong. I’d no wedding ring to pawn this time and up wasn’t the direction in which I was headed.


Altho’ I know
that I know nothing,
I know
that I know nothing
very well…

I’d been out of money for days so it was time to leave the hotel. Cowboy had commandeered a house whose owner was in Spain and was renting out the rooms there. It was illegal but there was a tiny, unoccupied room that was mine for free. We walked the blocks to the house on 17th Court not far from where it intersected Carrera Séptima. He opened the door and we entered a courtyard. Cowboy introduced me as Davíd to the people living there who survived on what they could glean from the street. The house had two small courtyards with six rooms facing onto them. I entered my cell-like room and spread out an army blanket that Cowboy had given me. I was moved in.
Cowboy bought me a meal around the corner and split. I returned to my room sitting on my blanket with my back to the wall. Ah, one immediate advantage to my new residence was that I didn’t have to vacate for the day and be constantly on the lookout for snoopy cops that hovered around Cowboy’s hotel.
I spent that first day familiarizing myself with the immediate neighborhood in case a quick exit was called for. I also met the family living in the front house. There was Mamá who was an Indian and her two sons ages 15 and 17. The last was Mono who was 18, dishwater blond hair and as skinny as a toothpick. He appeared to have lived on the street all his life though this family had taken him in a year back. This was the closest thing to a real family he’d ever known and he would’ve died for them. He had one real talent – he was a car thief though he’d never driven a car! What he could do though was pick almost any car door or trunk lock within seconds. He’d wander the streets with the two sons looking for people who’d left stuff in their parked cars. They did okay some days but were mostly just surviving.
I took a liking to Mamá and her brood and they to me. They asked me why I was living there with nothing? I’d lied at first but told them the truth within days. They’d noticed I rarely left the courtyard where I’d pace for hours as if in prison. I quipped that I was waiting for my beard to grow for I hadn’t shaved since the escape. It was getting long.
Food had become my major priority. Mamá would invite me over for hot chocolate and arrepas each morning and the occasional evening meal when the boys did well. We only had black coffee many mornings and that would be all I’d consume preferring to stay safe than roaming the street. Bogotá gets cold at night, particularly if you hadn’t eaten, so I slept in my clothes. I’d spread the blanket down on the floor lying down on half of it and pull the other half around me covering my head so my breath could help keep me warm. I’d finally fall asleep while shivering from sheer exhaustion where I’d be bombarded by the most extraordinarily vivid nightmares that I’d ever experienced. They were long and complicated ones where I was always being chased. I’d get up in the morning more exhausted than before going to bed. I could never sleep during the day from the hunger gnawing at me. I’d sometimes fondly remember how I’d loved being hungry on Thanksgiving Day waiting until early afternoon for the turkey to be served. We all like that kind of hunger but living with it is a whole different animal. I lived with hunger and didn’t like it at all. Cowboy would feed me twice a week, and what I found peculiar, was that I’d immediately feel warm after eating – but it only lasted for minutes.
My Levi’s were getting filthier. I was supporting an ecosystem in my Jockey’s. I’d been living there for several weeks and hadn’t bathed since the hotel not having soap or towel. I hadn’t washed my Levi’s since the escape over a month before not having other pants to wear while they dried. My balls itched all the time so I was fingering through my pubic hairs when I encountered a white creature an inch long crawling around as if he owned the place. And I’d thought lice were small buggers but this thing was a monster and was living right next to my favorite appendage. I told Mono about it who abused me for not asking sooner and handed me soap, towel and a bar of laundry soap. I bathed, the water freezing, deloused with soap and washed my clothes. I walked around in a towel for hours waiting for my Levi’s to become damp enough to wear. I washed myself from then on daily and the lice never returned.
“They don’t like water,” Mono would say. He probably knew.
The boys asked me if I wanted to join them so off we went. They worked the poorer barrios where a gringo attracted unwanted attention. I don’t like thieves but it was a pleasure to watch Mono unlock car doors. He didn’t even bend over to look at the lock but would do it just casually standing up. He’d opened up several car trunks looking for spare tires when he encountered a box of crystal glassware. He snatched it and we booked to a very tough neighborhood where they fenced it. We ate well that night but I was never to join them again for I found it to be too dangerous for too little.
Mono had a friend that needed a gringo to do a heist. I was to chat up somebody in an emerald shop while they did their magic. I declined still being too paranoid.
The boys had scored big one morning and came home with a case of beer inviting me over for a brew. I was literally starving, though I’d never once felt faint, so I accepted the beer taking a swig – and crumbled to the ground hitting my eyebrow on their stove. I’d been unconscious for only seconds when they helped me to sit on the bed. The wound above my eye was bent on emptying me of blood but Mamá put a stop to it. She also fed me and I was happily drunk after three beers.
Having fainted meant my paranoia would have to take the back seat for food had become my first priority. I’d do whatever I had to do to eat. I decided to meet with Mono’s friend. Eduardo came to the house dressed in suit and tie. He was 30, pleasant looking and spoke an educated Spanish. He didn’t want to go into the particulars about the robbery because he first wanted to talk to The Gang to arrange a date. He gave me 50 pesos telling me to get a shave. Cool, something was finally happening.
Eduardo returned for me days later. We caught a bus to 2nd Street where was situated a large police station. There could be a hundred uniformed cops going into and out of the station or just milling around at any one time. We’d to walk right in front of it to get to the restaurant, La Restorán, a few blocks away where others of The Gang would be meeting us.
Eduardo tried to calm my apprehensions, “They don’t look for outlaws in front of police stations. This is where they come and go to work.”
11am. Four gentlemen joined us all donning suits and ties carrying attaché cases. This was an introductory meeting so as to get to know each other. They were in their 20s being from middle-class families and were college educated. The meeting had gone well we so were to meet again in a few days. The Gang was off to ‘work’ when Eduardo gave me some pesos for bus fare and bought me a meal that included an entire fish and trimmings. I never became used to people buying me meals but I was always truly grateful. I slowly ate the food eating the fish bones I could chew and prayed. I needed a break. Walking by the police station had brought my paranoia back into perspective. Nobody was looking for me. I’d just finished the biggest meals I’d eaten since the escape but I was still starved. It was completely psychological for I’d just eaten but I didn’t know when I’d eat again. I knew the hunger would strike with vengeance as it always did soon after eating, though this time, it’d be worse for I’d stretched my stomach.
I constantly thought about Pancha but I still hadn’t made any attempts to contact her by phone fearing it might be bugged. I could’ve written to her but hadn’t. I didn’t know what to do about her for she’d said if I ever escaped then that was it. I wanted to say at least good-bye, to tell her how much she meant to me and how much I adored her. I really felt guilty about not having made a more concerted effort to locate her for I still loved her dearly.
11am. I met with The Gang at La Restorán to do the emerald heist. Eduardo pulled a long sleeve, pinstriped shirt out of his briefcase for me to wear. Black didn’t do it. The plan was this: We were to go to the very fashionable and expensive Tequendama Hotel where was located an exclusive boutique that dealt in emeralds. I was to enter the shop asking to see certain items keeping the owner busy while The Gang tried to open one of several display cases lining the walls.
We entered the boutique where I sat down with the owner asking to see some of his better unset emeralds. I kept him busy for ten minutes making up stories and then left upon a prearranged hand signal. They’d found it impossible to open the display cases but would try it again in the future. Eduardo asked the others then me if I’d like to join them in what they referred to as ‘exercise’.
“What do I have to do?” I asked.
“Nothing, Davíd, just watch, you’ll catch on. If I need you to do something I’ll tell me.”
I’d wondered why they all carried attaché cases and was soon to find out. We walked into a large office building where one room had thirty desks lined up in rows. They all had typewriters, adding machines and telephones on top, and being lunchtime, only a third of the desks were occupied. I stood around acting dumb while they opened attaché cases and took out the type of computer listings that fold out forever. They acted like they knew what they were doing but we left after only minutes. I hadn’t a clue what was happening except lunchtime was part of it. We walked fast covering a lot of ground in 45 minutes entering offices, banks and business buildings. I could tell they’d been in these buildings numerous times for they knew all the exits. I started to pick up a pattern. They were after office equipment.
We finally entered an office with eight desks lined up behind a counter that could be accessed through a swing gate. There were only a few people around the desk area so three of The Gang went behind the counter putting their attaché cases on unoccupied desks pulling out paperwork and computer listings. Meanwhile, Eduardo was in front directing the entire operation with slight hand movements. He was making sure they were placed strategically with their computer listings so as to block all holes preventing the remaining employees from seeing what was happening. Eduardo told me to call over a lady sitting at her desk eating lunch.
“What do I do?” I inquired softly.
“Ask her something.”
I didn’t even know what kind of office I was in much less what to ask her. I walked to the counter calling her over and began questioning her in English with enough Spanish mixed in so as not to lose her attention. Everyone’s view was blocked by briefcases and bodies holding papers when one of The Gang grabbed and stashed a typewriter between a large manila folder putting it quickly under the crook of his arm. Another member holding a computer listing came to his side hiding the typewriter from view. They walked through the counter door and we all disappeared. All this for a typewriter!
I’d been with The Gang for a week and Eduardo had known me well enough to allow me to rent a small room built on the top of his parents’ 3-story house. It’d been his room as a kid.
I’d worked with The Gang maybe ten times over the next few weeks before my first bank robbery! We went to the financial district in the center of town where we entered a large bank passing a security guard standing menacingly at the door with his rifle at ready. The bank was opulent with marble walls from which large, gold-framed pictures hung. My job was to keep the security guard busy at the door when they exited with whatever they could grab.
The bank had six teller windows and behind the tellers were twenty desks half filled with employees eating lunch. The Gang entered this area through a waist-high swing gate that declared ‘EMPLOYEES ONLY’. Eduardo stood outside directing while I was milling about. One member put his attaché case standing upright in front of a large adding machine blocking its view from most. I couldn’t imagine how they were ever going to pull it off for there were just too many holes to cover up. Not only were there numerous employees around the desk area but there were at least twenty customers lined up at teller windows. I just stood around blending in but it was taking forever. It was the first time I’d ever seen them determined to steal something instead of going on and looking for something easier. Eduardo used hand signals to inched the four members holding up paperwork into position. They were waiting for just one secretary to turn her head for just a second.
I inched closer to the door thinking of what I was going to say to the security guard, when swoosh, one member snatched the adding machine putting it underneath his arm not even trying to hide it. He went through the swing gate as Eduardo came up to his side obscuring the adding machine from view and walked with him.
I immediately went to the door and up to the security guard asking in my worst Spanish, “Where is 54th Street?”
I could see Eduardo and friend coming so I opened the door tugging gently at the guard’s arm. He followed me outside and I pointed my finger up the block. His gaze followed my finger as Eduardo, friend and adding machine in blatant view went straight passed him out the door. I quickly thanked a bewildered guard and jetted off to meet with The Gang. I couldn’t believe we’d done it and that it’d gone off so smoothly but this was enough adrenaline for a week.
I hadn’t many pesos but I was determined to find another way of making a living. I asked Eduardo if he knew any coke dealers and could he introduce us. He talked to a friend who agreed to meet with me at La Restorán. Hernando and I hit it off from the start. He was 28, boyish good looks that oozed charm and a smile that kept jumping upon his lips. I acquainted him of my circumstances so he’d understand the extra risks involved.
“No hay problema,” Hernando remarked. “Actually, I’ve been in prison also.”
“Acacías,” and then recounted how he’d survived 14 months confirming all the horror stories about gladiator fights, rampant disease, real hunger, excruciatingly hard work, et al.
Hernando had become a successful coke dealer and had just purchased a new home on the outskirts of town. I told him of my escape, a little of what I’ve been through and that I didn’t like thieving but preferred dealing drugs. Some Canadians would be coming into town in three days so he invited me to drop by and help translate. He wasn’t doing this because he needed a translator for he’d already been doing biz with these people for a year. He was just opening the door for me into the real world – the world of drugs and money. He drew me a map with which buses to catch along with his phone number and 500 pesos that I tried to refuse. He insisted so I thanked him with visions of never having to go out with The Gang again.
Noon. I called Hernando who invited me over for the Canadians were in town.erenanadoHShgjjjj His cute little wife holding their one-year-old son opened the door leading me to the living room. There were two Canadian couples and Hernando sitting around a glass coffee table sporting lines of white power. They’d been up all night and were drinking their third bottle of Aguardiente Cristál, a 60 proof anisette, to counterbalance the affects of the coke. Room was made for me around the table as Hernando handed me a rolled up $100 bill. I hadn’t snorted cocaine for 3 years and I could tell this was the kind so I did a big line and whoa…oh, how nice. I evened up my nostrils with another one as Hernando’s wife handed me a half-filled water glass of licorice tasting Cristál. It’d been 3 years since I’d been in surroundings where I felt safe with some friends sharing stories and partying. The Canadians had ordered 500 grams that they were going to butt-pack so we partied until it arrived that night.
“Do you want to help package up the coke with us, Davíd?” Hernando asked.
“But of course, what are friends for?”
I was back in my own element enjoying myself. They scooped out fifty grams to play with while we packed Canadian condoms with ten grams of coke making 1½-inch diameter balls. We finished our task around 2am doing lines and drinking aguardiente. They still had most of the fifty grams left so they decided to smoke it. I was a bit naïve never having heard of people doing this before.
Hernando went to the kitchen returning with a small bottle of ammonia, an eyedropper, a shot glass of water, a handkerchief and phonebook. We were going to smoke base. They hadn’t had enough to smoke the previous night for when you start smoking it you don’t stop. Smoking base is crazy and drives people insane and that was exactly why we were going to do it. Hernando poured a few grams into a shot glass of water dissolving the coke. He added drops of ammonia with the eyedropper until the mixture stopped turning whiter. He waited a few minutes until it solidified. He put the handkerchief over an empty glass as a filter and then poured the contents of the shot glass into it. He squeezed the water from the handkerchief leaving behind the base. He put this between the pages of the phone book and stood upon it drying the base in the handkerchief. He emptied some tobacco out of a filtered cigarette pouring the base into it evenly a little at a time. He lit up taking an enormous toke and passed it on. And began rolling the next one.
I could see from the start this was a very dangerous drug. We’d been laughing having a good time before, not anymore, it was all about the drug and the paranoia. People were looking under the door and peeking out the front window watching out for non-existent cops while somebody was making up the next cigarette. Smoking coke takes paranoia to another realm that’s a frightful place that won’t let you go until it has dragged you into its dismal abyss.
We smoked the fifty grams then opened up a condom smoking ten more. Hernando had wisely hid the other condoms for it was noon and time to stop. They were to leave the next day so Hernando gave them some grams from his own stash. They were to pick up the condoms the next morning otherwise we would’ve smoked it all. Hernando thanked me for translating and handed me a $100 bill for virtually doing nothing except for consuming drugs and having a marvelous time. Hernando was generous with everybody for he’d been without and remembered.
I joined the Canadians in their taxi back into town and their hotel La Casa Grande. It stood on a corner and had been once a grand manor house that had been turned into a hotel. It was very ordinary looking from the outside but the interior was all polished wood. I went inside with them for awhile doing a few more lines then returned to my rooftop bungalow and crashed.
I cashed the $100 bill the next morning and went to see Mamá and the boys with a case of beer. I hadn’t seen them since I’d moved out two weeks earlier so they were all delighted to see me healthy and happy. I’d a few beers giving Mamá some pesos for this family had kept me alive the month I’d stayed there more than anybody did.
I left the beers heading to see Cowboy for it was my turn to buy him lunch. I hadn’t seen him for three weeks and it pleased him immensely seeing me together. He told me he was looking to lease another hotel about a mile away though he was still keeping the one he owned. He was to meet with the owner in a few days to iron out the lease.
“Do you want to come along, Davíd? I’ll need an assistant for I can’t be in two places at the same time.”
I made a date with Cowboy and went to La Casa Grande to say good-bye to the Canadians. They’d butt-packed earlier and were fasting which isn’t a difficult task while doing lines. They told me about some friends who’d be coming down the following week and staying at this hotel. They had Hernando’s number but hadn’t met him before so I should keep an eye out for them. I’d been living off of charity so far and dealing drugs was a way of making money. I’d the credentials but I was also going down a one-way street in the wrong direction.
Hernando and I were of the same ilk and we’d hang out together several times a week. This was genuinely a nice guy with a beautiful wife and baby but he was in a dangerous game. He’d always invite me over to party and to help with packing when gringos were in town. Dealing cocaine was the only way I could make enough money to survive without thieving on the street. Plus you met interesting people. People having more fun than they were supposed to be having but did – making the spare buck doing it. This was very small-time shit but it had the potential to provide me with money for a passport and pesos to flee Colombia.
I met with Cowboy a few days later and we walked the blocks to the hotel he was so anxious to lease. The hotel was La Casa Grande! Terry Pratchett once wrote that things that are a million to one happen 9 out of 10 times. We met with the owner in an empty hotel. The Canadians had been the only guests when they’d been there which was good for smugglers but bad for owner. But Cowboy was enamored with it.
“Bueno, Davíd, would you like to manage the hotel for me?”
“Sure,” not masking my skepticism, “but what happens if the police come in for whatever reason? I don’t have ID.” This was to be a bridge to be crossed when we stumbled upon it.
The Canadians’ friends came into town and I met them at Hernando’s so as to explain to the neophytes the subtleties of shoving something up their asses. This is a much safer method than swallowing balloons of coke that can be fatal within minutes if a balloon breaks. Whereas if a condom leaks then you’ll taste the cocaine in your mouth giving you time to go to the toilet and dump. The routine was the same as before. We filled condoms with blow while we snorted and drank Cristál. We finished the task and it was all about smoking the grams set aside for that. They’d never tried it before but had heard about it from their friends and were anxious to give it a go. Smoking cocaine is weird for you hate it for the way it leaves you paranoid and acting crazy yet you do it and crave more. And more for there’s never enough. Hernando had sensibly stashed the condoms earlier and was even more generous to me than before. I could get the money together to leave Colombia if I’d just keep a cool head. I figured if I could raise $1,000 then I could bus it to the coast and find a way out back home.
Cowboy leased the hotel on credit and enlisted my help. This would’ve been a perfect arrangement for it would’ve provided me with a place to stay and pesos for food while I saved my money. We entered the hotel where he showed me to my desk. Some Canadians were standing in the lobby blatantly taking about buying cocaine. I went over to them explaining I was the manager if they had any problems. And then we’d talked for several hours before I convinced them into seeing my connection promising them cheaper and better coke than theirs. I phoned Hernando telling him to be expecting company that evening.
I’d been on the job three hours and was feeling good about the world when a gentleman walked in dressed in a suit. You didn’t need to see a gun bulge to know he was a cop.
“How may I help you, señor?” asking in my best unaccented Spanish.
“Are you the owner?”
“No, señor, I’m not the owner but if you’ll please wait, I’ll find him for you.”
Cowboy was in a back room making repairs. “There’s a cop to see you, hermano, adiós.” And out the side door I booked.
The hotel was a good place to hang out. It’d become known on the smuggler’s circuit and was providing me with business. Hernando had found me a passport having it altered but the work had been sloppy and could never be used to cross a border. But it’d work on the street and I’d enough pesos to pay off a cop if I had to. I was feeling good about life which is always dangerous for a fugitive.

NOVEMBER 1976 – APRIL 1977

I was making money but was spending it on drugs and having too much fun. It’d become obvious that only in movies do people find good papers so the plan was to simply get to the Atlantic coast and catch a yacht back home. But I’d begun making mistakes living only for the moment for at any time I could be returning to prison. Smoking cocaine base with Hernando and friends had opened up new doors to stretching the outer limits of consciousness and stupidity. The rush had reminded me of shooting up except the paranoia had been even more terrifying.
I left Hernando’s place one morning with a few grams in my pocket after a night of smoking my brains out. I was nearing my rooftop room when I walked by a pharmacy and looked at my arms. All the veins were virgin not having been touched in 3 years. I knew I was making a mistake though I didn’t care at the moment.
“I’ll just do it this one time,” convincing myself, “and that’s it, never again.”
I went up to my room with syringe and baby pacifier. I filled the modified syringe with the first blast. I took off my shirt and used it as a tourniquet around my wrist. I found a vein on my hand and slammed a third of the mixture into it blasting off straight to the heavens. I slowly squeezed in another third, whoa, where was I, and slammed in the rest. This one rocketed me to places I’d never been to before. It’d been so many years that I’d forgotten the rush. I’d spent the morning and afternoon shooting up until it was all gone.
My sole clients were smugglers who came in periodically so there were times that were lean though I’d mostly dollars in my pocket not pesos. I could never afford to smoke base but I’d often have enough for a few grams and I’d be off to my room by myself with my needle instead off snorting it with friends. For who cared about tomorrow? I should have.
I turned 32 years old.
I’d called Silvio’s parents the month before finding out Silvio would be out before Christmas. I called back and there he was so I caught a cab to his house. What a pleasure to see him out and being his expansive self again. We spent hours getting drunk and catching up on all the latest dirt. He and the rest of San Ysidro had heard about my escape that same Sunday afternoon it’d happened cheering my success. Costeño had returned to Popayán and transferred back to his hometown prison pending investigation still as a guard. He’d been fired two months later. Silvio and I were to get together every few weeks for beers for the months to come.
I told people I wanted to get to the coast but was doing everything to the contrary. Money I made, money I spent. It was essential for my success and equated to freedom but it was going up my nose, up my arm and up in smoke. I’d moved into Eduardo’s parents’ house on the condition that I’d stay there until I was back on my feet. It was time to move on so I started looking at expensive apartments for money was rolling in.
Hernando had gone out of town for a few days returning very ill. I went to visit him in bed where he seemed cheerful saying it’d pass in a few days. It didn’t. He did. Just like that. I couldn’t believe it for he was so young and healthy. His wife was making all the funeral arrangements so I was to call back in a few days. I went by to give my condolences a week later for Hernando had been a very loyal friend and a bit crazy like me.
Cowboy hadn’t made any money on La Casa Grande so he reneged on his lease and moved out owing the owner money. The owner closed down for the interim, so not only had I lost my best connection, but also the fountain that had flowed clients.
I was broke and needed a place to stay. I scouted the cheaper parts of Bogotá which were always the most dangerous. I ended up in Las Cruces, the most notorious barrio in Bogotá, but streets didn’t scare me after Villanueva. I found a back room in a house where I found I’d a certain affinity with the poor people living there. I was to stay there for the next five months at 150 pesos ($6) a month.
I’d met Carlos Tapia through Hernando when he’d gifted me my passport. I needed a coke connection so I went over to his home one afternoon. He was Ecuadorian being 40 but looked 55. He was tall, stooped over, emaciated and grew his hair long trying to hide his baldness. He was to become a genuine friend who continually proved it. He’d come to Colombia many years back marrying a Colombian producing a daughter but they’d been recently separated. Carlos then lived with his 17-year-old mistress who had him twisted around her little finger. He worshipped her, she worshipped things. She kept him on a roller coaster ride of euphoria and “I’m going to move out.”
I was back down to nothing and would eat lunch daily at his home. I castigated myself for having a nose more important than freedom and life but still when offered, why not? For surely, tomorrow we die.
Carlos owned a taxi and had been driving one in Bogotá for many years. He had connections for drugs, guns, counterfeit dollars and could fence anything. I was penniless so Carlos suggested I should pass funny money. I was game so Carlos drove me to the fancier parts of Bogotá where I found a fine clothing store that received dollars. I picked out two suits that would be tailored by that afternoon. I picked them up later along with a stack of white shirts, socks and silk ties. I didn’t need shoes for I’d found a shop earlier where I’d bought a pair of black cowboy boots identical to my old ones when they’d given up the ghost. And having soles, they had gone to Heaven where all good ole cowboy boots go.
I never felt good about spending bad money. I was hungry but I wouldn’t have been forced into this if I’d been more prudent. Gads, on the run with moral dilemmas. I was dressed properly so I went out shopping. Most stores didn’t take dollars except those that catered to tourist. I always felt nervous doing this for the counterfeits weren’t quality. And to get caught doing something petty like this would’ve been unforgivable. Carlos had ordered much of the stuff I’d bought and owed me pesos. Mistress was costing him money so he had a cash flow problem.
The Casa Grande reopened by the owner and I’d sometimes see gringos about so I’d talk to them offering my services. Carlos had good blow at a reasonable price so I began dealing coke again.
I was in the suburbs one afternoon attempting to pass some dollars when someone yelled, “John.” I turned around to see Orlando R. R. standing across the street waving me over! He’d purchased ten boxes of textbooks and was waiting for a cab. I joined him to his fence’s pad and then on a bus to his house thirty miles away in a small village.
“This is the only place left I can hide out without being recognized,” he chuckled.
I met his live-in girlfriend and we caught up on some news. He’d seen Pancha just after being released from Villanueva after doing 2½ years. He’d been trying to make enough money to return to Bogotá when he’d bumped into her on the street. They’d lunched together where she’d told him that she and her mother had moved to another house shortly after my escape. And that she hadn’t been working and life hadn’t been easy. Gads, just the things I didn’t want to hear. I felt derelict enough about not having ever written to her. If only just a letter expressing how much her visits had meant to me and of my undying love. We’d never said good-bye properly so I buried the pangs of remorse deep down in my being to be dealt with in the future.
I’d seen Orlando several more times until he moved hundreds of miles away into the countryside near his girlfriend’s parents’ farm. He was going to get into something different for he’d burnt himself out in Bogotá. Maybe farming would be his new gig. I don’t know what happened but Orlando, the consummate gentleman, was also hooked on adrenaline as I was. Farming?

MAY 1977
busted again

Prison doesn’t scare me,
but doing time terrifies me…

I was in a particularly low part in my life for I’d been living in my room in Las Cruces for months and couldn’t even scrape up enough cash to move into something better. One advantage to living there was that there were no cops around – too dangerous. I’d always carry my Buck knife at night, a gift from a Canadian, in my hand opened hidden up my sleeve. I’d sometime return to my room alone with a gram and shoot up. It was obviously a way of subjugating my sexual frustrations. It was pure masturbation.
I was in downtown Bogotá on one of its busiest intersections. There were hundreds of people fighting to board an endless stream of honking buses. The tough guys didn’t even wear jewelry in this part of town. I was maneuvering through the crowd when I heard someone shouting, “John.” I didn’t recognize him but he was obviously not a cop.
“Hey, John, you remember me, don’t you? You know, in Villanueva?”
“Remember, manito, I used to lived on the 1st-floor pasillo right behind your caspete.”
Everybody in that pasillo would work during the day at the box factory drinking coffee at night at my caspete. So I vaguely remembered him as being one of the thousands of faces I’d seen in Cali. He’d escaped along with two others out of the shops only months back having just arrived in Bogotá. He was wearing a long trench coat and was shoplifting to survive. Shoplifter didn’t have a place to live, and like a fool, I invited him to stay with me until he found his own place.
He’d been sleeping at my place for weeks always coming up with excuses why he couldn’t leave. He was shoplifting every day stealing stacks of clothing that he bragged about so he had money.
I’d had this premonition for months that I’d been in Bogotá too long. Disaster had never been far behind every time I’d felt like this in the past. I knew I desperately needed to get the hell out of Dodge but I was constantly broke and unable to move.
I forced myself to get my act together. I bought a color TV and some furniture for Carlos with the counterfeits. He paid me a portion of the 30,000 pesos he owed me promising he’d come up with the rest soon.
I was lying in bed being lazy for Shoplifter hadn’t been home the night before. I heard him knocking so I unbolted the door letting him in. He’d found another place to live so he gathered up his belongings and vanished. Cool.
It was time to hit the street. I’d slept in my Levi’s so I put on a shirt and sat on my mattress in front of the door. I put my socks on then grabbed one cowboy boot pulling it up and on. I grabbed the other and started to slide the boot over my foot when the door suddenly flew open. It hadn’t been bolted. There standing two feet from me was a gentleman pointing a gun straight at my head! And he was going to fire. There was no doubt in his mind or mine as we looked at each other straight in the eye. He was looking for something before he was to pull the trigger, and truthfully, I didn’t care. Let me tell you why.
I’d been at Cowboy’s just after my escape when I’d sworn to myself, “I’ll never be taken alive.”
It might sound trite but it hadn’t been for I’d meant it. It’d been something I’d chanted to myself daily all day long. I’d run if I were to see trouble. Fuck it if I were shot in the back. This had been as much a part of me as urinating for I’d had enough of prison. I felt nothing, not even animosity, as I looked at this man ready to blow my brains out – for I would simply be dead. So I just waited when…
“Stop, stop, stop…” screamed his partner while running up to him.
We both blinked. The moment was over. What had saved my life was this: These conspicuously dressed DAS agents (Colombian secret police) had entered through the front gate walking right by the front house to the back walkway leading to my room. One had remained at the corner of the walkway making sure nobody could see what was to happen. The other had walked the twenty feet to my room slamming open the door that Shoplifter had purposely left unbolted. He’d found me sitting on my mattress right in front of him. He was DAS and had orders. They were simple. Everyone living in the front house had known I’d problems with the police and had become very protective of me over the previous five months. We were friends so they’d followed the DAS agents as they’d entered the walkway. The agent at the corner had been holding them back but they’d squeezed around him to see the other agent pointing a gun into my room. This had been when his partner had yelled, “Stop, stop, stop…” and had come sprinting up to him.
I finished putting on my boot exiting the room. There was only one thing on my mind and that was to flee. I’d been pumping myself up for so long and it was finally time to see if I had balls or not. All the spectators gathered at the front gate to see me off. They watched as one agent tried to handcuff me but I flatly refused – you couldn’t run with cuffs on. I was sure they’d shoot me and be done with it.
“Está bien,” one said, “you walk in front of us. You run, we shoot.”
I wanted to bolt with every step I took but being shot in the back at point-blank range by two cops…Nope, no balls. They marched me downhill to a black and yellow Renault taxi chauffeured by another agent. I was prison bound.
I was first taken to DAS’s new jail facility. The jail’s reception desk was on the 2nd floor with the cells. I went to a bathroom there with six stalls and a 10-ft high ceiling dotted by 3-ft square skylights that had three bars going across them. They’d cut one bar off for some reason. I figured I could easily stand on the stalls breaking the plastic skylight and squeeze through the missing bar onto the roof. It’d be a fair drop to the ground but I was practiced. The hard part would be getting to the bathroom alone.
My cell had a bed, mattress, clean sheets and a pillow with the walls being newly painted yellow. They didn’t have a kitchen so they didn’t feed prisoners but if you had money then they’d buy you food from a local market. Friends and relative were also allowed to bring in anything they so desired. I usually sent out for yogurt.
My second day at DAS was a day of weirdness. I was taken downstairs to the basement which was a large room divided in half by a guardrail. There were two tables with two occupied chairs behind each of them on my half. The four agents seated there were wearing black pointed hoods with white skulls printed on them! They were perfect replicas of the KKK hood. I found the charade amusing not scary. There were rows of over a hundred tiered movie seats behind the guardrail that filled up with agents many donning black robes along with their skull hoods. It was standing room only when the interrogation began. I stood there relaxed as they questioned me for I’d nothing to hide. Escape is a crime you don’t plead innocent to. They did this for one purpose only and that hadn’t been to frighten me. This was their way of introducing me to all their agents who worked the street undercover. This was DAS’s main office and henceforth over a hundred agents could recognize me.
A new neighbor moved in later that day. He was French and spoke Spanish in which we conversed. He’d escaped from a Colombian prison and had escaped several times in the US. He was to be deported to the States when he finished his time in Colombia –just like me. It became obvious while talking that the same puppeteers were pulling both of our strings. Charles Laurent Fiocconi, part of the French Connection, would be the most interesting prisoner I was ever to meet and was a class gentleman of the ilk of Papillon. He had a stunningly beautiful Colombian wife that came daily with tons of food fit for a French palate. He was generous sharing his food with others.
This facility didn’t allow belts, shoelaces or any objects with which one might use to commit suicide – the big no-no was razorblades. Charlie’s wife brought him in soap, shampoo and a twin-edged razor as opposed to a double-edged blade. It was innocent looking to the untrained eye. She left with a letter I’d written to Carlos explaining my circumstances and that I’d let him know what prison I was to be sent to.
We were allowed to shower on a daily basis. Charlie had just showered and was in his cell when he yelled over to me, “Hola, americano, would you like to borrow my razor?”
A razor! This was too good for I’d spent days trying to figure out how to get out of this box when my prayers were finally answered. I explained my plan to Charlie. I was going to cut my wrists making puddles of blood and he was to call for help on cue. I figured they’d take me to the hospital but Charlie maintained they’d never take me there. We’d see. Charlie passed me the razor in some pants that he slung out his cell door window into my waiting hands. I broke the plastic razor with the heel of my boot salvaging the two thin blades. I grabbed one blade and minutely studied it. I didn’t like what I was about to do.
Charlie wanted me to wait and think it over until the afternoon. I wasn’t in a hurry and this was sound advice so I ran the possible scenarios through my head. I was losing my nerve for I didn’t want to injure myself badly. No cut tendons, please. I sat on my bed looking at the blade debating: What if I were to hurt myself? Was this a wise thing to do? Would they take me to a hospital? Might I die from loss of blood? And, was I a chicken-shit, lily-livered eunuch? Here I was in prison again without even having been wounded. Did I have any other immediate choices?
I told Charlie I’d made up my mind. He wished me luck and stood at his door waiting for my signal. I sat on my bed holding the blade in my right hand and took a few deep breaths to steady my nerves. It makes me laugh now but I found it infuriating then. I gripped the blade tightly approaching my left wrist but it moved away. I forced it onto my leg putting the blade to it. I sliced across it but my wrist moved away again so the cut wasn’t very deep. My wrist had a mind of its own.
I put my wrist back on my leg and the blade a bit higher than the first wound. I slashed across my wrist and it betrayed me once more so the open 2-inch wound wasn’t deep enough to hit a vein. I made a new wound a quarter-inch higher but still not deep enough. Fuck, this was getting stupid. I set my wrist firmly on the bed between my legs. I was going to do it this time. I pressed the blade down firmly and made a fourth incision. This one was much deeper exposing a vein but I hadn’t cut it. It was blue and pulsating and all it needed was a nick of the blade – and nicked it I did. It amazed me how the blood jumped out of the vein two feet into the air and spurted with every pump of my heart. But only 18 inches the second time, 12 inches the third and was clotted by the tenth time. I wiped away the clot watching my blood spurt out two feet in front of me again but soon clotted. I wiped away the clot again and ten seconds later it clotted. This wasn’t a big vein to begin with so I wasn’t losing much blood.
Charlie called over after fifteen minutes to see if I were still alive. I related my problem of not losing blood fast enough and that I had only a few small pathetic looking puddles of blood on the floor. I was milking the vein as fast as I could but it was giving up less and less blood. Cutting myself again was out of the question. It was becoming tedious so I scooped up blood from the floor and splashed it across all the newly painted walls. Hey, it was looking better already. It didn’t take much blood to splatter the three walls so I bled some more on the floor spreading the puddles out thin so they appeared larger. It’d look ghastly if you were to walk in on this scene but I had only lost a half-pint of blood. I asked Fiocconi to yell for help.
An agent came running and looked into my cell yelling for reinforcements. It took them only seconds to open my door where they found me sitting on the bed scratching at my wrist insanely babbling bullshit. I collapsed to the bloody floor as they came for me. Four of them grabbed me, one on each arm and leg, carrying me down a flight of stairs to a small infirmary lying me on a bed. A doctor appeared within minutes who took one look at me, supposedly unconscious on the table, and declared I hadn’t lost much blood – just like that. He examined my wrist deciding to stitch up only the wound where I’d cut the vein. Oops, not good so I moaned as if I were coming to. I talked the doctor out of the stitches promising to keep the wounds taped tightly.
I was returned to the unoccupied women’s facility there. It was a birdcage affair with five barred cages you could easily look through. I bathed the blood from myself and stretched out on my bed contemplating, “How did I ever get back in here anyway?” The most obvious reason was that I’d permitted an ex-con to move in with me who’d probably been busted shoplifting and had ratted on me to save his own skin. The less obvious reason was the one I didn’t want to admit to – cocaine. And let’s not forget the needle that had become my hex, my obsession and my downfall. I’d to stop beating myself up for not having killed myself by running from the DAS agents. It was making me do senseless mistakes like cutting my wrist four times. Why hadn’t I just continued making the first incision deeper?
The DAS agents were genuinely sympathetic. Agents and secretaries from the offices downstairs would come up to tell me that life wasn’t all that bad, that one day I’d be free and everything would be okay. They even fed me for there was a kitchen after all – for DAS staff only. A secretary even brought me in homemade cookies the next day. All this outpouring of goodwill made me feel guilty for all I’d wanted had been to escape.
Day 6. The cage I was kept in didn’t have a toilet. I’d call an agent if I needed to piss who’d escort me the scant yards to the bathroom with the skylights and missing bar. They never followed me in so I’d sit on the throne and visualized breaking a plastic-domed skylight. It’d make noise so it was imperative to get onto the roof fast and sprint to the edge dropping to the parking lot below. It’d be impossible during the day.
They unlocked my cage door three times a day to feed me and locked it back up when they retrieved the empty tray. Most of them knew me by then and were lax. An agent retrieved my tray that night and closed my cell door forgetting to lock it. This was too unreal. I lay on my bed staring at the door planning on what I was going to do. Several things made escaping through a skylight plausible for I was only scant yards from the bathroom and the reception area was manned solo late at night. The stand-up counter at the reception desk was four feet tall and would obscure me from view from the agent manning the desk. All I had to do was keep low as I rounded the wall separating the caged area from the bathroom.
Midnight. The traffic nearly stopped in the reception area with only the occasional straggler wandering in. Only one bright light bulb illuminated the cage area and would be shinning at my back showing my shadow on the wall that separated me from the bathroom. This was dangerous because someone seated on the couch in the reception area could see this wall. I’d heard nothing for several hours with the exception of the agent behind the stand-up counter occasionally typing something. I was convinced he was the only one there as I slowly opened my cage door.
I’d crept passed several cages when I heard whispered, “El gringo is outside his cell,” by an agent resting on the couch to the one manning the desk.
He’d been lying on the couch resting when he’d seen my shadow on the wall. Damn. I slowly backtracked closing the cage door and went to my bed pretending sleep. The agent tiptoed to my cell, probably with gun drawn, tested the door and locked it.

JUNE 1977
La Modelo Prison, Bogotá

Fiocconi and I were transferred to La Carcel de la Modelo in Bogotá several days later. This was the largest prison in Colombia housing over 4,000 prisoners all waiting trial or doing short time. Fiocconi and I were assigned different Patios. The pasillos had thirty 4½- x 6-ft cells with metal bunk beds cemented into the walls. I was the fourth with three other Americans and crowded we were.
A convict pulled a knife on me in the pasillo one night for some insignificant reason and started slashing at me violently. Unarmed, I backed away dodging his knife for you never run or you’ll get it in the back. It’d happened so fast and unexpectedly that I wasn’t scared. He kept coming at me trying to stab me and backed me up ten cells before deciding whatever had been bothering him before wasn’t any longer. Another nutter.
Late afternoon. I was in my pasillo looking down upon the Patio I’d just spent the day in. I watched the caspete owners leave the Patio after closing up shop in time to be counted in their cells. The Patio immediately filled up with thousands of rats that came from everywhere including all the drain holes. They were all dark brown, extremely large, playful and fat. I stood there gazing at them running around frolicking and dashing at each other in mock attacks leaping five feet into the air. They were wonderful to watch.
Midnight. I’d been there a month when I was ordered to gather up my shit for I was being shipped out.
“Why?” I asked sleepily.
“Security reasons, gringo.”
“Where to?”
“Can’t say.”
I was taken to a van where Fiocconi and three coke dealers joined me. The US Embassy had discovered that Fiocconi and I’d been housed at La Model and thought their security hadn’t been tight enough for us. So they’d demanded we were to be moved – an eventual mistake on their part.
The three coke dealers were also being transferred for security reasons. One coke dealer’s birthday had been the day before so a guard had brought him in fifths of Johnnie Walker, a massive birthday cake and ounces of blow. They’d been busted getting rowdy. The warden had flipped when he’d heard about the cake for if a cake that large could be smuggled in, then what couldn’t be?

JULY 1977 – MARCH 1978
La Picota Penitentiary, Bogotá

Get out of my life, Penis,
I don’t need you anymore,
For all you are,
is a pain in the ass…

2am. We arrived at La Picota, were signed in and taken to the punishment block. This was standard procedure at La Picota for one was housed there until they examined your record deciding on which Patio you’d be assigned to. The five of us were put into one cell. Everybody had to be inside their cell at night and these guys had luggage for days whereas I was wearing mine. We sat up against the walls with our arms slung around our knees with all their belongings in the center of the cell. It was too crowded to sleep, but it didn’t matter, for we told tall tales all night long sleeping out on the pasillo the next day.
The trustee was named Pescado, meaning dead fish, who had his own story worth relating. He was 35 having spent most of his life in the joint. He was personable and polite getting along with everybody though he’d killed seven convicts during his many stays in prison. He’d been in his normal pasillo several months back when another convict had attacked him. He’d been stabbed seriously several times so he’d sprinted to the end of the pasillo where the guy had buried the knife in his back leaving it there – then walked off. Pescado had reached behind his back pulling the knife out and had attacked the other guy from behind eventually stabbing him to death. He’d lost so much blood by the time the guards had arrived that he hadn’t been able move. They’d rushed him to hospital where guards had given blood saving his life. The guards had understood a brave had given blood saving his life. The guards had understood a brave had given blood saving his life. Thsillo while he recuperated

act. They’d made him watchimán for this pasillo while he recuperated instead of being in a Patio all day. It suited him fine. What made this vignette so very different than the thousands of other tales heard and told, had been the calmness and low gentle voice in which he’d recounted his story. He’d been lucky to survive and was thankful.
Charlie and the three coke dealers were sent to Patio 1 after paying taxes. I was broke and was assigned to Patio 2. I was to meet Manuel for the first time, who I’d mentioned before, when he escorted me there. I asked him if he could find me some weed and he said he’d try. He came up with something that night and we got wasted. He was quick to laugh and we spent the evening chuckling about life. We were to come up with something to smoke, by hook or crook, most nights after that.
The first person I met in the Patio was Ignacio, El Español. He came up to me introducing himself. He was medium height, husky and had reddish blond hair. His scarlet red beard was meticulously trimmed giving him the look of a pirate. He was Spanish/Basque, charming and a lady’s man. He bragged about helping with the ‘fund raising’ for the ETA separatist movement by robbing banks and kidnappings. He was presently in prison for ripping off big-time coke dealers with guns and automatic weapons.
I’d sent word to Carlos Tapia as to my whereabouts so he visited me there. And did so for a year bringing me 2,000 pesos a month of the money he’d owed me. This was enough in which to eat and some smoke.
I hadn’t been in La Picota very long when I was called out to see the US consul. I was dubious but the other Americans in Patio 2 were going. We were escorted to the meeting room by Manuel who scurried off to find the remaining 24 gringos. A few of these were Canadians the embassy was helping out with money matters.
The embassy had brought in tons of books and magazines over the previous few years though their main task was receiving and delivering mail. Everyone received checks each month by family and friends that the consul would cash changing dollars into pesos. I’d no need of their services but they were going the extra mile for all those who requested their help.
I heard a convict one evening nicknamed Chicorrio, meaning short him being 5’ tall, boasting how he was going to stab this big 6’2” black dude who’d raped him days before in the punishment block. Chicorrio had obtained a knife and had been pumping himself up ever since by bragging about butchering Black-Dude the next day.
It was early morning and we’d just been herded into the Patio. A group of us was standing twenty feet away from Black-Dude when he turned around and walked away from the caspete. He wasn’t expecting anything so Chicorrio came right up to him. He made one swift movement bringing his arm up high and stabbing downward getting Black-Dude right in the heart – he hadn’t seen it coming. Black-Dude slumped immediately to his knees falling forward with the knife still in his chest and was dead within seconds. It was surreal for every other time I’d seen anybody killed or wounded it’d been a gory affair. Chicorrio turned himself in and was taken to the hole. The investigation the next day determined he’d been raped so he was sent to Patio 1 which usually costs 500 pesos – not killing someone.
Manuel called out my name informing me that my judge was there and delivered me to a small office.
“Please, sit down, Kendall, this won’t take long.”
The judge explained the laws pertaining to escape. He’d had enough evidence to convict me in absentia and had done so weeks before. He was there to notify me that I’d been sentenced to 2 years and that I was to finish the 2½ months remaining on the cocaine charge. Dismissed.
I turned 33 years old.
I’d been in Patio 2 for several months when another killing of note happened. There was always a lot of activity in the pasillos between 5am and 6am before we were forced into the Patio. Many convicts made coffee and hot chocolate on small kerosene stoves in the early morning to wake up by. One of those who made hot chocolate every morning was a sleaze ball who’d thought himself bad – beware of routines. He was part of El Ganso’s gang, but totally unlike them, for they were businessmen who controlled Colombia’s emerald trade by whatever methods they deemed necessary.
Sleazeball was at the far end of the pasillo squatting down at the shower washing out his chocolatera – an hourglass-shaped metal jug specially designed for making hot chocolate. I was standing outside my cell talking with others when a convict walked by wearing a ruana (roo-áh-nah). This is a 5-ft square blanket with a slit in the middle for the head to slip through not unlike the Mexican poncho. They were prohibited in the Patio for exactly the reason this guy was wearing his. The blanket drapes over you obscuring your hands, and in this case, a 16-inch butcher’s knife also!
We didn’t think anything of it for men wore them in the pasillos when it was cold. I hadn’t seen this part as Ruana had walked up behind squatting Sleazeball and had run the sword right through him coming out his chest. He’d only done it one time before stashing the knife back under his ruana. He walked right passed us again leaving the commotion behind. I could see men there quickly parting as Sleazeball walked passed them holding his chest. He looked at his hands that were filled with blood that he slung to the floor splattering all of us in red.
He was close behind Ruana pointing and screaming as he pursued him, “Él me mató. Él me mató.” He was using the past tense, “He killed me. He killed me.”
He’d been stabbed once in the back but was losing massive amounts of blood from the front. He’d walked down the pasillo and a fight of stairs before running out of blood. Everyone in the pasillo was changing his clothes and dumping the bloodied ones in the shower area. Blood was splattered over everything and everyone. I’d never seen someone run through with a knife before and it was awesome – Sleazeball had been dead within thirty seconds.
Ruana was busted shortly thereafter and a thorough investigation was to ensue because the victim had been part of El Ganso’s gang. They searched Ruana’s cell finding a stack of letters written over a period of months from a guy offering him 15,000 pesos ($600) to kill Sleazeball. Sleazeball had been known as the most ruthless killer in El Ganso’s gang slaying whole families – including the dog, cat and canary. This being what had happened to this guy’s family. These letters discussed payments, where to procure the proper weapon and how to get it into the prison. Ruana had known he was going to be busted, so why save the letters? What he’d done was to get other people busted. He’d be the only convict I was ever to hear of who was tried in court for killing another convict.
I was in the meeting room with the other gringos talking with the US consul. Several gringos had heaps of books in their cells from Patio 1. I was interested in some so I joined them after the meeting going to their Patio where I entered for 10 pesos. They lived on the 3rd floor with their cells facing the outside wall (Diagram 1, page 0). Fuck, the wall was only 30 feet away with a nearby unmanned tower! You could see over the wall into a large open field from the 2nd and 3rd floors. I gaped at the wall knowing it could be conquered for it was so close and easily accessible from the roof. I had to get to this Patio at whatever cost. The gringos there had money and plenty of grass so we smoked a humongous doobie. I grabbed a box of books and returned to Patio 2 with a mission.
The gringo population had halved by March so the consul came but once a month. I’d overcome my paranoia and was sending and receiving letters from Mom letting her know I was okay.
I was serving time for escape so it’d taken nine precious months to grease the right palms before I finally succeeded getting into Patio 1. I’d miss Ignacio’s outrageous tales and Manuel’s nightly joint but it was time to move on.

Patio 1
(I’ve almost caught up with myself)

All the cellblocks I’d occupied before had had a barred door at the end of the pasillo blocking one’s exit. Not so here in Patio 1 where one could freely roam the 2nd and 3rd floors. And the 2nd-floor door leading to the outside steps was never locked at night. The Patio was always wide open.
I was assigned cell 4 on the 3rd floor which had been used for cooking for years. The rest of the prison was grossly overcrowded while Patio 1 had empty cells being used as kitchens. The cell was a mess for it’d been blackened by years of kerosene stoves used without ventilation. A gringo had shown me a collage donning his walls with naked women from Penthouse and Playboy magazines. They’d been glued on very effectively with a simple paste of cornstarch and water. I rustled up stacks of magazines and covered all my walls with pictures – no nudes for I found them too distracting. Almost, for I’d pasted the National Geographic photos depicting native breasts next to where I slept. I did all four walls and it looked cool. It was wholly against prison regulations because anything could be hidden behind the pictures – as there soon would be. No other Patio would’ve permitted this. Lastly, I found a board strapping it across the window on my solid metal door. It was also against regulations but afforded me total privacy.
I finally met Umberto, aka El Ganso. He was a perfect caricature of a short, podgy, mustachioed Mexican which was not a common look in Colombia. He had a potbelly and short legs and looked like a goose when he walked, hence his nickname El Ganso. He’d a nicely constructed caspete built right in the middle of the Patio with a big kitchen and six tables inside. Those that didn’t cook their own meals ate there. He gave gringos all the credit they wanted for they always paid their bills.
I talked to Fiocconi about the outside wall and tower and if he’d any ideas. He agreed the wall had possibilities and that it could be approached from the roof but little more was said for some time to come.
Inside Patio 1 wall was low to begin with and was only eight feet high where the six steps leading up to Patio door were located (Diagram 1, page 0). A metal, electrical conduit pipe with light bulb attached was high on the wall above these stairs sticking out several inches. I could simply throw a hook around the conduit pipe and climb the rope the few feet to the top of the wall. Then tightrope walk the 15 feet to the cellblock where the roof was easily accessible. There were 3-inch diameter, metal-pipe roof vents coming through the Spanish tiles. I could tie a rope to one and slide down to the grassy no-man’s land next to the wall. Then throw a hook over the outside wall catching it on the lip of the 3-ft catwalk used to patrol the perimeter. An easy climb up the rope and leap to freedom. It was a feasible plan but first I needed a hook.
I turned 34 years old.
Armando was a close relative of El Ganso who rarely spoke preferring to listen, read and lift weights. He was the only one accused with El Ganso’s gang that wasn’t a member and innocent of wrongdoing. He was there for being a relative. I was very fortunate one day while lifting weights with him when he began talking. He told me a story about a day in the life of El Ganso – truly a horror story.
It’d been the 1950s with Colombia in the midst of a civil war that would kill 100,000s of people many by ghastly mutilations. The Goose had been age 10 on that fateful day out in the countryside where he’d lived. His entire family and relatives numbered around 25 and had been having a family reunion. A rival family had attacked them during the afternoon activities murdering all the men and children. And then had proceeded to raped El Ganso’s mother, sisters and others repeatedly before they’d killed them. El Ganso had been the only survivor having been forced to watch the entire spectacle so he could tell others what had happened. I’d never heard this story before, nor was it common knowledge, but I then saw The Goose in an entirely different light.
I trusted Armando’s discretion and told him my plan and need of a hook. He’d been in La Picota for 9 years and knew a welder in our Patio that ran the metal and car repair shops. He later introduced me to the man who was 5’10” and built like a barrel with muscled arms. Barrel was usually covered in grim and a grin. He’d served 4 years for murder and would be getting out within the year. The man was a master welder not a criminal though he got along with everyone. He was the only convict besides Arsenio that could walk in and out of Patio 1 when he wanted. He did the warden’s bidding and had welded many things inside the prison. Plus he’d repaired cars for many of the guards and was trusted and never searched. Barrel was more than happy to oblige so I drew him the simple design of a ‘J’ on paper with dimensions. The next day he delivered.
“How much, Barrel?”
“No, nada. I just wish you guys luck.”
I found the 3-inch gap in the hook wasn’t big enough to grip the catwalk’s lip so he made me another one with a 6-inch gap. I had to find a safe place to hide two hooks made of ¾-inch square rod, one foot long and 8 inches across. The cell walls were made of two layers of brick covered with a thick, soft, 1-inch plaster so I traced the outline of the hooks on the collage in a corner of my cell. I scraped away the images into the plaster with a nail. It took only minutes to set the hooks into the wall gluing them over with magazine pictures making them invisible. I then procured 100 feet of nylon cord that strung back and forth near the ceiling and draped clothes over it. I was ready to go.
I asked Fiocconi if he wanted to join me for making the climbs would be easier with two men. I’d studied outside wall for hours every night after lights out noting how often the tower next to Patio 1 was manned. This was the only one of five towers that wasn’t always manned. I also studied the night patrol that walked the catwalk around the entire perimeter of the prison every night. Fiocconi didn’t like the randomness of the tower being manned and thought the plan was too risky.
I was becoming impatient. Carlos had paid me back the money he owed me months back and I was broke eating prison gruel. I’d been studying outside wall repeatedly visualizing myself going over it. Murphy’s Law loves this kind of thing. I couldn’t think of anyone I wanted to join me so I mustered up the nerve to do it alone. The tower was manned one night in ten so it was time to act. The laundry area was behind El Ganso’s caspete where two waist-high, concrete scrub decks drained into a trough that was 18 inches wide, 3 feet high and 8 feet long. It’d be a perfect place to hide out while I waited for the right moment to scale inside Patio wall.
10pm. I dressed in layers of black clothing for I’d be sitting outside for at least four hours where it’d be close to freezing. I went stealthily down to the Patio going straight to the laundry trough with hooks and rope in hand. It was dark there and I could just barely squeeze in sitting down at the far end – right on a pile of fresh dog shit! Oh man, did it reek. Arsenio’s fucking dog had wanted privacy and had shit right where I sat. I didn’t know dog shit could smell that bad particularly when confined in a small area. If this were the price for freedom so be it.
The commander and assistant were always on duty daytime between 6am and 9pm counts except when they ate in intervals. Only one at a time was on duty at night between 9pm and 6am. They’d trade off every few hours so one could sleep in the guards’ quarters. The guard on duty was stationed inside the 1st-floor pasillo where he sat and catnapped instead of his daytime post outside Patio door.
It was passed midnight and the commander and assistant had just switched duties. Things had been quiet for an hour so time to leave the dog shit behind. I exited the trough and crept alongside the caspete and stepped into the Patio when the night patrol suddenly appeared. I dashed back to the trough and the dog shit and waited. The commander came out to meet them and they stood around bullshitting for hours. Other bored guards had come and gone until 4am. I couldn’t believe the movement for I’d studied late night activities. This was unusual. I waited until the showers were running then went back to my cell to wash up. I was discouraged as I stashed the hooks again but nothing lost.
Armando suggested talking to Christián who was looking for a quick way out. I’d seen him in the Patio but he stayed mostly to himself. He was 28, dark with wavy, black hair and very quiet. He’d served 2 of 6 years for armed robbery but Christián was in love and wanted out by whatever means. He utterly adored his extremely attractive wife who visited him every Sunday. I explained the problem with the random late night Patio activity. The dog shit made him smile.
We decided on another tack. Christián lived on the 2nd floor, cell #48 next to the toilet/shower area facing outside wall. The 4-ft square windows lining the pasillo were made of T-shaped bars that were 1½” wide and 1/4” thick with T’s stem being 3/4” long. They were welded crisscross making 6-inch squares that once sported panes of glass. Barrel delivered three new hacksaw blades that became part of the collage. The 2nd-floor pasillo windows were nearly level with the catwalk on outside wall. We’d have to make four cuts on the window to have a hole big enough to throw the hook to the catwalk’s lip. We could then tie the rope to a bar, exit through the window and go hand over hand on a level rope to the wall. This would avoid Patio and roof.
We decided on the window nearest the toilet in front of his cell. The four cuts were to be made in the bottom corner. I broke one hacksaw blade into 4-inch sections. We met the first night at 1am and began sawing away in little spurts trying not to make noise. One sawed while the other stood point in case a bored guard should wander up. The task was arduous working with a short piece of hacksaw blade on hardened steel while not making noise. We’d sometimes have to stop because of convicts using the toilets or the commander making his rounds. Christián’s wife had brought in Silly Putty we used to cover up our progress and it worked great. We’d been at this for several weeks meeting at 1am but our progress was painfully slow. Nights would pass without work being done because of too many weak bladders.
Christián’s wife did something truly ballsy. She’d told him on Sunday she’d sneak up to outside wall at 11pm to see what the window looked like from outside. Sure enough, she came creeping across the empty field to within ten yards of the wall. She stayed around for twenty minutes while we sawed – then waved good-bye.
We’d been at the first bar for a month and weren’t even halfway through it so onto Plan B. The only other way to avoid the Patio was to get to the roof from the inside – namely through my 3rd-floor cell ceiling. I covered it first with a collage then talked to Barrel who brought me a 6-inch chisel. I’d found a piece of wood to use as a hammer so we were ready to pound a hole in my ceiling big enough to crawl through.
Noon. Christián locked me in my cell from the outside so it appeared I wasn’t there. He played his radio full blast outside my cell standing point. He was to turn his radio off if anybody should come then I’d stop pounding. I stood on my bed putting the chisel to the ceiling and beat it with a board. But I was doing more damage to the wood than I was to my ceiling so I signaled Christián to open my door.
I talked to Barrel about a hammer. This wasn’t easy for certain tools had to be checked in every night so he brought me in a 6-inch square piece of steel. I stood on the bed pounding at the chisel with the piece of steel. It was better than the wood but the work went slow without the leverage swing of a hammer. Christián and I switched off after twenty minutes but the chisel was getting extremely dole. I locked him in standing point with the radio. Fifteen minutes had passed when I heard him pounding away like a man possessed. I unlocked my door to see what was up. The chisel had been completely flattened and hadn’t been chipping the concrete at all. And we were making way too much noise for it rang and vibrated throughout the cellblock every time we’d struck the chisel with the metal.
Barrel had sharpened the chisel again and had welded together a mini-hammer so we went at it the next day. I pounded away at the chisel deepening the minor scratches from the day before. My fingers had taken a worse beating than the chisel until I got the knack. I’d only struck it every fifteen seconds aiming the hammer well trying to be quiet. The hammer had worked great but the chisel had lasted only ten minutes before it was flattened. The concrete was unbelievably hard giving up only dust at best. Barrel would sharpen the chisel 2 or 3 times a day at his shop then smuggled it back into the Patio.
We’d been at it for weeks when a prisoner I barely knew came up to me one morning. “So John, when are you leaving?” laughing at his own joke. This was serious but didn’t stop us.
We finally put a hole in the 3-inch thick ceiling. We’d run into a ¾-inch rebar (a steel rod used to reinforce concrete) that slowed down our progress. Every time we’d beat the chisel to a nub we’d look at each other wondering if this concrete were possessed by evil powers that prevented its destruction. The hole slowly grew and was three inches in diameter when we ran into more rebar. They were every three inches! Fuck, if we could ever make a hole big enough to crawl through before the end of the century, we’d then have to make cuts through eight lengths of rebar. We remembered the pasillo window so this wasn’t going to work either.
11pm. Christián hadn’t stayed discouraged for long. If inside Patio wall had to be scaled so be it. We went down into the Patio dressed in black going straight to the trough. I’d brought matches to check for dog shit finding nothing. Christián was bigger than I and had a serious problem squeezing in but managed. But guards had entered the Patio sporadically all night long so we aborted. We’d try another time.
Fiocconi came up to me days later. “John, do you still have those hooks?”
“Do you want some company?”
“Company? I don’t know, Charlie, who are you thinking about?”
“I can’t say right now, but they have enough money to buy off the towers. Plus the commander and assistant, of course.”
“I’m not sure,” for I liked the idea of only two men – less fuss.
Coercing, “They want to do it this month. And it’d make the escape a lot easier and safer.”
“I’ll talk it over with Christián and let you know later.”
Christián liked their idea. We should wait if this would make the escape more probable. I told Fiocconi that Christián and I would wait one month before our next attempt. Fiocconi was tight-lipped about who else was going over the wall but it was obvious who they were. Colombia had recently broken up several very sophisticated kidnapping rings. These men had millions of dollars and dressed it. They were mostly from one gang having slowly bought their way into Patio 1. They’d been convicted and were doing impossibly long sentences.
It’d been a month when Fiocconi said everything was set up for that week. He wanted to stash the hooks and rope until the night of the escape so I gave them to him. Everything was hush, hush and I wouldn’t be informed until the night we were going. Discouragingly, Fiocconi returned the hooks and rope after ten days saying things were still happening but would take more time. Christián wanted to wait so I concealed the hooks again.

EARLY 1979
(the present from now on)

Arsenio’s weed solved one immediate problem and that being pesos. It also gives me something to do to distract my mind from the escape that is being postponed forever.
Manuel comes to my cell paying me pesos and wanting more grass. He was in deep shit yesterday for the captain was looking for him the entire time we were locked up in my cell while we packaged up the grass and I operated on Frankenstein. He gave a lame excuse but the captain wasn’t impressed. We smoke a quick number then he jets off to satisfy the masses.
I know everyone in Patio 1 but I only hang out with Gonzalo Careño and Santiago Iglesias. Santiago was busted for coke and was finishing up his sentence. He’s Spanish, in his late 20s, tall, thin, well traveled and has a fabulous sense of humor. The three of us get together often and get as stoned as we possible can.
Gonzalo is the most famous prisoner here after El Ganso. He’s charmed the press and the public by pulling off an outrageous kidnapping – and actually has groupies. He has a wife in her late 30s, and though dresses well, she still looks her age that she tries desperately to cover up with makeup and expensive perfumes. She’s from a very wealthy influential family and is wealthy in her own right. She’s been visiting him for 7 years while he waits for his trial. She pays his food and drug bills and brings him lots of goodies like greasy German sausages, proper English crackers and smelly French cheese. Santiago and I always meet at his cell after Sunday’s visit to see what’s on the menu. Gonzalo has money, his wife’s actually, and knows how to live in prison. He’s living better than the rest though he never flaunts it. His wife also pays for the lawyers and bribes to the judge, and without her, he’d never be set free. But he wasn’t in love.
Gonzalo is one of a kind. He maintains a perfect tan always sunbathing in the Patio in bikini swimwear in the late mornings or early afternoons when the sun shines onto the Patio. He’s college educated and well traveled having been all over Europe and the Caribbean. All women are attracted to him for he’s a dead ringer for Julio Iglesias and has the most incredibly piercing green eyes. You could drop him off anywhere on the planet and he’d fit in – be it in palaces with kings or in back alleys with thieves and paupers. You have to like the guy for he has personality plus and is completely genuine loving life to the fullest – even in prison. He’s served 7 years without a trial but you could never tell. His extraordinary good looks always don a smile and women love him. His judge is a woman. Perfect tan.
Manuel picks up weed every day selling it in other Patios so things are going smoothly. Though he complains lately that someone else in Patio 2 is selling literally fistfuls out of a bag with no packaging for almost nothing. It’s Arsenio’s stuff and everybody in Patio 2 is smoking it heavy. Manuel comes by saying it’s the captain’s gardener who’s giving the grass away. He tends to a small garden next to the captain’s office (Diagram 5, page 188). The garden is walled in with a locked barred door to which he has the only key. We can’t figure out how Gardener is selling Arsenio’s weed so cheaply.
Wednesday. I see Arsenio in the morning settling up accounts explaining that it’s going slowly for others are also selling his stuff.
“Tranquilo, hermano,” he recommends nonchalantly.
6pm count. I’m counted in front of my cell and enter it waiting for the count to clear. It didn’t clear so all convicts working in the shops, kitchen and wherever have reported back to their cells for the recount. They call role and we’re instructed to remain in our cells until they say otherwise. The siren’s now blaring so someone is missing. Fuck, they might beef up security if someone escapes and start manning the usually unoccupied tower. I stash my goodies for the probable search.
No guards are in the pasillo so I dash to the toilet to piss where I encounter many convicts yelling down to the 1st floor. Arsenio is missing! This doesn’t sound right for I asked El Ganso before if he wanted to escape and he said absolutely not. The rest of the gang would follow suit. Twenty guards are now searching the 1st floor while all others are searching the prison compound in the thousand places a person can hide.
9pm. Our instructions are to remain in our cells with lights out and no talking. I sneak down to Christián’s cell on the sly and we whisper. He doesn’t like it either for we should’ve gone when we had the chance.
I return to my cell and touch up those areas around the hooks and the hole in my ceiling that I’ve patched up fifty times before. The real problem with cornstarch and water as glue is that it shrinks. My collage has grown thicker with time as I added new pictures to it. The thicker parts of the collage around the corners and where it skirts the floor are pulling away from the wall. Only once was I told to remove it so I paid taxes. It’s done so well that guards rarely say anything about it during searches. Much of it is in minute detail from the nights when I was stoned with nothing to do.
Every guard is now on duty without exception. They’re searching every crevice of the prison finding containers of freshly brewed jailhouse wine, weapons of all sorts, drugs and tons of miscellaneous shit you ain’t supposed to have as a convict. But no Arsenio.
Thursday. The warden’s in trouble and is enraged so nobody’s in a good mood. They finished searching the prison grounds during the night and are convinced Arsenio’s not hiding there. They’re now searching the lower cellblocks with ours being the last. The guards are tired and furious when they reach Patio 1 for we’re their headache. They’re taking everything out of our cells throwing it out onto the pasillo. I’ve everything I own lying on my bed waiting to be tossed out. They’re venting. I was going to throw it out myself but that would’ve piss them off even more. A contingency of fifteen guards is in my pasillo with a senior officer making sure all the cells are vacated of objects. Luck is with me for the senior officer used to be a commander and I’ve paid him off before.
The guard searching my cell is throwing everything out of it. He finishes by tossing my marijuana-filled mattress at my feet along with the twenty wooden slats that supported it. The metal frame bed comes charging at me clanging to the ground. The small shelf next to my bed comes off the wall easily as does the mirror. He stands in my empty cell looking for more mischief and I know what he’s going to do. The corner of the collage on the far wall is sticking out an inch from the wall where it meets the floor. He clutches the bottom corner tearing upward five feet when I panic. I’ve hooks that are very happy where they are. I yell at the guard to stop though it’s completely against regulations. You’re on your way to the hole if you speak during a search. The senior officer comes over as the guard grabs the other corner and yanks the entire back wall collage off.
I complain to the senior officer who scolds, “You know pictures on the wall aren’t permitted.”
I discretely put one finger up, one hundred pesos, but he doesn’t blink. Two fingers. The guard starts on the wall with the hooks when he’s told to leave it be. The guard was going to have some fun with the rest of the collage so he pulls the board off my window slamming it to the ground in frustration. Everyone’s stuff is scattered across the pasillo as the guards purposely stomp on everything breakable on their way out. All I own are books, clothing, two hooks, a clothesline and too much grass. Damage report: One broken mirror and 7 years bad luck.
I pick up my board reattaching it to my cell door as my adrenaline dissipates. I was sure when the guard attacked my collage with such venom that I was going to lose my hooks.
The senior officer comes by later while I’m making repairs to my collage. I give him 200 pesos thanking him and resume mending it. A single picture corn-starched to the wall doesn’t peel off. I spend hours making sure the collage is adhered to the wall properly.
The tower is manned tonight. Not good.
Friday. Arsenio is officially an escapee so prison life resumes per normal. Most workshops appear to have been bombed so it’s all about cleaning up today. Manuel comes by paying me for the weed he sold and returns the rest. He didn’t sell it all by Wednesday, and fearing a search, he hid the unsold grass in the captain’s office! The only place in the entire prison that wasn’t searched.
He then complains, “Gardener is still selling grass really cheap. Now that Arsenio isn’t around, he doesn’t have to pay for it. Everyone in all the Patios are stoned out of their head.”
“How much do you think he has, Manuel? He has to run out sometime. He’s already sold a lot.”
We decide to go low key. Manuel was terrified these passed days that they’d find his stash in the captain’s office for he’d be the only suspect. We discuss Arsenio and feel there is something weird going on. You don’t bring in kilos of weed then escape. I continue selling to the other smokers in my Patio so I’ve money and eating okay. The only problem with selling it slowly is that I’m testing Murphy’s Law.
Most prisoners think Arsenio escaped out the front door while others think he went over the wall. Arsenio was short, fat and out of shape and would’ve needed an elevator to get over the wall.
The tower is manned again tonight.
Saturday. El Ganso has men visiting him every Saturday bringing in stacks of money sometimes eight inches high. He’s a table outside his caspete where he entertains his visitors. He counts his money there and sends it home with his wife on Sundays. El Ganso has more than his share of visitors today including the police. They interrogated him yesterday at this table and are doing so again. He receives and counts money while talking to the police who are overly polite. They’ve also searched Arsenio’s cell thoroughly but found nothing.
Fiocconi and I talk about the problem of the manned guard tower. I’m kicking myself in the butt for not having at least tried a few more times with Christián. Charlie reassures me things are still happening but will be on hold for awhile. The tower being manned means I’m now reliant on them.
Sunday. We’ve already heard Arsenio’s wife told the police her husband hasn’t escaped for she would’ve known about it. “He’s still inside the prison,” she insisted.
All agree if Arsenio has escaped that she’d know about it for she’s been visiting him every Sunday for 9 years. They are in love, and like El Ganso, he received large sums on Saturdays that he gives her each week. But we’re all surprised to hear she came to visit. The warden plucked her out of line and took her to his office where they’re still talking.
El Ganso confided to a few that Arsenio’s wife had told his wife that Arsenio was still inside the prison. These two don’t lie to each other so the rumor mills are going full bore. She didn’t know where but he’s here. None of us here thinks he’s here so this makes for good shit to talk about while getting stoned in a cell full of convicts.
Monday. Like any other. The smokers in my Patio have heard about the bonanza in Patio 2 and are scoring from there so I’m now my own best customer. I tell El Ganso about the weed I have from Arsenio and that I owe him, or at least his wife, some money for it. I explain our agreement. El Ganso is more than a generous man and knows nothing about grass and didn’t even know his partner had it brought in. He gives me a cheap price saying he’ll give the money to Arsenio’s wife. I’m to pay him when I get the bread.
Tuesday. Not quite like all others. Manuel comes into the Patio for a quick smoke bringing me the latest gossip. Arsenio’s wife went straight to the warden’s office this morning demanding to see her husband or his body. No was not an acceptable answer. We’re talking about the wife whose husband is one of the most powerful and dangerous mafiosos in all of Colombia. They talked for hours.
“I’m telling you this, John, because the warden’s now convinced that something’s wrong. So be careful, there’s going to be another search tomorrow.”
Manuel flies after warning me. I do more patchwork to the collage and mattress.
Wednesday again. Definitely like no other. We’re instructed after 6am count that we’re confined to our pasillos for La Picota is on lockdown. We hear about the army coming through the front gate and parking their truck near the door to the main corridor. There were either 20 soldiers or 500 depending on whose version you believe.
Manuel is calling my name at Patio door. He convinced a woman in Social Services to write me a pass to visit their office to discuss some stupidity he made up. Manuel knew I’d be interested in seeing what’s happening so he finagled the pass. He says I’m not going to believe it. Manuel takes me to the barred door leading into the captain’s garden where we join guards milling about looking inside the garden area. We’re the only two convicts that can see what’s happening there.
Manuel tells me the story. An army truck entered the prison with a dozen army berets jumping out along with a German shepherd the size of a Shetland pony that I’m now staring at in the garden. I’ve never seen any German shepherd as big as this one for it would stand over seven feet on its hind legs. It has a monstrous muzzle like none other I’ve ever witnessed. The dog is presently standing at his master’s side.
So what happened was this: The berets and their dog waited at the prison entrance while a guard fetched some clothing from Arsenio’s cell. The dog’s master put it to the dog’s nose and it immediately dragged him to the barred door leading onto the main corridor. They unlocked it and the dog bolted straight to the barred door leading into the captain’s garden with its master holding on. Well over a thousand prisoners live between his sniff and the garden – truly amazing.
Gardener had the only key to the locked garden so the captain had Manuel called out of his pasillo and instructed him to find Gardener and the key. He returned with both but Gardener wasn’t looking very happy as he unlocked the door with a huge animal begging to get inside. He opened the door and the dog leaped to the middle of the garden whining and digging at the ground furiously. The dog’s master pulled him off whereby the captain told a very reluctant Gardener to start digging. He grabbed a hoe but was just moving the dirt around for ten minutes while the captain was commanding him to hurry up. A guard was eventually assigned the task. Manuel stood just outside the barred door watching as the guard within minutes hit something with the hoe. He uncovered it to find a dead dog that belonged to Gardener. Gardener had this dog for months and kept it locked up at night in the garden for dogs were strictly forbidden in the cellblocks except for Patio 1. Everyone was let down except for the dog that was whining and insistent. The guard dug deeper and hit something else. It was a body. They carefully removed the dirt finding it to be Arsenio. This was when Manuel went to Social Services to fetch me a pass.
They’re still respectfully brushing the dirt away as I peek into the garden. Arsenio’s lying in a shallow grave with a belt around his throat. He has several huge gashes on the top of his head and the front of his clothing is stained in blood where he was stabbed numerous times.
Several guards are looking at me so Manuel explains, “He’s needed in Social Services.”
We’re the only convicts not on lockdown so we hurry off to Social Services where I ask some dumb questions that they politely answer.
Manuel takes me back to my Patio while we discuss the ramifications. Now we know how Gardener was able to sell the weed so cheap. Manuel knows my deal with El Ganso and my desire to pay him off quickly – and to get rid of this pain-in-the-ass grass. It preys on my mind constantly that I’ll get busted and kicked out of the Patio before the escape. The prison will be dry again in a few days and business should be brisk. We shake our heads agreeing that this is the most amazing dog on planet Earth. It knew instantly with one whiff where Arsenio was buried 70 yards away and through a thousand prisoners with a dead dog buried on top of him!
Gardener confessed to everything. They dug up the entire garden finding nine kilos of weed! This was worth a massive amount to prison scum that had never had anything. Here was his chance to make legitimate pesos but he stole the weed instead selling it ridiculously cheap and rightfully feared accountability.
Here’s how it came down: Arsenio entrusted twelve kilos of grass to Gardener to stash in his garden for safekeeping by paying him pesos and smoke. Greed and fear motivated Gardener as he hatched a foolproof plan on doing away with his benefactor – bury the evidence. Gardener’s biggest problem was how to lure Arsenio into the garden that was just inches from the hub of prison operations – the captain’s office. Arsenio was supposedly a dog expert so Gardener dug a shallow grave for Arsenio and killed his own dog putting it into hole. He waited for the right moment to call Arsenio over and ask his learned opinion as to what might’ve killed his dog that he loved so dearly. Arsenio stooped down to get a better look at the dead dog when Gardener came up from behind repeatedly smashing him in the skull with his hoe. Arsenio didn’t want to die so he strangled him with a belt to probably quiet him down. Arsenio still held on to dear life so he finished him off by stabbing him in the chest many times.
Thursday again. Gardener signs a confession for the police and is shipped out for security reasons. Arsenio had too many friends that wanted him dead including El Ganso – his best friend. So off he goes for safekeeping and what better place than the jailhouse in Palmira – Arsenio’s hometown where he was loved by everyone.
Friday again. The grapevine is abuzz this afternoon for everyone is talking about it. Gardener’s dead and some say he killed himself in his cell though this doesn’t sound right.
The weed is moving slowly but surely. Why did I ever get mixed up with this much grass? Oh yeah, money.
I’m not smiling much lately. The escape appears to be dead in the water though Fiocconi says differently. Then something happens that brings sunshine into my day. A prisoner from Palmira was just transferred to La Picota so I question him about Gardener.
“Hombre, were you there when Gardener was there?”
“Sí, but I was in prison there, not the jailhouse.”
He pulls a clipping out of his wallet from the Palmira press. It’s only three inches long and recounts how jailhouse officials found Gardener’s body. Apparently, he stabbed himself 35 times then tried to strangle himself with a belt before escaping his cell – where he finally hung himself from a rafter. The jailhouse officials called it an obvious suicide. Tears are running down my cheeks for this is funny stuff. I read the article several more times chuckling for it’s so factual and serious. Who owns this newspaper, anyway?
The article reinforces the general consensus reached after we’d heard Gardener had died in Palmira. Almost any convict would’ve killed Gardener if he would’ve remained here knowing El Ganso would’ve paid plenty. There weren’t three guards that wouldn’t have done so for the guy was trash and Arsenio was loved. The police were involved so El Ganso didn’t need more headaches, with 198 murder cases now pending, so he had him shipped out to Arsenio’s hometown. End of story.
It was a miracle but I unloaded the grass without getting busted. Everyone knew I was dealing it cheap for I’d cut my price in half because El Ganso had given me such a good deal. I still have a nice stash but didn’t make much money.
There’s to be a knife fight in our Patio and it promises to be bizarre. A little entertainment to take my mind off an escape that refuses to materialize. The players: Dr Secuestro (Dr Kidnap) is a lawyer and has the title of doctor like all lawyers in Colombia. He’s the most notorious kidnapper in Colombia and definitely the biggest prisoner I’ve ever seen. He’s a good 6’6” weighing over 300 pounds. He’s 30 but looks older because of his size. His foe, Little-Guy, has that complex common with men of diminutive stature. He considers himself bad at 5’4” and is not afraid of anyone. Dr Kidnap and Little-Guy have been verbally abusing each other for days. You get things off your chest now in prison and usually get over it. But Little-Guy’s been pestering Goliath telling him finally to arm himself. They are to battle it out at 10am tomorrow on the wall side of the 1st-floor pasillo. Gads, even in high school it was all about right after school not the next day.
Twenty of us are standing around waiting to watch the spectacle. This Patio is known to have snitches that tell the commander everything though he seems to be the only one who doesn’t know what’s happening. Knife fights in this Patio are unheard of because of the class of prisoners here. Everyone’s attired in slacks, silk shirts and handcrafted shoes as the combatants enter dressed in suits without ties. The commander is sitting at his desk so the coast is clear. Dr Kidnap is standing with his arms crossed with his hands hidden up his suit coat sleeves. Little-Guy pulls out a knife with a cloth-rapped handle and a 4-inch blade. Dr Kidnap uncrosses his arms pulling out a 10-inch butcher’s knife with wooden handle from under each sleeve. They’re tied to his wrists with a piece of leather so he can’t drop them.
Wow, the giant swiftly slashes Little-Guy eight inches across his face from his ear down to his chin. It’s deep and blood is gushing down his white shirt. Little-Guy turns into a whiner pleading with Dr Kidnap to give him one of his knifes so it’ll be a fair fight. He’s been watching too many movies. The doctor is coercing him to fight but Little-Guy isn’t having it. He admits defeat in front of all those he was telling for a week now, how he was going to carve the doctor a new asshole. He has his face stitched up and costs him thousands to remain in the Patio.
Some Quaaludes come into town for the first time. I’ve never tried downers for I’ve seen people on them in the past. It’s ugly but I take a couple. It makes the world all fuzzy and soft.
Fiocconi comes up to me with excellent news. Things are coming down so he picks up the paraphernalia promising it’ll be happening soon. Christián couldn’t be happier. I’m only 6 months from deportation and it worries me. Nothing happens for a week. I’m ready to move but I’m convinced Fiocconi will return my hooks back to me like before. Two weeks have gone by with no news so I procure some Quaaludes. Blurry is the world, hey, isn’t everybody grooving? I’ll have a few more tonight for you can’t have too much fun. Wrong. Very wrong.
I wake up. Shit, it has to be really late, maybe 2am, but I can hear all kinds of commotion outside my cell. Man, do I feel groggy. I open my cell door taking a gander at the crowded pasillo and ask what’s up. An escape? Oh shit, I run to the adjacent pasillo and look through the window at the wall. No, no, no, no, no…Oh fuck, there are ropes dangling over the wall from my two hooks. What have I done? There are guards standing on the no-man’s land next to the ropes while others are standing on the catwalk with rifles at ready.
“It was my escape,” lamenting to those who’ll listen.
“Shut up,” advises a neighbor, “there’ll be an investigation soon.”
Then tells me he heard someone earlier pounding on my cell door screaming out my name. My boarded up window prevented him from throwing something at me, and making things worse, he left and banged on other cells prompting others to come along. Whoever wanted to join them was welcomed – though there were no takers. I’ll never be able to live with myself. Damn. I stare at my ropes hanging over the wall and listen to men describing what transpired.
It started off with the kidnappers tying up and gagging the commander and assistant then locking them in a cell. This was strictly a ruse for they were paid off plenty. The kidnappers had tons buying off three towers that were unmanned during the escape. The inside Patio wall was a cinch to climb with two convicts on the steps heaving the others to the top. Then to the roof sliding down a rope to the grassy no-man’s land. Some weren’t in good enough shape to climb the rope up the outside wall so convicts were jumping back down off the catwalk to help their companions up the rope. It went on for ten minutes with them yelling loudly at each other all the while! I’m more depressed than I’ve ever been for I’ll never forgive myself for this one.
It’s front-page news later on that morning with mug shots of all the escapees. The warden’s in big shit meaning we’re in for it. I’ve a small stash they’ll never find but the scars of the hooks are still there if the collage is attacked. They tear my cell apart but leave the collage untouched. All the kidnappers remaining in the Patio are sent to the punishment block and will be transferred to other prisons.
All the different police forces in Colombia are now engaged in a massive manhunt. They have orders. They are simple. The newspapers are full of gun battles involving armies of police as they slowly find pockets of kidnappers armed to the teeth. The escapees are being killed off systematically. It’s been two months now when I read about Christián and a kidnapper shot to death in a gun battle with police. It makes me sad for he was simply a man in love. That makes six out of ten dead with four still missing. I don’t know why it never occurred to me just how vehemently the escapees would be hunted. Christián didn’t have money so he probably hooked up with some kidnappers endeavoring to leave the country. I didn’t have money also and would’ve been a liability to all. I would’ve left Bogotá immediately to some unknown place without pesos with half the country looking for me – my fate would’ve been that of Christián’s.
It irks me and I refuse to recognize the irony that I’m alive today because of a Quaalude. It doesn’t make me feel any better being alive. I would’ve preferred living a few days outside free with adventure and dying, than deal with these fucking walls I can no longer climb. I put together such a brilliant escape and to miss it for being asleep is unforgivable.
It’s always front-page news when something happens to Dr Kidnap. I’m downstairs eating at El Ganso’s when Little-Guy waltzes into the caspete decked out like he’s going to a wedding. His chest is puffed up and he’s wearing an enormous smile as he carries a newspaper around slowly showing everyone. ‘DR SECUESTRO ASASINADO’ reads the headline. He was sent to another prison after the escape and was throwing his prodigious weight around. He was wealthy beyond imagination and could buy his way out of anything but he stepped on the wrong toes. It was another small man but armed with a gun a guard had brought in. He went right up to Dr Kidnap emptying the gun at point-blank range murdering him. Little-Guy is strutting around as if he bumped him off personally.
I’ve been writing to Mom monthly for over a year and she has offered at times to send me money. I’m penniless and have only months remaining before I’m deported back to the States. It’s bye-bye and more prison unless they give me an opportunity to scram while being transferred. I’m gone if I don’t have handcuffs on and my feet hit the ground. Fuck the twenty rifles pointed at my back for anything is more preferable than prison. Time is crushing me. It’s been nearly 5 years and still no freedom in sight. Okay, all of my own making. I beat myself up daily about my missed appointment but I mustn’t give up. What if something presented itself and I’m not mentally, physically and financially ready then I’d never forgive myself. I’d deserve whatever fate Judge Real has waiting for me. So Mom and a close friend are now sending me $100 a month through the US Embassy.


It’s so easy to be philosophical
when you have to be…

I’ve only five months until I’m deported. I stare at the wall many times a day just to torture myself but I’m not giving up. I’m not allowing myself that pleasure.
Months pass. I wake up one morning in a particularly bad mood with all my bedding and clothes needing to be washed. So I take a few Quaaludes to help do away with the drudgery of laundry. That’ll make it fun. I round up everything taking it down to the laundry area. I set it on a scrub deck not three feet from where I sat in dog shit and merrily wash away. It’s noon and everything’s washed, rinsed and hung out to dry in a sunny spot in the Patio. I’m having a hard time standing, swaying being what my body wants to do, so over to El Ganso’s for food. I don’t know why I do this shit for I don’t even like what it does to me. I bought three this morning and still have one left after eating. Fuck it, down the gullet. It’ll be last one I’ll ever do – I swear.
I’m trying to pace the Patio when Santiago comes up to me. “John, let me help you up to your cell. People are staring at you.”
“But I’m feelin’ so good, hermano, ya know, out here in the sunshine and all.”
I’m not walking well enough to prevent him from maneuvering me back to my cell. The bed does feel kinda good. I zonked out for a few hours but I’m still righteously fucked up when I awake. I get up staggering out onto the pasillo and look down at the Patio to see what time it is. It’s late afternoon. Oh shit, I can see my clothes hanging up in the Patio and I’m not walking right in a place where every nuance is noticed. Hey, nobody will take note of me. I’m not that fucked up. I can fool the world when I want to. I’m going to get my clothes off the line and back to my cell. A piece of cake.
I walk down to the 2nd floor exiting onto the outside stairs leading onto the Patio. I’m going downstairs when, oh no, a patrol is entering through Patio door. Do I turn back up the steps and return to my cell for fifteen minutes? Or do I just walk really well? They’ll never notice I’m a little messed up. I stumble on a step while thinking more about walking than looking. Now they’re watching me. People stumble on steps so I’ll get my act together. I’m quicker than they are – a lot quicker. I swagger down the stairs doing a great imitation of someone walking to his clothes to where they’re hanging. I even put on a fine performance of gathering up my clothes, that for some reason I can’t fathom, don’t want to leave the clothesline peacefully. They’re now flinging themselves to the ground and jumping out of my arms as I gather them back up. The patrol is coming over and there’s too many to pay off so just be cool, I can do this.
“Qué es…la…da...” I stammer.
I’ve forgotten how to talk somewhere along the line but my hearing is okay. I’m to follow these gentlemen for I have a reservation – same hotel just a different room. I leave my clothes on the ground as we return to my cell that they search in minutes finding nothing. I exchange my old sneakers for my cowboy boots that are now strictly Sunday wear. I’ve old cleaning rags and rugs that were once clothes that are once again clothes. It hits freezing where I’m going and all you’re allowed are the clothes you’re wearing. No bedding. I give my neighbor my key with a promise he’ll gather up my laundry later. They march me back downstairs with everyone watching. You’re history if you get busted for drugs in this Patio. Someone hands me a food bowl as I exit through Patio door headed for the hole.
I’ve ten weeks until I’m deported and I end up in the hole. Not cool. They register me in, no porters, locking me into a bare cell with a barred door. Fuck me. I go to a wall and kick it as hard as I can with the inside of my right foot. I don’t feel anything so I kick it again and again with all my might. I’m going to kick it one more time but think better of it.
I’m on the 3rd floor looking out over the prison’s back wall from where a frigid wind blows straight into my cell. It’s afternoon but the cold is piercing even in my condition. I curl up in a corner shivering uncontrollably. The walls are too cold to rest upon so I huddle away from them. My muscles are cramping from sitting hunched up so I lie in a tight fetal position on the icy floor. God, I wish I’d stop shivering. And my foot is beginning to hurt.
4pm. Two prisoners and a guard are walking down the pasillo dishing out grub. I attempt to get up to see but my foot tells me otherwise. I sit down staring at it for there’s no way I can put any weight on it.
“Rice?” yells a guard at me.
“No, gracias.”
6pm. One guard is holding a handkerchief over his nose and mouth while another barks out our names as they go passed our cells.
“Presente,” I shout when I hear my name.
I’m sitting but told to be standing when counted. I plead injured foot but they’re not going for it. I use the wall to stand up flamingo-style – now I’m present. I remain standing waiting for the guards to leave for I need to piss. I hop to the barred door and urinate through it onto a pasillo lined with little brown logs. Its toilet facilities are another amenity of the hole.
I sit down for my foot is swelling up badly inside my boot. I’ve tested my foot – not good. This wouldn’t be the time for I’ll need to be able to run shortly if need be. I’m sitting scrunched up by the barred door trading tales with the others in the hole when I see a long line of rats scurrying pass by the pasillo wall six feet away. I look down to the far corner spotting a small hole from which these chubby creatures are coming. These rats are different than the dark brown monsters at La Modelo that romped in the Patio at night. These rats are healthy and fat but smaller. Each one is distinctly marked with spots, strips and patches of browns, blacks, whites, grays and oranges. I ask about Mocho for I’ve heard tell of him. He’s infamous and has been around the hole for years and is the only rat with a name. The word mocho is slang in Spanish for a man missing a limb, in this case, Mocho doesn’t have a tail. Rats have been issuing forth from the hole for an hour before he finally makes an appearance. I’m now an initiate to the hole.
9pm. Lights out. I’m finally sober as I curl up in a corner. Oh boy, I’ve a lot to be proud of. I’m dressed in old, filthy mop rags and rugs. I’m cold and sometimes shake but it’s my foot that’s vying for most of my attention for it’s amazingly painful. I’ll never do Quaaludes again. May I die first.
4am. Two convicts are coming down the pasillo carrying a 25 gallon tub of water between them. Prisoners have been urinating and throwing their feces out onto the pasillo for the last 24 hours and it’s their job to clean it up. One splashes water on the floor while the other pushes the piss and shit towards the front with a long-handled, 3-ft wide squeegee. They’re being careful not to get the mixture into our cells but the stench is horrific and the uric acid in the air burns my nose and throat. They squeegee it all out through pasillo door – our toilet has just been flushed.
5am. I heave-ho to one foot hopping to the door with bowl in hand to receive bread and coffee. I’m starved and it’s down in seconds dunking the bread into the too sweet, black water. The sun’s not up but I’ve the urge to pace or do something. I couldn’t sleep last night all bunched up in a ball. Plus just moving my foot while lying down sent white flashes to my brain. Forget putting weight on it. I think now that I’ve truly fucked it up. It didn’t hurt that much at the time – like I was really feeling pain.
“Listen, listen, listen…” Manuel echoes down the pasillo. He calls out my name and others. He’s here to escort us to the captain’s office where a kangaroo court dishes out sentences. I know getting there isn’t going to be fun so I enlist the help of two convicts to get me down the slippery, urine-soaked pasillo to the exit. Manuel’s anxious to hear the haps but it’s embarrassing and I’d rather leave it buried in a closet.
“With happened to your foot?” Manuel asks.
“My foot? Uh, I just kicked a wall. I’ll be okay.”
I’m helped down the stairs and through the corridors to the captain’s office. Manuel buzzes off doing his thing while I await punishment. A guard asks me a few questions. To deny being under the influence when a guard has filed a report to the contrary just makes them madder. I plead guilty and I’m sentenced to nine days in the hole – five days for possession and four days for being under the influence.
“Excuse me, caballero,” pointing out politely, “but they found nothing on me.”
“Didn’t you plead guilty to having taken drugs?”
“Well, yes, I’ve admitted to being under the influence but…” when he interrupts me with the obvious.
“Oh, I see, I’d have to be in possession of them to have taken them.” Okay, I can see the logic and want to reply, “I’m glad I haven’t killed someone for then I’d have to do ten days.” The maximum for killing another convict in La Picota. But these aren’t funny guys.
Manuel picks me up and helps me to the hole. He knows the guard working there and my neighbor so promises to send me down some warm clothes.
11am. I’ve my bowl in hand as I study the narrow slot in my barred door through which I pass it to receive rice. The door’s been pissed through for years so right at the top of the food slot are droplets of urine. They look ready to fall as you pass your bowl through, but no, the droplets have gelled. I’ve been in worse.
2pm. “Everybody outside,” yells a guard.
We’re sent to the punishment block Patio twice a week for an hour of sunshine. I don’t want to go down those treacherous stairs but the bastards won’t allow me to stay in my cell. Everybody is strip-searched coming and going to the Patio. My foot’s so swollen that I don’t want to take my boots off but they insist. I sit down going through the most excruciating five minutes ever as I remove my right cowboy boot. Ahhh, it’s off. I didn’t think it possible at times. I’m breathing hard while the pain is deliciously subsiding. I’m calm as I remove my sock from the injured foot. Oh God, I can’t believe my eyes. I don’t bruise easily and have spent a lifetime bumping off of objects never turning black and blue. Oh, but my foot, the bruise is a perfect black sock going an inch over my ankle with a perfectly round top. The bottom of my foot is totally black and blue except for three small dots of pink on the bottom of three toes. I don’t know what to think.
I’m carried down to the Patio where my foot turns into a balloon. I spend most of the hour lying on my back with my foot in the air putting my boot back on a miniscule at a time. Thankfully, I don’t have to take it off when I return.
4pm. I’m not hungry but the guy serving rice is insistent so I pass him my bowl just under the yellow stalactites. The guard watches him intently as he grabs it with something else in his hand and dishes out my rice. Damn, he’ll never be able to pass whatever it is to me without the guard knowing. I don’t want him to do it but he’s committed. He passes it back to me dropping the objects into my hand that grabs the bowl. I quickly turn sideways as they continue on. In my hand are matches, striker, a 2-inch candle and a monstrous joint. I shrug when the server goes by my cell returning with the empty cauldron.
“Ignacio,” he whispers.
What a friend for I’ve only seen Nacho a few times in the last 14 months that I’ve been in Patio 1. Yet I’m in trouble and this is his way of letting me know that I’m gone but not forgotten. And Manuel comes through with clean clothes that are strictly forbidden except for the magic words – 20 pesos.
The rats and breeze come with nightfall. There’s one rat I’ve taken a fancy to for it’s the prettiest of the lot but others disagree who have their own favorite rats. Mine’s solid gunmetal gray except for perfectly white-gloved feet. I’m watching it sniff through the urine-drenched rice we throw out onto the pasillo after eating. It comes upon a small round turd picking it up with its front paws and chows down. It’s so dainty and appears so clean as it eats with its white gloves on.
4am. The squeegee guys have come to flush our toilet. I couldn’t sleep last night for I must lie on my left side only so that my right foot doesn’t touch the floor. One cleaner squeegees passed my cell while the other backs right up to my barred door and throws me something. It’s another doobie and a note from Nacho. Good news for a change for Manuel has talked to the captain and I’m to be sent to Patio 2. Ignacio has a friend who has a cell solo that I’ll be celled up with when I’m out.
I get out soon not having slept for nine days. I had to remove my boot twice more, the bastards, and I damaged my foot both times putting the fucker back on. I would’ve kept it off except for the cold. I’m not nearly as tired as I thought I’d be after so long without sleep. What’s kept me going these past nights was fantasizing about sleeping with boots off on a mattress – and taking a major dump. It’s impossible for me to squat so I haven’t taken a shit since I’ve been here.
8am. “Listen, listen, listen…” Manuel’s here to take those of us being released back to the Patios. Manuel helps me to Patio 1 to pick up my belongings. Some convicts literally carry me up to my cell. I never thought I’d hate leaving a cell but this one I’ve left my mark on. I wonder what they’ll think when they remove the collage to find hook marks carved in the wall and a 3-inch hole in the ceiling. My neighbor hands me my key. All my clothes are folded and my few possessions are already boxed. I became the keeper of the books when the other twenty gringo were released. The length of my cell is lined six high in books – 36 feet in all. I pick out Papillon and a dozen more leaving the rest. No one else in the prison speaks English but me.
I’m helped to Patio 2 and logged in. I stash my stuff in my new cell then out onto the Patio. It pains me to hop while supporting myself on a wall but I’m getting better at it. Ignacio is cheery as he greets me and we 3-leg it to the caspete where we catch up on all the smut over the past year while drinking coffee.
This is typical Nacho. Both his steady girlfriends insisted on coming in on the same Sunday several months back – he has others he squeezes in. He’d successfully avoided this for several years. He escorted the first one there to his cell doing his thing while listening for a convict’s signal that the second one has come. She arrived so he told First he’d be back shortly with something to drink. He met Second taking her to a borrowed cell explaining how he loaned his cell to another convict. Nacho loves to eat pussy and goes into detail how Second came until she could come no longer. He asked Second if she were thirsty and promised to be right back with drinks. He brought drinks to First and complained about being hungry after some loving. He scurried back to Second and so on until they left separately at 3pm. Nothing’s changed since I’ve been gone this past year.
Day turns into night. Manuel comes by to inspect my new abode after work. “It’s clean,” he observes.
“Sí, and freshly painted too. Perfect.”
“Not quite.”
“But why?”
Manuel produces a joint. “Now it’s perfect.”
9pm. Cellmate is quiet, polite and clean and has normally lived alone in a cell. He’s only letting me stay here as a favor to Nacho. I roll my mattress out on the floor and slowly take off my boots. I lie down contemplating taking off my clothes and…
“Wake up, John, it’s time to move,” whispers a phantom in a far away dream. I’m somewhere deep inside myself and I don’t want to leave.
“Wake up,” Cellmate iterates while shaking me.
It can’t be morning for I just went to sleep. I’ve slept in my clothes so I hang onto his shoulder barefooted to the Patio. I still can’t put any weight on it though I try to when I don’t think I’m in enough pain. I park myself with my back to a wall with outstretched foot. It’s afternoon and Ignacio has tended to my needs of food, drink and a shoulder to the toilet. He comes over with an acquaintance who’s 30ish, thin and has a particular specialty. He wandered the countryside for several years as an apprentice with a shaman renowned for his ability to fix feet. The locals came out of the jungle to see him and provided food and lodging while he’d put back together the severely damaged feet of peasant farmers.
Ignacio believes him but I’m leery. Come on, a shaman going through the jungle making people walk again. And he’s only the apprentice. I extend my damaged appendage at Footman. He knows exactly where to touch it to send me flying. My first reaction is to punch his lights out for I think he’s fucking with me. He affirms that I’ve destroyed tendons, ligaments, foot bones, you name it.
“If you want, I think I can be of help. The treatment though,” being very authoritative, “will be more painful than anything you’ve ever experienced before.”
“I’m a man, pain is my middle name.”
“It’s also going to take awhile.”
“How long is awhile?”
“I don’t know, at least a week, probably longer.”
We can’t do the treatment in the Patio for he says I’ll be screaming so loud. We’ll see.
6pm. Manuel and Nacho help me to Footman’s cell where I lie on his bed. I think I’m being scammed but my foot isn’t getting better – just the opposite. He places my swollen foot carefully on his lap. I grumble loudly as he feels around. I’ve permission to yell if I want, but no way, for Manuel, Ignacio and others are watching. I clench my teeth grabbing the bed, excuse me, aaahhhhhggg. I’m screaming as loud as I can as Manuel and Ignacio disappear for they’ve seen enough. Footman has found two tendons just below my inside ankle that are the worst.
“Please stop,” I’m screaming. He starts on some of the bones. “Stop, stop, stop…” I’m begging but he doesn’t. A guard comes by looking into the cell with stick out wondering who’s getting murdered. Footman finally finishes after thirty minutes. I’ve had it. I remain lying on his bed for I can’t move. I don’t ever want to move again for this walking thing is way overrated.
I tell Nacho the next day that no way is Footman doing my foot any good. You don’t cause that much pain without damaging it even more. Ignacio’s heard enough. I’m worming my way out of tonight’s session but Nacho reminds me who did what to whose foot.
“It’s as damaged as it can get, right? The man can only do good.”
“Okay, Nacho, one more.”
I spend the day resting against the wall. A few sympathizers come by to share a joint. My personal masochist comes over to admire his handiwork. I lift the foot up a few inches for his inspection and try to move my ankle. It’s not moving though there is something clicking that didn’t click before.
“Do you want to continue, John?”
“No, absolutely not. But Ignacio has threatened to stomp on my foot if I don’t and I’d be an easy target. So yes, same time okay?”
I’m in Footman’s torture chamber for the fifth time. The other treatments were as painful as the first. I have slight movement of my ankle so he’s doing something. This man has caused me more pain than anyone ever has. Ignacio, who wouldn’t have the sense to step aside from a charging bull, calls me a wimp. He makes me laugh. Ten more days have passed and five more sessions. I can move all of my toes and my ankle about an inch and can now hobble a few steps.
Footman has performed miracles. It’s been a month and this will be the last session. I can now get around by limping heavily. My foot doesn’t hurt except when I bang it on something. His sessions of monumental pain were surely a catharsis. He took verbal abuse I would never have taken from anyone and he always responded softly, “This is gonna hurt.” And he was always right.
He healed my foot for it wouldn’t have happened without him. And he did so for my mattress and sheets when I’m to leave next month. Un amigo.

SEPTEMBER 1 – 23, 1979

If God is so perfect,
then why isn’t everything else?…

I’m gimping along looking at the ground when I see someone walking quickly at me. He has something in his mouth. It’s a knife with a 6-inch blade and cloth handle that he has clenched between his teeth pirate-style! He’s tall and skinny with arms and legs like a spider monkey and is taking giant strides passing right by me. I turn to watch him climb front Patio wall in two steps! It’s only eight feet tall and twenty yards long with a 4-ft square barred window right in the middle. It’s a ladder. Spider just steps on the bottom sill grabbing the top of the wall and over he goes onto the main corridor.
I limp to the window to see Spider cross the corridor in three steps where he comes to an identical wall of the Patio that faces ours. He steps on sill and over. I can see what’s happening through the two windows. Another convict is standing in the middle of the other Patio with a knife awaiting him. He’s visibly terrified for he obviously knows what’s coming. Spider takes the knife out of his mouth placing it into his hand properly – Bruce Lee style. That is, you stick your arm out straight with palm vertical placing the blade downward in your hand. You fight with your arm cocked over your head making downward and sideways stabbing motions, as opposed to the other way, where you’re slashing.
Spider goes straight for him stabbing him in the chest causing him to drop his knife. Guy-In-Trouble was never even close enough to touch him because of Spider’s long arms. He’s backing away on his knees while begging for his life. Spider kicks the knife at him shouting angrily, “Grab the knife.” He kicks it at him again threatening to kill him even if unarmed. He kicks the knife for him to grab once more calling him a coward. Guy-In-Trouble makes a feeble attempt at clutching the knife, and that’s it, Spider’s all over him. He lies him out on the concrete and stabs him in the chest numerous times killing him. He looks back at Patio door where guards are trickling in. He stands up gently placing his knife on the ground and calmly walks to Patio door. The guards must’ve seen it and are just as in awe as I am for nobody’s crowding him. Nobody talks for they know where they’re going.
Wow, excuse me but that was pure poetry. Never have I seen anything like this for the whole thing only took a minute. I’m exhilarated and presently don’t feel nearly as bad about my lot. It happened so fast that only a few of us saw it. Weird, but I feel privileged.
I’ve done my time so it’s their move now. It’s been 5 full years but it’ll still be weeks before they figure out what to do with me. I’m in no hurry for my last chance to escape will be between here and the DAS facility.
Manuel calls out my name at Patio door so this is probably it – Deportationville. I’ve given away all my stuff so I’m packed and ready to go. But no, it’s the US Embassy. Cool, this might mean money and I have a small caspete bill. I’m the only American left so the embassy hasn’t been here for two months. Manuel drops me off at the meeting room. The consul is solemn as he shakes my hand. I know his office is in charge of my deportation we never talk about. He hands me 4,000 pesos ($160).
“Why not just 2,500 pesos, sir?”
“Well, Kendall, someone at the embassy took up donations.”
What? I’m smiling though he’s serious as he hands me a bag full of candy bars, potato chips and cookies – the stuff that munchies are made for! What have I done? He hands me an opened letter from Mom. I signed a release from the beginning giving them the right to open my mail to ostensibly look for checks. They claim they aren’t reading my mail, give me a break, I’m a wanted man so it’s their job to read my mail. It’s okay for they’re only letters to and from Mom and I appreciate their services immensely.
“I’ve read the letter,” he apologizes, “purely by accident.”
“That’s okay,” putting it into my pocket to read later.
He insists I read it now. If I want to make a reply then he’ll graciously wait and mail it off today for this will be his last visit. I open the letter wondering about the sweets and the melodrama. Read. Fuck. Oh no, no, no, no, no…Oh God, why? Both my father and my brother Leslie have passed away six months earlier. I thank the consul for his condolences and the embassy’s generosity.
“Would you like to make a reply?”
“No, sir, no reply.”
I’m planted and don’t want to move. He politely vanishes. He seems sincere and is probably doing the last of the paper shuffling for my inexorable deportation. It’s his job. I sit down, mope and wait for Manuel. He pockets a candy bar I give him when he arrives. He can see something’s bothering me that I don’t want to talk about. I pass him fifty pesos for weed for we’ve been smoking on his dime for the past few weeks. He drops me off at the Patio where I get permission to quickly stash this evening’s banquet. It wouldn’t last five minutes in the Patio – too many friends.
I find a place against the wall, sit down and read the letter again. Nacho comes by and runs off sensing I’m not in the mood. Mom, bless her heart, wanted to save me the pain by not telling me earlier that Dad had died of a heart attack while playing golf at the tender age of 53. And my brother also had died about the same time after being in a coma for many months from an insulin overdose. My brother and I went our separate ways after I graduated from high school 17 years ago, and though it makes me sad, it’s Dad that I truly grieve for. He was my idol. He was in the US Air Force and flew 25 flights over Germany as head bombardier during WW2. It changed him and he’d never talk about it except for once when I was a teenager. He’d been 21 years old killing people he couldn’t even see from an airplane.
He returned home from the war at 22 to a wife and two babies. GI Bill helped as we lived in a Quonset hut built for vets while he graduated from UCLA. He found a job in 1950 as an accountant for a large construction firm. Ours was a very typical middle-class family except we moved around a lot and I went to eleven schools. I had a very normal and uneventful childhood.
Nacho comes over with a joint and lights up. I accept the joint taking a deep hit closing my eyes and pray. Nacho’s a good friend and listener so I tell him my father died while playing golf and about the last time I saw him.
May 1971. Dad had divorced Mom years before so I drove to his beachfront house where we strolled along the shore. I hadn’t seen him that much since my life of dealing and smuggling drugs so I apologized for being the errant son. I told him I had to say good-bye for a long time for I was going on the run in a few days.
He advised me against running. “If you pay your debt to society now, you’ll be a free man when you’re released. On the run, you’ll never be free.”
My overriding force in my life was my love for Penelope and going to prison meant losing her. It wasn’t going to happen that easily. Dad understood the love thing but knew I was in for a rough ride. He wished me luck and we embraced confirming our love for each other. Oh, how I regret not being able to see him again for our last meeting was so unsatisfying. You don’t think these things are going to happen then they do.
There’re five of us in my cell tonight. Manuel did well with the fifty pesos so Ignacio is rolling and I’m setting out munchies. I’m grieving but it’s nice to be with friends. We get stoned and stuff our faces with junk food telling stupid and funny stories.
Another week goes by while I wonder if anybody remembers I’m to be deported. “John Johnson,” Manuel yells from Patio door. This has to be it so Nacho gives me a big hug. I’m to grab my stuff from my cell so the commander allows Footman to accompany us so he can quickly stow his new mattress and sheets in his cell. I grab my bag, boots and toothbrush. Manuel leads me down the main corridor and right up to the front gate. It’s always an awkward moment when prisoners part though it was always going to happen. You build up tight bonds only to be broken. We’ve known each other intimately for 26 months so it’s a long hug as the guard patiently waits with the door open to the outside world.
“Buena suerte, hermano,” he wishes me.
And good luck is what I’ll need most. I’m logged out so the next hour will determine if I’m to be free or not. I’m wearing sneakers and ready to run. A guard handcuffs me to himself guiding me to a van stuffed with DAS agents and driven to the DAS jailhouse. Hey, this isn’t fair, you’re supposed to give me some kind of chance.
One agent that hauled me to the infirmary with a slashed wrist 27 months earlier is there and asks how I’m doing. “It wasn’t so bad in prison after all, was it?”
“No, it was easy.”
I’m assigned a cell with a small table, bed and sheets. I open my bag grabbing the only book I brought, Papillon, and begin reading it for the 4th time. I read fifty pages before stopping or I’ll finish it today. I pace the cell for an hour estimating that my chances of escaping are between slim and grim. I’ll be kept here probably for a week before they hand me over to the Americans. They hate to lose prisoners and don’t do it very often – not often enough anyway.
I hate to admit it but the part of me that grows daily by leaps and bounds is resignation. The realization I’ll be spending the next 10 to 15 years in prison back in the States scares me – a lifetime to someone almost 35. I read some more to see what Papillon has to say about life.
I’m eating yogurt when someone looks through the peephole. The door opens with two agents motioning for me to follow. I’m taken downstairs to the main lobby where agents are sitting behind desks doing paperwork. There’s a long counter just twenty feet from me where civilians are waiting in various lines on the other side being taken care of by secretaries. And thirty feet passed the counter is the entrance where people are coming and going out a large glass door. I’m fifty feet from freedom but one agent is stuck to me like a Siamese twin. They tell me I’m down here because Interpol has requested 92 copies of my fingerprints! Give me a fucking break. Prisoners hate being fingerprinted for they’re shitting on your fingers. All cops know this, and in turn, don’t like doing it. They apologize asking my patience and begin while I contemplate vaulting these fifty feet. I’m so close but all I’m going to do is cause some grief by leaping. This is always cathartic but I’m not going anywhere.
I’m back in my cell and the adrenaline is slowly dissipating. Should I have bolted? This was as close as I was going to get to Freedom’s Gate. No, it would’ve been just slashing my wrists again and I might’ve pissed them off enough to cut off my yogurt.
Someone knocks on my door, strange, then opens it. A suit and tie walks in with the door closing behind him and locked. He’ll yell when he wants out. He introduces himself shaking my hand asking permission to sit on my bed. He’s from the office of Admission and Release and has my file opened on his lap. I notice a deportation order on top as he shuffles through the papers and produces one that states that I’ve served all my time due Colombia. He explains no one leaves this facility without his signature, but with it, it’s a ticket home. Something here doesn’t make sense for all he has to do is sign a paper and I’m out. He gives me my paperwork to inspect, and sure enough, I’ve done my time plus.
I hand him back his papers. “But sir, how about the deportation order?”
“I’ll have you out of here before they do,” stating confidently, “for I know the mechanics.”
I’m dubious but...“How much?”
“You’re a free man for 2,200 pesos ($88).”
It’s like he knows I have 2,500 pesos on me. “I’m broke so how about 2,000 pesos.”
“No, no, the price is firm,” standing up to leave.
“Please, don’t get me wrong,” apologizing, “2,200 pesos will be just fine. So when do I get out?”
“In a few days.”
“In a few days, sir, I could be in California.”
“Okay,” with devious eyes, “tomorrow then.”
I know this isn’t true. He seems desperate but the pesos are going to be worthless to me in a few days. He assures me even Interpol can’t take me away without his signature and to trust him. I feel his desperation and obvious need for money. I’ve been in Colombia long enough to know this is probably a scam. He takes my money, Interpol comes and I’m gone. I have no other opportunities knocking and something about this guy makes me think that just maybe…I count out the money.
He yells for the jailer then knowingly lies, “I’ll see you tomorrow and you’ll be out in the street.”
The next day comes and goes with no Release-Man. Several days have passed and I’ve given up on him when someone opens my door. He walks over whispering, “Tranquilo, in two days you’re out.”
I hate people to jack me off when I’m not allowed to come.

SEPTEMBER 24, 1979
What happened?

Life is perfect,
but only for a second…

I finish my yogurt thinking how money is a serious problem again. This is nothing new, and shit, who cares? I’m sitting on my bed morose when my door swings open and enters Release-Man escorted by a DAS agent. He’s very serious and orders me to grab my possessions and to follow him. I stuff a few things into my bag and look at Papillon lying on my bed. I’ve read half but decide to leave it spread-eagled there.
“Au revoir mon ami Henri Charrière.”
Release-Man is being weird and won’t talk to me. His desk is in the main lobby only feet from where I was fingerprinted. He hands me some papers that I sign. He signs one handing it to the DAS agent who leaves. He stands up shaking my hand pointing towards the glass door.
In disbelief, I nonchalantly walk by a dozen agents’ desks being cool. I calmly pass through the lobby to the glass door being cool. I open and take the stairs three at a time and dash straight to the main drag and flag down a taxi giving him a street near Carlos’ home. Whoa, what just happened? I get out of the cab as it dawns on me – I’m really out. Un-fucking-real. I arrive at a yellow 2-story house and knock. Carlos answers standing there stunned and unmoving.
“May I enter?” I ask.
He pulls me inside quickly and goes outside looking around then closes and locks the door. It’s so good to see him and we embrace for the longest time. He’s crying and I’m smiling. He just reread the letter I recently sent him from La Picota telling him good-bye and thanks for being such a cool friend. And that I’d write him from the States to let him know what came down – and see you next lifetime. Carlos shows me the letter on the kitchen table.
“Well, here I am, hermano. I’ve just been reborn.”
“Some whiskey to celebrate?”
“For sure, but I have to first clean up.”
I go to the bathroom with soap, towel and razor. I look into the mirror and can’t believe what I see. I have a ten-day’s growth, my jaw muscles are knotted balls, my cheeks sunken, my eyes wide and crazed. I look like a refugee from a concentration camp. I still don’t believe I’m really out – but I am. I soap up the whiskers and off they come. A long, long hot shower that feels marvelous as I wash myself thoroughly many times watching the prison grim go down the drain. I’m truly free. The hot water runs out so it’s time to talk to Carlos and enjoy a whiskey. These past months have been an emotional roller coaster ride but I’m out. I’m really out. I gaze into the mirror and don’t believe the radical transition I see. I appear 5 years younger wearing a happy man’s face.
I return to the kitchen where on a table sits a bottle of Black Label, ice, two water glasses and some lines on a mirror. He pours me a Scotch and hands me the mirror.
“It’s not too early in the day, is it Carlos?”
He hands me a short straw so I guess not. Carlos is such an amazing friend. We’re sipping whiskey as I talk my head off. I tell him of my father’s demise and how the embassy took up a collection for me. We’re snickering from the irony that I wouldn’t have had enough money for the escape without it. We toast the embassy laughing uncontrollably. Oh, so much fun to be alive again.
I stare at the kitchen clock with much concern as we compose ourselves. Carlos looks at the clock for maybe I have somewhere to go. But I can’t keep a straight face. I tell him about now that Interpol would be going to my cell to find me and all they’re going to find is Papillon spread-eagled there. This is really hilarious shit. Oh, it’s so good to laugh again. You can forget how, you know.
The whiskey and coke are a good combination. We talked all afternoon and into the night and it’s like I haven’t been gone these past 27 months. He still drives his taxi doing this and that scam while Mistress is still giving him the blues. He’s still very much in love and she knows it and makes him pay for it.
“He who loves least – rules,” I remind him.
He already knows but he’s in love.
Carlos asks me about the escape everyone’s been reading about for months. He visited me in Patio 1 a year back and I showed him the wall explaining how I was going over it.
“I slept through it,” admitting embarrassingly.
“It’s lucky you had, for most of them are dead now.”
“No, Carlos, that was my wall.”
I explain about my frustrations in Villanueva and San Ysidro and how I was always looking at walls and striving to figure out how to get over or under them. This wall was my Mt Everest.
“But yeah, you’re right, Carlos,” agreeing after some thought, “now I’m lucky I slept through it.”
“Otherwise, half of Colombia would be looking for you. And you wouldn’t be here drinking whiskey with me if you had.”
“True,” lifting my glass of Johnnie Walker, “cheers.”


We talk into the wee hours until I couch it. I wake up the next day ready to go to work. I have 100 pesos, one good meal, and I need ID and expense money to get to the coast as soon as possible. I don’t want to make the same mistakes as last time. Carlos still has my suits and other clothing from 27 months back. It would’ve been insane to wear a suit in Las Cruces so I kept them here. He shows me some $50 and $100 notes but the printing is bad and the paper worse. He’ll try to get better tomorrow.
I don’t feel like working for I’ve been out only 24 hours and it’s still sinking in. I should be happier than I am but yesterday was fantasy and today’s reality. Carlos is concerned about Mistress finding out I’m on the lamb. She read my letter and, wham, here I am. She has tantrums once a year and goes to a friend’s house calling the police on him telling them of his dealings. The police investigate taking reports and sometimes search his home. They make up and everything’s fine again but this is too dangerous for me. She doesn’t drink or snort and left us alone most of yesterday. Although she did make an appearance sitting next to Carlos teasing him and politely inquired as to my health.
“I’m okay, it just feels good to be out is all.”
“I thought you were to be deported?”
“No, no, a lawyer at the last minute did some legal maneuvering. Just lucky, I guess.”
I need a place to stay. Carlos has talked with a family living in the suburbs that has agreed to put me up for a few weeks until I’m settled. I met the brother and three sisters at a gathering at Carlos’ 28 months ago. The sister named Manuela intrigued me and we’d dated on several occasions before I was busted. Carlos drives me to their 3-bedroom house where they live with their mother. The family is ultra-straight so Carlos told them I was busted for counterfeits and not cocaine which is taboo. I’m to sleep on a bunk bed in the brother’s room. Manuela has eyes for me but her mother’s watching.
I bus it to Carlos’ the next day. He makes a few calls then leaves to pick up some passports. I walk the neighborhood while he’s gone for I find his house too confining. Plus the air tastes good outside. I feel a little paranoid but it doesn’t interfere with the mixed feelings I’m experiencing. I should be more ecstatic but the threat of getting recaptured is always looming. I must take my time and make few mistakes.
Carlos returns with several passports. I don’t like any of them but decide on one that’s German though I don’t fit the size, weight or age. It’ll do in a pinch for its main purpose is to show people when I’m to cash the bad bucks. Carlos takes the passport to be doctored after having photos taken. He returns shortly showing me some more funny money but it isn’t making me laugh. It’s all terrible. It’ll be a few days wait for the passport to be doctored and hopefully better bucks. Carlos is footing the bill so I’m in debt. He also loans me 1,000 pesos so I’m okay.
Manuela and I are on a day’s excursion. We’re on our way off the high plateau that is Bogotá down to 5,000 feet. We pass by amazingly beautiful lush jungles and farms. The day is magical and I feel completely free with zero paranoia. I’m finally holding hands with a woman after so many years. She’s sweet and enjoys showing me all the sites. This is freedom and is what I was fighting for.
Carlos gives me my passport. I could’ve done a better job with the picture myself. But the dollars are better.
“So Carlos, what do you need for your home?”
I hate doing this and have never felt it right for it’s petty and too much on Front Street. A TV is advertised in the paper so Carlos calls making an appointment. We arrive there in his taxi where I buy this monstrous 21-inch affair. The passport’s now paid for and I’m out of debt.
It’s been over 3 years since I’ve been with Pancha. I used to think of her continually while inside La Picota and about how poorly it all ended. I loved her dearly and feel guilty about what I should’ve done but now is another day.
Manuela and I live together with four chaperons. I’m gone all day while she designs and stuffs super cool animals. We’re off for long walks at night holding hands, necking on park benches or behind bushes breathing heavily. We’re falling in love though I’ve made my intentions of leaving Bogotá soon very clear but neither of us cares. Our day trips now include thatched-roof rooms where we make love. She’s 28 and quite pretty with thick, long, light brown hair that covers her breasts when standing. She’s a passionate lover and we spend days of pure magic.
I’m making some bucks with the phonies but end up partying with Carlos doing lines and drinking expensive Scotch from nights that turn into day and back into night again.
I’ve been living with Manuela for three weeks so it’s time to move on. I find a dingy, dinky, drab room for 600 pesos ($24) a month. It’s right in the middle of a large, crowded, noisy market place in downtown Bogotá.
I pick Manuela up in a taxi a week later and we’re off to see a movie. She adores Clint Eastwood and wants to see his latest flick – Escape from Alcatraz. I haven’t seen a movie since the States, whenever that was, and she picks this movie. The movie’s great with Clint getting away never to be seen again. I know he made it for he deserved it. The man went through Hell. I relate.
Her mom wants her home by midnight so this doesn’t leave us much time. I’ve always felt guilty about the lie I’m living for Manuela doesn’t deserve to be lied to. We’re drinking coffee at a small café when I confess that I too had escaped – just like Clint Eastwood. She listens to a glossed-over version silently where I tell her my first bust was for coke. I can’t read her for her face shows little emotion.
It’s the pumpkin hour so we grab a cab back to her place. We’re in the back seat snuggling as she quietly digests what I’ve disclosed. I ask her opinion mitigating that sometimes one isn’t necessarily the person a past might be indicative of and that I care for her deeply. But the truth is too much so I drop her off without a promise for a day trip. She needs time to think.
I’ve cashed $2,000 dollars of counterfeits making little. It always takes up too much time and always makes me nervous. When you deal cocaine and your client is happy then nothing more is said. It’s the antithesis with phonies for the receiver’s going to find out and they’re not going to be happy. You leave a trail of miserable people and cops. Bad karma.
Time for a change so I’m now hitting the different haunts where gringos hang out. I’m now dealing blow by the gram on the street making money. Not much but enough to have fun with. I’m spending more nights with Carlos doing lines than Mistress so she gets pissed off one night and threatens to call the cops. It’ll cost him a gold necklace that she’s been begging for.
I turn 35 years old.
I’ve been free for two months but I’m still not any closer to the coast and my mythical yacht. I’m making nickels, spending dimes. I’m consuming too much cocaine and making the same mistakes as before. I sometimes spend the night alone in my room with some grams and a needle. I’m getting premonitions about getting popped so I have to focus and vanish.
I’m walking crowded downtown when I hear, “John, John…” being yelled. I turn around to see Santiago waving at me! This is too cool for he was also just released from La Picota.
“How did you get out, John? Were you released? Any problems?”
“It’s a long story, Santi,” looking at the crowd around us.
He invites me over to his apartment for he has plenty of time to listen. Then adds that his roommate’s Gonzalo Careño! We catch a taxi to a 12-story apartment building on Carrera Séptima and 40th Street. It’s upscale and only a few short blocks from the US Embassy on 32nd Street. People working there live here and my picture could be pinned up all over the embassy’s walls so I must be careful. He lives on the 7th floor with his wife Liliana who’s out shopping. The pad is carpeted and nicely furnished with two bedrooms. Gonzalo will soon be home. I didn’t see Gonzalo when he was released so Santiago explains that Careño’s judge released him because he’d done so many years in prison without a trial. His wife paid major money to the judge but he left her a month after his release.
I’ve some blow so Santi retrieves a bottle of aguardiente. We’re getting stoned when I hear Gonzalo unlocking the door. He can’t believe I’m standing there as he opens it. He introduces me to his girlfriend who’s standing there looking like a model. I saw her before when she came to visit him when his wife wasn’t scheduled to come. I put more lines on the mirror and more anisette is poured. We’re talking about old times in prison getting high and remembering people.
“Whatever happened to Charlie Fiocconi?” we wonder.
“If anyone could ever get out of Colombia,” we agree, “he could.”

Author: I’d wondered for many years whatever happened to Fiocconi until I read Howard Mark’s Mr Nice. He’d mentioned doing time with Charlie at the US federal prison in Terra Haute, Indiana. And how he’d been one of the most interesting prisoners he’d ever met.

Santi greets Liliana as she opens the door. I met her before when she visited Santi. She’s one of the most stunningly beautiful women I’ve ever met. She stops traffic. She’s shocked as she approaches me.
“Aren’t you supposed to be somewhere far away?”
“I’m supposed to be but I escaped.”
I get to tell the story again. We do more lines and I go into more detail this time. This night is special for what a coincidence that we should all be together free!
“So where are you living now?” Santi asks.
“In the ghetto but it’s easy to stay anonymous there. Okay, it’s crap and I hate it but…say what? Stay here? Are you kidding?”
They insist. I’d be safer for sure for I’ve always felt bad vibes about living where I am. This is an unbelievable break so I jet to the market and back. I move in with the couch being mine.
I have a phone now. Manuela has called Carlos several times looking for me but I’m ambivalent. Part of me desperately wants her, while and the other, I’m going out of town soon. Her mother answers when I call and runs off to find her.
After pleasantries she asks, “Why haven’t you called earlier? Didn’t Carlos tell you I’ve been looking for you?”
“I’ve been busy, mi amor, but good news, I’ve moved into a new apartment. And I was thinking…You would? Sure, I’d love for you to come over. It’s on la Séptima…”
Everybody splits the next morning for they’re preparing to leave Bogotá in the next six weeks and are busy in that. Christmas is four weeks away then I’m bound for the coast even if I have to hitchhike. My premonitions of being busted are stronger than ever.
Manuela arrives at the apartment looking delicious. I tell her so and that I’m hungry. Our lovemaking is long, soft and comfortable. She scolds me for not calling earlier for she decided shortly after the movie that my past was my past. She likes who I am and we’ll worry about Christmas when it comes. So we live in the here and now, in the physical, for tomorrow is not a part of it. She leaves promising we’ll get together again in a few days.
Gonzalo comes home with Model. They talk about having vacationed in Cartagena on the Atlantic coast a few months back and are contemplating moving there. They think I should check it out. Santi and Liliana return home after a day of bureaucratic bullshit so Liliana can go to Spain with Santi. The conversation turns to kidnapping during dinner. Gonzalo’s obsessed and has devised an elaborate scheme in which Model’s a major player. Santi won’t touch it so he questions me about it. Passing counterfeits plagues on my conscience, kidnapping?
“Thanks for the offer, Gonzalo, but I’m leaving town in a few weeks.”
The weeks are going by fast with Manuela’s visits being my only bright spots. Carlos owes me some pesos but isn’t presently solvent. What Mistress wants, Mistress gets. I’m determined to leave for I feel the cuffs already on my wrists. I only see Carlos when doing business for Mistress doesn’t like me and says I’m a bad influence on hubby. I fear her though we’re polite to each other.
I obtain a better passport that should get me to Cartagena for Gonzalo has convinced me. I’ve a few thousand pesos but will need more. I’ve customers wanting coke for export but Carlos’ connections have all been dry for a week now. Nothing is going right just like last time – Big House here I come.
Wham, things get better. Carlos comes through with fifty grams that fills half an order. Plus he made money on other scams so he pays the money he owes me. I’ve 10,000 pesos ($400) so I’m gone. I inform the four who couldn’t be happier. I call Manuela explaining I’ll be going soon so she’s coming over tomorrow. I’m relieved mentally and psychically so we five party for I’m soon history.
Manuela comes over the next morning as the others are hurriedly departing. We’re naked without formalities for this will be our last time together. We’re putting on brave faces talking a lot. I tell her how important it was for me as a person just out of prison to find someone like herself who cared for me. Everyone except Gonzalo feels trashed after getting out of prison with feelings of inadequacy. She has made me feel worthwhile more than anyone else and has brought love back into my life. Our parting is sad for we care deeply for each other.
It’s nighttime and I’m over at Carlos’ to say good-bye properly. A bottle of Black Label is on the coffee table along with a couple of grams of coke. And permission from Mistress only because she’s so delighted never to see me again.
“You know something, Carlos, Mistress is probably right. I’m a bad influence on you.”
Pouring Scotch, “I can get into trouble without your help. I’ve been doing it for years.”
We enjoy each other’s company and the craziness of conversations after endless hours of staying awake. Carlos, you’ve been such a great friend but it’s time to go. Love you, man, and hugs to Mistress for me. Adiós.
I arrive at the apartment early morning with everyone awake. I say my good-byes and thank them for hiding me out this past month. I go to the bus station to find there’re no direct buses to Cartagena but I’m in no hurry. The bus ride is spectacular. The sheer beauty of Colombia is awesome and I finally get to see the forests and farmlands where every pass, hill and valley are more spectacular than the ones before. I feel euphoric as the bus weaves through mountain passes meant for donkeys. It feels marvelous to be out of prison and Bogotá headed for the sea.

It is best when living
in the fast lane,
To be holding onto
the guardrail…

It was a long bus ride taking days until we arrive on the outskirts of Cartagena’s famed walled city. I get off the bus energized for the air is tropical and not cold and damp like Bogotá. I enter under an archway through a massive wall that surrounds the most beautiful centuries-old city I’ve ever experienced. I find a room for 60 pesos a night at a Spanish-style guesthouse.
It’s time to explore so I climb onto the 400-year-old wall marveling at all the cannons that face Mother Sea. Ah, it’s been so long. I’ve lived on the ocean since I was 15 and love it. Cartagena is divided into the Old and New City. Gonzalo mentioned the New City was where the marina was located with plenty of yachts and boats moored there. What better way to start the day than to catch a boat back home? I might even have a selection for there have to be people sailing north – lots of them.
The road connecting the two parts of the city skirts the sea so I bend over touching it, and unable to resist, I remove my boots and shirt and jump in. Ah, it’s so good to be free in a place where no one’s looking for me – though some are looking at me splashing around childishly. The marina’s easy to find in my wet 501’s. It’s a labyrinth without rhyme or reason so I find several vantage points but what I see is discouraging. There’s plenty of small sailing craft, fishing boats and a few that might be called yachts but nothing big enough to tackle the Atlantic. It won’t be that easy after all.
It’s time to eat, have a beer and relax for I’m no longer in Bogotá. I’m stressed after three months of being in the wrong places late at night dealing grams, having my ID checked by roving police patrols and plenty of close calls. You lose your sensibility with cocaine but that’s a thing of the past for all my energies will now be directed at finding a boat. I’ll get to know some harbor people then I’m on my way back home. Easy.
Nope. My first week here is an introduction to seafood, salsa, Cuba Libres and the grim reality that boats going north for long distances are rare. I thought every port in the world had hundreds of yachts going everywhere. I’ve seen movies and I want this to be part of mine.
I’m meeting plenty of gringo travelers. There’s plenty of smoke and coke around and the reality that I’ll be here for awhile means making money. I must find a coke connection if I’m going into business so I meet a gringo who’s taking me to his gram connection. I didn’t say anything but what he showed me earlier was real garbage but I have to start somewhere. He introduces me to Gram-Man at his corner haunt in the Old City. I look at an under-weight gram of white powder supposedly cocaine. I take a tiny taste to the tongue that numbs immediately. It’s Novocaine, lidocaine or somethingcaine but definitely not cocaine. Gram-Man’s been on the street too long and would rob his own mother. I complain so he lowers his price.
“Hombre, I wouldn’t put this up my nose for free.”
“Está bien, gringo, I’ll bring something very special mañana just for you.”
I looked at several things during the week before he comes up with something that hasn’t been stepped on. It’s the real deal but it’s expensive at 1,200 pesos ($48).
Grumbling, “It’s half that price in Bogotá.”
“We’re not in Bogotá,” Gram-Man grins.
This is good stuff so I’m determined to meet his connection. I don’t want blow right now but I told him if he comes up with something good that I’d buy it. I tell him it’s a sample for some gringos wanting to buy a hundred grams. He’s salivating while promising he can deliver for nobody in Cartagena has better connections than he does. He’s biting at the bait as we haggle over price in dollars while drinking rum at a sidewalk café.
“My friends will trust me with the $3,500,” I entice, “but will your connection trust you with the hundred grams?”
“Es posible, gringo, but it’d be easier if you give me the money up front,” beseeching unconvincingly, “then I’ll return with the coca.”
“No, my friends would never allow that, hombre, for you never front fronted money. So I’ll have to meet your connection when the deal comes down.”
“I don’t know about that. I’ll have to talk with him first.”
I walk by a pharmacy and old temptations return. What Gram-Man has sold me is excellent, so what the hell, one gram won’t kill me.
I’m truly enjoying Cartagena for I’ve never been in a place I loved more. It has everything and is the safest city in Colombia. You can walk anywhere in the Old and New City at 2am without fear. Cops are few but about for criminals here are eliminated – particularly the petty ones. It’s virtually an island for the only major highway into town is from the coastal city of Barranquilla. Rich Colombian tourists come here to vacation with their families and want it to be safe. There’s plenty of money around with most locals having found a niche so nobody’s hungry. I spend many hours a day swimming the Atlantic and walking its glorious, white sand beaches. Bogotá is a vague memory, and prison? What prison? I feel good about myself and the world’s okay though I’m almost out of money. The stuff doesn’t last very long.
I meet with Gram-Man who informs me that his connection can easily deliver the 100 grams. But I complain that my factitious friends don’t want to front me the money unless I first meet his connection just in case I might get rob.
“Of course, I trust you but my friends…” I lie reassuringly.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“But, hombre, look at all the dollars we’d be making if we could only pull off this deal.”
We catch a cab the next afternoon to his connections house all the while he’s reminding me that this is HIS connection and not mine. And he’ll do all the talking. He fears I might steal his connection and his fears are well founded.
His connection lives six miles up the main highway to Barranquilla. We exit the taxi to find Connection sitting outside his house at a large wooden table under a tree with friends drinking beer. It’s shady but only a few yards from the highway with the occasional car and truck passing by. He shakes my right hand giving me a beer with his left. He appears unpretentious but likes an audience. We’ve been talking awhile but not about drugs for we’re slowly getting to know each other. Gram-Man is nervous for Connection is deliberately ignoring him preferring to talk to friends and me. It’s now obvious Gram-Man fears Connection and that Connection trusts Gram-Man less than I do. This will be easier than I thought for I don’t have to do a thing. He doesn’t want Gram-Man fucking things up so he’s out of the car. What I’m doing is totally wrong in the drug world but…
Beers later we get around to discussing drugs. The sample I bought the other night is no longer available so he shows me something else. I open a packet and can see it’s no good. He’s testing me. He shows me several different qualities wanting my opinion but I’m not impressed with any of it. The good stuff finally comes out. It has a nice kick and the price is fair. Gram-Man whines he’s not getting his cut. Connection assures him that he’ll take care of him if any deal is to come down. Gram-Man can’t say anything although he’s been promised a commission he knows he’ll never see. Connection gives him a gram and 100 pesos for taxi and summarily dismisses him. He doesn’t want to leave without me and whimpers but Connection waves him off. We do beers and lines for hours where I find Connection complex, interesting and I trust him. I’ve learned while living on the street that you can make money anywhere in the world with a good drug connection for drug dealing is universal.
I’ve lived in the Old City now for two month. I frequent a pub owned by an Englishman named Gary in the New City. He knows I’m dealing grams and snagging clients at his bar but he’s fine with it as long as nothing is exchanged there. I’m making okay money but nothing that’ll buy me a ticket out of town. I spend hours every day on the beach sunbathing and enjoying the bikinis. The boat thing is a fantasy but Cartagena’s the best place on the planet to be stranded. I see Connection several times a week and he fronts me ten grams at a time. Life is going smoothly. I’m doing blow but keeping it sensible. Well, not always for I’m sticking sharp objects into my arms again knowing it’s the worst thing I can do.
10am. I’m walking passed the bus station where I arrived. I plan on going to the beach when I hear, “John, stop.” Shit, who could that be this time? A man in slacks and sport coat is walking towards me. I don’t recognize him as he pulls out his ID while intentionally exposing a gun tucked under his belt. He’s DAS and probably one of the hooded skulls 3 years back. He tells me I’m under arrest but he hasn’t touched me. His gun’s still in his waistband meaning he doesn’t want to show it.
I think he wants to deal so without formalities, “How much?”
“I want 20,000 pesos and you walk off,” whispering matter-of-factly.
That’s $800, an impossible amount, and I’ve only 3,000 pesos on me that I know aren’t enough. I talk him down to 10,000 pesos as if I had it on me. I should’ve had at least this much stashed away in case of an emergency like this – but for my love of cocaine. I give him the 3,000 pesos in my wallet with empty promises.
“I’ll have to go off and get you the rest. It’ll take a few hours then I’ll return. I promise.”
DAS-Agent insists on accompanying me but I tell him the people I have to see wouldn’t appreciate a police escort. We end up in a small café talking for thirty minute when he finally realizes I’m not taking him with me. He opens up a little knowing he has to trust me. He’s from Bogotá and lets it slip he’ll be leaving in a few days. We’re to meet back here in four hours, and as I depart, I reassure him for the umpteenth time I’ll be back at 2pm sharp with his money.
I rush back to my guesthouse snatching my belonging and make haste to Peter and Paolo’s 2-bedroom apartment where they live with their mother, sister and her two-year-old son.
I met Peter and Paolo a month back. They’re 17 and fraternal twins. Peter is 6’1”, good looking, very polite and all the girls love him. Paolo is a stocky 5’10” and is the more aggressive one and would do any dare at the drop of a hat. They were born in Colombia of Italian parents. Their father, now dead, was the Italian ambassador to Colombia many years back. They were young when the family moved to the Florida coast where they were raised becoming surfers. Cartagena gets small 2- to 3-ft waves that are just barely big enough to ride but still a wave. I still consider myself a surfer-hippie for my favorite time ever was living on Maui surfing.
They had surfboards so I went over to talk some surfing stories. They were from Cocoa Beach, FL and talked about the waves they’d ridden on the eastern seaboard. They talked me into using one of their boards and I paddled out though it’d been forever. The waves were small and not what I was used to so I could barely catch a wave much less stand up. I made a fool of myself for an hour then paddled back in. The youngsters showed no respect for their elder as they cracked up for they’d never seen anything that funny before. They went into detail about the waves I’d almost caught and mimed the ways I’d fallen off the board.
We’d met on the beach several times when they asked me about getting some grass. I knew they lived with their mother and told her everything so I told them there was nothing around. I saw them on the beach a few days later. They’d scored from someone else and invited me to join them. They started to roll up right there when I freaked for this was Cartagena’s main beach. It’s a long, wide strip of white sand, and as I pointed out, any one of the fifty people we could see could be a cop.
“Yes, even that old crone over there using a walker.”
“Then let’s go to our place and roll up. Our mother wants to meet you. She knows all about you.”
“Oh, great…”
“You don’t have to worry, dude, she’s super cool.”
They’d been smoking at home since age 13 for she’d preferred that they smoked at home than elsewhere. They really wanted me to meet their mother, and I also suspected, she wanted to meet this man who’d been in prison and was attempting to get back to the States on the sly. I liked her kids so it was about time she met me. We walked to the marina to a 20-story apartment building going up to the 14th floor. Their mother answered the door and Paolo sprinted straight to the coffee table to roll one. Meanwhile, Peter introduced me to his mother, Mrs C, his sister and her 2-year-old son.
The apartment was nice with a marvelous view of the entire marina, the surrounding high rises and the ocean beyond. I was standing in the kitchen talking to Mrs C while she prepared coffee and snacks. She was 50 and proud of being a grandmother with her weight attesting to her fine cooking. She politely listened as I tried to subtly alleviate her fears about me when Paolo yelled that the joint was lit.
“Make yourself comfortable,” Mrs C insisted, “there’ll be coffee in seconds.”
Mrs C joined us with a tray of coffee as we smoked the joint. She listened while her twins were eager to impress me that I wasn’t the only one with a past and on the run. They weren’t supposed to tell anyone, looked at mother for permission, and then told me about how they’d been busted for smoking grass at a party back home in Florida. They’d been juveniles but tried as adults. It’d been getting time for sentencing with the strong possibly of going to jail. Mrs C had lived in Cartagena for years keeping in close contact with her friends here while living in Florida. They’d all been very influential so she’d easily obtained the twins Colombian passports whisking them off to Cartagena. She’d retained lawyers back home who were working out some kind of deal but she absolutely refused to return to the States if the twins had to go to jail.
“They were only smoking pot, whose kids don’t?” She protested.
I don’t know why but I told the family about a surfer-hippie who’d been in trouble with the law and hadn’t wanted to go to jail. So he’d flown to Colombia to smuggle drugs back to the States but had been caught. He’d served 33 months in prison before escaping and had spent a year trying to leave Bogotá. He’d been busted again serving another 27 months before fleeing once more. And that finally this surfer-hippie was on the coast looking for a boat back home. Nobody was taken aback. Mrs C was sympathetic for she’d lived in Colombia for years and knew the prisons here were bad news. The twins just thought I was on a cool adventure though they weren’t too far off – Cartagena was what made the difference. It was a much better backdrop than Bogotá.
Mrs C would’ve seen right through me if I would’ve pretended to be someone other than myself. I became part of the family over the weeks. The twins refused to learn Spanish despite or because of their mother’s urging. I ribbed them about it pointing out they were Colombians and couldn’t speak Spanish. They understood a lot but were too embarrassed to speak. I convinced them it was cool and started speaking to them slowly in Spanish. They’d answer in English but began doing so in Spanish. They were too self-conscious at first but were soon sweet-talking all the cute, Colombian, teenage girls that always surrounded them.
I knock and the door opens. The twins are fixing pancakes fighting over who should cook while Mrs C is playing with her grandson. I sit next to her recounting what has just come down.
“If it’s okay, Mrs C, I’d like to stash my belongings here while I find a place to stay.”
“Where are you going to stay? Do you know?”
“Huh, I’m sure something will pop up.”
She insists I stay here. I remind her of the possible dangers but counters she can take care of herself. Cool, that she can.
Mrs C knows what I do for a living. The twins asked me weeks back about scoring a gram.
“First, you guys can’t afford the 1,000 pesos,” knowing this one would never fly. “Second, if your mother finds out, I’m out of the car.”
“She’ll never find out.”
“Your mother reads you guys like a book.”
“We’ll score from someone else then.”
“If you do, your mom will find out and I’ll still get blamed. No more lasagna. That’d piss me off and I just might come looking for you guys.”
They understood the lasagna part and said they’d just beat me up if I came looking for them. I’m sure the story got back to Mrs C.
DAS-Agent is going to be furious after waiting for me these last few hours. I would’ve paid him if I had the money and life goes on. This taints everything. The 3,000 pesos I gave him were slated for Connection and I’ve no way of making it up. The most hackneyed story in Colombia is when you front merchandise, the person comes back saying the police busted him and confiscated it. I’m trying to think of a better tale than the truth but none comes.
I still have a few grams left so I go over to the Pub to see what’s up. Gary and I are now good friends for I come here most evenings for the Cuba Libres he does so well. I tell him what happened.
“I’m sorry, mate, can I help in any way?”
“No, Gary, I’m fine. I’m staying at an apartment in the marina.”
“If I can help, say so. Meanwhile, mate, here’s a drink on the house,” handing me a rum and Coke.
I have only one for I’m in a hurry. I shouldn’t be out on the street at all for a week and lie low but I’m broke. I leave the Pub going to several places scouting clients for these last grams and sell all but one. I’ll be seeing Connection tomorrow and he’s not going to be happy.
I return to the apartment and Paolo rolls up one. I stand on their 14th-story balcony looking out over the innumerable lights from the high-rise condos. They have a cat that Paolo loves to hold over the balcony railing with one hand so the cat can get a bird’s-eye view of the driveway 14 stories below. The cat doesn’t share his feelings.
I bus it to Connection’s house the next day. I’d never lost anything in all the years I’ve been dealing. And that had been for serious money, not pennies, but pennies right now are essential for my survival. I need this guy and he doesn’t need stories. I find him seated at his usual table with his entourage. He wasn’t drinking but sends out for beers. I don’t know where to start so I give him the 1,200 pesos I have still owing him 2,800 pesos. I don’t apologize for losing the money but for the story I’m about to relate. He listens then retorts that a dozen people have tried this trick on him and doesn’t believe me. I wouldn’t have believed me either for this is Colombia and everybody’s used this trick. He probably figures it went up my nose.
I decide it’s time to tell him the big story about the five years in prison, the two escapes, my battle to reach the coast and getting a good connection to survive. Life was okay until DAS-Agent entered the picture costing me 3,000 pesos and he’s still out there looking for me. We’ve had a few beers and everyone is listening at the table. I add in a few prison stories to soften up the sympathy angle so he now doubts his doubts. Maybe I’m telling the truth so he fronts me ten more.
A week has passed but I’m still constantly on the lookout for DAS-Agent everywhere I go. I’m sitting at the Pub talking to Gary.
“I think it’s about time for me to get another pad.”
“Why’s that, mate?” handing me my second rum. “You’re not happy where you are?”
“No, it’s not that. The family is cool, it’s just that being home early is confining and not good for business.”
“Well, if you want, mate, you can stay at my place until Scotty gets back next week.”
Gary lives in a 4th-story apartment in a 10-story building only yards from the beach. His roommate, Scotty, is a scuba diver working on an offshore oilrig where he lives in a diving bell for a week at a time doing deep-sea welding. He’s flown by helicopter to Cartagena for R & R on his week off. I know the apartment well for Gary doesn’t open the Pub until mid-afternoon so I go to his place most mornings where he always has a bottle opened. We sit on the balcony sipping rum looking at all the bikinis walking by forty feet below. It’s a perfect beach pad with two bedrooms and a maid’s quarters
I gather up my belongings the next morning saying good-bye to the twins and family. I truly feel privileged to have known them so intimately. They’re happy to hear I’m moving in with Gary.
“You’re invited over for lasagna, anytime,” Mrs C reminds me.
“I’m not going very far. I’ll be around so save me some.”
Living with Gary in normal surroundings on the beach with the constant offshore breeze blowing through the sliding-glass door is a high point. Gary’s up at 9am but won’t start drinking until a particular hour for he doesn’t want to start too early. It’s 10am so he opens the rum bottle while I’m putting cubes in water glasses. The first ones are weak for he won’t be closing the Pub until 1am. He doesn’t like blow for it makes him jittery and paranoid, whereas I get drunk easily if I don’t snort a few lines. I’m off to the beach after a few Cuba Libres for the rest of the morning. It’s my front yard. I’m making forays into the Old City once more for this is where the travelers hang out. Biz is good and I’ll be making my last installment to Connection soon.
Scotty returns from the oilrig. He’s Scottish and looks it at a husky 6’2”, 220 lbs, red hair and even redder beard. I can see this guy tossing tree trunks for fun. Gary suggested I ask him about the maid’s quarters so I do after we get to know each other. I tell him my situation in detail – cops are out there and they’re looking for me. He doesn’t blink and could care less. He’s a deep-sea diver working with incredible danger and doesn’t scare easily from the few tales I’ve heard. The maid’s quarters are mine for a 1,000 pesos.
A month passes while I’m enjoying life to the max. This is a perfect place to hide out. It’s at the extreme end of the beach and is where I’ve always come to swim. This is the first time in 6 years I’ve had a place where I’m completely comfortable – and it’s mine. I like it when Scotty’s in town for I admire him for what he does. Scotty has real tales. He’s 35 and has spent 15 years diving starting off with deep-sea diving suits with air hoses and compressors. He’s been all over the world working and welding on oilrigs and was once in Israel where he purchased a switchblade knife. It’s a beauty and he gives it to me. It’s amazingly well made having a deer-horn handle with a 4-inch blade. Push the button, SNAP, so it’s fun to play with. This is Colombia and I always feel safer carrying a knife.
The months go by and it’s easy living for Cartagena is the best. I’ll sell nothing one day then sell 4 or 5 grams the next – very small time but it buys the bacon. The people I deal with are all travelers who are in town for a few weeks then off for other adventures. I explore the Old City whenever possible for its sheer beauty but I’m worried I’m not paranoid enough.
I meet a captain going north. He has a 1910 sailboat with twin masts that he restored in San Francisco. His teenage daughter’s bust and boobs adorn the front of the sailboat craved in wood. He’d like to help me but a sailor without papers…
One mast broke so a new one’s being made on a nearby island a mile off the coast. It’ll take weeks for there’s only one local master shipbuilder capable of making a mast. He’s doing it the old-fashioned way with hammer and chisel and refuses to use a saw. The captain’s in a hurry but the mast maker is old and this is the tropics. I’ve been to the island several times with him to see a tree being turned into a mast. There’s a very primitive fishing village there with a surprising number of men walking around missing a hand – some both. Dynamiting is their favorite way of fishing and is the most horrendous thing you can do to the sea. Normally, 90% of the fish sink to the bottom while only 10% float. These they gather up in their small boats and spear with a harpoon so as to appear to be legally caught. I’ve no sympathy for these individuals for there are plenty of ways of catching fish – though none easier.
I’ve lived in Cartagena for five months now and I love it. Many of us party until dawn at the apartment after Gary closes the Pub. There’re plenty of beautiful loose women around to help consume bottles of rum and mirrors of cocaine. Tomorrow will take care of itself.
I wake up this afternoon in a particularly weird frame of mind – self-destruct, really. Connection came up with some excellent blow and I was up all night snorting it with an assortment of travelers going to bed with someone at dawn. But what I truly want to do is to slam. I never do it when people are about, which has been the case all week, so what I need is privacy.
There’s a bar/brothel a few miles north of the Old City on the coast that’s built on a very rickety pier. It’s constructed from reclaimed lumber, pieces of tin roofing and plastic sheeting. It’s late afternoon when I arrive there. I walk by several working women in different states of undress as they busy themselves putting on makeup and stuffing themselves into frilly garments.
I find the proprietor/madam and procure a room. “No, señora, I won’t be needing a woman for the night. Too tired.”
She shows me to a niche with a bed, small table, towel, glass and pitcher of water. I immediately set out the already modified syringe and three grams of crystal on the table. I set out the spoon and dump a large pile of shiny flakes into it. The first slam is the best so a large amount is called for. I add more if the quantity isn’t so scary that it causes me to ponder that I might die doing it. It only takes moments for me to prepare the concoction and to tie myself off. I’m shaking from the anticipation while I jam the needle into my arm. I hit a vein immediately and watch the blood rise up into the syringe. This is the moment that one is in total control of one’s consciousness for with just a squeeze on the pacifier is the promise of ecstasy. It’s better than any orgasm imaginable for surely no woman could do this to one.
I squeeze half the coke into my vein tasting it in my month, when suddenly, I feel an explosion of brain cells igniting my mind with a blaze of lightning and the roar of rolling thunder that blocks out all thought. Wow, what a rush! The coke is much stronger than I anticipated and I’m reluctant to slam the rest. But the needle is still in the vein, too easy, so I squeeze in the remainder of the coke. I lie back on the bed thinking I’ve really done it this time for my heart is fluttering, then stops for a second, beats slowly once or twice then flutters again.
I lay on the bed for twenty minutes thinking I just bought the farm before regaining my senses. Man, that was close. I better not do so much the next time. I make up the mixture but I’m trembling from the affects of the cocaine so I stabbed myself several times before hitting a vein. I slam the dope again half at a time but the rush isn’t there which is what injecting coke is all about. The coke is making me jittery and I’m having a hard time making up my next shot. I put in plenty this time and jab the needle into my arm but I’m having a hard time finding a vein, and when I do, I slam it all in at once. Whoa, rush from Hell. That one did it for sure for I’m shaking uncontrollably wondering when my heart is going to burst. This is total insanity. I can hear cops outside and they’re whispering stuff I can almost understand. I huddle up in a ball completely paranoid out of my skull. What have I done?
An hour passes yet the police haven’t taken me away. I open my door peeking outside rapidly but all I see are tawdry women being groped by men drinking beer. The cops must’ve been just paranoid delusions, nothing more than an overactive imagination, so it must be time to do more. It doesn’t take long to prepare the poison but my arms are already taking a beating. I should be more careful but I’m overly anxious so I keep missing the veins. I find a vein but only shot up part of the mixture before the needle goes through it. I hit another vein and blast it away but most of it goes into my arm instead. I don’t feel any rush but I think I hear the cops returning. They must’ve been hiding when I looked out the door. I’m trembling on the bed waiting for them to bust in when I notice these giant 3-inch cockroaches staring at me on the wall. I go up close to one noticing its antennas are really TV cameras! The cops are spying on me.
But I don’t care for all I want is to feel that coke rush one more time. They can watch if they want to and arrest me for I don’t give a flying fuck. I take my time preparing the next blast when I notice I can’t hear the police any longer. I take a quick gander out the door without seeing any uniforms about. They’re there hiding, I’m sure, but who gives a fuck? I close the door and begin poking holes in my arms with an unsteady hand and a needle that keeps clogging with coagulated blood. I get some of it into a vein but most of it not. But wait, the cops are just outside my door and there are cockroaches everywhere. I take a shoe off and attack one on the floor slamming it hard but all it does is look back at me with its evil antennas. I hit it several more times but it doesn’t seem to phase it. How can it withstand the beating I’ve given it? I inspect the bug closely realizing the fucker is made of polished brass – no wonder I can’t hurt it. And they’re everywhere.
It’s been an hour but the cops still haven’t arrested me for some reason. They’re playing with me. They can see everything I’m doing with their cockroach buddies so they’re taking their sweet-ass time. Fuck’em, let’em watch me do it again. I make it strong for it’s better to OD than to go back to prison. I find a vein easily and shoot it all in at one time. Suddenly, a jet plane crashes inside my brain and a fireball engulfs my skull. My heart is beating so fast that it hurts. Cops are running down the hall calling out my name. I’m a goner. Cockroach spies are circling in on me. I attempt to destroy one with my shoe but it flies at me landing on my leg terrifying me. I beat at it with my shoe but it remains undaunted as it glares back at me with its TV feelers. I beat others on the wall and floor but their tank-bodies are too well protected.
Some time goes by. The cops are still playing hide-and-seek and haven’t entered my room yet. Nor can I hear them. I look at my packet of blow with nearly a gram left which is way more than I’ve ever shot up at one time before. I don’t care for I want to be done with this shit. I’m experiencing sheer terror and insanity as I prepare a syrupy thick mix from so much coke. All I’m thinking about is one more rush as I’m drawing up the mixture filling the syringe completely. I take several breaths, relax and hunt for a vein on my hand for my arms are totaled. I hit a vein well and squeeze in some coke but my vision immediately begins to break up. My hand is turning into squares and drifting apart. I panic and squeeze the entire concoction into my hand. I collapse backwards onto the bed looking up at the ceiling and watch as rifle barrels thrust through it pointing at me. They’re going to fire at me so I try to block the bullets with my hands but it’s no good. I’ve never been this scared in my life for I know I’m dead. Rifles are now coming through the walls as my vision crumbles and blacks out at times. My heart is in overdrive speeding into oblivion.
The rifles disappear behind the walls and ceiling after many long minutes. I can’t believe I’m still alive. I go to stand up and fall to a floor covered in cockroaches all staring at me. I crawl back to the bed grabbing the syringe lying there and slam it point first into the wooden floor where it stands upright. I’m dazed as I try to calm down my heart and deal with the paranoia, cops and cockroaches.
It’s early morning and the cockroaches no longer don heavy armor and cameras and squish when I step on them. I sit on the bed deciding if I’m together enough to find a taxi back to the pad. I now know, beyond any doubt, that the needle will longer be a part of my life. I was trying to destroy myself last night. Why? I love life and have fought desperately for my freedom. I guess my morbid fascination with the syringe coupled with my lust to flirt with death make for a deadly combination. Last night was absolutely the last time. And man, those freaking cockroaches were scary. Tough little bastards.


It’s still morning when the twins come charging into my pad completely animated as only 17-year-olds can be. They’ve met a Colombian marijuana smuggler who says he’ll put me on a plane going to the States sometime soon. They’re beaming for they just found me a way home. I’m leery and castigate them for revealing my secret. It’s hardly a secret really for everyone seems to know. They tell me to relax dragging me to a wealthy friend’s mansions only blocks away. Fifteen people are breakfasting on the patio around different tables drinking coffee, tea and fruit juice while munching on bread with fixings. I’ve met most of these people at the twin’s apartment so I’m introduced to the ones I don’t know – and lastly Frankie. He’s 24, all personality and holds himself in high esteem. He’s eager to tell me about the planeloads of grass by the tons he sends out all the time. It makes me feel uneasy as everyone listens for these people are legit. Okay, this is Colombia and the folks here aren’t so quick to judge. Everyone appears to already know my story as I expected anyway. He’s young wanting to please having made millions and there’s no stopping him. He lets everyone know he’ll be back in two weeks and to have my suitcase ready. I’m to return with him to Fundación where he lives with his parents. I admire his youth and exuberance, and though naïve, his heart’s in the right place. They congratulate me for finding a way home though I’m not convinced at all. Frankie means well but…
I love having the world know all my plans. They’ve been gossiping about me for months, the fugitive, but I wouldn’t have met Frankie without them. This could be my first real break. He’s positive he can put me on a plane out of the country and will feed me and provide a place to stay during the interim. Plus Fundación would be much safer than Cartagena. He knows all the police there and is proud of it and wants me to meet them. Gads, why don’t I just carry a giant banner reading ‘Man on the run’ with an arrow pointing down at me?
Decent product is around so business is good. I’ve managed to save a few thousand pesos for Fundación even though I’ve been partying hearty for the last time with friends.
Frankie picks me up and we’re headed for Barranquilla in his top of the line, 4-wheel drive, Toyota jeep-type vehicle with air-con – $100,000. (Colombia puts a 300% luxury tax on all imported cars.) We drive along the coast getting to know each other for the first time. We get rooms at a very old, posh, luxury hotel. My room has the biggest bed I’ve ever slept on. The room is at ground level looking out upon an enormous patio garden with ancient shade trees and old meticulously manicured flowering bushes. I could get used to this. We’re here for a few days while Frankie shows off his fugitive. I meet many of his main Colombian marijuana buyers and families in this huge port of several million inhabitants.
There’s a bridge we have to cross getting out of Barranquilla. I’ve heard nothing but nightmares about this bridge for two days. It has six lanes, three in each direction, that are manned by battalions of police and soldiers. They stop every vehicle and you must have ID. Frankie says I’ll be safe in the Toyota but I’m definitely not going for it. Three more are joining us so a gringo in a car full of Colombians would be too obvious. They’d think I’m here to buy grass. Plus my passport won’t pass close scrutiny.
“Look, Frankie, I’ll catch a bus to the first town across the bridge,” pointing it out on a map. “You can pick me up there. It’s the safest.”
I bus it through town and over the Barranquilla Bridge to where the troops and cops are hanging out. It’s meeting all my expectations for this is bad. Long lines of trucks, buses and cars are waiting to be searched and papers checked. I’ve only shown my passport to hotel people and to cops late at night where I shouldn’t have been. This is for real for these cops may know passports. My exterior is calm as a herd of police march onto the bus checking IDs. It’s my turn so I smile handing over my passport. He’s stern while shuffling through some pages handing it back to me. I’m home free.
Frankie and friends are waiting at the bus station when I pull in. The rest of the trip is uneventful though the scenery was magnificent. We arrive at his brand new, large, concrete home. All the floors are tiled and spotless from his mother’s and sister’s constant sweeping. I’m introduced to Frankie’s father – the patriarch. He runs the show but has never sold grass. His youngest son Frankie does that and has paid for their new home with profits. He’s heard all about me for two weeks and is suspicious for he understands his son’s exuberance and naïveté. I’m shown my room that’s bare except for a double bed and thousands of daddy-long-legs living in the rafters.
I eat with the family three times a day. Mother and sister are great cooks and make me feel like family. I’ve been here just a few days but it’s obvious there’ll be delays in my departure. Frankie has said there hasn’t been weed around for several months and that we might have to wait awhile. I’ve always had the impression that Colombia had warehouses filled with grass – just come by plane or boat and fill’er up. Nope, it’s always dry this time of year until they harvest in October though Frankie insists sooner.
Frankie’s been at me for days to meet his police friend but I’m not going for it in the least. The less cops I meet the better. He takes me everywhere with him and knows lots of interesting characters. He’s young, respected, makes money and spreads it around. We’ve just breakfasted and are driving through downtown Fundación passing by the police station. Oops, Frankie forgot he’d some business with police friend so he parks in front of the station behind an identical Toyota of a different color. I’ve no choice but to follow. He casually lets drop that the other Toyota was a gift for his friend a few months back. Shit, I wish someone would give me a $100,000 car. It was actually Frankie’s father more than anyone who talked Frankie into buying the Toyota for the police chief. He knows how flamboyant his son is and now prison isn’t an option. We enter the police station and find the police chief sitting behind his desk. He stands up smiling and shakes Frankie’s hand who then makes introductions.
“Frankie’s been talking about you for weeks and it’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” he says cordially. “A friend of Frankie’s, is my friend.” Pauses, “Frankie mentioned you were in prison. How long was it for?”
“For five years, señor,” warming up to the guy.
“That’s a long time,” being genuinely sympathetic for he knows the prisons here. He understands Frankie’s trying to smuggle me out on a plane and assures me things will work out. He gives me his card writing down his home phone with permission to call him at any hour, day or night, and he’ll take care of whatever – and means it. All my fears have evaporated in ten minutes for I like and trust this guy. Frankie was right about the police chief but I suspect his main motive for bringing me here was to impress me with The Gift. And I am for all his bravado seems to be true.
It’s been a month and Frankie and I are always together. We usually go out at night for beers but I don’t drink much for I get drunk easily without coke. His father rarely joins us but a new bar is opening tonight and he knows the owner. The bar has blackened windows and is very dark inside. I find the place to be gaudy when my eyes adjust. I’m really not in the mood and nursing my second beer. Frankie’s knocking them back when an obnoxious fool enters uninvited into our conversation. Obnoxious is terribly drunk and can barely stand holding onto the bar for balance. He has a beef with Frankie and is all in his face. He’s loud but Frankie’s putting up with it. I’m getting angry as he finishes with Frankie and begins talking bullshit to the father.
“Shut the fuck up, asshole,” I yell at Obnoxious in no uncertain terms.
These people feed me so he’s pestering my family. I furtively pull out my switchblade, that I’ve carried every day since I’ve owned it, keeping it closed in my right hand. I’ve flashbacks of Villanueva and know I’m showing off for I’m stone sober and this idiot’s blitzed. The guy doesn’t shut up and is all in my face now becoming more belligerent.
“You and me outside, you dumb fuck,” I scream.
I can see he doesn’t have a gun and I’m in no danger of getting hurt even if he has a knife. He’s drunk enough to take on the whole world so out the door we march. How did this happen? I’m out for a friendly beer and now this. We go outside while Frankie and his father stand at the door. There’re others just milling about outside watching as Obnoxious finds a stack of bricks near the door picking one up. I push button – SNAP.
“If you come at me, hijo de puta, I’ll stab your ass,” I warn.
He throws a brick at me that I easily dodge though I’m only three feet from him. I’m yelling at him to stop as he picks up a brick in each hand and comes at me. He backs me up with the bricks then charges at me swinging them wildly. I scamper off backwards slowly dodging his blows feeling like a fool. He throws one hitting me in the side. It’s nothing serious but I’m not running anymore. I stop and face him as he blindly attacks me with a brick that I step away from while stabbing him in the gut. He runs at me once more but stops when I wave my knife in front of him pointing at his stomach. I don’t think he realized I was armed as he looks at the blood oozing through his shirt. Some friends whisk him off to a nearby clinic. Frankie assures me the police will find him there and escort him out of town. More than anything, this incident cemented my relationship with the father for I was protecting his son. Frankie thinks it was cool but I didn’t kill the guy like he would’ve done so nothing of consequence.
Weeks go by with Frankie apologizing daily for something he has no control over. I’m bored and out of money so I’m going to Cartagena to generate some cash. Frankie loans me 1,000 pesos traveling money. I’ve never been to Santa Marta which is famous for its tourism and infamous for the boatloads of marijuana smuggled from its beaches. It’s on the coast and not far out of my way. I don’t expect to find any boats but want to check it out anyway.
I arrive to find a beautiful little town with many tourist shops selling the wares of the local Indians. Many Colombian tourists crowd the main street that follows the bustling beaches. There’re police and army everywhere and never have I seen this number of cops per square inch in my life. I can see between 50 and 150 police at any one time strolling in patrols of five. They’re heavily armed with rifles but aren’t threatening or molesting tourists. It’s just that this town has full-blown drug wars right in these streets.
I find a small bungalow with an outside bathroom twenty feet away. I’ve explored Santa Marta for hours but there’s police everywhere and it scares me. I don my bathing suit for I haven’t been in the ocean for two months. I go to the beach where tons of tourists are sunbathing and swimming with kids playing everywhere. The water’s bluish green, clean and too warm to be refreshing – nothing’s perfect. There’re vendors on the beach selling things to eat and one has a bucket filled with seawater and oysters. I used to eat raw oysters all the time in Bogotá. I order a dozen that I swallow whole with lemon right out of the shell as fast as he can shuck them – taste bud heaven. I’m leaving tomorrow for there’s just too many police here – bad vibes.
It’s late afternoon and I’m lying in bed thinking how I’m looking forward to Cartagena. Oh shit – literally. I’m out the door straight to the toilet but I don’t make it in time – shitting my pants. I sit on the toilet, BOOM, an explosion of gas escapes my rectum splattering brown liquid everywhere. The cramps in my gut have doubled me over. I never get sick but I know instinctively this is going to be a bad one. I hope this doesn’t take long for I’m short on cash.
It’s been the worst week in my life. I’ll never eat an oyster again. I’ve been shitting little squirts of brownish water every ten minutes for seven days. I’ve no idea where the liquid’s coming from because I’ve stopped drinking water for it goes straight through me. I’ve never been this helpless. I can’t leave my room except to go to the toilet though I never make it without shit running down my legs. I’ve shit all my pants and wear a brown spotted towel to the toilet. I just paid my rent for the night leaving me with just enough pesos for bus fare to Cartagena. There’s no way I can ride a bus right now. I have to leave the bungalow tomorrow so I won’t eat or drink anything which seems to help. I pray by morning I can take a bus or I’ll have to find a lonely beach to sleep on until the dysentery goes away. Sleeping outside with nosy cops around isn’t cool.
I felt myself getting better during the night. The excruciating intestinal cramps are subsiding and I’ve some control over my bowel movements. But when it wants out – watch out. My stomach is making weird gurgling sounds but I think I can do the bus ride. This’ll be my first outing in a week. I’m out of here if I don’t shit myself walking to the bus station. I arrive with bag in hand and go to the toilet and dump. I buy a ticket and take another watery shit. I board a bus that makes many stops where I go to the toilet defecating each time. A few close calls.
We stop at the entrance to the Barranquilla Bridge. I hate this bridge. I don’t trust my passport. It’s in my hand while the usual gang of police is boarding the bus scrutinizing everyone’s ID. I hand it to a uniformed cop who’s not used to passports and is reading it upside down.
“Do you have any luggage, gringo?”
I pretend not to understand so I look dumbly on as he mimes. He’s getting mad. I don’t want to exit the bus for they may search me finding the switchblade that I feel naked without. It’s illegal and I’ve no money. The cop motions me off the bus with my bag. He leads me to a small wooden shack where a police captain is standing surrounded by dozens of uniforms. He grins widely while watching his subordinate going through my things. The cop finds nothing but he’s frustrated. Shit, he motions for me to lift up my arms and pats me down finding the switchblade. I could go to jail right now over a silly knife where they’d find out my passport’s no good.
The cop hands the knife to the still smiling captain. He pushes the button but nothing happens so he hands it to me wanting to know how it works. I release safety and push button – SNAP. I return it to him but now he can’t close it so I show him the lock mechanism. He amuses himself opening and closing it then hands it over to his subordinate who falls in love with it. He’s very protective of it and won’t let the many cops that want to see it even touch it. It’s his. The captain wants money not the knife. To get caught carrying a knife is no big deal costing 500 pesos max. A crowd huddles around us only a few feet away as he demands 1,000 pesos.
“I don’t have any money, señor,” showing him my empty wallet.
“All gringos have tons of money,” replying with a Cheshire cat’s grin.
“You can keep the knife, señor, just let me go.”
He threatens to haul me off to jail while still smiling broadly. Oh shit, I need to fart really bad and it’s going to be a wet one. I’m clenching my jaw muscles endeavoring to maintain a smile while keeping my lower sphincter tight.
My stomach growls loud enough for all to hear as I grimace complaining of stomach pains. “I ate some bad oyster on the beach is all. It’ll go away quickly.”
Carlos gave me a counterfeit $50 bill as a souvenir because it wasn’t passable. The serial numbers were crooked and not the right color. The ink was smeared and was a horrible color green on the cheapest paper imaginable. It was a joke. I have it folded in half then in half again tucked away in the middle compartment of my wallet. I unfolded it showing it to Gary recently and there were three white lines along the folds where the ink rubbed off. I’m going to pass it to him for I have no other options. I’m a goner if he unfolds it. I slide the bill halfway out of my wallet so he can see it’s a fifty. I hate bribing in front of an audience so I try to be sneaky hoping he’ll do the same. He nods so I slip the bill out palming it to him. He’s beaming as he nonchalantly puts it into his pocket for he thinks he’s going to get drunk and laid tonight.
“Por favor, mi capitán,” I plead sorrowfully without shame, “I’d like my knife back.”
The cop has been guardedly playing with it for the last fifteen minutes.
“Haven’t I paid you plenty?”
The captain turns to his subordinate instructing him to return my knife back to me.
“Pero, mi capitán, it’s mine.”
“Private, you are to return it, now.”
I get my baby back!
My pants are making little squeaky noises with my every step as I return to the bus. I’m trying desperately to hold back the flatulence that’s attempting to escape. I’m in deep trouble if the captain inspects the $50 bill. I find my seat praying the bus will now leave for I have a fart knocking at the door. But no, it was ten excruciatingly long minutes before the bus driver returns to fight the traffic onto and over the bridge. I look out the window and we’re moving. I’ve fucking made it. The adrenaline wants me to dance in the aisle for this one was truly scary. What I’m feeling is better than an orgasm. I’m one lucky son-of-a-gun. I’ve an ear to ear grin as we cross over the bridge when, damn, it dawns on me. The only way back to Frankie’s is on this bus and over this bridge.
Connection’s house is on the main road into Cartagena so the bus drops me off only yards from where he’s chatting with the regulars. We’ve now good friends so it’s always a pleasure to see him. Beers come out but I can’t. They all get a laugh from the bridge story. Connection fronts me some grams and pesos so I go to the Pub finding Gary tending bar. I turn down a drink asking about a place to stay.
“You’re more than welcome, mate, to stay in your old room.”
I drop by the twin’s pad where they confide in me that their lawyers are finalizing a plea agreement that doesn’t include prison. They’re returning to Cocoa Beach soon so they give me their address. They know I’m going to make it back to the States on one of Frankie’s planes.
I reached several conclusions while lying on the beach feeling the warm sun browning my body. First, I’ll never return to Cartagena again for I’m out late every night and up until dawn and live here like I weren’t on the run. Second, selling grams only supports a habit – it doesn’t make you money. Third, it was a huge mistake coming here and it all was because of pride. I have to get over it for I’ll never leave this country without the generosity of others. Fourth, I no longer doubt that Frankie won’t deliver for it has become his life’s mission. I have to get back to Fundación and be patient is all.
It’s been ten days and I’ve made some pesos so it’s time to move. The bridge terrifies me but I have no other options. I bus it to Barranquilla purchasing a ticket on the night bus to Fundación. This should be a different shift than the one the police captain is hopefully on. The sun’s setting as we cross the bridge approaching the checkpoint. It’s rush hour with massive lines of vehicles waiting to be searched. The switchblade’s stuffed safely down the back of my seat. I’m praying and promising God everything I can think of though He probably doesn’t believe half of it. It’s finally our turn to be searched. Six cops come aboard snatching peoples IDs from their hands giving them a brisk look. I hand my passport to an officer who glances at it calling over another cop. Shit, what’s up now? They study my passport while questioning me. I act dumb shrugging my shoulders while several other uniforms come over to see what’s happening. They want to know which suitcase on the rack is mine. I point it out but their superior is exiting the front of the bus and yells at them to hurry up. The one with my passport becomes impatient and officiously hands it back to me. It’s good to be back in Fundación. I’m not leaving again except by plane.
Frankie’s talked about Mafioso for days and how powerful he is. It’s strange for I’ve never seen him in awe of someone else besides himself. It’s morning when Mafioso and entourage arrive in five new, shiny, black, American luxury cars with all windows darkly tinted. You know they’re underworld. A dozen of them enter Frankie’s living room as Mafioso seats himself on the couch. He’s accompanied by a man the size of a house who carries an attaché case that he places on the coffee table in front of them. These guys reek of wealth and dress like they read GQ religiously. Everybody’s fingers are glistening, gleaming green from multi-carat emeralds. Mafioso is probably a weight lifter to deal with all the gold around his neck. Everyone’s packing several guns but they’re all in good cheer and here amongst friends.
Mafioso’s heard all the tales about me, who hasn’t, and is happy to meet me. He tells me nobody’s better equipped than Frankie to get me out of Colombia. Frankie loves the praise for this is his hero and his eyes don’t hide it. I like to hear it also for doubts still linger. I tell Mafioso my bridge story for he’s from Barranquilla and has just crossed the same checkpoint himself. It cost him ten grand – dollars not pesos! He pays this much every time and brags about the time he paid fifty grand. This is way out of my league.
They get down to business after niceties. Frankie and Mafioso strike up a deal for Frankie’s upcoming crop. Frankie has an acre on the mountain he boasts of all the time. Frankie’s ton price is good so Mafioso will buy it all. He knows Frankie’s been out of cash for months so he opens his attaché case lying on the coffee table. My God, look at that. It’s full! This is the most money I’ve ever seen – probably $2,000,000 neatly wrapped in bundles of $100 notes. He takes out four bundles, $40,000, handing them to Frankie. The visitors finish their iced teas and go outside disappearing behind tinted windows. And the caravan slowly, conspicuously rolls off.
You never meet people like that in prison, only the small-time, unsuccessful smugglers like myself. It amazes me that people would ever want to parade themselves around like that for I’m too paranoid and prefer obscurity. Frankie’s the opposite and dreams of a Cadillac. The forty grand goes to the father for safekeeping for even Frankie recognizes his penchant to spend money.
Every year they run with bulls in a large corral in a not so far away pueblo. Frankie goes every year along with thousands of others from all around the area. They go there to get pie-faced and play with bulls during the 3-day festival. Twenty of us are stuffed into three Toyotas and are going there for the day. Half are carrying guns for gunfights are common at the festival. It’s actually known for it. It’s still morning when we arrive at Frankie’s friend’s house. We pile out of the cars with some carrying bottles of Aguardiente Cristál. There’s plenty of time to get liquored up before the festivities begin so we’re drinking it out of the bottle and chasing it down with water from a common glass.
All large animals scare me and I refuse to approach even a cow. But it has to be cheap thrills being in a large corral with hundreds of people with bulls chasing us around. Frankie and friends did this as kids so not one will join me. They think it’s unseemly for a mafioso to be seen running from farm animals.
There’s a large stadium in town where they’ll hold the bullfights and the running of the bulls. Ambulances are in abundance for people here don’t consider the fiesta a success unless someone dies! There’s a smaller oblong corral fifty yards from the stadium where the first bulls are to run so as to whet everyone’s appetite. I’m drinking out of the bottle, not sipping, while sitting on Frankie’s hood in front of the corral. I’m excited for I’ve never been to Pamplona. They’re getting ready to lead the first bull out of a holding pen onto a 25-ft chute leading into the corral. Bulls always charge full speed from a chute, which I find curious, for I’d casually walk down myself. The bull’s in position but there’s only thirty people in the corral ready to run for most want to see what the bull looks like first. Wait, this I don’t believe.
“Frankie, I’m going to stop this.”
“No, no, Davíd, it not your business. Stay put.”
Three men have placed a stooped over old man just twenty feet in front of the chute. He’s so drunk he has no idea what’s happening. One man takes the old codger’s glasses off while another gives him a red bandana that he holds in both hands. He’s waving it at the chute as the men disappear. The chute opens with a large bull storming out of it running right over the drunk. Damn, it must’ve killed him. The men are laughing hysterically as they help the poor old guy up. They give him his glasses back while helping him out of the corral miraculously unharmed.
They let the bulls out into the corral at intervals. There’re two hundred men and four bulls now inside the corral. The bigger bulls tire easily so I’m convinced I can do this. Shit, I’m not feeling any pain for the aguardiente took care of that. I’m going in though Frankie doesn’t like it warning me to stay away from the bulls. I climb off the hood snaking my way into the corral. I watch men teasing the bulls in the distance and old fears come back. I squeeze in next to the railing with men all around me. They let the next bull out. It’s young and chest high and comes hurtling out of the chute at an incredible speed going straight across the corral. People are scattering everywhere. It gallops to the fencing on the other side and dashes along the oblong corral barrier without losing speed. Men are climbing the railings to get out of its way as it circles around the oblong coming straight at me. It’s happening too fast to climb the railing for my butt would be in the air. I hug my back to the railing like those around me as the bull charges at us. Its horns miss me by only inches as I slap its rump. Whoa, oh man, this creature at a dead run kicked both its back hooves at me barely missing me. The power it threw its back legs would’ve crushed any bone in my body. I look over to see Frankie jumping off his hood. He saw it and I’ve seen enough climbing out of the corral. I don’t only fear them now but I don’t like them also – except on a platter where they belong.
I’m sitting on the hood watching the runners with a whole new respect. They let out the final bull before things get going in the stadium. The biggest of the lot comes charging out with one man slipping in the dirt right in front of it. Its front hooves miss him but both the rear ones hit him square on the back at once. I’ve seen people hitting the deck in front of running bulls to prevent getting gored and it’s unlike a bull to stomp on something for they trip and fall easily. This one crushed this guy’s back on purpose. The bull goes back with head lowered to finish the job but men distract it while others drag the injured one off to a waiting ambulance.
The stadium fills for the real running of the bulls. A bull comes flying out of the chute straight for a gang of inebriated runners with one getting gored and taken away. This livens up the festivities. There was an hour of more bulls and injuries before the bullfights begin. I’ve seen them in Spain and Mexico and were bloody affairs. Frankie has seen them also so it’s time to leave and get down to some serious drinking.
We go to a bar Frankie frequents when in town. He’s told me countless stories bordering on the fantastic about it. This is why the gang brought their guns for we’re going to shoot up the place. I’ve seen a thousand westerns and it’s in everyone. The bar’s on the outskirts of town with only a few streetlights. The bartender stands behind a low bar with a large mirror behind him. People don’t sit at the bar but at the dozen tables in front of it instead.
Frankie started making major money several years back and would carry bunches of it on him. He came to the bar one festival night with a new gun he was proud of. He was showing off his marksmanship and shot his own image in the mirror. CRACK. The bartender vacated as Frankie’s friends joined in shooting their images along with annihilating bottles of booze and bar glasses. They went outside looking for more mischief where they encountered the bartender talking to the police. The police were polite to Frankie and gang being outgunned and outnumbered. Frankie told the bartender he’d pay for all damages immediately. The bartender was still mad for it’d take days to put his bar back together. The police could care less and if Frankie paid that night then case closed. The gang proceeded to shoot the streetlights out as the cops went off in search of an electrician to find out how much to charge him.
They continued to drink for several hours while the bartender made out the bill itemizing the extensive damages. He was boiling mad and was charging Frankie ten times the normal price. He handed the bill of 30,000 pesos to him, a scandalous amount, but an undaunted Frankie counted out 50,000 pesos ($2,000) leaving a 20,000-peso tip. This was more money than the owner made all year. Frankie had just made it rich and was flexing his muscles was all. The police were paid off and all were as happy as a pig in feces. It’s Frankie’s favorite story.
It’s become an annual event so we’re going to get as drunk as skunks and shoot up the place. I used to think drinking at a bar doing lines in the bathroom was dangerous. There’s always competition between rivaling mafias so other mafiosos come here to do the same each not wanting to be outdone. They brag about how much damage done and the amount of fines paid for these people are new to money – and think it’s merely paper.
It’s late and the bullfights are over so the bar is filled and all are drinking in earnest. Nobody can see straight enough to hit anything so it must be time to start target practice. I’m talking with Frankie when someone behind me fires over my shoulder at his image in the mirror. Twenty men immediately draw weapons and begin firing while the owner runs off looking for paper and pen. I almost thought that they weren’t going to do it for people are nodding out on the tables – but not for long. They aren’t taking random pot-shots but are taking their time aiming though usually missing. They’re firing passed me from behind but I’m in no one’s way – I hope. This whole thing is childish, but when offered a gun, I shoot myself in the mirror a few times. It’s definitely more fun than running from bulls and not so dangerous. The streetlights are even more fun for nobody’s shooting over my shoulder. I think the reason why Frankie didn’t shoot first is because Frankie’s not rich right now and will be chipping in with others for the damages.
It’s early morning when I wake up lying uncovered on the outside porch of Frankie’s friend’s home. I have to pee so I try to stand up and fall back on my butt still drunk. I stand up again and stagger my way to a nearby tree realizing I’ve no recollection of driving back from the bar. I’d feel worse except I’m still smashed. I go to the kitchen where people are still up guzzling from the night before. I sit at the kitchen table drinking a few warm beers hoping they’ll prevent the oncoming hangover. It’s time to eat and there’re plenty of women in the kitchen watching over us. They’ve been up since dawn waiting to feed twenty of us breakfast before our journey back to Fundación. I’m hungry and eat a ton while promising myself never to touch alcohol again. Okay, on special occasions.
Frankie’s talked about his one-acre marijuana field ever since I’ve known him. This will be his first crop of many to come. He’s been up the mountain several times to inspect it and is proud of it. He’ll be planting ten acres more next year. It’s being grown on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountain which is well known for producing most of the grass smuggled out of the country. It’s by the sea and is perfect for boats and planes not wanting to enter too deep into Colombian airspace.
I’ve met Juan several times before today when he came off the mountain to buy supplies. He’s 24, medium height, stocky and all lean muscle. He’s a mountain man and simple farmer who’s been growing coffee on the same family farm as the four generations have before him. This is his first pot crop and Frankie’s been urging me to go up with him and take a look. Juan claims these are the most wondrous mountains in the world and would love to show me his farm. A change of scenery is called for so I’m to join Juan for a walk up the mountain. He says it’s not a difficult climb and that I won’t have any problems.
Frankie drives us the 25 miles to the general store at the base of the mountain. I have a tennis bag with a change of clothes is all. It’s late afternoon when Frankie drops us off giving a stack of pesos to Juan and bids us adiós. Juan fills up a gunnysack with 50 lbs of supplies at the general store to take up the mountain. I find it strange when he pays his bill that he also pays an outstanding debt. Frankie paid 100,000 pesos ($4,000) up front to Juan, with the remaining half to be paid upon harvesting, so he should have plenty of money. He ties string around the neck of the sack and slings it over his shoulder. There’s two hours of sunlight left but Juan says we should make it.
The jungle is thick around the store with no one living very close. It services only those living up this large valley. Juan hands me his chrome-plated, 38-caliber revolver with a monstrous 14-inch, cannon-like barrel that he carries everywhere. He keeps it on a table nearby him when at Frankie’s for it’s too long to sit with it stuff down his pants. He showed me the gun before and it’s a relic that’s been in his family for decades. The revolving chamber doesn’t work properly so it has to be aligned by hand just right before firing. Juan’s so shy that it’s incongruous.
“Everyone on the mountain carries a gun for it’s tradition,” he explained. “We’re hunters.”
He handed me his revolver to carry up the mountain as a symbol of his trust, friendship, bonding and for protection. Protection? I don’t like guns but I have no choice for it would be wrong to refuse it for this is his etiquette. I test the revolving chamber – a half bullet of play. It’d blow my hand off if I fired the thing. I stick the bazooka down my pants making a mental note: Frankie needs to give Juan a snub-nosed revolver for Christmas.
The path is surrounded by dense trees and vines and accommodates only one person as it follows a small stream. “This is the only path into the valley,” Juan claims, “and a single person in a tree could prevent an army from entering.”
The temperature changes as we climb gradually upward from stifling heat to jungle coolness. Juan’s walking ahead stopping on occasion to wait for me. The forest is magnificent as the path leads us to a narrow ridge going straight up. It’s so steep I must use both hands for climbing meaning I must hang my tennis bag around my neck which chokes myself. I tried slinging it over my shoulder but it keeps falling off. We’ve been climbing for twenty minutes and my heart hurts and I’m panting. I’m completely out of shape and can’t breathe for my lungs are on holiday. I’m lying on the ground unable to move while Juan stands patiently waiting for me to regroup.
“You can do it,” he cajoles. “It’s only two hours more.”
I’m determined not to slow us down so onward we climb. I never realized what kind of work climbing a mountain truly is, particularly with a gun barrel banging my balls and a bag that’s bent on choking me to death. I have to stop to catch my breath every five minutes for this is killing me.
“We’re close,” Juan urges me on, “ and we’re not in a hurry.”
It’s been two hours and the sun’s behind the mountain. It’s getting dark quickly and we won’t make his farm so we detour to a friend’s farmhouse. The detour is downhill giving my heart a rest but it’s so steep that I have to slide down it on my butt. Juan’s a mountain goat. I’m scared shitless of falling off the ridge that’s hundreds of feet down on both sides. He says donkeys and mountain ponies travel these paths burdened with a 150 pounds but I don’t believe him though hoofprints are in evidence.
It’s dark when we arrive at a small adobe farmhouse. Juan takes the gunnysack from his shoulder for the first time. They feed us this reddish meat that appears stringy but is tender, chewy and delicious. It was a 100-lb rodent that roams these mountains that Juan refers to as a 100-lb rat.
We breakfast before dawn after the best sleep ever. I’m energized and we’re at least halfway there he says. It takes us twenty minutes back up the detour ridge to rejoin the path up the mountain. I’m already pooped and my legs are cramping. But it’s the gun that’s giving me the blues for it stabs me in the leg with every step.
“We have to cross over four ridges,” Juan explains. “It’s nothing.”
He hints the last ridge is rather steep but he knows I can do it. I’m not nearly as sure as I walk up the first ridge. It’s so steep at times that Juan has to give me a hand to pull me up the path while never taking the gunnysack from his shoulder. We crest the first ridge after an hour with half that time being pauses when I could go no further. My heart wants out of my body and there’s no air up here – just ask my lungs. I’m from L.A. and don’t trust air I can’t see. Juan’s patient with me and is never in a hurry. For every ridge we go up, we have to climb back down it and up the next one, to go back down it again. He keeps telling me the last ridge is just over the next hill but it never is.
“We’re only an hour away,” he repeats hourly.
Man, how could I have ever allowed myself to get into such bad shape? Uh, drugs and alcohol, maybe? I’ve found a rhythm moving faster and taking less breaks, but I’m in limbo really, and too tired to think. My leg muscles are no longer sore though I know I’ll pay for it later. We climb the penultimate ridge that affords us a view of the final one across the valley that we’ll be going down into. It’s a monster and is thousands of feet almost vertical. Juan has taken the sack off his shoulders only once, it’s fifty pounds, but doesn’t upset his balance. He does so now as he prepares something for us to eat. We’ve been climbing for over three hours but I haven’t been able to really appreciate the jungles and farmhouses of his friends he keeps pointing out to me. I take a look around as Juan prepares lunch. I marvel at the pristine forest patch-worked with farms many of them having several acre of marijuana under cultivation. I look over the green carpeted mountains eating bread, cheese and sardines being happy I made this trek.
We venture down into the valley then up Killer. It’s so vertical I’m slipping backwards on the loose soil constantly. I know a hammock with my name on it is at the top of this ridge so I trudge onward. I die a thousand times but make the summit.
I hand Juan back his gun. “Thanks, hombre, but I don’t think I’ll be needing this any longer.”
“You should keep it on you while you’re up here.”
“Gracias, no.”
We’re almost at the end of the valley with only a few other farms further up when we come upon Juan’s farmhouse. I don’t know what I expected it to look like but not quite this. We’ve passed a hundred farmhouses varying in sizes but his is the smallest. Juan’s family has lived in this 15- x 20-ft, one room adobe house since the 1870s where they cook outside with wood. There are plenty of chickens and a few turkeys running around that all sleep indoors at night on the adobe floor while the family sleeps in hammocks. I meet grandfather, father, mother, brother and sister, all mountain folk, who’ll be killing a chicken for dinner.
Juan wants to show off his marijuana field more than anything. I expected to see 100-acre farms under cultivation before climbing this mountain but this isn’t the case in this valley. The grass farmers here only grow a few acres that are contracted in advance for these farmers wouldn’t know to whom to sell it. I find it strange that nobody on the mountain smokes weed.
“If you smoke marijuana,” Juan preaches, “it’ll make you crazy.” This is what all the grass farmers believe up here and it might be true – look at me.
Juan’s farmhouse is built on the side of a slope. A tiny portion has been leveled for this small structure and a small area behind it where they dry their coffee beans. The rest of the farm slopes downward with much of it in rows of 100-year-old coffee plants bearing red beans. The acre of grass starts thirty feet from his house. Juan’s proud of his work as he shows me the 5-ft high plants that will be flowering next month. Juan had never grown this before so he made a hole in the ground two inches deep with his finger putting in three seeds figuring one should come up. There’re three pot plants coming out of every hole that are planted two feet apart and three feet between rows. I’ve always wanted to be in a field of marijuana since my hippie days and now it’s happening. We enter his garden when a small yellow and orange butterfly lands on my left breast. It slowly waves its wings while we casually meander the field for twenty minutes. The grass field is truly awesome and the butterfly takes off upon leaving it. The gods are smiling.
I’m actually seeing Colombia for the first time and meeting its people. I’m lying in a hammock near the farmhouse looking down upon this immense valley thinking just how happy I am that I made this climb. This is the most peaceful I’ve felt since leaving Malibu ages ago. Juan wants me to live up here with him and tantalizes, “There’s an extra hammock and plenty to eat.” So I fantasize about spending a year up here putting my head together. Juan would love it but boredom would probably set in after a month. Frankie’s sure that something’s going to happen soon so we’ll be off the mountain in three days.
Juan has never gone to school for there aren’t any around. He shows me the back of his farmhouse where they dry their coffee beans and questions me about many things he’s curious about. I’ve answered most of his questions as we’re standing next to a 4-ft high concrete wall that keeps the farm animals away from the drying coffee beans.
“How does the moon stay up in the sky,” Juan asks, “without falling down to earth?”
A good question, and try as I might, I can’t explain centrifugal force, speed of an object and gravity to him. It doesn’t make sense to me either. He does clear up one mystery for me when he tells me his father confiscated the 100,000 pesos that Frankie had given him. He paid off all the bills putting the rest in the bank and won’t let anybody touch it. His father had never had this kind of money before so he’s holding onto it.
I heard of how poor farmers were exploited while living in Hollywood but it was too far away to make me mad. Juan explains how he gets paid for his coffee harvest 3 years after giving it to the buyers. This pisses me off for these people are poor and shouldn’t have to wait 3 years for payment – whereas marijuana is a cash crop. The mafiosos are generous paying half in advance so it’s better business plus they’re dealing with nicer people.
We’re standing sideways to the 4-ft drying area wall when Juan casually stoops down a foot and springs up and over the wall sideways hitting the other side in a squat and immediately springs back. Boom, boom. My mouth is open for this is the most amazing physical feat I’ve ever seen a man do. He’s smiling for he’s been doing it for years though the double-hop took him awhile to perfect. All I can do is laugh so he does it again for me. I’m in hysterics as I ponder the unbelievable strength in his legs to hop over a 4-ft wall sideways and then immediately back.
Next day. Juan invites me to meet his closest neighbor up the ridge nearly a mile away who wants some information. And to show me where the ten acres for next year’s crop is to be cleared with the help of the local Indians. It’s a half-hour climb but the walking seems to help my cramped legs. The farmer’s congenial and has five acres of grass growing around his farm. He’d been growing it for years when one of his buyers brought him coca seeds to grow the plant the cocaine alkaloid is extracted from. He has many nondescript bushes that are over 2 years old and is disappointed in their size thinking they should be bigger. Do I know anything?
“Sorry,” apologizing, “this is the first time I’ve ever seen a coca plant. I know nothing about them.”
I find it peculiar for I’ve never heard of people growing coca in Colombia before. It’s easier to get the base from Peru and process it into cocaine here. I’ll explain why.
The production of cocaine goes through three processes:
First. The coca leaves are picked and put into a large shallow bath made of plastic sheeting in which sulfuric acid and kerosene are added. Workers trample on the leaf and acid mixture as wine stumpers do. This mixture dries a yellowish power that smells of sulfuric acid and is called paste.
Second. The paste has many unwanted alkaloids so it’s then dissolved in a mixture of acetone and other chemicals to produce a white powder called base. It’s a stable compound that’s not water soluble, doesn’t smell and easily transported. Most Colombians buy this in Peru, Chile and Equator and do the third process in Colombia. Some people smoke base which has a kick like crack.
Third. The base is dissolved in ether or other chemicals. The mixture crystallizes and is filtered and dried. It’s now water soluble and can be snorted and is called cocaine.
Colombians have never grown enough coca plants in the past to process the paste here in Colombia. The rumor on the mountain is that cocaine will become the drug of choice ruining the marijuana trade. It’s funny to see backwoods farmers paranoid about news of changing drug trends in the Western world.
We take a short detour on the way back to Juan’s farmhouse to a partially cleared wooded area. This is where Juan’s going to grow Frankie’s ten acres of grass next year. Ironically, Juan will be making more money on his 10-acre crop next year than the five generations before him has earned in a hundred years of growing coffee.
8am. I’ve relished these past days having allowed myself to experience peace. Things will happen when they’re supposed to for it’s been long, long years and now it’s only days. We’re coming off the mountain so Juan borrows a massive mule named Macho for me to ride.
He introduces me to the beast contending, “It’s much better than a donkey or mountain pony.”
“No way, Juan, this creatures gigantic.”
“I’ve done it before. It’s easy.”
“How can Macho possibly climb down this mountain with a rider on its back? He’s too big.”
“He’s done it a thousand times and with loads much heavier than you.”
I become fearful just looking at big animals, riding one… “Juan, if I can climb up this mountain by myself, then I’m more than capable of going down it by myself.”
Reality is that going down you’re constantly going back up. He doesn’t say so but Juan doesn’t want to spend six hours getting to the general store where a cattle truck takes passengers to Fundación every day at 10am. It’s a 25-mile trek into town if we miss it.
I pet the animal as he eyes me suspiciously for he knows I’m terrified. “We’re gonna be great pals, Macho, for I don’t weigh much and I’ll hardly be a burden.”
Juan helps me onto its bare back where I find strings coming out of its mouth that I’m supposed to steer with. I pick them up asking, “How do these work?”
“The animal knows the way, Davíd, just hold on.”
“Hold onto what?”
“Its mane.”
“Its mane!” exclaiming with angst. “Won’t this piss off Macho?”
I don’t like this in the least as Juan leads Macho to the brink of our descent. This was the steepest climb of the trek and now it’s thousands of feet straight down. It looks steeper from on top of the mule than any roller coaster I’ve ever been on.
“The beast won’t slip,” Juan reiterates for the 50th time.
Macho follows Juan as he goes down, and right from the start, I slide down its back to its neck wrapping my arms around it and hold on for dear life. We’re vertical and I keep thinking the slippery soil won’t support our weight. I’m sure Macho appreciates all my weight clinging to his neck. We’re goners if we fall. This is actually the kind of adrenaline I love for climbing down this mountain would’ve been just as difficult as the climb up. I’m not ready for it and being crushed by a mule would be preferable.
Macho’s amazing and is definitely my favorite animal ever. I’m now able to see much more of this fabulous mountain except when I’m holding onto Macho’s neck wide-eyed as he goes down ridges I would’ve gone down sliding on my butt. This is an astoundingly sure-footed beast, thank God, for mules don’t slide well.
10:30am. We arrive at the general store too late for the truck although we made remarkably good time. Juan smacks Macho on the rump and I watch him lumber off for he knows his way home! We purchase water and food for it’s a ten-mile trek on a dirt road before we hit the highway into Fundación. Not a single vehicle passed us during the ten-mile walk, though it didn’t matter, for it was such a pleasure to walk on flat ground. The highway home is almost as barren. We stick our thumbs out at a few passing cars but no one’s stopping. We’re two miles from town when a friend of Frankie’s picks us up taking us the remainder of the way. The 8-hour walk was less tiring than the first five minutes of The Ascent and was a pleasure.
Frankie’s excited when we arrive for there’s good news from the mountain. There’re hundreds of valleys in this mountain where marijuana is grown and it’s been dry for five months so everyone’s anxious for action. Some farms are now harvesting because of the high demand though good grass is always harvested in late October. Everybody knows that, except from what I’ve noticed, nobody around here knows anything about cultivating it or cares about the quality. It’s merely a commodity grown and sold by the pound.
Frankie set up a deal with a Cuban living on Bimini Island in the Bahamas. The guy wants tons and has an aircraft. The only thing holding up the deal is coordinating the pick up of the weed at the base of the mountain twenty miles away and paying off the numerous checkpoints along the route.

SEPTEMBER 23, 1980

Midnight. Excitement’s in the air for this is the first shipment to leave Fundación in six months. The grass has been sitting at the mountain’s base in three trucks waiting for days for an escort. The Cuban’s flying to an airstrip later this afternoon where they’ll load up the plane with grass and fuel. They want to leave by 10pm at the latest so as to land on Bimini before dawn with hopefully me aboard. There’s around thirty of us in ten Toyotas identical to Frankie’s. We’re on our way up to the base of the mountain to escort the trucks to the airstrip. Most of these people I’ve never met before. Frankie’s and another mafioso’s police chief are in their own Toyotas leading the caravan. This seems a bit much but that’s how things are done here. Everyone’s armed but trouble isn’t in the cards. We go at breakneck speed on the highway for a few miles and now it’s dirt back roads dotted with villages. We’re passing checkpoints that are normally roadblocks with some still occupied as they watch us speed by. They were all paid off and know our schedule.
Frankie and the rest are superb drivers managing well the rutted country lanes that bounce us from one part of the narrow road to the other. We stopped many times while people compared directions and backtracked twice losing precious time. Even Frankie doesn’t know the way though he’s been there before. It’s still dark when we arrive several hours later. I counted ten checkpoints getting here, wherever that is, for the serpentine route passed many farms, jungles and hamlets. The three large trucks are waiting with their canvas-covered loads of eight tons each. They station themselves in the middle of the convoy and we’re off. The real danger here isn’t from the police but from bandits and rival gangs. The road is all downhill and we’re going as fast as the trucks can possibly go. This is the most thrilling ride I’ve ever been on for not even in the movies have I ever seen something like this. All the checkpoints are unmanned so there’s no real danger except we’re running late. The sun’s coming up so it’s full speed ahead down the highway to the dirt road leading to the airstrip.
Frankie warned me this 5-mile stretch of road to the airfield is treacherous and is so bad the army doesn’t have vehicles that can handle it. The road is muddy and deep-rutted so everyone connects his 4-wheel drive. We haven’t gone far when the road becomes too miry and slippery to accommodate the trucks. This is farm country that was once a march million of years ago. The procession stops while several Toyotas venture off to talk to farmers about hiring tractors. Each Toyota will need one plus two each for the trucks. I’ve never studied tractors before and I find them amazingly well-designed machines. Now I understand why they have such tall tires – to go through mud. The road is impassable in places so the tractor pulls us off the road dragging us through newly plowed fields with our four wheels spinning and spewing mud. It takes exactly two hours to the airstrip though the last mile wasn’t so bad when the terrain turned from farmland, to jungle and finally to swamp. The airstrip was reclaimed from the marshes that surround three-quarters of it with the same slippery mud we’ve been sliding through. Twenty peons are already off-loading the bail-size bricks of marijuana from the trucks carrying them to a large nearby shed.
I’m elated for the trip here today was Number One. I feel I’m almost home as Frankie introduces me to everyone. He’s finally delivering his ward to freedom getting deserved praise. The other police chief in charge is as sympathetic as Frankie’s and is delighted to be part of my departure. These two gentlemen are directing what’s happening more than anyone else for they’re making so much money that they’re inclined to be as helpful as possible.
Many mafiosos here own part of the load that is now stored in a shed. There’ll be planes landing here over the next week to pick it up. It’s late afternoon and all eyes are looking over the marches towards the nearby sea. I see the airplane at a distance and watch it approach from over the jungle landing towards the swamp. It’s an enormous plane being much bigger than I envisioned. It touches ground and brakes hard stopping mid-runway then taxis back. Both enormous jet-prop engines shut down as the three American crew members and a Cuban exit the rear cargo door. I recognize the buffed-steel, 50-passenger Constellation because of its ‘Connie’ tail from my skydiving days. I used to jump a twin-engine, 8-passenger Beechcraft with the same tail configuration. It has three tail fins instead of one making it very stable in the air. This also makes it tail heavy so it needs long runways for takeoffs.
Frankie introduces me to Cubano while the Americans introduces themselves. Frankie has a little leverage with Cubano for he’s fronting him the load so he doesn’t waste any time asking him if I could fly back with him to Bimini. Cubano talks to the crew members about it who are all in favor of it so I’m gone. Cool.
Frankie and Cubano head off to the shed to look at the weed while the pilot shows me his baby. “I’ve always wanted a Connie and I found this one for sale a few months back for $150,000. So I got a loan and bought it. I also put another twenty grand in instruments for this trip.”
“So you’ve been here before then?”
“Actually, no, this is my first trip. I needed money to pay off the loan and someone hooked me up with Cubano.”
A worker runs up to me interrupting us. The gas truck fell off a bridge into a stream a mile back so there’ll be delays. I see mafiosos taking the back seats out of their Toyotas to make room for the 55-gallon drums they’ll be picking up at the shed. The petrol will be pumped from the truck into the drums and driven the mile back to the strip. This is bad news for these guys have to be out of here by 10pm otherwise…
The pilot explains the plane’s on empty and will need 1,550 gallons of fuel which equates to three trips per Toyota. The pilot and copilot station themselves on the wings as the first Toyota makes its appearance. It stops near the plane unloading a 55-gallon drum that will be pumped up to the wings that act as fuel tanks. This is going to be an all-night affair so the game plan now is to slowly fly this monster twelve hours to Bimini leaving at noon tomorrow. So I’ll be out of here on my one-year anniversary of my last escape. A good omen.
Workers are unloading the shed and stacking next to the plane the biggest bricks I’ve ever seen. I’m used to 2-pounders but these are between 20 and 50 lbs each. They’re pressed bales wrapped in gunnysacks and plastic garbage bags. Everyone wants to get the plane loaded as soon as possible. The navigator and I are in the plane by the rear cargo door six feet off the ground while the pilot and copilot remain on the wings filling up the tanks. Cubano is sitting in a chair just below me with notebook and pencil in hand next to an enormous, rusty, ancient-looking scale. A worker puts a brick on it yelling “25” handing it up to me. I pass it on to the navigator who stows it.
The first brick I know doesn’t weigh 25 lbs. I’m out of shape and not an expert on how much something weighs but this weighs closer to 40 lbs. I voice my opinion to the navigator who thinks I could be right but it’s not his concern. I saw Cubano testing the weight of the first bricks so he knows the scale’s off. But it’s not up to him to say anything and it’s definitely not my business. Also not my business is that this is the worse weed imaginable. It’s leafy with large stems, wet and without buds – would be better used as rope. We loaded on 15,000 lbs filling 2½ of the 3 compartments before the navigator says halt. The Colombians want to fill the entire plane up but it’ll be the pilot who’ll make the final decision on the weight.

SEPTEMBER 24, 1980
short plane ride

History will never remember
the truly free,
Only the kings,
the warriors,
the martyrs,
the masochists…

Midnight. The navigator and I are standing on the wings helping with the fueling for the pilot refuses to let any workers walk on them. They filled one wing up earlier and we’re now filling up the other. It’s a 12-hour flight at 125 MPH so every drop of fuel is needed.
Daylight approaches as workers hand up palm fronds to the crew to lie across the wings for camouflage. It looks silly but luck is with us for a dense fog/marine layer is moving in from the sea a few miles away. It’s creeping over the swamp heading at us at 10 MPH rolling right over us. This one is serendipitous. Frankie’s entourage has been filing in all morning for they didn’t want to miss the first shipment leaving Fundación. There’re many tractors converging upon the strip wanting to help tow. The words out and people are excited for money is back in town.
I’ve been hanging out all morning with the pilot going over how much cargo he can take off with on a 1,800-ft dirt runway. The manual is out and the numbers are clear. He knows I love math and is going over all the figures with me. The plane weights 44,000 lbs plus fuel weighs another 9,000 lbs. This plane can carry tons with a long, concrete runway but this one’s muddy clay and the manual says 8,000 lbs. The pilot decides on 6,000 lbs for safety’s sake. Frankie’s disappointed and Cubano thinks the airplane can carry at least 10,000 lbs. The pilot is torn between what the manual says and what he wants to do. So 5,000 lbs are off-loaded, weighed by the Cubano and returned to the shed. The pilot is still working with his numbers in a hundred ways from wind variables to runway surfaces. I relate to him my misgivings of the scale and that I figure there’re 20,000 lbs minimum on board. The bricks are 20% to 30% heavier than reported and if he takes off 5,000 lbs then it still leaves 15,000 lbs. It’s simple math to me so I urge him to get a second opinion suggesting he asks the navigator. Who also agrees there is on board more than reasoned so the pilot orders another 4,000 lbs off-loaded.
The airstrip is the biggest hang-up. The mud is actually pretty hard but only supports the weight of the plane because they’ve added a layer of palm oil nuts over the surface. The nut is a very hard, oblong pit half the size of a walnut that turns this mud into asphalt. The problem is that it only covers the first 1,300-ft of the runway which leaves the last 500 feet in just plain, red, damp, clay mud. It’s time to walk the airstrip for this should answer all questions. The airstrip owner leads us on a tour showing off his pride and joy. We hike the first 1,300 feet and it looks good. We stroll the 500-ft mud part that’s fairly dry for it hasn’t rained in days. We stomp around giving our opinions as to if the mud will support the aircraft or not. All agree it seems firm enough. We walk to the end of the airstrip where there’s a 3-ft high lip of mud separating us from the black swampy water. The pilot thinks everything’s okay.
It amazed me when I boarded the aircraft yesterday just how barren it was. It’s divided into three compartments by two walls with narrow cone-shaped openings. There are four seats in the front compartment fastened to bare steel floors on runners. That’s it except for six red, 5-gallon jerrycans filled with engine oil. We practically filled the back, middle and half the front compartments yesterday before two-thirds were off-loaded. Now there’re only two stacks of 3,000 lbs each in the middle compartment over the wings with a narrow aisle between them.
Noon. All of Frankie’s compatriots are here to wish me luck for I know them all well. I’m out of here today but I’m beginning to have serious misgivings. Cubano can’t be of any help once I’m on Bimini and the crew can only find me a place to stay for a few days for they have work to do. So here I go again – a new place with no money. And where is Bimini, anyway? I’ve nothing but bad feelings about arriving there for my passport’s terrible. I can blend in here but I won’t have a chance there.
I don’t know how to say good-bye to Frankie for he’s done so much for me so unselfishly and now this. I embrace him and shake hands with the rest. I’m helped aboard through the rear cargo door that I secure behind me. The engines are starting with visibility’s only 400 feet so I can’t see the end of the runway while looking into the front compartment. I see Cubano sitting while the crew busy themselves with takeoff procedures. The pilot mentioned that only a few Constellations have ever crashed and are the safest planes in the sky. Frankie and gang are all getting into their cars driving down to mid-strip because of the fog to get a better view of takeoff. I set my tennis bag next to me while sitting on a stack of bricks on the right side of the plane so as to wave adiós to Frankie and friends. I take my switchblade from my waistband and set it next to the bag noting just how absurd only three tons of grass looks in this immense, barren plane.
We taxi to the very front of the runway for we need space. The pilot is stepping hard on the brakes, engines are revving full speed, breaks released and we’re moving. I’m in the middle compartment so all I can see is a wall in front of me so all my attention is out the window into the mist. It seems slow at first but we’re building up speed. Liftoff is at 100 MPH otherwise…
We’re at mid-field doing 50 MPH, doing 60, there’s Frankie and buddies waving bye-bye, we’re going 70, acceleration much better when suddenly the plane slows back down to 50 MPH. The engines are still revving full blast and we’re picking up speed again. I wish I could see something but we’re moving faster once more – maybe 70, now 80, now 90, close to 100 MPH when the nose of the aircraft starts to lift. We’re taking off when I feel a tiny thud at the front of the plane from hitting something. Shit, this couldn’t be good! I leap from the bales of marijuana to the compartment opening and brace myself with my hands on both sides of it when CRASH. …I’..m …f..l..y..i..n..g …b..a..c..k..w..a..r..d..s …t..h..r..o..u..g..h …t..h..e …a..i..r …i..n …s..l..o..w …m..o..t..i..o..n …a..s …I …s..e..e …a …f..i..v..e ...g..a..l..l..o..n …j..e..r..r..y..c..a..n …f..l..y..i..n..g …s..t..r..a..i..g..h..t …a..t …m..e …I …t..e..l..l …m..y …a..r..m..s …t..o …s..t..o..p …i..t …b..u..t …t..h..e..y …a..r..e …i..n …s..l..o..w …m..o..t..i..o..n …t..o..o ...T..h..e …c..a..n …c..l..i..p..s …m..e …a..c..r..o..s..s ...m..y …c..h..i..n …a..n..d…
…I hit the metal floor and slide within a few feet of the pilot who yells, “Door.”
They’re still wearing their seatbelts so I run to the rear door opening it and watch them all jump out. The gravity of this hasn’t registered as I wonder why these guys abandoned ship so quickly. I return to the middle compartment looking for my bag and switchblade finding bails of grass everywhere instead. I look out the window where I was sitting and I see smoke coming from the right engine. Shit, I just helped to put on 1,550 gallons of fuel. I’m out the door fearing an explosion and jump into the black muck giving thanks it only comes up to my armpits for swimming in this wouldn’t be nice. I charge through the swamp water as fast as I can with my arms high in the air. I encounter a perfectly intact wing noting its engine 50 yards further away. I didn’t look back at the plane when I jumped out so I turn around now observing that the left wing’s missing. The plane has left a 250-yd blackish trail behind it as it skidded into the swamp. The fog has now lifted and everyone’s in cars or running towards us to the end of the runway.
I reach the edge of the airfield covered in black sludge. I can’t climb up the slippery edge of the 3-ft high lip so people grab onto my outstretched arms dragging me onto the strip. I’m fine besides an inch-long cut on my chin. The others are shortly helped up and are also uninjured. The Colombians are telling us how lucky we are though I don’t feel lucky. Lucky would’ve been having a more comfortable takeoff. We’re standing around the 3-ft high lip looking at a mark on it.
What happened is this: The plane was doing fine the first 1,300 feet of takeoff but it sank into the muddy part of the runway slowing us down considerably. The pilot couldn’t stopped the plane at this point so he’d the engines still at full throttle. We built up speed again, and at the last moment, the pilot pulled back on the wheel with the nose gear lifting off the ground only two feet before barely clipping the lip at the edge of the runway. The plane nosed down slightly gliding at 100 MPH into the swamp. It lost the left engine at 50 yards and the left wing at 100 yards while the body and right wing skidded 150 yards further. It looks impressive but I never saw a thing except the jerrycan. The pilot is taking it badly for his baby lies dead in the swamp. He loved that plane.
Economics: Frankie was paying $25 a lb and selling it at $100. A nice mark up except for the not so hidden costs such as bribery, strip fees and workers. We’ll call this load 6,000 lbs so Cubano would’ve paid $600,000 plus transport. Frankie would’ve bought it at $150,000 so his gross profit would’ve been $450,000.
The five of us are a muddy mess as fifty people surround us with many more trotting in our direction. We feel claustrophobic with everyone shaking our muddy paws congratulating us on our good fortune. Frankie suggests we hop into his Toyota and he’ll take us to the shed but we refuse for he’d never get the smell of this foul, black, swamp gunk out of his vehicle. A crowd follows as we’re walking the runway back to the shed. We’re looking at the tire tracks in the mud that had slowed us down. They become deeper as we approach the part of the strip paved in palm oil nuts. The nose gear sank down an entire foot where the plane first hit the part not paved at 1,300 feet. This mud is as hard as clay, not soft and slushy, so it slowed the plane down from 70 to 50 MPH in one second.
I’m more analytical as I talk with the others about what they witnessed for they saw it all. I turn around looking once more at the pieces of plane and realize just what saved our lives. If the nose gear would’ve hit the lip dead on then the nose would’ve buried itself at 100 MPH into the swamp – explosion. End of story. Luckily, it had the speed to get the nose off the ground pointed skyward and just barely thumped the lip. We then crashed into the swamp and slid most of the way with one wing. No trees fortuitously grow in these waters for the plane was a bomb looking to ignite its fuse. The smoke has stopped coming from the engine so the crew is going back to the plane to salvage as many instruments as possible. They’ll be dynamiting the plane tonight so there’ll be no more evidence by morning.
We’ve washed most of the mud off ourselves and are walking around without shirts when we’re made to sit at a table with mountains of food. I’m hungry. Pilot grumbles playing with his food while Frankie tries to be attentive. The four will spend the next few days at his home. We’re eating when we spy all the workers going out into the march to retrieve the weed. I follow the crew back to the lip where thirty workers are going to and from the aircraft with a 20- to 50-lb bale on their heads delivering their burdens to waiting Toyotas. I ask the crew to keep an eye out for my switchblade as they slide down the lip into the black goo.
How do I feel right now? I’m exhausted. My 7-year dream dashed in a crash though it doesn’t seem right somehow. It’d be impossible to be sad after surviving the crash but I now understand my destiny is Colombia. I tell Frankie of my realizations and jokingly ask him for a job. He accuses me of being childish.
Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. An airplane’s approaching and it sounds big. The peons stop working and look skyward at a Colombian Air Force DC4 flying at 200 feet lumbering at us at 125 MPH. It circles slowly over the wreckage while people come out of the shed armed with rifles. It’s flying so incredible slow for a large aircraft that it looks like it’s going to slip right out of the sky when it banks. The army can’t get here so this is strictly reconnaissance for the air force surely wouldn’t land here. The plane tires after twenty minutes and crawls back across the sky from whence it came.
4pm. All the grass was retrieved but not my clothes or knife. Losing the switchblade is no big deal only that it was the last thing I owed. The crew salvaged what they could so we climb into Frankie’s Toyota’s and head out. Nobody’s of good cheer while driving the first mile to the bridge we heard about all night. It’s constructed of wooden planks 25-ft long and is narrow with a 5-ft drop to the stream below. The gas truck is a dwarfed version of those you see on the highway. It was driving slowly across it when its right wheel went over the edge pulling the front end into the stream leaving its back wheels still on the bridge. It’s fallen in such a way it looks like it’s drinking from the stream. There’s just enough room for us to pass by it where we encounter plenty of tractors for hire.
We’re here at Frankie’s. The crew has flight bags and have showered and changed clothes. I’m walking around in a towel and borrowed flip-flops while someone is out buying me shirt and pants. The pilot and copilot will sleep in my bed tonight while the navigator and Cubano are on couches. I’ll curl up somewhere. It’s evening when Frankie’s neighbor comes over telling him he has a phone call. Frankie has been trying to get a phone installed for over a year and has paid several thousand dollars for lines, bribes, the works – all without success. The one word I never use around Frankie is ‘telephone’ for it’s the only thing I’ve ever seen really upset him.
He returns telling me Negro wants to talk to me for he needs a favor. A plane’s flying in tomorrow and it’s the pilot’s first trip to the strip but doesn’t speak Spanish. Negro has a portable radio in which to communicate with the plane and wants me to talk the pilot in.
I met Negro one night at Frankie’s home where he joined in drinking beers with others. He’s black and has the only black family in Fundación. He was dressed in tailored western cowboy pants, western shirt, big gaudy turquoise belt buckle, embroidered cowboy boots and the tallest cowboy hat I’ve ever come across. He was 45, tall and the hat suited him. The man had style and was a comedian who loved to be the center of attention. He’s in the same business as Frankie and is wealthy.
Frankie reminds me on the way over to Negro’s that I might be able to hitch a ride. It doesn’t matter for Negro’s a friend. Frankie and I sit in Negro’s front room as he shows me a blue box standing 2½-ft high. The 2-way radio has a handle on top, some dials and gages in front and a microphone cradled at its side. He shows me how if works and will pick me up at Frankie’s at 5am. He’s not trying to blow up my balloon but says there’s always the off chance these people might take me aboard. I’m happy to help for it isn’t like my schedule’s overcrowded and I love that 5-mile stretch to the strip.


5am. I said my good-byes to all last night just in case I’m off today. There’re two others in Negro’s Toyota when he picks me up. We arrive at the road to the strip where we contract a tractor that drags us to the airfield where no evidence of the crash remains. The gas truck quenching its thirst has been removed but another one came in during the night and is parked by the shed.
It’s early morning and we’re drinking our coffees while swatting at the clouds of mosquitoes that follow us everywhere. Visibility’s perfect so the plane should be here around 10am. Negro tries to cheer me up while we go over how to operate this box that talks to the sky. He hints maybe I’ll be going off into the sunset today. I doubt it.
9am. The same fog/marine layer as yesterday is forming on the horizon. All planes land here on empty and they’re in trouble if they can’t find the field. Static and grumbling voices are suddenly heard coming from the box. It’s the gringo pilot and he’s talking with overs and outs so I do to. I understand only half of what he says for he’s talking with marbles in his mouth. I’m looking at the fog that’ll be covering the field in five minutes tops. We finally see the plane but it can’t see us. I’m talking it in screaming about the fog rolling in. It’s already to the runway and moving in fast. He spots us at last and is coming in. I’m yelling at them to approach from over the jungle for half the field is in fog. He does so landing the plane that’s immediately swallowed up in the mist that envelops the runway. They made it only by seconds. We can only hear the plane as it turns around and taxis back. It’s a twin-engine, 6-passenger Cessna with a very long nose.
The pilot and copilot exit the side door into a thick fog. They’re dressed in California casual, in their late 20s and it’s obvious they aren’t smokers. Negro makes introductions while I interpret. Negro was here yesterday and wants them to know about the plane crash and the dangers involved. They’re mad because Organization didn’t inform them of the bad runway conditions. They’re supposed to know these things. They may not take the load. Negro nods at me to ask for a ride but I feel self-conscious for I’m barefooted, flip-flops don’t work in this kind of mud, and wearing cheap polyester pants and shirt. I know these guys’ situation for you don’t bring home a penniless stowaway without papers who could well be DEA.
Nonetheless, I admit to being an escapee and that the FBI is looking for me at home. “What I need, guys, is a ride out of here to somewhere closer to the States.” They’ve been listening to my soliloquy and it makes them plainly nervous so I contritely add, “I understand of course the risks involved.”
I wait patiently while they whisper to each other.
“Sorry,” the pilot says apologetically, “but our bosses wouldn’t like it, otherwise…”
“No, that’s okay,” interrupting quickly, “I was once in the business myself. I understand perfectly.”
Workers are putting out gallon cans filled with kerosene ten yards apart and lighting them all along the airstrip for runway lights. I assure the pilot the first 1,300-ft is fine so he’ll take his load of 2,000 lbs. Negro takes care of the weighing while the pilot busies himself with refueling. Organization will be paying Negro so no money is exchanged. I tell the pilot about the Colombian Air Force visiting us yesterday so he’s anxious to leave. I’m shaking their hands at the plane’s door as they exchange a few words.
The pilot looks at me, “Our bosses will be going through the roof but you’re coming with us!” I don’t know where and I don’t care but I’m overjoyed. “Organization will be checking up on your story,” feigning toughness and warns “so you better be who you say you are.”
I inform Negro of the good news and he’s delighted and pulls out his wallet handing me a $100 bill. This touches me for I feel worthless really, for look at me I’m a mess. It’s pea soup outside but it doesn’t matter for it’s only a few hundred feet of marine layer. The copilot closes the door behind us and sits himself in one of the two seats. The aircraft is filled with a ton of grass so I make room for myself on top of it.
“What kind of a Cessna is this, anyway?” quizzing the pilot.
“It’s a Titan and is known in the smuggling world as the ‘2 + 2’ – 2,000 lbs, 2,000 miles.”
We taxi to front runway with 40-ft visibility so we can’t see a thing except just barely the ‘runway lights’. The breaks are on as the pilot gives full throttle to the engines then releases them. We’re moving with amazing acceleration and we’re airborne within moments. We’re climbing fast, poof, out of the fog into absolutely clear skies. Oh my God, there to the right of the plane stands the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountain and its summit in all its 19,029-ft glory. It’s a giant, cone-shaped peak that I’m seeing for the first time. It’s the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. My whole being vibrates as I watch it through the porthole for I’m finally on an airplane heading home. I’m in heaven. I watch the peak as long as I can until my it dissolves into the horizon. My Statue of Liberty.
The pilots voice their concerns that I might not be who I pretend to be. I smile when they say Organization will ‘take care of me’ if I’m not. I lived in Colombia for 7 years and I can smell dangerous people. These pilots are straight arrow and I don’t see them working for people who ‘take care’ of others. I attempt to alleviate their fears while we fly over the clear azure waters of the Atlantic Ocean. I relate to them stories about my escapes, prison and about Pancha though I leave out the violence. It scares people to be around those who have experienced this.
They open up a little as we near our destination in the Bahamas. They’re still going to get their asses chewed even if I am who I say I am. Bringing a federal fugitive to their island isn’t going to make Organization happy. I assure them what they’re doing is truly compassionate for I deserve this after 7 years. They also hint, no guarantees, they might fly me back to Florida. This is the best news yet for I feel this is what’s going to happen. I believe and trust these guys so the biggest hurdle left will soon and easily be jumped. What I’m feeling is pure joy.
We’re coming in on approach on a long, narrow island with beaches dotted with resorts landing on an airstrip at the back of one. We’re met by the Bahamian caretaker, Red, who’s black, 40ish with reddish black hair and has worked for Organization for years. His task is to off-load and stash the grass and to wash the mud from the planes. I help Red in these tasks while the pilots retire to the restaurant to telephone their bosses to find out what to do with me.
We finish and Red leads me to the restaurant where the pilots are eating. The Bahamian cook is big, black and wonderful and punctuates every sentence with a laugh. She brings us a platter of fried conk. I’ve never had it before but I’ve seen the football-size shell they live in being blown as trumpets in all Polynesian movies. I never knew a very delicious, large snail lived inside. The pilots telephoned the top men in Organization and nobody’s happy or knows what to do with me. They gave them my name so I’m to remain at the resort while they check my police record. The pilots will leave tomorrow so I’m put under Red’s custody.
I’m assigned a deluxe bungalow only feet from the beach. I’m the only resident except the pilots who’ll be leaving tomorrow. I don’t know how I slipped into this. I was morose yesterday, whereas today, I’m on top of the world. The beach in front of the resort is wonderful and I hear Mother Sea calling me. I feel I must wash 7 years of filth from my soul. Red, who accompanies me everywhere but the bathroom, watches me take off my clothes on the deserted beach. I run into the sea diving in naked and swim hard a few yards rolling over onto my back floating and stare at the blue sky. I’m one with the universe.
Organization’s pilots and their wives fly in from Florida periodically. They chill out in a bungalow for a few days playing and drinking gin before flying back. I can’t get over just how straight, genuine, sympathetic and generous all these people are. One pilot took my measurements bringing me Levi’s, Madras shirts and sneakers. They believe my story and are glad to help. I’m told I’m to leave soon though I remind them I’m in no hurry. I helped off-load and wash planes twice this week so things are now moving.
I’ve been here for two weeks, I think, for I’ve lost all track of time. Every day’s the same here – all marvelous. I’m having breakfast when the top pilot and decision maker in Organization walks in. He’s in his early 40s, handsome with an air of casual seriousness and looks like the guy you’d like flying your 747 across the heavens. He has a good handshake and wants to personally listen to my story so I tell him. He hears my tale then confirms Organization has verified who I am and that I’ll be leaving soon. I’ve heard tell of his close calls with him always remaining calm, and by his coolness and precise questions, it’s obvious this man has nerves of steel.

OCTOBER 10, 1980

8am. Steel informs me we’ll be flying back to Florida momentarily. It’s finally happening. I pack my bag in seconds and hoof it to the airstrip. I’m looking human as I climb aboard with the engines already revving. It’s a twin-engine, 4-passenger Piper Navajo painted dark brown with even darker brown trim. Steel doesn’t waste any time and we’re off into the sky. He usually doesn’t talk though he explains what I’ll be witnessing today. He’s taking an enormous risk for he has no guarantees I’ll keep my mouth shut. We’re to meet a helicopter piloted by an ex-Vietnam vet at a certain island where a load of marijuana is to be picked up. We’re to follow the chopper back to Florida as a decoy. We’ll run for it if the sky patrol starts following us for they always chase the plane that’s fleeing.
“If you’ve noticed,” he explains, “I’ve added tip tanks to the tip of each wing for extra fuel. We can fly for twelve hours and nobody else can. If we get chased, they have to eventually land to refuel. We don’t.”
“How long is the flight back to Florida then?”
“Six hours from the pick up point.” He looks at his watch. “The chopper is to meet us there by 10am.”
9am. We arrive at a rock that he calls an island and gently circle it. It looks like a cartoon island without the palm tree. It’s a 50-ft diameter, 20-ft high boulder with boxes sitting directly in the middle of it. A boat delivered it during the night and looks to be 500 lbs but I don’t ask.
2pm. We’ve circled the island for five hours. Steel shows no concern the chopper’s four hours late. They never use radios so there’s no way of knowing what’s causing the delay. I’ve done the math and Florida’s six hours away and we have six hours of fuel.
“So what happens if he doesn’t show up?” I ask.
He doesn’t answer though he’s not being rude. It was just a dumb question.
I spot the chopper coming at us right off the deck heading straight to the island. It hovers over the boxes as someone jumps out heaving them in and then climbs back aboard. The chopper takes off with destination Florida flying at 50 feet. We’re slow flying behind at 200 feet so I’ve time to study the instrument panel. One round one reads ‘10-10-80’ – an easy date to remember. I’m also keeping an eye on the fuel.
“How accurate is your gas gage, Steel?”
“It counts molecules. I had it installed when I added the tip tanks.”
Dusk is about us as we approach the black Florida coast. The flight has been uneventful, thank you, as we watch the chopper heading into the mangroves where the load will be picked up by boat. We’re flying north following the coast with lights out. We’re not doing anything illegal so I suggest that lights out would make us more conspicuous. He doesn’t think so and I figure he knows what he’s doing.
8pm. We’ve been flying for twelve hours when we hit twenty gallons. “Aren’t we getting a little low on fuel?”
“There’s plenty.”
We’re cruising along the coast and we’re down to ten gallons, nine gallons…this is like in the movies where a time bomb is ticking away. The hero has to cut either the red or the blue wire, which one does he do? He cuts one with only one second left on the clock…the bomb doesn’t go off. We’re at three gallons but I’m not saying anything for Steel’s not worried. We fly inland a few miles approaching a small local airport that’s airstrip and tower are unlit. He says the airport closes after 6pm but this won’t be a problem for us. We touch down taxiing into a parking area where we tie down the plane facing outward. I’m excited. I’m on American soil.
The airport bar is fifty feet away and is still open. Steel stops at a row of telephones outside and gives me money for drinks while he makes phone calls. I order two Scotches to go that are delivered in plastic cups. I walk back outside to the phones when Steel hangs up. I hand him his drink but he’s thinking about something he just heard. We’ve been on the ground five minutes when I’m about to toast my arrival when he tosses his drink to the ground along with the plastic cup for no apparent reason. I follow him back to the plane but he’s walking so fast that I’m spilling my drink all over myself. We hastily climb aboard, he starts the engines and we’re moving without preamble. We’re full throttle down the parking strip that meets the runway at the one-third point where you normally turn left for takeoff. But he turns right instead with engines screaming full bore skidding sideways onto the runway with only a third left for takeoff!
I look behind us and see six cop cars lined up across the runway and tarmac not twenty yards away. They’re coming at us in perfect formation at 10-yd intervals at 5 MPH. They probably saw the Navajo land without running lights and gathered in enough strength at the back of the runway planning to block our getaway. They missed us by only seconds.
Meanwhile, we’re picking up speed rapidly roaring towards a chain link fence that separates the airfield from a busy highway. Steel pulls back on the wheel at the last second, and I don’t believe it, we’re airborne. I look back at the straight line of cop cars still driving at us leaving me with an image I’ll forever cherish. Wow, cheap thrills. I wasn’t on the ground ten minutes and I’m already running from the law. I can’t figure out how he knew the cops were coming. He couldn’t have seen them when he tossed his drink but I don’t ask.
Oh shit, the gas gage indicates three gallons left. I’m sure he didn’t planned on this so I point at it.
“We’ve plenty of fuel.”
We’ve at two gallons when we’re suddenly flying into an enormous airport.
“Where are we?” I inquire.
“Orlando International,” he replies then radios the tower.
He lands pulling up to a gas pump alongside other private aircraft. I follow him into the office where he gives a credit card to an attendant who swipes it handing it back. Steel informs him that he’ll be picking up his plane in the morning.
The attendant follows us outside and looks at the plane. “Hey, mister, I’ve never seen a Navajo with tip tanks before.”
Steel confides that he works for a major airline flying Jumbos. His car’s in the parking lot so he knew where we were going all along. We drive to the airport Howard Johnson’s sharing a room. I call information then my youngest brother Gilbert in California.
He’s stunned to hear from me and asks excitedly, “When will you be coming home?”
“I should be flying into LAX tomorrow, bro.”
“I’ll be waiting for your call to pick you up.”

OCTOBER 11, 1980

Most of my life
I’ve been going nowhere –
It’s just that I’ve been everywhere
getting there…

Steel drives me to an air terminal buying me a ticket to L.A. and gives me $500 wishing me luck. I arrive at LAX in the early afternoon giving Gilbert a call. He picks me up and drives to his 2-bedroom beach house just a half block from the sand – Hermosa Beach, California. It’s been exactly 6 years, 11 months and 20 days. He gives me the back bedroom until I’m back on my feet. There’s a phone so I ask him for a number.
“Hi, Mom, Kendall’s back.”



It’s not really my fault,
for nothing is really my fault,
Since it wasn’t my fault,
for being born –
Sorry Mom…

I bounced back on my feet by smuggling blow from Ft Lauderdale, Florida to Montreal, Canada where I was popped with a pound of cocaine in February of 1982. I served 2 of the 5 years that I was sentenced to.
They deported me to the States in March of 1984 where Judge Real sentenced me to only 5 years after taking into consideration I’d just spent 7 years in foreign prisons. I did 3 years inside and 2 years on probation. I was free at last in March of 1989.
The three federal felony charges issued against me in 1974 stemming from the Colombian bust were dismissed due to a clerical error.
It took 19 years for the 1970 coke bust to reach fruition in which I was either out on bail, a fugitive, a prisoner, an escapee, a prisoner, an escapee, a prisoner or a parolee.
If I were ever asked, “Is cocaine a dangerous drug?”
I’d most assuredly answer, “Absolutely.”

June 23, 2006
(In order of appearance)

1) Roxane Mason - - - - - - 6
2) Val & Ann Rideout - - - 8
3) Tom Rosen- - - - - - - - 10
4) Buddy Boy (NN)- - - - 10
5) Judge Manuel Real- - -11
6) Penelope Meyers
Blackwell - - - - - - - - -12
7) Bob C - - - - - - - - - - - 14
8) Jerry & Harvey - - - - - 15
9) James Boyle- - - - - - - 22
10)Javier - - - - - - - - - - 22
11)Arsenio- - - - - - - - - 24
12)Manuel - - - - - - - - - 27
13)Michael Nasatir- - - - 47
14)Calavera (NN)- - - - - 56
15)Samuel - - - - - - - - - 63
16)Ratoncito (NN) - - - - 72
17)Flaco Osorio - - - - - 99
18)Orlando Rodríguez -105
19)Esperanza ‘Pancha’
Ruby Sánchez- - - - -107
20)Señora Sánchez - - - 116
21)My Mom - - - - - - - 127
22)Blackie (NN)- - - - - 128
23)Ivón- - - - - - - - - - - 129
24)Silvio Herrera - - - - 130
25)Indio (NN) - - - - - - 136
26)Rubio- - - - - - - - - - 137
27)Costeño (NN) - - - - 145
28)Mamá (NN)- - - - - -165
29)Mono (NN)- - - - - - 165
30)Eduardo - - - - - - - - 167
31)Hernando- - - - - - - 170
32)Carlos Tapia- - - - - 176
33)Charles Fiocconi - - 182
34)Pescado (NN) - - - - 187
35)Ignacio, El Español- 189
36)Chicorrio (NN) - - - 189
37)Umberto, El Ganso- 193
38)Armando- - - - - - - - 193
39)Christián- - - - - - - - 196
40)Gonzalo Careño- - - 199
41)Santiago Iglesias - - 199
42)Dr Secuestro,
Kidnap (NN) - - - - - 208
43)My Dad - - - - - - - - 223
44)My brother Leslie- - 223
45)Manuela - - - - - - - - 230
46)Liliana Iglesias- - - - 232
47)Gary- - - - - - - - - - - 239
48)Peter & Paolo C - - - 240
49)Mrs C - - - - - - - - - - 241
50)Scotty (NN)- - - - - - 244
51)Cubano (NN)- - - - - 273
52)Negro (NN)- - - - - - 281
53)Red (NN)- - - - - - - 284
54)My brother Gilbert - 288

(In order of appearance)

1) Ernesto- - - - - - - - - - - - 1
2) DEA-Pilot- - - - - - - - - 22
3) Head-Commander- - - - 31
4) F-2-Officer- - - - - - - - 32
5) Judge Justo - - - - - - - - 35
6) Warden Buenagente - - 43
7) Pedro - - - - - - - - - - - - 56
8) Cacorro - - - - - - - - - - 59
9) Frenzy- - - - - - - - - - - 68
10) Resurrected - - - - - - - 69
11) Infirmary-Guy- - - - - - 71
12) Street-Scum - - - - - - - 78
13) Nut-Case - - - - - - - - - 96
14) Halfman- - - - - - - - - 103
15) Fernando - - - - - - - - 106
16) Marta - - - - - - - - - - 107
17) Middle-Man - - - - - - 127
18) Cristina- - - - - - - - - 131
19) Roberto - - - - - - - - - 133
20) Invincible- - - - - - - - 136
21) Mr So & So - - - - - - 139
22) Superglue - - - - - - - 141
23) Anxious- - - - - - - - - 143
24) Blondie - - - - - - - - - 158
25) Grubby- - - - - - - - - - 161
26) Cowboy - - - - - - - - - 162
27) Vender - - - - - - - - - - 229
28) Mistress - - - - - - - - - 177
29) Shoplifter - - - - - - - - 179
30) Black-Dude- - - - - - - 190
31) Sleazeball - - - - - - - - 190
32) Ruana- - - - - - - - - - - 191
33) Barrel- - - - - - - - - - - 194
34) Gardener- - - - - - - - - 200
35) Little-Guy- - - - - - - - 208
36) First - - - - - - - - - - - - 218
37) Second - - - - - - - - - - 218
38) Cellmate - - - - - - - - - 219
39) Footman - - - - - - - - - 219
40) Spider- - - - - - - - - - - 221
41) Guy-In-Trouble - - - - 222
42) Release-Man - - - - - - 227
43) Model- - - - - - - - - - - 234
44) Gram-Man- - - - - - - - 237
45) Connection - - - - - - - 238
46) DAS-Agent - - - - - - - 240
47) Frankie - - - - - - - - - - 250
48) Obnoxious- - - - - - - - 253
49) Mafioso- - - - - - - - - - 259
50) Juan - - - - - - - - - - - - 263
51) Steel- - - - - - - - - - - - 285





Esperanza ‘Pancha’ Ruby Sánchez

For making the unbearable bearable.
My love for you has always held
a special place in my heart.



For being the Saint/Satan that you are.



1) EARLY 1979 La Picota Penitentiary, Bogotá (the present) - - - - 1
2) 1964 – OCTOBER 29, 1973 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 4
3) OCTOBER 30, 1973 busted - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 23
4) BACK TO EARLY 1979 (the present)- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 24
5) OCTOBER 30 – DECEMBER F-2 Police Station, Cali- - - - - - 30
6) BACK AGAIN TO EARLY 1979 (the present)- - - - - - - - - - - 38
7) DECEMBER 3 – 31, 1973 Villanueva Prison, Cali - - - - - - - - 41
8) JANUARY – MARCH 1974- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 49
9) APRIL 1974- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 99
10) MAY – JUNE 1974 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 105
11) JULY – SEPTEMBER 1974- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 112
12) OCTOBER 1974 – MARCH 1975- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 115
13) APRIL 1975 San Ysidro Penitentiary, Popayán - - - - - - - - - 117
14) MAY – DECEMBER 1975 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 127
15) JANUARY – APRIL 1976- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -137
16) MAY 1976 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 149
ii JUNE – JULY 1976 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 151
18) AUGUST 1 – 7, 1976- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 153
19) AUGUST 8, 1976 to flee or not to flee - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 157
20) AUGUST 9 – 31, 1976 Bogotá- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -161

21) SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER 1976- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 164
22) NOVEMBER 1976 – APRIL 1977 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 175
23) MAY 1977 busted again - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -178
24) JUNE 1977 La Modelo Prison, Bogotá - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -186
25) JULY 1977 – MARCH 1978 La Picota Penitentiary, Bogotá 187
26) APRIL – DECEMBER 1978 Patio 1 ( (almost caught up with ourselves)- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 192
27) EARLY 1979 (the present from now on) - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 199
28) APRIL – AUGUST 1979- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 212
29) SEPTEMBER 1 – 23, 1979- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 221
30) SEPTEMBER 24, 1979 What happened? - - - - - - - - - - - - - 227
31) SEPTEMBER 25 – DECEMBER 1979 Bogotá - - - - - - - - - 229
32) JANUARY – JUNE 1980 Cartagena- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -236
33) JUNE – SEPTEMBER 22, 1980 Fundación- - - - - - - - - - - - 250
34) SEPTEMBER 23, 1980- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 271
35) SEPTEMBER 24, 1980 short plane ride - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 275
36) SEPTEMBER 25 – OCTOBER 9, 1980 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -281
37) OCTOBER 10, 1980 Florida- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 285
38) OCTOBER 11, 1980 LAX- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -288
39) EPILOGUE- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 289
40) INDEX OF REAL NAMES- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 290
41) INDEX OF PSEUDONYMS - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 291



1) Three guards at Ernesto’s cell- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1
2) Vein but in vane- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 20
3) Turkey from Hell - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 30
4) Dozen nutters in punishment block - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 51
5) Going fishing- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 59
6) Kitchen worker serving loco- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 63
7) Samuel’s caspete - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 66
8) Flaco Osorio getting a shoeshine - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 100
9) Halfman- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -104
10) Right between the eyes - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 179
11) Cutting my wrist - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 183
12) Captain’s Garden - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 205
13) Escape- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 209
14) Evening snack- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 217
15) Spider- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 221
16) Cockroaches everywhere- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 248
17) Airplane crash - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 278
18) Florida airport and cop car- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 287


1) La Picota Penitentiary, Bogotá – Patio 1 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 0
2) Villanueva Prison, Cali - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 42
3) Villanueva Prison, Cali – Patio2 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 58
4) San Ysidro Penitentiary, Popayán - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 120
5) DAS Jailhouse, Bogotá - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 181
6) La Picota Penitentiary, Bogotá - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 188



I kept promising myself for 24 years that I’d write a book about my 7 years in Colombia but life kept getting in the way – as it does. But the timing was finally right – as it always will be.
I’ve never related to a soul most of what you’ll read. I wasn’t ashamed of having been to prison, nor did I hide the fact, it’s just not polite to talk about it.
I was afraid I’d forgotten much of it when I first began writing the story but that wasn’t the case at all. It was all there nestled in a nook looking for freedom. I had pen in hand.
All events happened. All people mentioned in this book were/are real people.


Archivo del blog