I’d knocked off early one afternoon, had gotten into my PJs and was in bed ready to Netflix my night away. I lived 3 mins away from a Dixie shop (the uSave of Russia). I knew I’d be in and out, so all I needed was my coat and snow boots. I grabbed my keys and a 500 Ruble note which comes to about N$112 and left.
As I turned the corner to the supermarket, I bumped into a police officer standing with a coffee in hand. He asked for my documents which I obviously didn’t have. I explained that they were back at my apartment which I could see even from where I was standing. I was pointing showing him where it was and that I would be happy to have him accompany me to get it – which he refused. It wasn’t even about the language barrier at this point because he spoke a little English and I spoke enough Russian to explain the situation. All of a sudden, he made the hash sign with his fingers resembling the bars of a jail cell. And insisted that we go together – that we would sort this out at the police station. Otherwise, I was going to be deported, he emphasised. I calmly went with him and figured I wouldn’t be long.
We get to the police station, it’s dim, old with cold cement floors. There was a woman crying her lungs out and maybe three other men in a really big holding cell we were walking past. In my mind I was like, “I dunno what you criminals did, but I’m about to bounce in a second.” We get to a tiny office where I start my story. Once again explaining who I am, where I’m from, how I’m in my pajamas right now and that they are free to look me up. I knew they could easily do so on their databases because I’d heard of people being in similar situations but being released that way. But for some reason the officer flat out said no. And now I was panicking. He told me the only way I was leaving was if a friend or colleague went to my apartment to get my passport and bring it back to the station. But I didn’t have my phone and couldn’t even remember anyone’s numbers. Russian numbers are really long. Then because it was a Friday evening, obviously no one was in the office. Eventually, he let me use the Internet to find any other numbers associated with the company.
Sitting there quietly, the officer stared at me and started squinting long and hard…” are you prostitute?”
Wait what?! Yeah OK I was in my pajamas but they weren’t skimpy. I mean I had a huge snow coat zipped up. It wasn’t like I was displaying myself. Later I’d learn in that area there WERE many illegals of which some could be prostituting to survive. (A few months later, I moved the hell out of that district and closer to the center.)
Now that my virtue was in question, this tiny police cell was becoming overcrowded as six or seven inquisitive and very bulky policeman entered. They started talking and I heard them debating whether or not I could be a prostitute. How I didn’t really seem like one. But how one never knows.
I got into the police station at about 3 PM and by 4pm, I was in the holding cell I had just so confidently walked by – where the REAL criminals were.
I would only get out at 5pm the following day. It was so surreal. I thought, “this is what hell must feel like”. And all I kept thinking was how much I just didn’t belong in a place like that. I know this is dramatic but literally every cell in my body was violently protesting at my being there. I didn’t want to touch anything, I refused to sit anywhere, I didn’t use the bathroom. Like all I’d wanted that afternoon was a damn chocolate bar!
How were we here now?!
The freedom we all take for granted to just be able to walk outside – that was now the single most important thing I desired in life. It’s a different kind of powerlessness. And this was only jail-lite. My whole life was flashing in front of me as I stood in that holding cell. I thought of EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. Me clambering on my dad’s lap when I was a child and wanting him to say that thing he used to say that made me laugh. That useless kindergarten teacher who used to eat in front of us but not share. I thought far into the future and very deep into the past. I replayed the critical moment before seeing this wretched police officer. If only I’d left 10 mins earlier or later. How I was meant to have been on a diet anyway!
Takeaway points: never be without your passport (in a foreign country even when just taking out the trash), memorize at least one number of a friend. Also, don’t wait to get to prison before you take a moment for introspection.