Ever spent a night in a foreign jail? How about a Mexican jail? I’ve been there, checked that box and lived to tell about it. In this installment in my Travel Horror Story series, I share my story about one horrible night in a Mexican jail.
Let’s to Mexico, man…
Many years ago, while attending a San Diego area college, my buddies and I decided to make a trip south of the border to Tijuana for a little imbibing. Mexico’s drinking age was quite the lure for a college kids at a private Christian school who were under the age of 21. And besides, it was Halloween. What could go wrong!!??
The night started out like you’d expect – lots of drinking, partying and having a good time. We hit a few bars, scarfed some street tacos, and avoided drinking any water. There were four of us. Monty, Chad the Surfer, Chad the non-surfer, and me, a clean cut kid from a small town in Arizona.
None of us, of course, could hold our liquor and we were soon quite hammered. In a moment of stupidity we decided to buy some pocket knives (for like $1.50 USD or something). Monty, our resident pothead, also decided to secure some weed.
While consuming a frosty cold one set fine with my morals, illegal substances like marijuana did not, so I passed (although no one EVER believes this part of the story – including the Marine Corps Recruiters later in life). However, it’s true…I chose a cigar instead. Monty and the 2 Chads smoked most of the weed…but not all.
More tacos and brews continued (although more tacos now because the guys had the munchies). Soon, we decided to head back. With maybe a block to go before the US border, they realized they still had a little 420 left and decided to finish it off.
As luck would have it, a security guard from the shopping complex came around the corner and caught us, immediately radioing it in to the police.
Instead of bolting (he as a rent a cop), we stayed until they arrived. Dumb.
In another stroke of utter stupidity we had no money left…we’d spent it all on knives and weed and so we had nothing to bribe the officers with (which is what they wanted). None of spoke Spanish, but we could discern they were discussing what to do with us. One policeman, sniffed all of our fingers – including mine.
The smell of the cigar must have still been resident on mine because he told Monty and me to get in the back of the police truck. And he let the two Chad’s go…the same two Chad’s who HAD smoked weed. Instead it was Monty and me…the non-weed smoker (literally and truthfully) who were hauled away.
Our first stop was some sort of judge-ish thing. We were bustled in front of some sort of official who appeared to determine we were guilty and being “sentenced” to something.
Stone Cold Sober…
I was STONE COLD SOBER at this point.
We were them promptly herded into the back of a paddy wagon with, I kid you not, about 15-20 other very drunk, very swarthy looking Mexican fellers. We were the ONLY gringos. For some odd reason, one of the fellow “prisoners” had a super soaker squirt gun (surreal, I know) and another one was pissing.
With piss running under by feet and around my knees we squatted in the middle of this paddy wagon, unsure of what lay ahead. I was terrified. Monty was sober, but oddly unfazed (probably because he was still high).
After a short journey, we arrived at a jail. No idea where this jail was, but it was a jail. Not a prison, but a jail. We shuffled in to a holding area to shouts by the guards holding batons and stern looks.
Inside the holding cell, we stood awaiting the next phase. Immediately fights broke out between several angry looking folks (you know the kind of guys you see in your mind when I say cartel). I have no idea if they actually were cartel (probably just drunk idiots), but dang we were scared.
A friendly face briefly befriended us. A Mexican, who spoke English. He informed us that we’d be ok and that they’d likely put us in the women’s part of the jail. He confidently stated, in broken English, that they do that with all the Gringos because if they put us in with the Men, we’d be raped and killed.
WTF!?!?! Say again, over???
Hookers and Transvestites
His word were prophetic. We were indeed placed into the Women’s part of the jail which was apparently on the first level (the guards confirmed the story about the men’s part of the jail). On the bright side, we were given our own cell – just me an Monty. But it was a cell with a view. A horrible, disturbing view.
Directly across from our cell was a cell jammed full of Mexican hookers and transvestites. Yes. Hookers and transvestites. And it was bad. Really bad. Cat calls, hooting and hollering, strip shows, most were high or drunk, etc.
At this point, if I wasn’t so scared, I’d have cried.
We had no idea how long we’d be there. One night? A week? Forever? Would I be sold into sex slavery? Decapitated? Every horrible thought you could imagine ran through my head.
The cell was horrifying. Disgusting. The toilet was overflowing. It stank. There were no mattresses. Just cold cement beds. No pillow.
For a while we didn’t talk. We just sat. Stunned really to have arrived here. The guards brought us a plate of bread and water. We ate the bread. We didn’t touch the water.
Eventually it became clear that we were not going anywhere. Exhaustion set in for me and my eyes became heavy. I laid down on my cold, pale-blue painted cement bad and fell asleep.
A Disgusting Peep Show
Some time later – maybe an hour at most, I woke to find Monty furiously masturbating while the worlds ugliest transvestite performed a horrifying strip tease for him. I sat up and looked at him and screamed: “What the $#&$ are you doing, man? We’ve been here for like 2 hours! I can understand if it were for 3 months. We’ve got needs, I get it, but 2 hours!?!?! And it’s not even a girl!!” He just grinned and continued his quest.
With nothing else to do I simply rolled over and went back to sleep.
Later that evening – perhaps 4 hours or so, we were woken by the guards who told us to come with them. We did as told and were ushered into a sort common area where we found the 2 Chads…and a guy named Peru.
Peru was a missionary kid from Peru. He was a white guy, but his parents were missionaries in Peru. He was in for a semester of college with us. He was a good guy, straight-laced and not the kind of guy who’d go drinking in Mexico.
Apparently, the 2 Chads returned to the States (since they had no money), drove 45 minutes to our college campus, woke up Peru, convinced him to come with them, hit an ATM and got a bunch of cash, and returned to Mexico.
However, they had no idea where we were. They assumed were were in a jail somewhere, but with several jails in the area and no idea which one we were at or where the jails even where it would be quite the effort.
Ultimately, they picked up a local. A kind older man who gave them directions to a few jails. On their second stop, they found us, but not with out protestations from the guards who claimed they had no gringos in the jail. Eventually, at the price of around $500.00 and Peru’s gold watch, they let on that we were there and decided to let us go – the bribe (or bail?) being suitable. The receipt we were given said we were arrested and jailed for knives. No mention of weed. The cops had taken it from us…
We were were released and overjoyed. I was shocked and astonished at being let go and more amazed when they relayed the story. The older man who helped them was nowhere to be found. We all thought maybe he was an angel or something.
We got in the car and drove back to the states (after the normal lengthy wait at the border, which was extra terrifying this time). At the first US exit, we pulled the car over, and Monty and I literally (I kid you not) got out of the car and kissed the American soil.
We made it back to college late that morning, exhausted. We never told a soul at the school what had happened (we’d have been kicked out), but we did tell our families who were NOT pleased.
My grandmother, when she found out, told us she already knew we were in trouble because God had woken her up in the middle of the night at the exact time we were in jail (we did the math…she was right) and she had prayed for us for like 3 hours. True story.
I vowed never to return to Mexico after what I call the “incident” and since then I have only been back 1 time (2 if you count Cozumel).
Final thoughts on my night in a Mexican Jail
It was an insane experience. A life lesson as they say. Hang with the wrong crowd – get bad results. Monty was our instigator. I can’t shake the image (even now) of him and his Mexican hooker. And I was forever grateful to the 2 Chads who didn’t give up on us (and Peru who gave us his watch and his time for two people he barely knew).
Chad the non-surfer and Monty were two of my groomsman at my wedding. And in classic Monty fashion he was higher than a kite. After that I joined the Marine Corps. Chad joined the Army and Monty got expelled from that Christian college. We’ve never heard from him since.
I still won’t visit Mexico to this day. Not for work. Not for pleasure. #SorryNotSorry.
But for those of that are interested in visiting this country, the folks over at Cultures Traveled have documented a great deal of tips and destination ideas for Mexico and Our Family Passport has some interesting ideas for traveling to Mexico and South America.
Thanks for reading this latest edition from my Travel Horror Story and my experiences in a Mexican Jail. You can read more Travel Horror Stories, here including times when I lost our plane lost an engine, dirty sheets, and migraines.
And if really must…I mean really really really must, here’s an article on Things to do in Tijuana.
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