Friends, many of you have asked about how I ended up where I did. Rather than respond individually to your questions, though, I will write a multi-installment narrative of what has transpired since 10July2010.
As the subject is immense and complex, for the sake of brevity I must assume that you all are versed on the governments version of events as that is all that was ever published in the media. I shall not waste any effort attempting to recount their version, as you can see it better than I ever have . All I know is that I am a Google search away from permanent infamy. Hopefully I will provide an offsetting narrative ofmy progress in America's Gulag. What follows then is just a linear account of the process, with little or no emotional or reflective angles covered, as I am just answering FAQs, not writing a memoir, yet.
For those reading without a prior knowledge of the US system of incarceration, I have added a number of notes to help explain it. The statistics are well known; the US comprises 5% of the world's population the US holds in 25% of the worlds' prisoners. Over 90 billion dollars a year spent on the system at the federal, state and local levels combined. The states all operate their own prison systems which do not include the county jails and the feds operate the worlds' largest prison system. Within this are private, for profit facilities serviced by private companies under contract for provisioning and servicing said facilities - and all these said companies pay lobbyists who pay politicians to keep the status quo because mass incarceration is highly profitable to those companies.
My adventure began on a Sunday afternoon. While on a business trip in the US (I had been in Los Angles and in Washington DC in a ten day period, meetings/hotels/witnesses a plenty), I had stopped by to see my family in Raleigh, NC. After brief visit with family and friends, while in the Raleigh-Durham airport to catch a flight back to my home in the United Kingdom I was approached by two federal agents in plain clothes. (I will call the first 'Agent1' and the second 'Agent2' for the rest of this narrative.)
Agent1 was a close confidant of a friend of mine who I had known since high school wrestling (Sanderson alum know who I mean). Agent1 and my friend had worked together in ATF.
Agent2 claimed to have attended a training program at the same time as me years before in a different state, but I did not remember him, he was and still is with ICE as far as I know (whereas the Agent1 no longer a federal agent as he was indicted and tried in a separate case).
The nature of my work saw me frequently have dealings with such individuals and I had even been stopped in May at the same airport (RDU) on the way out to the UK and everything I was shipping at that time was inspected. During business trips to the US it was my practice to purchase side-arms for use by security teams in my employ as it was easier and less expensive to buy them over-the--counter in the US than it was to acquire them abroad. I would pack the arms in my luggage and each time inspectors questioned my cargo I simply provided my chain of command, my bona fides were checked out and I was sent on my way. I expected this time to be no different. I was to find that it was most certainly to be a very different experience. The weapons I was carrying were dissembled, inert, clearly labeled and not hidden. They were just some of the items that require permission to carry outside of the country . I mention this as, my understanding is the government has referred to my acts as "smuggling" (though they did not charge me with that). In fact, once, when my cargo raised an alarm I pointed out to the inspectors a note lodged with the cargo saying I had permission to transit the items. Not very covert, that.
Cooperating fully, as I had nothing to hide from the agents, I was interviewed and everything was quite cordial. They alerted me to the fact that some of the weapons I had carried overseas before this trip had turned up in the hands of criminals, which triggering an investigation from the other end. Of course this would have been through employee misappropriation and so I provided them with all the mission information that I could at the time and gladly offered to help trap the guilty party as I was horrified that any weapon attributable to me was being misused and in the hands of criminals. At one point I was then told that they had been in contact with the US Attorneys office who said I was to be taken to their offices. Confused, they assured me that we would be working together to sort everything out the very next day which was a Monday, that I would stay with them for the night, that it was just for the night. Further, they said privately that since the investigation had begun overseas the US Attorneys office had little leeway in handling me. This is when I began to realize that I was being sacrificed to a foreign investigation, but I never believed that they would to the extent that they ended up doing so.
Quick note on interviews: Federal agents are not required to record interviews. In today's television cop shows, which is where most people - including me - get their examples from, interviews are mostly represented as being on video and accessible to the court. The Feds hate having a record of their actions as their actions are often mendacious, so they resist this and 99% of the time don't do it. The reason for this is, simply, that a defendant can't subpoena something that doesn't exist, so they make sure anything exculpatory doesn't exist or disappears (thousands of case about this, feel free to Google).
In 2012, Attorney General Holder ordered federal agents to start recording interviews, but most still don't. The investigators' technique is to get you to talk to them without an attorney because they can then say whatever they want and attribute it to you. My first and possibly biggest error was assuming that my chain-of-command would once again ease me through the system as it had done before. My investigating agents misrepresented a few things in their reports that were later corrected in court - though the judge didn't care about it. LESSON: you must never speak to a federal agent without an attorney.
Feds are not like local cops, they are not there to help you. They are only speaking to you because they want to put you or someone in prison and close a case. They begin every conversation and case with an assumption of guilt about everyone (see the great book "Three Felonies a Day" to see how you could be put in prison any time they want to).
Be forewarned, and I know there is enough in the media on this that you know I am not fear mongering. Be polite and wait for the attorney, saying "Lawyer, lawyer, lawyer" three times (think Beetlejuice:) even if you have nothing to say, even if you are just asked directions to a gas station. They are not recording and you will be in court with them & they will be saying you said things you didn't before you know it. They will try and coerce you by saying "this is your only chance to help yourself etc", just remember they do not have your best interest at heart regardless of what they say. Hearsay is admissible in federal court, unlike the state courts and people are serving life sentences for lies from jailhouse snitches, but more on that later.
I was not cuffed, or paraded through the public at the airport. I was still being treated as one of the good guys, sorting out a problem that arose through legitimate actions. We simply walked to the car and drove to the offices of the ATF where I expected them to call my chain of command and sort everything out. Instead I was placed in a room and had all my property taken from me, then later that night saw me on a 'marshal waiver' at the local jail, i.e. not under my own name and left to sit on a bench all night with no food, water, toilet, bedding etc. The next morning, an agent who didn't identify himself arrived and took me to the federal court in Raleigh where they processed me in at the US marshals and put me in a cage with others waiting for court appearances. The agents from the night before were there, and they told me that 'things were at the "Secretary Clinton level" (direct quote) and out of their hands and all would be explained in due time.' During this time they spoke to me openly in front of other prisoners about 'working together' until a public defender arrived who then advised me not to speak with them anymore as I was being charged in a sealed criminal complaint (meaning secret and not made public).
Rushed in front of a judge, the court automatically, without testimony, held me over for five days until I would get a bond hearing. At this point I was remanded to the local county jail, still incommunicado except for the public defender I had just met and who I begged to contact people for me (family, chain of command, etc) as I was of course, deeply concerned about the impact of my disappearance would be having on my wife and family. My grandmother, who is quite prescient - scarily so quite often - was already of the opinion I had been kidnapped. How right she was.
In the jail, which was horribly overcrowded, I was provided with an inch thick of foam rubber mat measuring 3 ft wide by 5 ft long and one ripped up sheet and a thin blanket. A two piece striped pair of coveralls and a pair of flip flops. I was then housed in a unit that was already full, just one of 30 sleeping on the floor in the center of the 'pod'. Many reports in the press outline how the in the US, the lack of mental health facilities means that the jail system handles a disproportionately large number of mentally ill people. I can vouch for this as over the next 19 months I was in the jails, I saw at least 1 out of every 3 people in there possessing mental disorders that were plain to the untrained eye.
A note on jails & communication from them. In the USA, the jails are operated at the local level and although they might contain people serving short sentences, they traditionally only hold those who are "innocent until proven guilty" and who are trying to make bond and get out, which is hilarious as communication from them is notoriously difficult and expensive.
The states and the federal government operate prisons, and the jails are where they hold people who can not make their bonds, or are denied bond, until they go to the prison.
The jails are the most primitive in their conditions, with no law library, hyper expensive communications that require people on the outside to pay price gouging phone companies in advance for you to even be able to connect with them to tell them you are there, no gym, no books, nothing but a holding pen. The food is terrible, the conditions filthy, violent, etc and if you protest the staff simply says "well bond out then!" But if you are a Federal detainee (read: prisoner - same euphemism they use for Gitmo) that's usually not possible, which I will come to momentarily.
So the first night I was in jail, the crew that had been in the cages with me and heard the ATF agent talking about "working together" jumped me as I slept. I awoke after being kicked in the head and then reflexively grabbed on to one and proceeded to try and give it back to him while the rest hit on me unencumbered. Eventually staff responded to the noise, or perhaps they were patrolling. Suffice to say they stopped the beating and may have saved my life.
The offenders were taken away and I was left unattended by medical personnel (you have to put in a 'sick call' slip and then they'll call you some future day should you live so long, or so I was told). Busted lip, sore ribs, the usual, but all I've ever really cared about after a beating was my teeth as they don't grow back or heal.
The next morning, with the other couple of white guys in there (you associate by tribe inside, it's automatic and you're only chance of having camaraderie of any kind), the doors were popped to the cells so that the guys in them could come out for a couple of hours into the main room. (There is no outside recreation in the jail system at any facility I ever saw, just a movement from small room to slightly larger room where you can sometimes be around others).
A black guy came out of a top floor room and went straight to the railing, where he tied one end of his sheet to the rail and then jumped over (he'd had it wrapped around his neck like a cravat. Eventually staff came in and moved us over to the next room, doubling it's overcrowded situation while they dealt with the hanged man's mess.
Seems it's quite common in the jails for guys left their for ages, unable to make their sky high bonds, ignored by the courts, to get depressed and attempt suicide. This wouldn't be the last I saw or heard... In this jail, there had been a guy just a week before who'd done a header off the top floor hoping to break his neck and die but only paralyzed himself. (I've heard that the new jails are being constructed with railings that go to the top so that they can't do this anymore.)
Then it was Tuesday morning.