What I Learned Getting Arrested For Drugs In The Middle East
Overcrowding is a problem for American prisons. In California, they're at 137.5 percent capacity. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, they're at more than 200 percent capacity. In Jordan, roughly 60 percent of prison inmates are tortured by their guards. So, uh ... things are a little different in Middle Eastern prisons, in about the same way that Mad Max is a "little different" from actual Australia. We sat down with "Nassim," who wound up doing close to two years in a Middle Eastern prison. It did not make us feel better in the least.
Police Work Is Different In The Middle East
As young people are wont to do, Nassim went to one of those drug parties Oprah keeps warning you about, and ended up meeting his nemesis. "He's an international drug dealer, so he sends hallucinogenic tablets by mail," Nassim says. We shall call this man the LSDelivery Boy.
Does the "D" stand for "Dickhead"?
The LSDelivery Boy wanted to enlist Nassim and his friends in the acid-selling business, which Nassim claims he politely declined. But the LSDelivery Boy had gotten ahold of Nassim's PO box address, and sent the tablets to him and some of his friends anyway. Nassim and company failed to pay for their unsolicited drug packages, so the LSDelivery Boy informed the police. The authorities intercepted the mail, then called their intended recipients to come on down to the station and see what they'd won. Nassim sent his regrets, as he was unable to attend. "I panicked," he says. "I left my parents' house, I went to live with a friend. I was out for eight days to get the THC out of my system."
Weird. We normally go to a friend's to get some THC into our system.
One day, he made the mistake of heading back to his parents' house to do laundry and stuff. "I walk in at like [2:30 a.m.], I have a quick shower ... I remember eating lentils back then. I'm just sitting on my computer ... and the door knocks. And the last thing on my mind would be that there are the cops." Nassim's parents lived in a neighborhood with a large Shia population, and their sundry militias handled most of the law enforcement. "Usually if there's a lot of Shia in your area, they don't let the cops in."So imagine Nassim's surprise when he opened the door to find cops, and not the fun stripper variety. They promptly arrested Nassim and threw him in the back of a white government van.
"As soon as I got in the van, I was sitting in between two guys holding AK-47s."
They probably wouldn't find it funny if he called shotgun.
There Are Really Quite A Lot Of Beatings
The authorities were unhappy with Nassim's decision to "just not."
"As soon as I arrive, they pin me against the wall and call up the captain who was on my case. [He's] a seven-foot guy ... he walks up to me, he looks me dead in the eye, and he says, 'You're the fucker I've been chasing for a month now.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I guess.' He says, 'Why didn't you pick up the phone?'" Nassim's response: "I don't pick up the phone to numbers I don't know."
"And why weren't you at home?"
"I was waiting for the THC to- uh, my friend has PlayStation."
It did not go over well. "He said, 'Who the fuck do you think you are to not pick up the phone when I call you?' And that's when 25 officers surround me in the middle of the station and literally all of them start to rain down punches and kicks and elbows and knees all over my body."
And anything over ten cops punching needs pretty impressive choreography.
After he'd been "jumped in" to the law, the captain told Nassim: "Once I'm done with you, you're going to be sentenced to seven years in jail, and there's no getting away from this." At least they're nice and forthright. Well, not nice nice -- you know what we mean.
It's Never A Good Idea To Introduce Police To A New Kind Of Drug
Nassim was arrested for suspicion of intent to distribute psychedelics -- those tablets he'd never actually received. So all they had on him was the fact that someone had sent him illegal drugs. After all, anyone can send anything to your PO box. In this country, he might've been okay, but the cops took Nassim's phone, forced him to unlock it, and read his emails until they found evidence. Of anything. Even if it was unrelated.
"Uh ... I looked at a lot of shameful porn on my phone. Want to mock my porn? Please, only look at the porn."
Six months earlier, Nassim had attempted to order psychedelic plant bark. "I was in contact with a guy that I thought was in the U.S.," he says. "Later turns out that he would send me the package from South America. So my package was halted in customs because ... it was ground up into a powder, and they don't let brown powders from South America into the country." Funny thing, that.
In bark form, it ... still would have been suspicious.
"So they question me, and I tell them that I don't personally know who this guy is, I don't know what's happened." It didn't matter. The next thing he knew, he was in a "holding cell two meters by two meters and a half ... and it was August, it was really really f-ing hot, and that room contained 23 guys."
Meaning you had to play human Tetris to find a sleeping/shitting/whatever position.
Pause now and imagine that smell. If you need help, try urinating in your hamper and then throwing it in the oven for a few hours.
Nassim stayed there for three days, regularly "having the living crap beaten out of me" in interrogation sessions. They had never heard of the trippy bark Nassim tried to order, and they were right pissed off about it. "And they're the drug service of [his country]!" Nassim muses. "I also had an email within my address that contained the extraction method ... that I had sent to myself, so I wouldn't forget it. None of this was smart on my part, to say the least."
At least he didn't go with Plan A: tattooing the instructions on his chest.
If Regular Prison Is Full, You Go To Terrorist Prison
Nassim's case had to pass through a bevy of judges before it went to trial, and the trial itself was continually delayed. During that time, he was made a guest of the state, which couldn't host him in their regular jails because those were all filled with Syrian refugees. For about two weeks, he got to go to a special jail. And not special in the "velvet rope" kind of way. "This was the jail where they send all the terrorists to," he says. "They send all the ISIS people there, they send all the Al-Nusra front there."
And, you know, super high-level bark sniffers.
This would be terrifying for most people, but fortunately, Nassim is a Sunni. ISIS and most of the AAA-league terrorist groups you hear about on the news are also Sunni. "If you were Shia, before they say hello to you, they would bloody your face and stuff your head in the toilet." But they were super impressed by Nassim. "They were all illiterate, so when we would play cards and I knew how to count or write and read, they would be [amazed] with my ability to do so."
"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."
"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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