Shit was everywhere.
I hadn’t understood the saying, “this tastes like shit,” until I’d inhaled a deep breath of hot air filled with excrement and urine vapor in my 8ft x 8ft cell that I shared with 6 other men at the police station in Juan Diaz. I hadn’t done anything wrong or committed any offense, but I was locked up abroad.
Bishop and I were kicking it with our newfound family in the barrio Concepcion in Juan Diaz in Panama City, Panama. The night before, there was a comparsa (a neighborhood parade where everyone is dancing outside and people have instruments, clink pans and pots, and sometimes men dress up as mystical creatures with dresses). Bishop was living in Caledonia with his woman at the time who practiced Santeria, and I was living on Calle 16 en Ciudad Radial. Everyone was out, even Caballo Loco, an old man and known character in the neighborhood who was notorious for dressing up like a woman and dancing on people when inebriated in the comparsa.
It was close to midnight when the police came. The comparsa died and people dispersed. Bishop had left a little before, returning to his cougar in Caledonia and just as I was about to head home, I was advised to spend the night and leave in the morning because it would be safer and the police were out. Whenever our Pana-fam told us that the police were out, it was to warn us that they occasionally apprehend and detain men at their discretion. The next morning I found out what they meant.
It was around 7 am when I’d walked from Concepcion to Ciudad Radial, my barrio. Before reaching my gate, I doubled back to the chinito (corner store owned by chinese people) around the corner. I bought some coco-flakes and milk that I thought I’d be eating moments later in the comfort of the Sweatbox.
On the way back from the chinito, I’d turned onto Calle 16 and was footsteps from my gate when the police came. They hopped out like the gestapo with M16s and uzis drawn. My hands reached for the heavens and I froze. With several firearms aimed at me, one officer took the lead in questioning me.
“Tiene cedula,” the officer asked.
I gave him my passport and explained that I was from the US and was an english teacher in Marbella. I spoke in english first, then broken spanish because my white co-workers at my job said to always speak english when the cops stop you. It had gotten them out of a lot of trouble, so I thought, I’d have similar luck. Little did I know.
The pig (a euphemism for the police primarily used by people of color, but not limited to said group, sarcastically) looked at his cohorts then looked back at me and said, “tiene plata?” I looked puzzled as if I didn’t understand what he meant, so he unstrapped his handgun that was attached to his chest holster and asked me again.
I kinda got the feeling that he meant business this time.
I reached deep into my pockets, unravelling both to show that I was broke. Some change fell out as I did this, so I slowly went to pick it up. It was about 75 cents. As I was counting it, the officer got aggravated and slapped the change out my hand and handcuffed me.
At gunpoint I was put into the back of the police truck and handcuffed to another detainee. This particular man was rambunctious, cursing the police and threatening to hurt them. The police kept telling him to shut up, pointing their large weapons at him. Our wrists were joined by the cuffs and as he got rowdy swinging his hands, he pulled me. I was trying my best to create as much distance between us in the back of the police truck, just in case they chose to shoot him.
I later learned in the cell that he was aggravated because the police apprehended him while he was walking down the street with his 3 year old daughter. The cops took him and left her in the street.
We arrived at the station and were escorted off two at a time. We were taken to the back, searched down to the undergarments (down to the birthday suit). All personal possessions, like keys and phones, were taken.
No charges, no rights being read and no phone calls. I was off the grid and completely unaware of what was going to happen to me.
We were walked outside and around the side to the holding cells.
The gust of funk that let out when the officer opened the cell door could’ve burned the ugly off the face of Mick Jagger. It was that putrid!
One by one the other captives entered.
I looked at the officer and said “por que?” He motioned with his uzi to my back to enter the cell.
To be continued….