Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Day 2 in Custody

December 9th, 2010

I awoke to my second morning in the detention cell but I was buoyed by the likelihood of getting out of custody later that day.  The lawyer was going to be submitting my bail application to the court.  One of the steps required to get released was obtaining what they call a “local surety”.  This was a relatively new law and means that someone who lives in Goa had to sign for responsibility that I would not flee the region before the trial.  It seemed like an odd law in that how was a foreign  tourist like me expected to know anyone who lives here (even the sub-inspector Sachin agreed with this hypocrisy).  The lawyer stated that there are some people willing to be a surety for people they don’t know...but for a fee of course.

While I was lying on my thin mattress reading my book in the cell, a new guard pulled up his chair to the cell door and began chatting with me.  Rohi, moustached in his late twenties with a slight pot belly and a teddy bear face, did not hold back in his questioning and it did become quite entertaining.  Before coming to India I had read in a travel book about the openness and frank questions that one normally does not hear in Western societies.  First off is the “What country?” question but that can soon be followed by “Are you married?” and “How much is your salary?” 

Rohi was baffled by the fact that I was 39 years old and not married, as were most of the other guards.  He had been married earlier that year and already had a baby on the way but it was fairly obvious that it was an arranged marriage and that he was not in love with his wife.

“I like to ask foreigners” he began, “how do you get stamina?”

I tried hard not to giggle and responded “Well, practice.  And it’s fun to practice right?”

He held one of his pinky fingers out and clasped the base of the finger with his other hand.  “But I’m only this big.”  Oh boy, keep it together Dave, don’t bust out laughing.  “Should I take Viagra?”

I explained to him that that was not the reason that Viagra was developed, that it wouldn’t make him bigger and that size shouldn’t be a factor anyways.  I’m not sure how well I was able to convince him as his next question was how big I was.  Oh dear, kind of sad really as it seems that sex education is on the back burner in this country.

I attempted to steer the conversation in a different direction and asked him how long he’d been an officer and whether he liked it.  Well he didn’t.  He has to work every day and makes a meagre 16,000 rupees a month ($320).  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy...and here I was sitting on the inside of the cell door and he on the outside.

Sachin came by the cell around lunch and told me that they lawyer had been to the court in the morning and should be taking me there in the afternoon.  Good news.  As the hours passed by in the afternoon and the sun began to sink in the sky, so did my hopes.  I resigned myself to another night behind bars, but feeling sure that this would be the last night of this ordeal.

In the evening a couple of Indians were placed in my cell, my first cellmates.  They sat on the other side of the cell and apart from my initial offering of my blanket, which they declined; they kept to themselves and I kept to myself.  I don’t think they spoke any English.  One guy had a nasty habit of cracking his fingers and unfortunately one of them snored.  I found out later that they were charged with rice smuggling.  Rice smuggling?  I never knew that was a lucrative crime?!?  It turns out that they were from another state and were short changing poor people who were exchanging government provided rice coupons and then running the rice to Goa to sell for a profit...huh.  Who knew?

In the evening, an officer I didn’t recognize came by and it was time for my fingerprints to be taken.  As you can imagine, it’s all low tech equipment in the Indian police force.  He rolled some black ink onto a rectangular wooden palate and one by one he took my fingers and inked them up and then imprinted them on four or five separate white forms through the bars of the cell door.   Once the process was finished, I washed off the ink under the tap in the small garbage ridden room and finally clued in why there were so many black finger marks on the wall that I noticed on the first day...d’uh, what hadn’t I thought to leave my mark?

Just as I was dozing off around 10pm, Sachin showed up at the cell and offered to let me have a hot shower...sure!  I was led to the far side of the police station where he had an office, a place to sleep and a bathroom.  He’d already prepared a bucket of hot water for me and I was incredibly happy to be able to clean up.  It felt great.  Sachin told me that he had been trying to get a hold of the lawyer all afternoon but he wasn’t picking up his cell phone so likely he was in court.  Okay, I can handle that, perhaps he was working hard on my case.  What blind faith I had...

Monday, August 11, 2014

The First 24 Hours in Police Lockup

December 8th, 2010

Not surprisingly I didn’t sleep well my first night in the police detention cell.  The combination of feeling chilled due to the dropping temperature and my mind racing thanks to the dire situation I was now facing did not permit a restful slumber.  The morning light illuminated the pale yellow cell walls lined with erratic black streaks, some graffiti and cobwebs in the corners.  My thought from the previous night that the black marks were smeared feces was thankfully wrong.  Perhaps the slightly better possibility of chewing tobacco spat on the walls was the case but thankfully I later found out that that it was ink that previous inmates removed from their digits after being fingerprinted.

I closed my eyes again, hoping to escape this new and unpleasant reality facing me but was awoken abruptly by an old skinny hunched over man wearing dirty dishevelled clothes on the other side of the cell door.  He was holding a small metal cup and a small package wrapped in newspaper.  He grunted at me as he passed the two items through the bars and slowly shuffled off down the covered walkway.  I sat back down on my bedding as I unravelled the package to discover a stale white bun.   In the cup was some super sweetened lukewarm chai.  I guess this is breakfast.  I sucked back the tea quickly as I was parched.  I didn’t dare attempt to drink any of the water from the tap beside the toilet as this was not a place where I fancied fighting a bout of diarrhoea, especially possessing no supply of toilet paper.  While eating I noticed some shackles that were attached to the bottom of a couple of the bars of the cell door.  They looked archaic and I shuddered as they reminded of those I had seen in documentaries worn by the African slaves being transported to the United States.

After my small snack I decided to check out wait lay behind the other door in the cell.  Another small tap was on the wall, a few feet up from the floor which was strewn with garbage: newspapers, plastic wrappers, water bottles and lots of bird shit.  There was a barred window high up on the wall that also had a wire grill on it so birds must have come through the main door and been trapped in the small room, but they were gone now.  On one wall someone had written “Don’t think too much” in the same black ink that adorned the cell room walls.  Great advice I thought.  So much so that I soon learned the Hindi equivalent of this wise proverb: “Jada mat socho.”

Prison cells seem to have the ability to warp time; for seconds seemed like minutes, minutes like hours, and days like weeks.  The mind can be a powerful ally but also your worst enemy.  I kept running through “What if?” scenarios in my head.  What if I had gone to my hut to roll the joint?  What if I had just waited another 2-3 minutes before starting to roll it?  What if I had offered the officers a bribe before we got to the police outpost?  These thoughts would plague me for a while.

Later in the morning a guard came to the cell and told me that I had some visitors so he unlocked the door and led me to the small office beside the main room of the police station.  Who could it be?  Was it Manu or Panna, one of the two brothers who manage the Olive Garden restaurant where I was arrested?  Perhaps one of my new Israeli friends?  No, it was Daniel and Marie, my two French friends who were with me when I was arrested.  Wow, was I ever glad to see them!  Friendly faces.  It was my first emotional upswing since I had been in custody and I revelled in it.

After exchanging hugs Daniel immediately began speaking in French to me, a wise choice as the police sub-inspector Sachin was sitting right there.  They were primarily concerned with how I was doing and of course I’d been better but I attempted to put on a brave face.  Thankfully they had brought me some bottles of water, toilet paper, a toothbrush and paste, a few pastries and also my book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.  I immediately cracked open one of the bottles and sucked back a large swig, not realizing how thirsty I really was.  Our visit was short but it definitely lifted my spirits immensely.  Before I was sent back to my cell, Sachin told us that I shouldn’t be in custody for long as it wasn’t a big offence that I had committed, but this would turn out to be one of many lies he would tell me.

Back in my cell I was reinvigorated.  Being able to clean my teeth and pass time by reading my book was a life saver.  “I can do this, I can do this.  It will all be over soon.  I will live and learn and move on” I kept saying to myself.

Later in the morning I was put in the back of a police jeep and taken to a nearby hospital for a routine check up to see if I was fit to stay in custody.  It only consisted of a blood pressure check and a quick examination with a stethoscope.  I couldn’t help but notice all of the piercing glares that I received from the local women lined up outside the doctor’s office as I walked by with my police escort.  I did seem to be cutting ahead of all of them straight to the doctor but it was more likely the novelty of seeing a white foreigner criminal that caught their attention.  Nevertheless, for me their glares felt as though they cut through to my soul, I felt like a low life scum.  It was a dehumanizing experience.

Back in the cell, lunch arrived somewhere around 1pm but I really didn’t know for sure as I had no way of telling time.  The meal, served on a round metal plate, consisted of white rice with some brown coconut curry paste smeared on the top, some kind of green diced vegetable that was a cabbage derivative and a tiny baked mackerel that contained no more than one mouthful of fish.  I removed most of the curry paste as it was fairly spicy and avoided the cabbage and the fish.  Oh how things would change the longer I stayed in police lockup...soon I would be devouring all of it.  Of course I had to scoop up the food with my hand, an art I would have to practice.

Mid afternoon the guard told me that I had some more visitors.  This time it was three Israelis that I had met over the last few weeks: Zohar, Noa and Avishai.  They also brought me water and some pastries.  Again I was buoyed by this visit and Sachin claimed that I should be out of custody by tomorrow at the latest.

About an hour later one of the police officers who had been on duty all day came by my cell.  He was short and skinny, probably weighing 120 pounds soaking wet, sporting a thick moustache and dark round eyes.  I had chatted with him earlier in the day and found him to be a friendly fellow.  He motioned for me to approach the door.  He looked nervously back down the covered walkway but once he was happy that no one else is around he leaned in and in a quiet voice said “I don’t like what is happening here.  It’s not right.  You seem like a good guy...and I just don’t like what’s happening.”  I couldn’t agree with him less, I didn’t like being locked up either but I wouldn’t fully clue in on what he was talking about for another couple of days.

That evening I was called out of the cell again, this time to meet a lawyer.  The night before Sachin kept stressing that I could choose any lawyer I would like.  He could get someone in but if I wasn’t pleased with him then I could find another.  I also had the option of one supplied by the state if I could not afford one myself but this could take time and I could be in lockup for 6-8 nights...no thanks!  Get me out of here as soon as possible, one night was hell already.

I was not overly impressed with the short balding lawyer.  He didn’t introduce himself to me and didn’t ask any questions of what had happened, how I was feeling or whether I had any queries.  Most of the time he spoke in the local Konkani language with Sachin.  I kept interrupting, asking him to speak in English.  I thought it odd that he never spoke to me privately without Sachin present.  He didn’t offer me my options and it was like pulling teeth to get information out of him.  I asked him what possible penalty I could be facing and he said that worst case scenario was five to ten years!  Five to ten years!  Holy shit!  But Sachin piped in and said that that would never happen.  I also asked the lawyer, Partekar, what his fees were and he told me that he would tell me tomorrow, when the bail application had been granted.  This struck me as odd as well.

Back in the cell my mood was solemn again.  The day was filled with ups and downs like a roller coaster ride and after this meeting I was on a serious down slope.  I tried to abide by the wise graffiti to not think too much and tried to transport myself to another world by reading my book. 

Supper arrived and it was identical to lunch, but cold, so obviously it was made at the same time.  I figured I’d better get used to this meal.  I didn’t realize how good that first chicken fried rice supper was!  I was determined on having a more comfortable night’s sleep so I worked on improving my mattress by doubling it up and flattening out more of the bumps.  I hadn’t noticed the night before that there was an old dusty blanket in one of the corners so that was going to help keep me warmer for my second night in custody.   I closed my eyes and hoped for a better rest and that this would be my last night in this hell hole. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


December 7th, 2010
* Note that some names may have been changed.

“You want to roll one first before we get ready for dinner?” Daniel asked me in his French accent as I sat down to join him at the candle lit table on the sandy beach an hour after sunset.

“Sure.” I responded, not really reflecting on the fact that this would be the first time in the two weeks that I had been on Arambol Beach in north Goa that I would actually be rolling a joint out in public.  Up until this point I had played it safe and reserved these activities to the safe confines of my beach hut which was only about fifty meters away from the table we were sitting at.  I had met Daniel and his girlfriend a week prior in this restaurant, The Olive Garden, which had become my regular hangout spot. 

Arambol Beach is one of many beautiful sandy beaches that line the tiny state of Goa, the smallest in India.  Lots of foreigners travel many miles to soak up the sun, play in the surf and relax.  One can take yoga classes, have a cheap massage and of course there’s a certain amount of partying although Arambol is one of the quieter spots.  I chose to visit to Arambol due to the fact that one can paraglide on a small ridge by the beach.

After my first few days in Goa it became obvious that along with imbibing alcohol, many visitors partake in smoking hashish, known in India as “charas”.  On the first night that I arrived at the beach I met some young Norwegian women in the Olive Garden who were kind enough to invite me to their table for an evening of drinks and laughs while playing cards.  I was a bit surprised that a few of them openly smoked joints in the beach restaurant but this seemed to be norm, at least later on in the evenings.  Actually, over the next few weeks I witnessed, and smelled, people smoking at all times of the day.  I decided however that I would be cautious and only smoke outside my hut, away from the beach...except this one time, and that would prove to be a big mistake.

On this evening, the sun had set, the stars were out and Daniel, Marie and I sat at a candlelit table out on the beach.  I was carrying with me a copy of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” that I was trying to finish reading before heading off to my next Indian destination as I desperately wanted to shed whatever weight I could as my pack, with my paraglider was already plenty heavy enough.  I complacently began to roll a joint on the table, slightly shielded by my big book.  All of a sudden someone lurched out from the dark, stamped their hand down on the rolling paper and turned away from the table yelling.  I was flabbergasted.  “What the hell are you doing?” I thought.  I looked up incredulously at the culprit.  It was an Indian man in his late twenties wearing some raggedy looking clothes and a toque (a woollen cap) which seemed a bit unnecessary as we were sitting comfortably in our shorts.  After a second or two I realized that he was a plain clothes cop, yelling back for some other officers and my heart began to race and my face felt flush.  I tried to pull the rest of the hashish out of my shorts’ pocket but wasn’t able to do it fast enough before he saw me.

Two other men appeared, also in civilian clothes.  “Stand up!” one of them barked.  “Empty your pockets on the table.”  I complied, placing my wallet, my passport and the small lump of hash that I had just purchased ten minutes earlier on the table.  Daniel was instructed to do the same but he was clean and they left Marie alone.  Ten grams is called a “tola” and is the standard, smallest amount sold in Goa, like a case of beer, and this is what I had in my possession.  I had been idiotic in not returning to my hut and disposing of the majority of the hash prior to sitting down and starting to roll. It was just silly complacency. 

“Where did you buy?” one officer asked me in slightly broken English.  My heart was racing and it probably didn’t help that I’d had imbibed a three large beers already at this point in the evening.  What do I say?  The guy in question was actually standing just ten feet behind me; he was one of the waiters of the restaurant.  I had asked one of the Norwegian women from the first night where they had sourced their hash and this waiter had obliged them.   He wasn’t a big dealer of any sort, but just helped out some customers while supplementing his meagre wages from waiting tables.  Over the past few weeks I had become friends with this young, slim yet slightly muscular twenty year old from the northern state of Himachal Pradesh with slicked back hair and a thin, wispy goatee.  I wasn’t going to rat him out.

In my 39 years on this planet I’ve had very few run-ins with the police.  My worst one was when I was 16 and some friends and I were caught climbing on the high school roof of the small prairie town I grew up in.  We were intoxicated but didn’t catch any flak for that, just the trespassing.  Each of us ended up with having to do a day’s community service as our punishment, mine being vacuuming out the ventilation ducts of the school.  Other than that, I can only claim having a couple of traffic tickets, both back when I was in my teens and early twenties.  So dealing with police is not exactly one of my fortes.

“I bought it from an Indian guy in his mid-twenties, in the afternoon on the main street.”  I figured being vague was the best bet.

“What did he look like?”

“Umm, brown skin, brown eyes, black hair...and, uh, blue jeans.”  I threw in that last attribute in an attempt to loan some credibility to my fable.

“Okay, let’s go and see if we can find him.  If we do, you won’t be in trouble.”

I picked up my wallet as the officers confiscated the charas and my passport.  As I sheepishly left the table with the officers, I turned back to Daniel and told him to enjoy my almost untouched beer, words that I guess haunted him for the next week as he knew that it could just as easily have been him who had been apprehended since he often rolled and smoked spliffs on the beach.  We walked the few hundred meters down the beach to the main road, passing by many beachside restaurants.  Strolling up the road I swivelled my head from side to side in my fake search for a non-existent dealer.  As we rounded a corner Manu, the manager of the Olive Garden, passed by on his scooter.  He slowed down, asking me if I wanted a lift as he was unaware of my situation.  “I sure would like a ride.” I thought but obviously had to decline his kind gesture.

By this point I figured that the cops would be asking me to pay some baksheesh which is the Indian term for a bribe which is not only used for escaping from trouble with the police but also in any and all dealings with various levels of government and sometimes even private industry.  Want a wedding certificate quickly?  Pay some baksheesh.  Want a phone line installed this week?  Pay baksheesh.  I would later find out that policemen even pay baksheesh to their superiors in order to get the tourist beach beats as they could then supplement their meagre wages with bribes from foreigners...sad.

I figured I would pay my “fine” of a couple thousand rupees ($40) and be on my way back to the restaurant.  It didn’t really cross my mind that I should ask them if I could pay to be set free, I assumed they’d ask me when they were ready.  In my home country attempting to bribe a policeman would land you in more trouble so I didn’t want to initiate the deal myself.  But then all of a sudden we were at a small police outpost, a ramshackle two or three room building tucked away from the main street that I wasn’t even aware existed in Arambol.  Oh shit.

The inside of the outpost resembled a dishevelled cadets’ dormitory than a small police station.  Clothes were strewn about.  Stacks of tattered papers occupied most level surfaces of the shoddy tables and cabinets.  I was instructed to sit down on one of the cots while we waited for some police officer to arrive from a small town called Pernem, about 20-25 kilometres away.  Half an hour later a tall man in the standard light tan brown uniform of the Indian police force entered the building.  Not surprisingly he was sporting a thick moustache and small but pronounced pot belly, both common attributes of many Indian men.  I would later learn that the two silver stars on his epaulette indicated that he was a sub-inspector.  After briefly conversing with the arresting constables and examining the booty they had collected from me, he approached me and began asking me some questions: “What is your state? (meaning my nationality)  Where are you staying?  Where did you buy this charas?  What did the dealer look like?” 

I repeated what I had told the other policemen but then he asked a new question: “Do you have any more stuff back in your hut?”  I felt an instant flush of heat run over my face as my heartbeat sped up.  I did.  But such a small piece, that’s why I had bought some more.  What do I say?  What are my rights here?  Can they just search my place?  In those split seconds I opted for honesty, perhaps that will build some trust with him.

“Yes I do.  I have a small amount of charas in my hut.”

“How much?”

“About the size of a pea” I responded as I held up my forefinger and thumb to demonstrate the minuscule amount I was talking about.

“Okay, let’s go take a look” he said as he motioned me to stand up.  I was led out of the outpost with the three arresting constables and the officer.  We cut through to the beach on a darkened path to the hut I was staying in behind the Olive Garden restaurant.  I nervously unlocked the door and all five of us crowded into the abode.  I pulled the tiny bit of hash out of a drawer and gave it to the sub-inspector.  “Oh, that’s nothing” he said which gave me a bit of relief.  Strangely they took a few minutes to figure out that my pack of Drum tobacco was indeed tobacco.  Haven’t you guys seen rolling tobacco before?  Then the officer asked me for a piece of paper and pen and began to sketch the layout of my hut, even noting the type of plywood that was used for the floor.  Huh?  What’s that for?

“Pack a small bag.  Take your laptop and anything else of value” the officer informed me, as my heart sank in my chest realizing I’d be spending my first ever night in a jail, and it would be an Indian one.

As we began to walk back to the outpost, one of the officers took a detour off to another restaurant on the Beach called Coco Loco.  I saw him briefly interact with some tourists at a table and then he joined back up with us on the main road as we climbed into a police jeep with me sitting in the back on a bench with two constables sitting across from me.  As we began to drive on the dark windy roads, the cop that had made the detour on the beach passed a small red velvet bag with a draw string up to the sub-inspector.  He opened it and out fell a small chunk of hashish, just a bit smaller than the one I had.  What?!?  Why didn’t you arrest that person?  Or better yet, why didn’t I get the option to pay?

The drive seemed to go on forever and I had no clue where we were going.  In reality it was only 25 minutes but my mind was racing.  What was in store for me now?  One of the officers in the back could see my consternation and kept reassuring me that everything would be alright.  Easy for you to say buddy...easy for you to say.

The jeep pulled up to a dimly lit one storey building.  A small set of stairs led up to the front balcony which ran the full length of the decrepit structure.  The main entrance was a set of old wooden double doors through which I was led inside by the officers into a large rectangular room.  Immediately facing me was a large metallic desk with an old swivel chair on the opposite side and a long bench running along the front of it.  Along the walls were wooden shelving units stacked with folders with tattered pieces of paper sticking out.  A few officers, some in uniform, some not, glanced up at me as I walked in before returning their attention to the cricket match playing out on the small TV beside the doorway.

“Sit.”  That was the only instruction I received for the next hour.  I sat with my back to the desk, looking out towards the open doorway.  My focus alternated from the cricket match on the television to the silent street outside lit by a single faint street light.   I watched as a couple of cows pushed at each other with their foreheads in an attempt to establish their dominance.

Eventually the sub-inspector reappeared from another office and sat down in the chair behind the desk.  “Don’t worry” he began.  “This happened to an Israeli foreigner a little while ago and after one night he was released and very soon after he was back in his state.”  His state?  I wondered, oh right, his country.  “What you had is not a big deal.”  He started filling in the seemingly never ending paperwork for my arrest.  He collected some details from my passport but then peppered me with a barrage of questions:  What is your father’s name?  What is your address?  What is your profession?  How long are you staying in India?  Where did you buy the charas?

On the last question I repeated the simple story that I had told the arresting officers.  The sub-inspector, whose name I could see on his tag on his shirt was Sachin, scribbled down all of the details as he proposed that tomorrow we would head back to Arambol to find the dealer, and perhaps others.  Umm...okay, well that will be a waste of time.

He left again for at least an hour and I lied down on a bench on the other side of the room in a state of disbelief.   Staring up at the ceiling I was a bit disturbed by what I saw.  There were hundreds of colourful strips of paper 3-4 inches long and about an inch wide hanging down.  They formed a canopy of an orange swastika on a white background with red and green trim around the perimeter.  What the hell is a swastika doing here?  I hadn’t been in India long enough to know that this sign, which many from the west simply equate with the evil Nazi regime, is in fact a religious symbol and has been for thousands of years and ironically means “to be good”.  I wish I knew that at the time.

One of the junior officers asked if I needed to use the toilet.  He led me through a door at the backside of the room down a covered L-shaped walkway.  He unlocked one of two jail cells on the right hand side, pushed the creaking door open and motioned to a door at the back of the cell where I would find the Indian style squat toilet; little did I know at that time that this room would become my home for the next eight days.

When Sachin returned he asked if I was hungry and I sure was.  It was almost 11 o’clock now, three and a half hours after I was arrested and I hadn’t had dinner.  A junior officer was sent off to fetch some food and he returned with a few plastic bags.  Inside one bag was some vegetable fried rice and the other was a soupy red sauce of chicken chow mein although there was no sign of any noodles.  There were no utensils and knowing that in India it was customary to eat with your bare right hand I figured no spoon or fork was forthcoming.  I fared okay with the rice but how I was to deal with the runny contents of the other plastic bag was beyond me.

It was after midnight and three policemen began playing cards to quell their boredom on a table near me.  Seeing as my mind had been racing for the past four hours about my dire situation, I decided to watch their game to try and distract my brain.  It worked for a while and although the guy who kept winning was being friendly to me and trying to explain the game, I couldn’t help my thoughts from falling back to the evening’s events and from wondering why I was being made to sit around in the station’s main room for hours on end.  Fatigue was catching up on me and one guy instructed me to lie down and sleep.  I was reluctant but eventually heeded his advice.  Not ten minutes later, near 2am, I was woken up and led to the cell for the night.  This little catnap now made it all that more difficult to fall asleep in the locked up stinky bare and dirty cell...damn, it’s going to be a long night.