17 Dec 07
Homecoming (Part 1)
"Attwood, roll your mattress and bedding up. You're being deported," a guard yelled shortly after breakfast.
Another guard escorted me to Property to collect the release clothes my mother had mailed from England.
I spent the morning in a holding cell talking with some Mexicans who barely spoke any English. Around noon we were cuffed, leg shackled and belly chained.
Instead of opening up the entire bus, a redneck cramped me and dozens of Mexicans, some just teenagers, into a small front section. Many of them were drug criminals. They seemed fascinated when I explained I was an Englishman arrested in America for Ecstasy - las tachas. They asked me to ask the guard where we were going. The guard said it was none of our business. Leg cramps set in, and I had to stand up from time to time. The bus parked at a small airport near Phoenix.
"The plane isn't here yet," a guard said.
"It must have been delayed."
Ignoring our requests to use the toilet and be fed, the guards left us in the bus with no fresh air.
Hours later, I boarded the first "con-air" plane. Still in chains, we were seated in the middle rows. Guards filled the rows in front of us and behind. But they did not sit down. The ones in front turned around and glowered at us. The ones behind formed a second wall of eyes.
"You'll be offered the bathroom when we're in the air," one said.
Speeding up for take off, the plane's alarm sounded. The pilot hit the brakes.
We spent an hour on the plane, awaiting repairs. Vans arrived. They squeezed so many of us into each van, there was less room to move than in the bus earlier. Compressed into a row, I inhaled my neighbours' odours. It became hot and hard to breathe.
"If it's not repaired soon, we're gonna take you back to Florence, and we'll have to reschedule everything all over."
"I have a flight I've got to get in L.A.," I said.
"You're not gonna make it."
A tremor of anxiety shot through my body.
The guard made eyes at porn downloads on his phone, and ranted at guards passing by about having to work late.
It was getting on for nine when we reboarded. Some of the Mexicans had never flown before. They couldn't understand why they were being sent to California to be deported when they had been caught crossing into Arizona.
The plane zigzagged across California picking up Mexicans. The guards continued to lord it over us. Some of them praised Sheriff Joe Arpaio for doing such a wonderful job. I wanted to speak up about the conditions I had experienced at Arpaio's jails, then I thought better of it.
In the small hours, the plane landed near L.A.. The guards escorted me and an Asian-looking Australian to a van. In a lisp, the Australian explained he had no family or help in Australia, and he had no idea how he was going to survive. I slid around in the back of the van, trying to ignore the nagging pain of the cuffs and chains.
There was nowhere to sleep in the huge holding tank at the detention centre in L.A.. There I met Bo Stefan Eriksson, the Swedish businessman who had crashed a $1.5 million Ferrari Enzo into a pole in Malibu. He mocked the media reports that he was driving at 162 miles per hour. A big deal had been made out of a traffic accident, he claimed, because players in the local justice system were after his money. He said he had made millions from a video-game company, that he often stayed in London, and I was welcome to visit him there.
Whether they wanted to hear it or not, most of the detainees were being told the life story of an Argentinian. He had the physique of a wrestler, and his voice filled the room. He paced as he spoke: "I'm a personal trainer. My clients pay me hundreds of dollars an hour. They're famous people: actors, supermodels, artists. My girlfriend's a supermodel. She's six foot, and has perfect breasts - she paid one of Hollywood's top surgeon's for them. She's not fake like most of the women in L.A.. She's so kind, she always stops to help homeless people, and she makes me stop for them too. She's great in bed. She wakes me up every day with oral sex. She's the only one who understands me. She's giving up her career and family ties to move to Argentina to be with me, to come and marry me. What does that say about how much she loves me?"
His monologue lasted for hours. When I grew bored of it, I would go and pace at the other end of the room, and struggle to tune his voice out. And when I got bored of pacing, I would come and listen to him again, even going so far as to fake enthusiasm when his eyes, enthusiastic and bloodshot, met mine.
Shortly before noon, an officer transported the Argentinian and me to the airport.
"I've waited so long for this. I'm so excited. It's such a long flight to Argentina, but I just don't care. I'm free. I'm gonna see my family. I'm so happy." The look on his face said, If I wasn't in chains right now I would be hugging and kissing you.
The officer went inside the airport and returned shaking his head: “Your flights aren’t authorized. I’m taking you back to the holding tank. You’ll have to reschedule.”
I almost threw up.
“What do you mean?” the Argentinian asked, panic rising in his voice.
"I can't give you any more information."
Getting angry, he said, "What do you mean you can't give any more information? Are you saying I'm not going home? Answer me. Damn it!" He banged on the divide.
The guard ignored him.
"Do you know how long it takes to reschedule?" He turned to me, his face a picture of devastation.
"No," I said.
"It takes three weeks to reschedule - three weeks! Can you imagine having to spend three more weeks at these jails? This is one of the worst days of my life. I thought I was out of the system. I thought I was going home. I'm fucked. I can't believe this is happening to me.”
"Maybe he can tell us more when we get back to the detention center. The paperwork probably just got messed up somehow, and it'll get fixed."
"But my flight is in one hour. It'll be missed. I'm not going home. It's all got to be rescheduled. My girlfriend has flown to Argentina to meet me. Oh, God, how can this be happeneing to me?" He prayed. Every now and then he made the sign of the cross. Tears flowed as he entered the building. "I know I can't smoke in this building and you're not allowed to give me a cigarette, but please, please, give me a cigarette. I really need a cigarette right now."
"This is a federal building. We can't do that, sir."
"I just really need a cigarette," he said, sobbing. "Please, anyone, someone, give me a cigarette. I just wanna cigarette."
The guards put him in an isolation cell.
On the way back to the airport, the guard explained I had almost lost my flight due to a clerical error. The Argentinian had lost his, and was being rescheduled.
For hours, I remained cuffed in a van next to a United Airlines plane.
"I've gotta pee," I said.
"You've been well behaved so far, you're not gonna try anything funny are you?"
"No. I'm not going to jeapardise my flight back home."
"I'll take you then."
In the restroom, he said, "You pee first, then I'm gonna chain you to the rail in that toilet while I pee, so you can't escape."
An hour later, he said, "It's time. I'm gonna put you on the plane first so you don't scare the passengers. One time, I tried to put this big scary guy on the plane and the captain said, 'No way am I allowing him on my plane.' He had to be rescheduled."
There's still a chance I may be rejected and rescheduled, I thought, and said, "Tell them I'm a former stockbroker, and perhaps they'll be less frightened."
"Let's get your cuffs off then."
At the top of the stairs I was received by some of the crew.
"I'm Jonathan. If you need anything at all, Mr. Attwood, just ask for me," he said in a London accent.
"Angela will show you where your seat is. Have a great flight, Mr. Attwood."
The passengers began to board. An attractive woman with tribal tattoos sat close by. I appreciated her perfume. Afraid of looking weird, I avoided looking at people. Then I figured that by not looking at people, I probably looked even weirder.
"Can I use the restroom?" I asked, and immediately felt stupid for seeking permission.
"The restroom is right there," an air hostess said, her face crinkled with amusement.
Taking off, I thought, You are free at last, free at last.
The flight went smoothly although I was convinced it was going to crash the whole way home. To take my mind off the crash, I watched five mindless movies.
Email comments to email@example.com or post them below
Copyright © 2006-2007 Shaun P. Attwood