Escaping Costa Rica
Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. My deep sleep was interrupted by the repeated hammering on my condo door. A blurry glance at my alarm clock indicated it was 3:30 a.m. Who in the shit could that be, I wondered as I quickly sat up on the side of my bed. Struggling to slide my feet into my slippers, I noticed the flickering of police lights penetrating the cheap curtains I had installed a year earlier. Discretely, I moved the edge of the curtain to reveal three police cars blocking the entrance of my driveway. I could see the silhouettes of four officers huddled together in front of one of the vehicles. I surmised there were others at my front door. Bang, bang, bang. My shaking legs made it difficult for me to stand, let alone walk. I reached for my cell phone on the nightstand and knocked over a half empty glass of water, sending it crashing to the tile floor. Phone in hand, I speed dialed my attorney. No answer. Dialed again. No answer. I reluctantly walked toward the front door and began wondering whether or not this was it. A nightmare coming true. A nightmare that I had experienced dozens of times over the past month. As I reached the front door, I could hear loud Spanish speaking voices on the other side. Voices that reflected anger and impatience. More banging. More banging. I debated whether I should open the door. As I leaned down to look through the peephole, the steel door exploded off its hinges knocking me to the cold tile floor. The streaming beams of flashlights blinded me. Shadows and silhouettes hovered over me like goblins. The crackling, alien sound of radio transmissions echoed throughout my condo. Then came the hands. Strong hands. Many hands, grabbing my legs, my wrists and tearing the neck of my T-shirt. Within seconds I was face down on my tile floor. My hands and feet were forced together and quickly cuffed. My restrained body was dragged into the living area, where two of the officers bounced me into a sitting position on my leather sofa. Other officers turned on every light source they could find. My clutched cell phone had slipped from my grasp during the scuffle and slid to the corner of the entry. I remembered that I had tried to call my attorney.
The alpha of the officers stood proudly in front of me. His pudgy face made his dark piercing eyes look small. He had bushy eyebrows, a thick un-groomed mustache and two gold capped teeth. His crooked smile clearly expressed that he liked being the boss. And that he had a dislike for gringos. He glanced around the room to make sure his subordinates were paying attention. Then he stepped forward and straddled my shaking knees. I pushed deeper into my sofa as he peered down at me. He shook his head slowly from side to side, and then he spoke in broken English. “You is goin to jail, gringo.”His henchmen circled around him. One of them stepped forward and handed him a laminated document. The alpha quickly began reading to me in Spanish. I understood nothing, but surmised he was reading me my rights. “No comprehende nada!” I belted out as he continued reading his script. I repeated, “nocomprehende.” The moment my words left my lips, my cell phone rang. All eyes shifted from me to my cell phone. The smallest of the officers hustled over and picked up the ringing phone and presented it to the alpha officer. I called out, “It’s my lawyer. You must let me talk with my lawyer.” With a shitty grin on his face, the alpha officer powered off the phone, and slid it into his side pocket. Mischievous laughter filled the room. The alpha officer rattled off some Spanish and his clowns began searching my condo. Within minutes they had secured two laptops, my I-Pad, cameras, two external hard drives and my file box. They continued to search for other evidence, but failed to find the money. Satisfied with the search, the head man instructed two of his men to put me in the waiting police car.The stench lingering in my cell was nothing like I had ever smelled before. A combination of raw sewage, body odor and spoiled food. I wondered if I would ever get used to the smell, but then again, I had no choice. My 20 year sentence clearly meant that I would die in this stinking pit.
Two light bulbs, cased in rusted steel mesh, cast a dim light over my new home. I watched a giant cockroach dart across the stained and cracked concrete floor. One barred window was constructed high enough that I could only see the blue sky and clouds during the day and the stars at night. The sole window provided little light and minimal ventilation. The concrete on one side of the window had been slightly chiseled away….perhaps a failed escape by one of my new “roommates.” Spanish slang was smattered on every wall, most of it written with human feces. The steel framed bunk beds were bolted to the floor and had been painted numerous times. Spanish words, which I did not understand, were etched into the paint.
As I glanced around my fifteen by fifteen foot cell, my stomach almost lurched as I noticed the toilet in the corner. Dried urine and shit covered most of the cracked porcelain surface. Then I began to reflect on my past and how I ended up here. I always knew that my addictions had consequences, but I had no idea that my final destination would be so humiliating… so disgusting.As I sat quietly on my lower bunk, I began to think about how I could end this living hell! How would I go about killing myself?
My thoughts were quickly interrupted by the mischievous laughter of my cellmates, who were huddled in one corner of the cell. They seemed to be reading my mind. “Hey, Gringo, how ya like ya new home?” blurted the smallest of the three. “No worries, Gringo, we take care of you, man!” Then more uproarious laughter. They obviously enjoyed the look of horror on my face.Caesar was by far the most intimidating of my three cellmates. Not only was he the largest of the bunch, but his piercing dark eyes reflected his obvious pain and hatred. His hair was long, greasy and jet black. A tattered red bandana hugged his forehead. A large scar down his left cheek, coupled with two missing front teeth, made him look intimidating, to say the least. I would later learn that Caesar was in the joint for murdering his wife after catching her with another man. He killed his wife’s lover too and rumor has it, he cut off his dick and balls.
Jose, the smallest of my cellmates, was the only one of the three who spoke English. He was in the joint for selling drugs and also manslaughter. While he was smaller than the other two, he was in great shape. Every morning Jose would do push-ups and crunches. His mustache was thin and stringy and he spent most of the day twisting it while pacing back and forth like a caged cat. His small dark eyes constantly shifted from one side to the other. He didn’t know it yet, but his English speaking ability would prove invaluable to me in the days and months to come.
Pablo was the quiet one, tall and skinny, but the best looking of the bunch. His face was chiseled and he had large tattoos on each shoulder and one on his right calf. Always reading some tattered magazine and laughing from time to time; he rarely got involved in any sort of meaningful conversation. He was the loner of the group and he was in the joint for attempted bank robbery with five years left on his ten year sentence. Caesar and Jose were not so lucky. They were in for life.
So, there I sat with two killers and a bank robber. I wondered if this was just a bad dream, and I hoped to wake up in the comfort of my little condo in Jaco, Costa Rica. When I first arrived in Jaco, it was merely a sleepy little surfer’s destination. The main drag was a pot holed dirt road with a smattering of seedy bars, marginal restaurants and cheap hotels. Back in those days everything was inexpensive and access to drugs for the surfer crowd was easy. Sports fishing attracted a huge influx of American anglers seeking to land a big marlin during the day and a hot Latin lady in the evening. Jaco offered everything a man might want. Great surfing, great fishing, cheap drugs, a never ending nightlife and an abundance of beautiful Latin women looking for a ticket out of poverty. Truthfully, most of these women just needed money to feed their babies and would do or say anything to get their hands on your wallet.
As I reflected on my early days in Jaco, reality stepped in. I was in prison for twenty years and it was not just a bad dream. I quickly began to organize my thoughts to determine just how I would end all of this misery.