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By Scott Richards
With the sound of distant thunder the heavy iron door’s lock sang home, solid, indestructible, permanent. The echoing clang resonated for what seemed like hours deep within his psyche, as his eyes slowly grew accustomed to the cave-like confines of the jail. This was the pit, the end. Men sent here were not expected to finish out their sentences alive. They would toil, suffer and perish in this hellhole without ever seeing daylight again.
Snapping back from a brief vision of the worst-case scenario, I stared at the Federal Prosecutors’ summons just handed us at our front door covered in seals, signatures, and stamps, as we tried to comprehend the meaning and possible consequences. All chance of it being delivered to the wrong house vanished when I saw my name in bold clearly printed on it.
We invited them in for a full twenty minutes of my horrendous Spanish and their attempts at English, interrupted only by mutual smiles of the culturally patient. It seemed we were to appear before the Federal Prosecutors’ court by noon the next day to answer charges of importing illegal contraband and to deliver a sworn declaration as to our proposed use of the family DVDs we had shipped via Fed-ex four months ago and had still not yet received. Nineteen hours to appear in court? What happened to manana and the Mexican minute?
We awoke with Prozac smiles for each other in hopes of buoying our deflated expectations of today’s’ outcome as we boarded an early Guadalajara Directo to our fate. Holding our summons out in front of us like our stupid shield, we hoped for a gleam of recognition and a possible direction from the armed guards. Signing in and receiving our visitors’ passes, we were asked if we needed an interpreter? I guess the look of deer caught in the headlights was all too obvious. We were thankfully greeted with “ Good morning, how are you.” from a wonderful woman lawyer just a few minutes later.
Passing from one office to the next, we got the fifty- cent tour trying to find our persecutors office. The paper was studied, stared at, and scrutinized. Responsible-looking employees pointed down hallways that only led to more questions. Undaunted, we trudged on like Joseph and Mary looking for a space at the Inn until we finally found an interested party. Eyeing us as potential paper work, we were asked somewhat obligingly to “pass” into an air-conditioned office on the top floor. I should have known. These were the windows American movie buffs were thrown out of.
Facing our accuser as he pored over a two-inch thick file on us, referred to certain pages with definite zeal in rapid, legalistic Spanish as we sat respectfully ignorant wishing this was all a dream. For the next three hours it was a dizzying question and answer period where my statements were interpreted and translated to the prosecutor via a women who had rarely spoke English since she was sixteen and living in Chicago many years ago. You know you just can’t make this shit up. This was getting better all the time.
A major hurdle in our defense was that I was able to answer “No” to using hard drugs, smoking tobacco and owning a stock pile of guns; an obviously common combination of traits among DVD shippers. I understand the seriousness of ignoring international rights and laws concerning ownership of material, but I doubt our little shoebox of Dick Van Dyke and Roseanne TV shows, could ever resemble the seeds of an underworld duplicating empire.
The prosecutors’ report read back to me in English though turned out to be a most interesting cultural comment concerning Mexican family life. The gist of our story translated through our interpreter was that we had decided to live in Mexico and after obtaining immigration status, had our family send down some of our DVD collection since the English languaged movies through local cable were few and far between.
His interpretation of my words through his personal views on family and life combined with my interpreter’s Mexican/American influence when translating created the most interesting result. This was in fact a very serious Federal Court document and yet the inaccurate translation when read back to me was so compelling a piece of cultural literature, I signed it anyway.
It spoke of a sad, childless couple living with no family around them to keep them occupied and entertained. His report went on to describe a lonely life of retirement that needed to be filled with English movies as consolation to being without a large riotous family and grandkids. We were found not guilty of trying to import and then engage in copying movies for sale. He seemed to pity us our solitary life and said Customs would only confiscate fifteen DVDs.
The five-hour excursion into the inner workings of the Mexican Mind and law enforcement afforded me a sense of peace actually, alleviating unfounded fears of reasonless persecution, or unwarranted police interaction and establishing a greater appreciation of what they have to work with. After seeing the machine in motion, I feel any success on their part is to be applauded. We sat in a small room occupied by four employees sharing candy bars, coffee and their lives. It did take five hours, but now that I think about what could have happened in my old country, I have no regrets, negative opinions, or complaints. Enjoy my John Wayne collection.