Let me digress for a second, catch you up to speed as to the events that led up to my incarceration. We leave Klechiv, Irina, Mirislova, myself and a friend of Irina’s daughters who is doing the driving. We’re excited, laughing, giggling and talking about the things we are going to be doing when we reach Moscow and other interesting spots we will visit Russia. The car is filled with Russian music, conversations and the likes so I decided it’s time for me to drift off into the beautiful country side as we drive down the road. The scenery is unbelievably beautiful, my vocabulary eludes me at this moment as how to describe for you what my eyes are witnessing and my mind is thinking. I’m in a tornado of thought hoping as pieces of debris go whirling past as we weave and wind through the majestic miles that I grab some appropriate words that might elevate your imagination so you could possibly visualize what I am describing. This setting is so unfamiliar to myself personally and yet it is all to familiar from scenes of movies that I have viewed of European country sides. As we pass tiny towns, villages, and farm fields my mind drifts between reality and fantasy, wondering what these areas might have to say about their past if they could talk. Crumbling old buildings, that have survived the test of time, wars, dictatorships, depression, love, loss. I am placed in a time warp, set down in an area before I was born witnessing something so surreal yet so spectacularly beautiful and at times when my mind drifts off to the periods of loss it saddens my heart. We drive, I am witness to the pain of the past, age has not taken away the beautify of this proud country rich with tradition and pride, colorful gardens adorned with fresh bouquets of flowers sharing their magnificent array of colors and aromas. I see villagers riding bicycle’s not made of graphite, decorated in vibrant colors, boasting of twenty gears, shiny with new titanium chains. No, I see single speed bikes made hearty, welded together to last a lifetime, and upon these chariots are maids and maidens not in spandex padded shorts adding comfort for a long arduous ride but dresses and pants of tweeds with baskets tied to the front of the handle bars to pick up and deliver the needed items for the day.
I’m snapped out of my lighthearted vision to, passports please, we all handover our passports and the officers glances into the car looking at me saying something in Russian, I look quizzically to the back seat at Irina, she starts a conversation with the officer standing at the window, he abruptly interrupts her and says Visa, she takes out the wallets that everything is sitting in pulls out my Visa with the American Emblem on it and hands it to him. He quickly looks through it and says no Russian Visa, Irina responds with no Belarusian Visa, he shakes his head and say “ne хорошо” meaning no good. He turns with all three of our paper work, visa’s and walks over to another officer handing him everything, they have some sort of conversation and both quickly walk off to a building. We’re mesmerized by the situation waiting patiently for about 15 minutes then Irina decides she has had enough of this waiting game and proceeds to get out of the car. She asks an officer where the original officer who took our stuff went, he points to the building and Irina starts walking in that direction. The original officer appears out of know where, startles Irina, she begins to have a conversation by my vantage point he was not hearing a thing Irina was having to say, he pointed in the direction of the car telling her to go. Exasperated she starts spewing what I would imagine to be some pretty harsh words towards the officer from the back seat of the car not loud enough for him to hear but loud enough for my ears to be burning. The gentleman who was driving us politely gets out of the car walks over to the same officer and attempts to start another conversation, he gets the same response and is banished to the car. As he climbs back into the driver side looks at me, he taps his writs together indicating that I am going to jail, I laugh not understanding the severity of what is happening thinking he is just joking but then I realize I am the only person in the car laughing. I look at him again he shrugs his shoulders and in his broken English he says it’s Russia. A third officer comes over to the car looks in and asks Americanza, I reply yes, Irina starts pleading her case to him, she gets out of the car take two steps and is ordered back in, she of course complies. He gestured for me to come with him luckily the drive hopped out with me and was allowed to accompany me into the building. So now, here I am in a room with two officers who speak no English, a drive who has known me for about two hours who also speaks no English and myself, all of our paperwork is on the counter in front of me and the two officers are having a conversation waiting for a phone call. After 10 minutes of waiting on the other end of the phone I hear a person talking English not well but English just the same. I breathe a sigh of relief thinking that things have been worked out and he will tell me what just happened and off we will go. “He” Russian for Not….he asks whom am I speaking to, I say Tom McNamara, he retorts with you have broken the law in our country and you will follow the officer back to your car until we get a vehicle that will take you to jail, you will be in jail for 24 to 48 hours as we find out what you were doing in our country. Panic rushes through me, I try to explain to him I am a diabetic and have a heart issues, he calmly says if you feel bad at any point let us know we will get a doctor to see you but for now follow the officer to your car and wait. He also says tell your wife if you want anything to eat or drink she will have to supply it they do not supply those things. As I feel myself becoming faint my mind whirling with every thought of being in a Russian jail that has ever crossed my mind we somehow end up back at the car. I quickly take my blood pressure and it is way north of where it should be 195 over 112 so I quickly grab my medication and take some of my pills to calm down. As time passes I seem to relax a little then there is a rap on the car, time to go, hop in the vehicle I’m told (not in English) I get in, there are two other gentlemen in the back with me and two officers in the front of the van. We pull away, I’m lost in my own greek tragedy wondering where this nightmare is going to take me. I am quickly startled out of my thought when an officer asks where are you from (of course in Russian) but thankfully I have learned enough to understand a little. I tell him I am from Chicago and from that moment on my name became Chicago. As they talked I would periodically hear Chicago with giggles and laughter but I never knew what they were saying. About two hours worth of the worst roads I have ever been on and many twists and turns we pulled up to a fenced in building and parked the van. I was allowed to go over, see Irina kiss and hug her and say good-bye. Mind you we had only been married 5 days before this happened and known each other personally for 35 days. I walked through the fenced walls the doors were closed and we headed into the building. I was brought into a room with an officer who talked to me in Russian, asking me questions I had no idea what he was asking and after ten minutes I was walking through a doorway with prison bars the doors I heard close behind me as they showed me to my cell. I turned to look back at the officer as the door and I mean door as heavy as a bank door closed. I heard dead bolts being locked five in all as I counted, then I looked around at my surrounding. Pausing, I thanked God I was in a cell by myself in solitary confinement I said a prayer for my safety and release.
The cell was small, cold and had bunk beds that could have housed four people but luckily it was just me. The beds were covered with wool blankets, which itch the crap out of me as all wool does. In the room there was a small table bolted to the floor, four stools also bolted to the floor, a bucket that resembled a Gatorade bucket filled with water in the corner that looked like it had been there awhile, a cloths closet, no toilet, a coat rack with four hooks three that were in perfect shape and one broken off reminding me of the movie Midnight Express. With that thought I grew increasingly nervous about the grave situation I was in as my mind weaved scenarios that scared the hell out of me. Hours passed as I sat torturing myself thinking of all the things that might happen, as usual in reality your mind is much more creative than what actually happens but as it’s going on you can’t convince yourself that nothing is going to happen. I now understand why the Nazi’s of World War II and other countries wear hard heeled shoes, as they walk across a wood floor it sounds like a thousand people are coming very intimidating. The bolts on my prison cell door are being slid back to enter the room, I’m anticipating thousands of soldiers by the sounds that echoed from the floor, the door swings open and there stands one soldier who introduces himself to me in English, I’m so shocked to hear my native language I don’t really hear his name. He sits down on the bed across from me explaining I will be interviewing you, your story will be investigated and with the results of my investigation you will be deported to Belarus or detained. Trying to make me relax we talk about how he came to speak such good English, he explained he did his mandatory service to his county, then went off to the university to become a teacher. In light of our current situation in America I believe all graduating seniors from high school might benefit doing a tour of duty for two years learning to appreciate America’s freedoms plus giving them an opportunity to mature before going off to college but that is my own thought after this experience. As he questioned me I became more relaxed, something about someone talking to you in your native language seems to bring the anxiety level down, any how after about an hour of questions he stood up said thank you and bolted me into my mind again. How are they going to verify my story ask Irina a woman whom I’ve known for a year through the internet, physically know for 35 days, wow that’s a lot of pressure to collaborate my story but I guess that’s what will happen.
Hours later the boots are crossing the floor to my cell the door is opened and I see my friend with four other soldiers, as they pry their way into my tiny cell, he explains they don’t get to many Americans so they all wanted to ask different questions. The questions were all very interesting from wanting to know how I felt about former President Obama, Hillary Clinton, current President Trump, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. I’m sure my answers were somewhat strange to them as I said I am not a political individual but I do like President Lukashenko and President Putin they are both athletes and play the best sport in the world, hockey. I was also questioned about all my tattoos, and my religious beliefs, satisfied they all got up and left. A few minutes later my soldier friend tells me I may be released by 9 pm tonight. I breathed a sigh of relief since I was arrested at noon on a Friday and thinking in America court systems I thought 24 to 48 hours, courts are not in operation on weekends that I know of so I’m here till Tuesday which depressed and frightened me so to hear I will be released by 9 pm I was elated. Unbeknownst to me my wife was doing a vigil outside the jail supply me with water, juices and food. Time past ever so slowly my friend kept coming back extending my stay as the investigation was taking longer plus the gentlemen I came in with I was told we’d all be released together so it may take a bit longer to verify all three stories. I was told 9 pm, then 3 am, then 9 am, noon, and then the doors were opened at 3 pm my friend asked me to come with him I signed some papers that he explained said I was aware of the fact I had broken the law, I was fined and band from coming to Russia for 5 years, I also signed a paper that stated I was treated with respect and well by the country of Russia. I signed the papers, we were walked out of the jail boarded the van and taken to the Belarusian border where we were dropped off. I was greeted by my wife, we hugged and kissed it was a relieving moment.
In a foot note I was treated very well by the Russian solders, the prison guards and if I had the opportunity to return to Russia and see the sights I had intended I would return tomorrow. As it stands right now I will abide by my 5 year ban but I will return and see everything that Russia has to offer, this experience has not deterred me in any negative way towards Russia nor the Russians.
The trip from the Belarusian border to home is a fascinating story in it of it’s self so that blog will be for another time.
My artistic abilities