"Reading: It spares you a prison beating!" would make a damn effective PSA, come to think of it.
Being the coolest dude in an ISIS prison sounds like a dubious honor, to be sure. He did eventually run into problems when his fellow prisoners realized he wasn't all that religious. "They would ask, 'Hey, why aren't you praying? Why aren't you reading the Quran? Is this not your religion?'"
Nassim's initial response -- that he didn't "feel like" praying -- was the wrong one. "If you mess around with one guy, the entire jail is filled with ISIS ... they would cut your neck with a razor one night." So Nassim had "to pretend that I am a godly person just so that I can see the light of day, I can wake up the next morning and not have an open artery, do you know what I mean?" We do. Unless that was a terrifying metaphor. We're not good with terrifying metaphors.
Some Things Are Universal: Money Fixes Problems
Nassim didn't have as hard a time with ISIS as you might expect -- in part thanks to his education, and in part thanks to good old-fashioned bribery. As soon as he arrived, he approached the scariest motherfucker he could find and ... offered him cash for protection. Nassim isn't a rich kid, but his parents would be considered upper middle class by U.S. standards. They had money, and like any decent parents, they were willing to spend that money to stop their son from getting decapitated by terrorists in prison. "So I called [mom] up, I wired the guy $600, and for around a week I slept between two guys."
Funny. In some prisons, you'd pay to avoid that sort of thing.
His two bed buddies, remember, were ISIS terrorists. It's not exactly sitcom material. Or is it?
Nassim also bribed the Basha, a sort of prisoner representative appointed by the guards to every room. Eventually, Nassim used his parents' money to bribe his whole cell -- some two-dozen people. "I would feed them tasty meals, I would give them cigarette packs ... if you give them one pack, the prisoner would serve you for an entire week ... he would be your own personal assistant for one or two packs of Marlboro per week."
He lived like a king! Like a scared, imprisoned king.
Better to risk secondhand smoke than firsthand beheading.
Eventually a judge took pity on Nassim, since his final court date kept getting delayed and delayed. All told, Nassim estimates that his parents spent $100,000 while he was locked up. Half of that money went to the lawyer who got him removed from the ISIS prison and put into a normal one. The other half went straight to cigarettes and terrorists. Just like our paychecks.
If You're Even Associated With A Criminal, You Could Be At Risk
Nassim had a friend who bribed her way out of jail time altogether ... but her contacts list wasn't so lucky. The cops called all of them into the station, gave them drug tests (which cost $30), and if they tested positive, they had to bribe their way out of trouble. That's not par for the course over there in foreign land -- even the UN described it as "difficult to have a functioning democratic system ... where a member of the legislature or judiciary, earning only a modest income, can easily gain the equivalent of some 20 months' salary from a trafficker by making one favorable decision."
Ramzi Hadar/Getty Images
"Plus, that kind of bribe money should buy better living conditions, amirite?"
And the crazy thing is, the UN is kind of a part of this problem. They help fund the international war on drugs, sending millions to nations like Iran, which execute teenagers for drug-related crimes, and Thailand, which racked up 2,819 extrajudicial killings when they escalated their drug war in 2003. But hey, what better way is there to spend that money? Supplying clean water? Funding the fight against disease? Developing super-kicking robot legs for amputees? That last one? Please?
Robert Evans has a book about how drugs built civilization, and it's full of recipes for re-creating the insane narcotics of our ancestors.
For more insider perspectives, read 6 Ways Prison Is More Horrifying Than Movies Make It Look and 6 Ugly Things I Learned About American Prisons (As A Guard).
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