i carried cocaine and paid a high price

Two teenage Britons face jail for drug smuggling in Morocco. Londoner Steven Brown, aged 61, hopes their sentence will be easier than his was
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Iwas arrested at the airport in Lima on 18 December 1981 at 11.49pm. I was trying to smuggle 7.25kg of cocaine out of Peru and into the United States. They kept me there for a day and then handed me over to the narcotics police who held me for 150 days of interrogation.

How bad a time you have at the beginning depends on who arrests you. It could be painless, or you could get the whole lot: electric probes and having your head pushed into a bucket of water. I was lucky, others weren't. The police would take people down to the beach, tie their hands and ankles and drag them into the sea, pushing them under until they confessed. They knew exactly when to pull someone's head up before he drowned. They took one guy up a high-rise building and pushed him out the window with his ankles tied to a flimsy rope.

I spent three years waiting for my trial: El Sexto, the first prison I was taken to, is the most infamous in Latin America. It was Midnight Express, but 100 per cent worse: the most horrendous place. Then I spent 26 weeks fighting in court. My defence lawyer was allowed 10-12 minutes once a week before the judge rang a little bell and told him to shut up. No jury, just the judge. You haven't got a chance.

When they sentenced me I was numb: most people get 10 years. I got 13. Although I denied knowledge of the cocaine, I had known what I was doing. The buying price in Lima for cocaine was $2,500 per kilo and the selling price in the US was $79,000 per kilo: it would have made me a lot of money. I was living in California at the time, working in the music business. I had a $400,000 house in LA, my own business, and $190,000 in the bank. My recording studio alone was worth $200,000. I'd worked with a lot of big names - I can't say who they are.

After sentencing I was moved to Lurigancho jail, where terrorists belonging to the Shining Path staged a riot and 126 people died. There were bullets flying all over the place, but you learn to keep your head down. The only injury I got was when I was thrown down four flights of stairs by a gang member and broke my ankle. I had to set it myself.

Conditions in jail were unbelievable; there were 6,000 prisoners in a jail designed for 1,200. I paid $100 a month to sleep on a table in the restaurant: you didn't get a cell unless you paid for it. Some, owned by the big drug cartel bosses, are like luxury flats, but others have 12 guys crammed in to them.

All the jails are run from the inside, by the prisoners. There's one guard assigned to each block but he can't come in because the prisoners would kill him. There are more guns among the prisoners than among the guards. For the girls, foreign jails are just horrendous. We heard about an American girl who got pregnant after being gang-raped by male nurses in a prison hospital. I feel sorry for these girls in Morocco. I hate to think what's going to happen; they're just kids. Male rape is just as common. If gang members rape a good-looking Latino boy it's not a homosexual act, it's macho.

There was a lot of drug abuse in prison, as a gram of cocaine only costs $1.50. Sanitation was terrible, and lots of gringos got violently ill. There were no toilets, just a big hole in the ground where you'd squat. And they didn't feed you, unless you call food a big cauldron with rotten cabbage heads and huge lumps of pork fat floating around in it. You had to buy your food.

I lost everything through my imprisonment, my whole world fell apart. If I hadn't got money from Prisoners Abroad (who look after British nationals in foreign jails) I would have died, undoubtedly. I could not have maintained my health. As it was, I weighed about six stone, even though PA was giving me money to eat. No one else in Britain wanted to get involved because they didn't want to get their hands dirty with drugs. The Foreign Office wouldn't even lend me the money to return home when I was freed. Prisoners Abroad literally saved my life.

Interview: Matthew Brace

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