“I expected to go down there, do my show, collect my money and come home as planned…”
If you were to meet Bryan, one of the first things you would notice is the sparkle in his eyes…
Standing just under six-feet and weighing about 195, his caramel-colored face hasn’t changed much over the years — except for his newly salt-and-peppered beard. He used to remind me of the singer John Legend, in appearance and because of his singing voice.
We dated long distance for barely two months, but he was my first “boyfriend”, of sorts.
When we met I was a naive, nineteen-year-old “gay-by” and Bryan was a seasoned, twenty-nine-year-old smooth talker with a big smile and an even bigger flock of lovestruck boys clinging to his every word.
In the years following our break-up, I was never successful in Facebook stalking him (like I was with the other men I dated).
It was as if he had vanished.
Well one night, after six years without contact, and several glasses of Pinot Grigio, I randomly decided to try again. I found him on the first try. I took a big sip before writing him to ask where the heck he’d been, but I was completely unprepared for his answer.
Apparently he’d been serving time in a Mexican prison for a crime that he didn’t commit.
Recently I was lucky enough to sit down with Bryan and get his side of the story.
And this is where it all begins…
Who were you before going to Mexico?
Bryan: I was a little known part-time, semi-professional singer and full time youth minister in a south Florida based church… Oh, and closeted homosexual!
Me: Now, when exactly did this happen?
Bryan: I arrived in Mexico City on December 30, 2007.
Me: Ok. So you’re a closeted, singing, minister in south Florida…How do you end up in Mexico city?
Bryan: I was offered the opportunity to go down there to perform in a New Year’s Eve concert… A music associate of mine in South Florida was contacted by an internationally known singer and friend of theirs who needed someone to stand in for them on New Year’s Eve. That singer had previously seen and heard me perform and asked for me specifically. Our mutual acquaintance connected us, we discussed the details of the deal and came to an agreement… Three days after that initial conversation, I was on a plane and on my way to what would turn out to be a life changing experience.
Me: How old were you?
Bryan: I was 31 years old.
Me: Now, being from South Florida, did you actually speak any spanish?
Bryan: No… All the persons that I dealt with in making the arrangements for my intended time in Mexico spoke English.
Me: When you accepted the offer and boarded that plane, did you have any idea just how life-changing your journey would be?
Bryan: Not at all… I expected to go down there, do my show, collect my money and come home as planned.
Me: So what went wrong? How do you go from performing Motown classics on stage to behind bars in a Mexican prison?
Bryan: Now the waters get deep…
Me: Uh oh…okay. I think I’m ready.
Bryan: After my show, I did a little meet and greet session; taking pictures and signing autographs as if I were really somebody famous. LOL. From there I was invited to a party that was taking place in the same hotel where the New Year’s Eve concert was held. After staying at the party for about an hour, I returned to my room to prepare myself for my return to Miami later that day. (At this point, it was 3:00 am on January 1, 2008.) Somewhere around 3:45 am I received a phone call from the hotel owner who was also the concert promoter. He called to inform me that there was a woman at the front desk of the hotel who was hysterical and accused me of having drugged her teenage son during the party. Her claim was that she found him disoriented and that he was not like that prior to having been seen riding the elevator at the same time as me. The fact is, he was under the influence of something while on the elevator. The woman insisted, however, that he was perfectly fine prior to and that I must have done something to him or given him something. The hotel owner, after having the teen checked out by the hotel doctor, had him sent to the hospital for tests and observation. At that time, the mother decided to call the police and accused me of drugging her son. That’s pretty much how it began…
Me: So the mother makes this wildly untrue accusation, what happened next?
Bryan: I voluntarily went to the police station to give a statement. Thinking like an American and trusting those around me, I believed that this would be a quick process and that everything would be easily resolved soon enough for me to catch my return flight to Miami.
Me: But it wasn’t, obviously…
Bryan: Not in the least… It was neither quick nor easy.
Me: So did the Mexican police believe your story?
Bryan: The police led me to believe that they believed me. One officer even made his best attempt in English to tell me that the blood and urine tests performed on the teen at the hospital came back positive for alcohol; and that the teen admitted to having been given drinks by his father and brother, as well as serving himself alcohol at the NYE party. (Two occurrences that I witnessed with my own eyes.)
Me: Okay now I’m confused. So shouldn’t they have released you after this?
Bryan: One would think so; but we’re talking about Mexico City, a literal Petrie dish of corruption. Everything and everyone in any level of government and civil service is controlled by the love of money. In fact, I was approached in private by someone whom I was told was the lead detective on this case and he told me that he could make it all go away if I would pay him 5,000 pesos.
Me: And did you have the money to pay him?
Bryan: Actually, I did… But the language barrier prevented me from fully understanding him at the time. It wasn’t until years later, after my knowledge of the Spanish language had improved, that I realized that that moment was one of attempted extortion. And quite frankly, had I known what he was asking me for, I would’ve immediately given it to him.
Me: So were you able to get in contact with your family,or appointed an attorney, or even put in touch with the US Embassy?
Bryan: The hotel owner called an attorney for me; but the US Embassy wasn’t contacted until later that night when I was transferred from the police station to the office of the district attorney. I actually had no communication with my family until two days later.
[FACT: As of 2001, there were over 600 Americans serving time in Mexican prisons. In fact, Mexico has the largest American prisoner population outside of the United States.]
Me: At this point did you think that this would quickly blow over and that you would be on your way home soon?
Bryan: I was extremely nervous and afraid. I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out; but I was continually being reassured by my attorney, the DA and the vice consul from the US Embassy that once I had given my official statement on the record that I would be released. Due to the lack of any physical evidence against me, I was told that the accusation was baseless and therefore the case had no merit.
Me: So when did the shift in events take place?
Bryan: Of that I’m not sure. I don’t know if there was an actual shift or if I was sold a pipe dream.
Me: Ok so when did you realize that this wasn’t going to end in your favor?
Bryan: A year later when I was found guilty of statutory rape and convicted to 13 years in jail.
Me: Wait a minute, so you sat in a prison for an entire year before getting sentenced for a crime that there was no evidence of you committing?
Bryan: Not only that, but the crime changed… If you recall, the mother of the teen initially accused me of having drugged him. After that was disproven, a new accusation of sexual abuse arose. There was no evidence to support this either, but under Mexican law, in a case involving a sexual abuse claim with no physical evidence of abuse, the accuser is given the benefit of the doubt. So, essentially I was automatically deemed guilty until proven innocent and the trial was just a formality prior to sentencing unless I decided to offer a bribe to the assistant DA and the judge overseeing my case.
Me: Where did they detain you during this ordeal?
Bryan: Well, I wasn’t officially placed under arrest until I arrived at the jail. But I spent the entire day of January 1st at the police station. Around 10:00 pm that night I was transferred to the DA’s office. I was detained there until approximately 3:00 am on January 3rd, at which time I was transferred to the jail. I remained incarcerated at the jail throughout my trial, sentencing and up until the day of my eventual release.
Me: Can you walk me through that first day on January 3rd, 2008, when you arrived at the jail? Where was the jail exactly?
Bryan: The jail is located in an area of Mexico City called Iztapalapa.
Day 1 consisted of a 6:00 am wake up call to go stand outside in freezing cold weather. I had nothing to protect me from the elements. I was wearing white shell top Adidas with no shoestrings, a white t-shirt, and one legged blue jeans because one pants leg had been cut of by one of the CO’s upon my arrival. After standing outside for an hour, roll call was made and all the new arrivals were taken for processing. That’s where we were finger printed, mug shots were taken, we were measured and physically examined. This process lasted all day. We returned to the dormitory just after dinner to receive our cell assignments and because we missed dinner we were only given tea before being sent to bed.
Me: So this place…this prison…was your “home” for five years. Can you describe what it looked like? Where did you eat and sleep?
Bryan: I wouldn’t call it home. Home denotes comfort, among a few other things…Honestly, I don’t have the words to describe what it looked like. I just know that it was unlike anything I had ever seen before, even on tv and in movies.
Once I was processed and moved into the general population, I was placed in a cell with six beds and 13 people. Only four of the beds were allowed to be used for sleeping. The other 10 people, including me, slept on the floor. I was eventually moved to another cell, same size, more people, same situation. After nearly two years of sleeping on the floor, I was privileged to be able to move to a bunk. I had my bunk for about another two years before I was transferred to a less crowded, somewhat exclusive dormitory. In this dorm I was assigned to a cell with 6 beds and 4 people. I was the 5th. It was exponentially cleaner and more comfortable, I still wouldn’t call it home…
As for the food, I refused to even attempt to eat the stuff prepared by the institution. It looked and smelled hazardous. Luckily there were places inside where I could use the money my family and friends sent me to buy something to eat. And I had an extended family that was created while I was in Mexico that made sure to bring me what I needed and wanted as well.
Me: How were you treated?
Bryan: As far as my treatment, I would have to say that I fared a whole lot better than the Mexicans. The physical abuse that they suffered at the hands of their own people was deplorable. I was protected by the United States and its Embassy, so those who knew that I was an American made sure not to cross that line with me.
Me: So you mention the U.S. Embassy protecting you, but why weren’t they able to get you out of Mexico?
Bryan: Because they have no legal jurisdiction. They told me from the beginning that they wouldn’t be able to offer me any assistance as it related to the legal proceeding.
Me: While you were held captive there, what was your biggest worry or fear?
Bryan: My biggest worry was that I’d be changed for the worse and not be able to readjust to life on the outside after so much time away from anything and everything that I knew; and that I’d miss out on important moments in the lives of my young sister and my nephews.
My biggest fear would be the same…
TO BE CONTINUED….
…Bryan shares the details of his journey to freedom and how he managed to keep his sanity & faith during his years wrongfully imprisoned in Mexico in the next installment of…
True Life Talks: From Center Stage To A Mexican Prison Cell (part two)….