In Custody

In Custody

During the days I was held in jail by the police some of the neighbors comforted Barbara with stories of their own unjustified arrests. It seemed to have been a pretty common experience in the 70s.

When Barbara went to the butcher while I was gone, she looked at a newspaper while she was waiting in line. There was a full page article about our arrests with a big colored picture of us! She said she folded the paper back up and left without buying anything.

When we arrived at the police headquarters, instead of being taken upstairs as before, we went down two floors into the basement area. Later I learned that they’d had some recent prisoner suicides—probably the result of tortures–with people jumping out the 6th floor window, so they had moved their operations underground.

I was still pretty angry when we arrived. The policeman who processed me noted this and told his assistant to give me a place to “cool off.” I was shoved into a dark tiny cell, just big enough to stand in. My feet were in what I thought was cold water, but I soon realized from the smell that it was raw sewage.

After half an hour the policeman came back, took me out and led me to a large brick-walled cell. There was another door in the back of the cell. I looked through the tiny, barred window to see an even larger area with nothing in it but a park bench.

Soon others were brought in: Jul, two nationals  (Ivan, Harry), and several seekers. One believing couple had gotten married that evening and the police arrested the whole wedding party! The women were taken from us and kept in a separate place.

I decided to get some sleep and lay down on the cold cement floor. I took off one pair of socks, stuffed them into my shoes, and used them for a pillow. My two sweaters were sufficient to keep the cement from sucking too much heat out of my body and I was able to sleep quite well lying on my back.

The next morning more prisoners, unrelated to our situation, were brought in.  One was Al, a bulldozer operator whose brother had been killed in a shootout with the police ten years earlier. Someone had recently told the police that Al had supplied the gun his brother used in the fight. Al was adamant that he knew nothing about it, but of course they didn’t believe him.

Toward evening there was a shift change. A new policeman came in and looked around. “Give me your belts, your shoe laces, your glasses and your watches!” he barked.

That might not seem like a big thing, but it made us feel much more vulnerable. It was disconcerting to have your pants sagging, your shoes falling off, and to not know what time it was–there were no windows so we couldn’t tell if it were day or night.  And since I am extremely near-sighted, everything was blurred without my glasses. All these were constant irritants.

That night they began taking people out for interrogation. Al came back showing signs of having been beaten. When it was my turn, I was led up two floors and into a room with bright lights. It was similar to the other time I’d been arrested, except there were a number of young policemen there along with the older crew.

It was during this questioning that the young policeman pulled out his revolver and held it to my temple, threatening to shoot me.  It was another opportunity for the Lord to give me His wisdom, prompting me to not give in or show any fear. There was nothing new that I could tell them and they knew it. The whole exercise was one of intimidation and harassment.

When I was finally taken back to my cell, I made my notes of my experience and thoughts on a cigarette pack liner. Later I used these notes to make a tape recording for a talk I’d been asked to give at a training event in the States. This training took place shortly after my arrest so I didn’t go. Besides, I was in no condition to leave my family after all this turmoil so I sent the tape instead.

One of the difficulties of being arrested was the stress of not knowing how long they would keep us. The law allowed them to hold us for fifteen days without charging us. This uncertainty was part of their tactic to break us down, as was the isolation. There was no contact allowed with the outside world.

Although they were supposed to give us food, often they wouldn’t. We had to order and pay for our own. Trips to the bathroom had to be arranged and sometimes they made us wait a long time. Everything was designed to keep us on edge.

The next night the police took Al away again. When he came back two hours later he was hardly able to walk, he was blue with cold and shaking. We took turns putting our arms around him to warm him up.

He told us that they had stripped him naked–a great shame in itself in this culture–then handcuffed him to a pipe outside in the cold and sprayed him with high-pressure, freezing-cold water for a long time. It might not sound like much, but it was debilitating as well as discouraging. Our willingness to warm and encourage him helped him through it.

By now we had some new cellmates: a group of communists, and we were all moved into the bigger cell in back of ours. The new prisoners advised Al to not give in, not to confess to something that wasn’t true.

“Just resist, don’t give up, and in the end they will give up,” said one who had been through such things before.

During this time we had plenty of opportunity to share our faith, for each new prisoner asked us why we were there. “Because we are Believers in Jesus,” was our answer.

This was immediately followed by the question, “What is that?”  And we were off on a presentation of the gospel. As I had memorized large portions of Scripture, I was able to quote them in our discussions, although it would have been better to actually have had a Bible in hand. The Lord was to provide that later.

Al especially showed interest in the gospel and we had a number of good talks with him. Toward the end of our time together, he prayed to accept the Lord. We were thrilled. That was worth far more than the inconvenience of being in jail.

Picture: Faithful Barbara, waiting for me at home

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