A man who made a living as a smuggler, who was arrested and sent to prison, remembers the moment his good luck changed.
“There was a voice out at the street, a woman,” he says. “I thought she was screaming for help so I ran downstairs to open the door, and then I open the door to, you know, a police in a bullet proof vest with guns in my face. It turns out she had been saying ‘open the door’, not ‘I need help, open the door’.”
When he found out that he would serve time in prison, he says it felt like having a terminal illness and losing all control over his life.
“You know that moment where you go the top to the rollercoaster, and then you reach the bottom of the valley, and as it begins to climb again your stomach drops?” he says. “That’s how I felt, this sinking lump in my stomach.”
The small details of everyday life are what he remembers most from that time, like how inmates created a knife with a two-bladed razor, not to use it as a gun, but to cut sausage and make pizzas out of tortillas.
“There’s this one guy who had been a Vietnam vet,” he says. “He would wake up in the middle of the night screaming and cursing, and this happened almost every night. There’s so much of this sort of everyday weirdness, all the things that people do because they don’t have the right tools.”
His time in prison helped him understand why some people could feel motivated to engage in illegal activities.
“The big lie about incarceration is that it is designed to be rehabilitated. It’s really not,” he says. “When I was a smuggler, I made in a week what I now make in a year. If you’re somebody who is going to earn 20,000 a year, coming from a top city, and you got kids and responsibilities, I don’t blame anybody for selling drugs, and that’s the whole truth.”
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