Bob Marley (Part 1 by Guest Blogger Mark Nelson)
This is one of the most gripping true stories I’ve ever read. I came across it while doing some editing for Prisoners Abroad. Reading it, I kept thinking, Thank God I didn’t get arrested in Venezuela. It’s a tribute to Mark’s spirit that he made it out alive. I’m going to run the parts back to back this week.
I went to Venezuela on holiday to see some friends. One of them introduced me to a drug deal, and I made a decision. Unfortunately, I got arrested at the airport. The arresting officers quizzed me about what I did in England. I told them that I was involved in music, and that I was a religious man, a Rastafarian. Hearing this, they decided that my new name was Bob Marley.
“My name is Mark,” I told them.
But they just said, “In England your name is Mark, but in Venezuela your name is Bob Marley!”
I was taken to San Antonia prison, on Margarita Island, which is in the Caribbean. When I got there, I couldn’t believe what I saw. It didn’t look like a prison to me. It looked like a smashed up building or factory. In the reception there was a cage with lots of people, all with their hands outstretched, and they were all shouting at me “Gringo, Gringo.”
One of the women officials took me to one side and told me, “You ain’t seen nothing yet. This is just your first day. Keep your money safe, and be careful as there are some things you won’t like inside, so be strong.”
As I went in the front door into the prison itself I saw four inmates, and they all had guns. They called me over, and asked if I spoke Spanish. One of them spoke a little English and translated for the man who I later learnt was the boss, the gang leader. I told them that my name was Mark, but they said “No – the guards have told us that your name is Bob Marley.” So for the next four years I was Bob Marley. They asked if I was a “bad boy.” I told them I wasn’t, but they wouldn’t listen. He said, “Listen Gringo. You see that guy over there? I want you to fight him,” and he gave me a knife. He said, "These are the rules in San Antonio – anyone who comes in has to fight a guy so that we can see what type of man you are, a bad boy or a wimp." So I said to myself, this is survival, picked up the knife, and stood up. The other guy came for me, but I managed to hit him.
The boss put up his hand to stop the fight and said “Bob Marley, you are a bad boy.” He then introduced me to another English guy, who went by the name of King Kong.
As I went into the main cell block, the room was so dark I could barely see. I could just make out all these heads poking out from behind little curtains. This was the way they divided the one big cell into lots of mini cells which they called boogaloos. I found King Kong, an English guy called Wesley, and he simply said “Welcome to hell.” I asked him what he meant, and he said “In the morning you’re going to see.”
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