Judge Santiago Burdon

Do The Time Standing On My Head

The best part about hearing a police siren when you are in jail is that you know they aren’t after you. Of course, then you must deal with the fact that you are already incarcerated.

Los Robles prison near Punteranes, Costa Rica. I’ve resided in gray bar hotels in a few states back in the U.S. and enjoyed the hospitality of jails and prisons in more countries than I’d care to admit. Taking all into consideration, this place was better than most foreign prisons. And much better than San Sebastian, near San Jose.

So fucking hot here, though. My body melts into the plastic-covered, three-inch mattress beneath me. Sweat pools in the indentations left by my arms, legs, head and ass.

The chant, “Offi agua Offi” (water, Officer), is constant and relentless. The guards turn on the water in the cells twice a day without warning, blasting it from a pipe in the wall with force. Each time it flows, there’s a mad dash to collect belongings from the floor, and we all scurry for plastic jugs and empty bottles to fill. The spewing spigot also serves as our shower. And I have been caught more than once, all soaped up when the water was shut off. Then I am forced to use my drinking water to rinse. The others laugh and comment with words devoid of encouragement. They call me Carapicha, Naco, and Gringo Tonto.

I’m sharing the confines of this luxurious twelve-by-twelve cell with five other guests. Three Ticos, one Nicaraguan (or Nicas, as the Costa Ricans refer to them with contempt), and a Honduran who is biggest man I’ve ever met. I call him Lenny, after Steinbeck’s character from “Of Mice and Men”.

Screaming and hollering suddenly fills the place, echoing loudly from the ceilings and the walls. A fight has started, just another exhibition for your daily entertainment. This time, from what I can see, it appears to be some M13 Salvadoran boys mixing it up with Los Negroes de Limon. There’s only two guards on duty for eighty to one hundred inmates, and they don’t seem to be in any hurry to end the violence.

It’s nearing lunchtime and I’m fucking hungry. I’d traded my breakfast for an opportunity to pull outside work detail. Now lunch will be delayed, or most likely never served, due to the disturbance. So, while I have still yet to murder anyone in here, this has now become a distinct possibility in my future.

In contrast to how us men are treated by the carceral system, Costa Rica has very strict laws concerning the treatment of women. You can book an all expenses paid vacation to one of their seven luxurious prisons just by hollering at a woman in public. If you publicly humiliate her by calling her a whore, slut, or bitch, or any derogatory expression, you get added time. Now strike or hit a Tica, you just got yourself a mandatory ninety days.

In my case, Veronica had gotten upset that I was displaying (what she felt to be) more affection to the other woman involved in our threesome. In the middle of our fucking, she attempted to stab me with a knife, which I luckily deflected without much harm. After I’d wrestled away her weapon, she continued with a screaming tirade and blows to my head and chest. Kimberly finally assisted in subduing her. I was enraged but thwarted my anger from reacting with physical retaliation.

Kimberly quickly gets dressed and makes a rapid exit, holding her shoes in one hand and $75 in the other.

“Nos vamos mi amor,” she says on her way out.

“Amor! You are her amor!” Vanessa screamed. “How many other times have you fucked her? You carapicha! I saw how you were fucking her. You didn’t want anything to do with me!”

There’s just no defense I was able present, true or embellished, that would have aided in my exoneration in that moment.

Meanwhile, the cut on my arm is bleeding worse than I thought, and I’d begun to bleed from where she’d beaten me in the head as well. She comes at me again with her fists, but I stave her off with my right arm, knocking her back in defense.

“You hit me. Tu me golpeas! Quieres una guerra (You want a war?) Okay, mi amor!”

I wanted no part of a war or battle or even a mild skirmish with her. I knew any confrontation would be one I was unable to win.

“Mi corazon. Listen, please, I’m sorry if you…”

I attempt to explain. Instead I hear her voice in the kitchen.

“Hello, give me the police!” she cries into the phone. “Hurry, my husband is beating me and won’t let me leave the house!”

She returns with the most evil grin I’ve ever observed and displays her middle finger as a victory salute. Within fifteen minutes, the Costa Rica Fuerza Publica arrive like hounds searching for a fox. I am in the bathroom attending my wounds when they encounter me. Without questions or explanation they take me into custody, placing me in “esposas”, the Spanish word for handcuffs, which ironically translates to “wives” in English.

Understand, I am a guest in this garden of wonderment they call a country, which I have learned to identify as actually a disguise for it’s true identity, a jungle of indifference. I have no legal rights, and I am not allowed a hearing with a judge while she swears out her “denuncia” complaint. Her explanation is only version that is ever presented.

I am first shipped off to the hospital, which is actually a circus of disaster manned by clowns posing as doctors. I wait for triage while bleeding out what I imagine is my entire body’s blood supply, still in esposas. I’m without explanation for this phenomenon, but it is a common practice in every country in Central and South America I’ve ever visited or lived in, that the residents have no sense of urgency or any ability to address a situation with immediacy. There’s words in Spanish pertaining to exigency, “apurate” or “rapido”, but they’re seldom expressed and rarely heard. After an hour and a half, a doctor finally tends to my wounds.

I receive four stiches in my arm and seven in my head. Total of eleven, a number that’s only advantageous in craps or blackjack. It supposedly represents a spiritual visitor.

My shirt, back, and face are drenched in blood by this point, but no attempt is made to clean away the crimson plasma that has oozed from my lacerations. I am herded off in a police paddy wagon for a four-hour excursion to my new home here in Los Robles.

Day three has come and gone without my mandatory hearing. The prosecuting attorney asks if I would like a representative from the United States Embassy. I answer, “For what purpose?”

When I was arrested once before, for shooting an invader in my own home with a crossbow, I waited four whole days for my embassy liaison to arrive.

“Hope you can afford a good attorney…”

That was the extent of my assistance from the U.S. Embassy here. That stuff you see in movies, where the embassy liaison shakes every tree and searches under every rock for a resolution to your incarceration, is just total bullshit. After all, it is only in a movie.

The prison rumble diminishes as 40 to 50 police in riot gear enter the fray with shields, helmets, and fucking gas. I make a dash for my towel, which I douse with water and tie tightly over my head and face. Lenny notices my defensive measure to lessen the impact of the gas and does the same. I lay back as I hear cell doors being slammed and the screams of those being beaten by the officers with their clubs and batons.

“I wonder what we would have had for lunch?” I muse aloud to Lenny.

He doesn’t miss a beat in responding. “Dry chicken, overcooked rice, and stale bread with warm Kool-Aid.”

“Sounds delicious!” I say.

“I know, yo se,” Lenny agrees.

We both burst into a laughing jag as the chaos continues around us.

16 thoughts on “Judge Santiago Burdon

  1. Raymond Chandler meets Cormac McCarthy w/ a dose of visceral realism to boot: concise sentences, a clear purposeful structure, biting humour & social commentary on the prison system. Another good one Judge, nothing less than I’d expect from you.

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  2. Not completely dissimilar to Havana Immigration Lock up…. LOL… Love in the Tropics can be Treacherous…thanks for the notification…. and the priceless information…

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  3. If you ever again find yourself a guest of El Robles, contact me, I’ll be happy to drop off meals. I had a friend that spent two years there.

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  4. Captivating narrative! Left me wanting more! Its great writing when the reader feels like he/she is right in the moment, watching all the action, feeling every emotion. Your pen is so very entertaining!

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  5. Judge Burdon is a genuine Wordsmith. He spins his magic with words that subtly draw you in, and lure you with Siren’s song of a tale that challenges your mind & imagination. And leaves you craving more.

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  6. I do not exaggerate when I say that Judge Santiago Burdon is currently my favourite writer.
    He’s smooth turning a phrase and his humor is contagious!
    His writing career is in a beginning phase with some of those first publications but his words are going to live on in infamy long after he’s gone

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  7. Judge has the gift of Storytelling. As displayed in this piece, he took a set of rather tragic circumstances and transformed them into a humorous tale that leaves the reader wanting to know more. Very good writing! Chocolate Muse!

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  8. Truly great storytelling.
    I feel instantly immersed into this world, and love the presentation of how normalized any life situation can become

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