tv Locked Up Abroad MSNBC May 16, 2015 5:00pm-6:01pm PDT
then i fell in love. i thought i've got to get out of here. i made a plan, escape. in 1970, i went to peru for adventure. i was 24 years old. i had a degree in psychology and mathematics with anthropology, but i seem to have always wanted to do exciting outdoor things. i had always wanted to see marketwatch -- machu picu.
those incredible stone ruins. this was a dream come true. i was young, i was free, and wanted to live life to the fullest. i arrived in lima and i met a person on the street. >> hey, how are you doing in peru? >> yeah, i'm living it, man. take a seat. i had heard about cocaine. we chatted, he seemed educated, he spoke english and i asked about cocaine. >> can i get myself some cocaine. >> and he said, yes, he could get me some. we did not think of coke as a bad thing then. we did not see it as a plague. >> take a seat. >> and so i bought a gram of cocaine and i took my first sniff.
i had tried other drugs, but it was something about cocaine, the way it hit the pleasure centers in my brain. i loved it. it just felt wonderful. i thought life was good, but things go better with coke. i went back to california. i was working as an emergency medical technician. but i came back different. i started buying grams of cocaine, going to work and then going to the men's room and taking a sniff. i was enjoying the high more and more. and at a certain point, my nose got bigger than my wallet. and i was objecting to how much money i was paying for it in the united states.
and so i kept thinking i ought to go back to south america and get some more coke. i had put casts on people with broken limbs and while i was doing it one day i thought why couldn't i put cocaine in a cast? no customs agent would ever check that. and i thought, yes, it has to work. my plan was to fake having a mountain climbing accident with a broken shoulder. i would then put the cocaine in my arm under a shoulder cast. i also had forged x-rays. i had false medical receipts
showing that i had paid money to the doctors. so if anything ever came up in customs, i would just show them all the medical papers. i thought no one has done that before. people told me you had to be calm coming through customs. maybe i should take some valium. i thought i'm way ahead of the game, i'm smarter than them. they're not going to catch me. in retrospect, this was a complex plan, but under cocaine, it all seemed so clear and unique and original. the first time i went to lima, i was there to visit the city. this time i came to smuggle cocaine.
i found a cheap hotel downtown and i called up rene. he's got the cocaine. we sniff it and i feel the numbing, sensuous clarity of the rush of cocaine. i showed him my plan and he said, dwight, this is brilliant, this is original. we put my cocaine up here. i show rene how to put the cast on. i put a brace on my leg and crutches for walking. and he says -- >> this is brilliant, man. >> i thought, i trust this guy. this is going to work. i was taking an overland bus to ecuador. this was the first phase.
then i would fly from ecuador to mexico and travel to where i could just walk across the u.s. border. finally the bus pulled up to the peru/ecuador border. i was here three years ago. this was a cake walk. you showed them your passport, they stamped it and they let you through. i saw them searching peruvians and ecuadorians patting their bodies. body searches. this wasn't supposed to happen. were they going to body search me? the customs man came aboard and then he said take your luggage out. and this attractive young traveler sat next to me and said i bet you have a kilo of cocaine under there. >> what?
>> i had a total panic reaction. i am paranoid. i realize i couldn't be inconspicuous with this cast. i came up to the guard. he looked at me. he looked at the cast and said que paso. >> i had a climbing accident. >> he opened the suitcase, he sees mountain climbing gear in there. >> this came out of the wall and i fell. >> i felt dread and panic. if they body search me, they would find the cocaine in the cast. every little thing i interpret
them as knowing what's going on. but they just waved me through. i ask them to help with my suitcase and he did. everyone was treating me like the injured person that i was portraying. i had made it through the first border, across to ecuador. i thought this is working. i got to the airport in ecuador. i wasn't sniffing coke. my straight self began to say, this is pretty dangerous. i took two valium to calm myself down.
they take their effect. i am tranquilized. little did i know that decision to take some valium was going to change my life forever. the plane lands at the airport in mexico city. i am in a valium-induced fog. i am numb. i see my luggage, i point to a baggage man to lift it for me. he carries it over to customs. everything is dulled for me right now. the customs agent looks at me.
under the influence of valium, time stopped. i am paranoid. is he suspecting me? i can't go back, i can't go forward. but he just closes it and slides it off and i am thinking, whew, i made it. and as i am walking through, a very muscular man comes up to me, grabs me and says -- >> hey, homie. >> i thought i had already cleared customs. >> why? >> he had been sitting there watching people pass through.
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a customs agent took me into a back room dragging my suitcase with me. he says, take off your shirt. and then what do you have under the cast? i says, nothing. i am shouting to him -- >> i'm injured. >> he feels that i am tightening my stomach and he says, loosen up, loosen up. and i don't. and he slaps me in the face. i thought, oh, this is serious. he gets out these pliers and he feels a rustle. he shouts -- >> drugs. drugs. >> and a doctor comes and he just cuts the cast off.
and there are the two bags of cocaine. >> cocaine, huh? >> i am caught dead. no doubt whatsoever. they get the handcuffs out. they pull my pants down and another man said -- >> who are you working for? >> nobody. >> who are you working for? >> nobody. >> they get out this metal rod. and started shocking me with electricity. they worked over my chest and waist and then they started going at my genitals. >> come on! >> who are you working for? >> nobody. i'm working alone! i could not endure the pain of electricity flowing through me. and then i said -- >> okay. i'll talk. i'll talk.
at this point, they said, sign the statement. >> okay? >> and i am thinking, if i don't sign it they'll start the electricity again. so i signed some statement that was in spanish. i had no idea of what i was signing. i didn't realize then but effectively my trial was over. he said, now you are going to your new home. the black palace. the dreaded prison of mexico. and thought to be the hardest prison by far in north america. i heard it was built for 800 people. but now held 4,000. rumor had it that there were 200 murders a year in lecumberri.
you did your time or went out in a box. immediately the commandos put me on work detail. the commandos were other prisoners who worked for the mayor of the dormitory. they wore white armbands. they did the dirty work. i had been in prison three months. and one day there was a new american prisoner really getting beaten up. >> hey! leave him alone! >> we jumped in and pulled off the commandos and then they began swinging at us. the next thing i knew, there were guards barging in.
>> okay. >> the warden sees us and he says to me -- >> you are castigano now. >> on punishment detail. they sent me to dorm "a." this was a dormitory of 400 prisoners who were recidivist murderers. i am the only gringo in this dorm, and i am panicked. >> okay, okay, okay. >> and they start going, money, we need money, money, money. >> i've got no money. what are you doing? >> two guys grab each leg and they bent me over and kind of lifted me up in the air. then i see a person and in my
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i start shrieking and kicking. >> no! >> i am in complete panic. he's moving up on me like a sick boar in a rut and i am fighting like everything and he can't get close to me. i manage to break an arm loose and i quickly reach back underneath me and grab his testicles and i hear him scream. i am holding and pulling and he's screaming and everyone lets go of me. and i felt an arm going into my side.
i had my abdominal muscles cut through. but i was lucky in that i hadn't any organs punctured. i would survive. after recovering, they sent me back to the maximum security dormitory "o." i led a hunger strike. for 17 days i did not eat anything. i thought this could get enough attention and get me deported to the united states. but it didn't happen.
they took me to the psychiatrist. i had not eaten for several weeks. i told him i did not want to eat. >> you can't make me. >> we must begin the treatment then. >> i said, what do you mean treatment? and he said -- >> electroshock therapy on your brain. >> i experienced a neural panic. they're going to take my mind away. i could not suffer that possibility. i saw some stale cookies. and i started eating. >> i've tasted better but i'm eating, right? >> the hunger strike was finally over. they won.
after nine months, they sent me to dormitory "f." i was able to pay $100 a month for special privileges and that included a single cell. i still hadn't come to trial. but it was clear to me that i was going to do five years anyhow. i was starting to resign myself to the long trek of prison. and then one day i had a knock on the door. my friend stefan came to visit me. >> how are you? >> i'm okay.
>> and he introduces his friend barbara to me. and immediately we make eye contact. >> man, how are you, dude? >> you know what? i'm okay. >> i began talking about prison. >> keeping myself mentally going and i'm fine. >> barbara kept looking at me. i could not stop making eye contact with her. i thought, in another world i would like to find this person and know this person better but there was no sense fantasizing about someone i could not be with. and i figured i probably would never see her again. a few weeks later i heard them announce -- i had letters. and i didn't have one letter, i
had several letters that barbara had written. i began writing letters to her. and we wrote and wrote and wrote. i have never expressed myself more fully. the letters went on and on. she was expressing herself, too, about possibilities of life together. and she wrote about her daughter gabrielle. finally, she said, would you mind if i visited you again? and i thought, this is great. a few weeks later, she came to my cell door. we fell into each other's arms.
i felt a sense of joy and liberation. i felt humane, warm, loving feelings that i had not felt in years. this woman was offering me a chance to save my soul and my heart. i felt alive again. i loved this woman and we agreed we would spend our lives together. but i could not see five more years of this. i could not bear the thought of her going through that. and i thought at some point i might lose her just because it was too much. and as the visits went on, we finally talked about the other alternative. barbara said, you should escape
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severe weather, including flooding and hail throughout the plains and south tonight with a tornado outbreak on the way for ten states. twisters have already been spotted in oklahoma, minnesota, wyoming and texas. the lone star state is also the site of a small plane crash today that killed four people. the single engine plane went down around the highway around noon. two adults and two children were onboard and did not survive. back to "lockup." the word about lecumberri is it was unescapable. prisoners said if the guards caught you trying to escape, they killed you, and that no one had escaped since pancho villa
did in 1912. barbara began formulating a plan. she says -- >> i think you can escape from prison dressed as a woman. >> and we analyzed it. how could i get out in drag. barbara was renting a room at a dear friend's home who had a sewing machine. she had my sizes cut out for me. she would then smuggle in the clothes. where to hide the clothes? well, about the same time i took some kittens into my cell. i took the dress and the blouse and i hid them as lining for the cat's litter. so when the guards did their periodic searches, i would
say -- be careful. don't hurt my kitties. but what about the other things? the lipstick and the makeup. one day her daughter gabrielle was in my cell. she's wreaking of perfume. and she pulled out of the top of her bibs a partially opened vial of perfume. at the same time we had our eureka moment. >> that's it! >> we'll let gabrielle smuggle in the makeup, because if they searched her, well, all little girls like to play dress-up, don't they? we had to bring in lipstick, foundation makeup, eye shadow, fingernail polish. i hid them as best i could. we could get the clothes in, we
could get the makeup in. but the wig. how do we get the wig in? barbara got a pillow and worked the wig in with all of the foam stuffing. there was a method where people could make deposits at the prison and she deposited the pillow at this point. we began formulating a plan. >> i've been studying the system for getting in and out of the prison. >> barbara knew a side of the prison i would never see. there were four checkpoints. at the first checkpoint, she would get a body search. >> then i go on to checkpoint two. here. >> here they would fill out a paper pass and the guard signed his name. these passes were made in eight different colors. they changed the colors randomly each day. >> i then go on to checkpoint three. here i exchange the pass for a metal tag.
>> these metal tags could be of four different shapes. the guard would write the number of the metal tag onto the paper pass and file it away, and then give her that tag. >> then i go to checkpoint four, the double gate. and i show the tag to get in the dorm. when i leave the dorm, i have to show the tag again. >> at checkpoint three, she would present a tag to the guard. he would go into his file of paper receipts and find the one that he had written that number on and he would hand it back to her. >> at checkpoint two, i hand back the pass to the guard who filled it out. >> he would then confirm that was his signature. >> so we need perfect copies of the pass. in all eight colors and be able to forge the guard's signature.
>> from checkpoint two, she would go down a ramp to the main gate of the prison where two armed guards stood. she would then step out onto the street. for me to escape from the prison this was the journey i would have to make. we took the metal tags and we did pencil scrapings on paper. we marked how thick it was. we observed the type of metal. we couldn't get a copy of the paper pass, but one day i was out and i saw where there had been a fire, and i couldn't believe it. here was a stack of burned semiburned and unburned paper passes. this is my lucky day.
now we had the template. a few weeks later barbara returned absolutely exuberant. >> i got everything made. >> she had perfectly forged paper passes and perfectly forged metal tags. she brought the passes in in linings of books. >> are you kidding me? >> she smuggled the tags in her sandals. they had done a perfect job. >> they are just incredible. >> now we had the metal tags. and the paper passes. but when do i walk out of my cell in full drag in front of hundreds of prisoners who have seen my face 20 times a day for one year? this was the most important probability analysis project in my life.
we determined that every 42 days conditions were optimal. >> okay. so -- >> the next ideal day would be wednesday, december 17th, 1975. but what was the right time to leave the dorm? we noticed that the moment 1:45 happened they blew the bugle and all the commandos rushed to the door to check the visitors leaving. but in the few minutes before 1:45, there were two commandos at the gate and maybe a guard. if i could leave my cell on wednesday between 1:42 and 1:45 p.m. december 17th we saw a window of three minutes where there was a hole in the system. i had been in prison 21 months.
barbara and i wanted to get married. i loved this woman, but also, mexican law states that mexican wives could not be charged with aiding an escape. this would be protection for barbara. we found an attorney in the prison. he said we're going to have a group marriage and we are going to have that at 11:00 a.m. on december 17th. >> the 17th? >> our reactions were, oh my god, no. that's our escape date. we thought, well, this is it. we're going to get married and then we're going to escape from prison. which saves pa r, which saves money. they have smart online tools, so you only pay for what's right for you, which saves money. they settle claims quickly,
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wednesday, december 17th, 1975. i know this was it. i began plucking my eyebrows. i shaved my legs. and then i put toenail polish on. this is a strange wedding. i wait for her. 9:00, 9:15, 9:30. it's almost 10:00 when she comes through the door. she says, give me a piece of paper. she begins writing the signature of the guard who had filled out the paper pass from memory. she says -- >> got it. give me the passes and a pen. >> okay. >> then we took the correct
color coded card and she filled in all of the information including his signature. she shows me the metal tag she had with her right now and i find the one that matches perfectly. >> you are ready. >> we wait for the 11:00 call. too nervous to do anything but just hold each other and intermittently cry. we know what the stakes are. 11:20. 11:30. >> come on. what's taking them so long. >> i know. >> if this goes on much longer, i will not have time to come back to the cell and do all of the necessary shaving and foundation work.
finally, at 11:30, they call us. but they separate us. >> no. >> what's going on? >> i'm getting married. for what reason, we don't know. >> no! >> i am paranoid. >> why did they separate us? why? huh? she's left at the gate. >> i get to the wedding point before her and i think, oh, they know something. they must know something. i'm truly panicked. but about ten minutes later she comes in. and there's a number of other couples getting married and he lets us get marred first. it's somewhat after 11:30. we signed papers. we signed this, this and this. and we turn to each other.
>> you may now kiss. >> and we kissed more in panic than in joy but at least now i knew that she had legal protection if they caught me. >> see you soon. >> she and i were separated at that point. this was do or die. i went into my cell with my heart pounding, double locked the door. and i quickly shaved and double shaved. did it again and again. and then i put foundation makeup on. i put eye liner on. i put everything on. i look at myself and i think, i look good. a -- look like a transvestite.
time was moving. i had 30 more minutes. i put my bra on and stuffed it with socks. then i took a foam pad that i had cut out and i sculpted it over my ass to give me more of the bell shape. in the middle of this, there's a knock on the door. my heart froze. the guard says, we want to see the kitty cats. if he comes in, i'm clearly dead. and i shout out -- it's my marriage day. conjugal visit. get out of here. have you no respect? >> sorry. >> tell everyone else to stay away from my cell. >> i hear someone else say, oh, i'm sorry. and then they left. i put the skirt on.
and then, i cut open my pillow and i pull out the wig. it's the first time i've ever seen it. i put it on. we had large sunglasses. this covered my face up in a legitimate way. i was amazed at how much more i looked like a woman. i think, my god, this can work. it's 1:40. i am all dressed. i have everything. i have my metal tag and my paper pass. i have to be out of the dorm by 1:45. i knew when i opened that door and walked out i would never be in this prison again.
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checkpoint three. this was where i exchanged the metal tag for the paper pass. the most difficult checkpoint. right at this time, the bugle blew. this meant that all of the facitas had to leave immediately. what i had to do now was to stall and wait for a crowd. i am paranoid at this point. i fumbled around in my purse and acted like i was looking for something. i expected any moment for commandos to come rushing after me, grab me and drag me back into the dorm. i looked at my watch. it was 1:53. eight minutes after the bugle
had blown. this eight minutes had seemed like a lifetime. the guards were very busy now, switching the tags for the passes. this was it. now or never. there were women in front of me, fighting, trying to get ahead and exchange their tag for a pass. i turned toward one of the guards. i pulled out my paper pass. i held my pass in the air for the guard to see. but he was so busy he didn't pay attention to me. i was past checkpoint three. i am now in a part of the prison i have never seen before where all prisoners are forbidden.
i had rehearsed this 100 times in my mind but now it was happening. the women and their heels clicking on the cobblestones echoing around me. checkpoint two. i entered dream state at this point. everything was in slow motion. everything was eerie. i took the forged pass and i showed the guard his forged signature. if he saw the forgery he would most likely kill me. it was do or die.
he stared at it longer than he did the others. rather than wait for his verdict, i kept walking. and i thought, whew. ahead of me, checkpoint one. there were two guards. one of the guards went like this and he reached over to touch my foam padded ass. i put my handbag in between me and his hand. i was on the street. there were a number of other armed guards. i walked on away from the prison. if they knew now they would
shoot me in the back. i kept walking and ahead i saw a taxi. no gunshots. no one chasing after me. i dared not look back. there was a woman in the backseat. the angel who had saved my life. no one had escaped from the prison since 1912. both have of us were so awestruck it had actually happened.jz/b i had done it.
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