How I Got Arrested and the Positivity Posse
This is a true and cautionary tale. When I am on the other side of this I intend to be a hearty advocate to prevent others from going through such an experience.
Part I – Little Red Riding Hood through the woods to Grandmother’s house
I have lived in this country for just over six years now. While the paperwork has been at times daunting, I have weathered visits to various non-English-speaking offices to jump through the appropriate hoops needed to keep my stay legal. (I see you can already tell where this is going, but let me color it in for you in a moment.) For the past couple years I have been in the application process for a long term residency visa, which would preclude my treks every three months for another stamp in my passport. I had received some official posts explained to me by a native friend and was coasting on what they call a Bridge Visa which is a one page letter carried in my passport until the long term visa is issued.
So two weeks ago, with my friend A along to translate, I made an appointment at the visa-issuing office to make sure everything was copacetic before taking a much needed holiday to Paris and London. I think I’ve referred to this office before – the foreign police, although they are not police and though dealing exclusively with non-Europeans, no one speaks English or any language foreign to their own.
After handing over my passport to the clerk and explaining the reason for my visit, we were told to wait off to the side
while he assisted further people. Then after an hour or so, in walked two uniformed metro police to take me away. They took my passport from the clerk and casually escorted me to their police car with no explanation from anyone. My friend A was told to take public transport if he wanted to meet me at the police station.
At this point I felt relatively calm. I had made the trek across town (through the woods as it were) to innocently volunteer myself to the authorities with whom I’d had friendly and beneficial encounters in the even recent past. Nervously chatting up the car cops, I told them that I had quite a few law enforcement officers in my family and am somewhat fond of police.
These cops didn’t speak much English either, but were joking in the car and kept assuring me that it was okay. I shot off a quick sms to three friends who I thought should at least be informed that I was going to an actual police station. We arrived at a station across town, an old rundown though sturdy-looking place. Past the first reception room with dirty tiles mismatched chairs and tables, I was taken through a second room with three actual barred cells. They were dark and the bars look rusted, reminding me of jail cells of the local sheriff’s office in an old western movie. An African guy lounged in the first cell looking like this wasn’t his first rodeo. The middle cell was empty and the third had a young Asian man who would come up to the front and mime eating whenever anyone walked by. I wondered how long he’d been there.
The next room had a few old computers where the street cops sat and started their reports. A female officer came in and asked me to remove all my jewelry, including my belly ring which hadn’t been out in over 10 years and my toe ring likewise. And still with no explanation. That’s when I started to freak out. I had a proper anxiety attack inadvertently crying and gasping for breath as the woman gently and almost apologetically frisked me. I was then led into a waiting room – grungy tile floor, bright fluorescents and scratched white walls lined with wooden benches carved with names and caged frustration. They offered me a tissue, cup of water, and somehow obligingly left the rusted barred door open – which did psychologically help me cope a tad more.
I sat jiggling my leg and biting my lip in that room for around 2 hours. Ironically, running through my head the entire time was the theme song for Orange is the New Black (a pretty great show on Netflix based on a true story which I’ve been currently reading). They retrieved me back to the computer room where one of the arresting cops was going through my purse, logging each item and dropping it in a large brown envelope. I carry a small harmonica received as a random gift and mostly for handing around in the pub or actually trying to play along if anyone sings Piano Man at karaoke. He asked me if I played. I considered asking for it to riff off some jailhouse blues.
He asked me to take the back off my mobile (to maybe plant a GPS bug I thought) then became distracted with the other items (as in each business card and receipt in my wallet) so I was able to shoot off a few more texts to by now concerned friends. I even posted a status: ‘Someone please send me a cake with a file in it’ an American joke referring again to old western movies when such a thing could actually help one bust out of the pokey.
All they told me at this point was that my visa was illegal. I signed some in-take paperwork including one in English informing me of my rights for an attorney, food, and bathroom privileges. Then the jailer, an imposing older man who was likely someone’s grandfather, came with an ominous skeleton key motioning me towards the corridor with the torturous looking cells. I begged to be put back in the linoleum room, starting to hyperventilate again. So I was allowed back there, again with open door. I waited for at least another hour until a tall good looking officer came and asked if I needed a translator. Of course I did. They didn’t have one so allowed my friend A to return to explain things to me. We were taken to a sort of interrogation room where my passport rested on an impressive stack of paperwork.
I was told that the letter I had received nine months back had been the cancellation of my long term visa application, though I’d had two months to contest or appeal. I now take full responsibility for not contacting a professional to explain and assist me in handling the situation. There is a growing business of natives in this country whose profession is just that. But I cannot afford to should’ve/would’ve/could’ve about all this.
I was told that because I was technically illegal in the country for nine months they couldn’t be lenient. They said if I was from say Ukraine, they wouldn’t send me back because of the war. But since there’s no war in America, they asked if there was any other reason I could claim asylum. “Obamacare?” I meekly uttered, the feeble humor of course lost on the cop but a small effort to keep my head in the action without losing my mind in this surreal place.
So I was issued a shiny new one month visa, complete with a pathetic photo they took of me looking like someone just shot my puppy, and told I had one month to exit the country and not return to the EU for one year. The handsome cop tried to impress me with stilted yet seemingly genuine compassion, asking me assorted questions as if trying to sort out some way to help me. Then he asked for the equivalent of $150 (a rather stiff fee here) for the new visa. He knew I didn’t have the cash as they’d already taken half of what I had in my wallet as a fine for being arrested. They wouldn’t take my bank card, so A was allowed to run out to the ATM and take out most of my pre-payday money in my account. The cop said that if I hadn’t been able to pay that amount I would be required to stay at least overnite in one of the creepy cells. Looking back, I’m not sure how they expected me to pay if continued to be locked up. A had to get back to work while Hot Officer processed my final papers, so I had no translator when I signed about ten pages of some sort of release forms. I also did not receive a receipt for the visa fee (and I did get one for the fine paid earlier). In my shocked state I’m pretty sure I remember the guy pocketing my money.
After being brought to the police station at 10am, I was finally allowed to leave around 5pm. I went immediately to a pub in my neighborhood to meet A and another close friend. And to practically inhale nearly a whole bottle of wine.
Part II – The Positivity Posse
The following day was a Friday, which I took off from work. I spent the next three days in a shaky freaked out haze, like the rug – my life! – was pulled out from under me. I couldn’t listen to my local radio station. I was hurt and angry at the country I felt had befriended me. I was going to have to live under a bridge. What about my cat? All the things I had collected since arriving six years ago with just two suitcases? My sweet flat where I was nesting? Concerned friends got me out of the house each day, and I networked. I only told select people my plight, not wanting to broadcast it across social media. I collected phone numbers and websites for assistance from various long-term expats.
I started to research relocation sites. I have no inclination to return to the States to live. I much prefer living abroad, although was facing the possibility of having to leave Europe. I contacted a friend in Dominican Republic. I registered on a website and applied for a number of teaching jobs in China.
An expat friend who has lived here for twenty some years and is fluent in the language looked over my police paperwork and saw that I had five days to file an appeal. He actually wrote me the letter and I posted it on the first weekday after my arrest weekend. After a number of phone calls, I garnered an appointment with an immigration attorney. We met and he seemed to think I had a bit of weight for a case on my side. I met with him a couple days later and signed a second official appeal. The director at the private school where I teach included a letter of commendation as well. The fact that as a native English speaker I don’t take any employment from indigenous people should have some bearing. I also pointed out that I’m on the board of a small theatre company that helps enrich the cultural community utilizing local artists. My lawyer said the appeal process requests an annulment of the decision and will at the least stall a possible departure from one month to a few more months.
But I am also building a Positivity Posse. To keep myself from completely spinning out, jumping out a window or whatever (defenestration is an odd Czech historical recurrence), I have been meditating and reciting positive affirmations. I cannot go into my religious past or spiritual ideals here (my mother was aghast to see I posted “Thank you Universe” instead of “Thank you God” over the past week as a gesture to remain publicly positive). I understand the Law of Attraction, how our words and emotions project what we receive (as when you say “I’m having a shitty day” you will likely have a shitty day until you change your attitude). I also believe in a greater force, the power of which can be so amplified when people join together. So all the people I’ve told about my debacle I have also asked to think positively about it. Miracles can and do happen. Laws are bent or changed, exceptions and allowances are made. I will be one of those. I will not have to leave the country. And when that happens, I pledge to be an advocate to help others to avoid such an uncomfortable adventure.
I continue to be thankful for this process. I believe that there are no coincidences in life and everything does serve a purpose. I see this as a huge cosmic kick in the ass. My true crime was becoming complacent. I hadn’t written in ages (as evidenced with this blog), I was coming home from work and napping, not putting much energy into my cool creative job. I was squandering my gifts. I’m working on forgiving myself for this, rather than kicking my own ass as is a past default for me. I invite anyone reading this to join the Positivity Posse. We will be part of the amazing solution, after which I will proudly broadcast the power of positive intention of like minded people. I once stood in a circle of about 100 people holding hands and reciting the Serenity Prayer. It was electric and the energy brought me to tears.
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
The lawyer that is helping me pro bono is from an affiliate of InBaze, the non-profit organization with whom I intend to volunteer with when I come up for air after the flurry of the past two weeks. Though improbable and likely not allowed, I picture myself handing out flyers at the airport to incoming non EU arrivals. Let me be an example: Hire a professional to handle your paperwork as soon as you arrive!
And so Thank You Positivity Posse, since I recruit you as you’re reading this. I’ll keep you posted on the developments. Also if you need any positive thoughts/prayers from me, please let me know. Sharing is the best way to keep it going. Namaste.
This is a video from a group I ran across when researching city choirs. This particular rendition brought me to tears, not just the moving melody or the harmonizing of this group, but also the coming together of a seemingly random mix of people all simultaneously creating something pretty wonderful.