#2. People Keep Getting Forgotten in Solitary Confinement
We said that the people in the previous entries were "imprisoned" in those rooms or elevators, but of course that's not really accurate -- you're never more watched than when you're in prison. You're meticulously supervised by staff, you have a lawyer you can call if things go sour, and everyone is operating under an umbrella of laws meant to preserve your rights. So, "Lock him up and throw away the key!" is really just a humorous figure of speech.
Joshua Engler/Hemera/Getty Images
Slightly more frequent than "Do you feel lucky?" mostly because .44 Magnum rounds are kind of expensive.
But then we have stories like Daniel Chong's. Chong, a college student, was hanging with his buddy, who happened to be the friendly neighborhood drug dealer. While Chong was chilling on the couch, police crashed the buddy's house and took everyone to jail. After questioning, Chong was quickly identified as just a visitor and was put in a solitary cell to be dealt with later. And then they completely forgot about him. Literally -- it was just like how sometimes you'll stick something in the microwave and then get distracted and forget about it until hours later. Only it was a human being.
And they forgot about him for four days.
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"Did you hear something from that cell?"
"Eh, we'll let Future Nick and Future Wayne deal with that."
That's four days during which Chong was stuck in a windowless cell, without food or water, still handcuffed (he started having hallucinations on Day 3).
Convinced that he'd been left to die and distraught at not being able to talk to his family one more time, Chong tried to carve a message to his mother into his body. Finally, officers became curious about the weird banging in what was supposed to be an empty cell, and probably only investigated because they thought the jail was haunted. They opened the door to find Chong, covered in his own filth. He was rushed to the hospital and spent five days recovering from dehydration, kidney failure, cramps, and a perforated esophagus. He was also 15 pounds lighter. The DEA issued an apology and gave Chong a $4 million settlement as a sort of "Sorry for almost killing you" coupon.
"Do you have a card along the lines of 'sorry for the wrongful imprisonment and almost death'? Maybe like a talking cat, or something?"
And yet his story is nothing compared to Stephen Slevin's.
In 2005, Slevin was pulled over in rural New Mexico for a suspected DUI. Normally this means an overnight stay while you sober up, but Slevin showed signs of mental illness, and the police feared he was a suicide risk. So, they stuck him in solitary confinement. And then, once again, they kind of just left him there. Days passed, and then weeks. Slevin's pleas for information about his case fell on deaf ears.
Weeks turned into months. Slevin wasn't allowed to shave and was only rarely allowed to shower. His clothes were rotting off his body, and the prison staff refused to give him more. Every day, prison staff walked by his cell and gave him food, but ignored his increasingly desperate attempts to get help. After his tooth started to rot, they refused him a trip to the dentist, so Slevin had to pull it out himself.
Dona Ana County Corrections Dept. via The Telegraph
He was still charged a $50 copay by his HMO.
So, how long do you think a man could be left in solitary before somebody -- a jail official, a lawyer, somebody -- stopped to ask why this dude's overnight stay had turned into an indefinite detention? A couple of months? Three?
Try nearly two goddamned years.
At that point they just dropped the charges and set him free. The county appeared to have no explanation for why Slevin was left there (at one point he had been transported to a mental hospital, then inexplicably returned to solitary), and when he sued, he won $22 million, but settled for a lesser amount on appeal (shit, we hope it wasn't much less).
"After attorney fees and taxes, you owe the U.S. government $65,000. Cash only."
So how in the hell can we possibly top that story?
#1. A Man Was Imprisoned for 53 Years Because No One Could Speak His Language
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Getting sent to a POW camp is no fun, regardless of the war or which army took you prisoner. But there is one benefit -- despite what Rambo would have you believe, usually you get to go home when the fighting is over. But sometimes, in the mass confusion following a horrific conflict, people just ... fall through the cracks.
Take Hungarian Andras Tamas, who was just one of millions of POWs in World War II. He had fought for the Germans and was captured by the Soviets in 1944. The problem was that Tamas went nuts while in the gulags (they'll do that to a person), and thus lost the ability to tell anyone who he was or why he was there. And after he got transferred to a mental hospital, the Soviets (whose system was not exactly a model of efficiency) eventually forgot, too.
Understandable, what with them being so busy building nukes and killing and oppressing their citizens.
With the war long over, the staff who knew the truth -- that he was a Hungarian POW who didn't speak Russian -- moved on to different assignments or just retired. Years passed, and eventually there was no one left who knew Tamas' case history, and they were too lazy to check his files. They were content that there was a crazy man who spoke no Russian, only a weird gibberish, and left it at that.
For half a century.
In their defense, Rosetta Stone doesn't have a Hungarian version.
It wasn't until the late '90s that a visiting foreign doctor recognized that Tamas was actually speaking Hungarian and not an alien tongue he was making up on the fly. Cracking open his medical file for the first time in decades, the doctor found Tamas' case history and quickly notified the authorities in Budapest. The POW finally returned home to a hero's welcome, where he was dubbed "the last prisoner of World War II." Which is a nice title, but we're hoping somebody in Russia is checking to see if there are any more.
Yosomono writes about being forgotten and locked away in the nuclear wastelands of Japan.
Of course, things aren't ALWAYS this scary. For your relief, check out 25 Real Facts That Make Common Fears Way Less Scary.
Related Reading: If you think it's crazy these people got trapped, you'll flip out when you realize all the critical things that have been lost...like these sayings from Jesus. And then there's the Gospel of Eve, which made semen-eating into a religious act. And if those RFK assassination photos hadn't been lost, we might have a REAL different understanding of history.