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Extract from a Diary in Turkish Police Custody

My Escape Attempt in Prison Transfer

by MICHAEL DICKINSON

Friday 15th Sept. 2006

8.30

Surprise, surprise! I was in the toilet when I heard my cellmates calling me. Out I came, and they said "You’re being released!" I didn’t believe it, but there were some screws on the other side of the door, who told me through the hatch to get my stuff together and get ready to leave.

What a change in feeling; whereas before I had been lying on my bunk in a depressed state, wondering about my predicament, thinking about making a complaint about not being able to make a phone call myself, and about the situation of my residence permit running out before my two months or so in detention is over, and what to do about the rent on my flat, when suddenly it was all over already…

I got dressed quickly. The guys were all congratulations and I kissed them each goodbye, taking messages from some to call a friend, post a letter, and the address of the cell so I could send them some books, went to the door, but the screws had gone so I had to sit and wait. Told the guys about the 2012 World Strike for a moneyless world, which they liked; got given the nickname ‘Diyarbakirli Michael’ because of my shalvar baggy trousers; and gave my top bunk bed to Yavus instead of the floor.

Sitting having a tea, my meager possessions packed in a torn plastic bag given by Yavus, watching tv and chatting, the time seemed to be dragging, and I worried that it had just been a joke. Hussein hammered on the door and eventually a screw came and said they were coming, and eventually they did and I said goodbye again to my old/new friends as the door was shut on them and I was marched away down the corridor. Hussein said some friends must have put pressure on for my release, and I think it is probably so.

I handed over my prison identity card at one desk in the corridor; signed at another office to get my money 310,000 000 TL , and got quizzed in another about my father and mother’s name to make sure they had the right person, and was then marched along with another guy who is being released, to the visitor’s chamber (the side from where Charles Brown from the consul spoke to me the other day.) The guard locked us in and said someone would be coming to take us in about an hour’s time (!) Still haven’t got my residence permit or my phone, bag and other things, but of course (?) I will retrieve them before we leave this dreadful place. Don’t expect I am totally Scot-free will probably still have to face trial at a future date, but oh to be home again on my own tonight!

Saturday 16th September 2006

(2pm)

Oh yeah? As if! In fact it was out of the frying pan and into the fire. None of my things were returned; phone, credit card, and all the stuff that had been in my bag nothing except the money they’d already given me (even the keys of my flat!) Thye said the office was closed at five, but I could retrieve my stuff on Monday morning.

"That might be a problem," said one of the 3 young casually dressed policemen I was being handed over to. They led me out to a dirty beat-up old minivan and put me in the back. When I asked if they were taking me home they told me to shut up, so I did, and the slow old van bypassed Kadikoy and went over the bridge to the European side. I heard them mention Bayrampasha several times the name of the prison on that side, which Sinan had said was worse than Umraniye. It was about 12 pm by this time and my heart had sunk to lower depths. Eventually we were at the gates of the prison and 2 guys got out and went inside leaving me and the driver, who turned the jalopy round in the drive to face the road; an area of seedy flats and shops (closed) and a 2 star hotel on the corner.

As we waited I weighed up my position: they had my residence permit, I had nothing but the 340 million, no house keys; but I felt it important for somebody to know that I’d been moved (why?) Would I just meekly put me away here, when actually, I might have the means of escape at this moment. If I did, and managed to get away, I could at least get a taxi back to Kadikoy and get to a friend and tell him what had happened. I shifted myself near to the back door and reached what I thought was the handle, but turned out to be the little switch that was the door lock. I flicked it backwards and forwards a couple of times, but the driver didn’t look round, sitting smoking a cigarette. In the dark I looked more carefully and saw the handle half-way down. Yes or no? I thought. I decided yes, reached out, slid the door open and slipped out.

I took off at full pelt down the drive, round the corner and down the street. The driver was quickly out and after me, yelling for me to stop. "Goodbye!" I managed, as I ran with all my might down the dark street, then across and down a hill, the cop pounding and shouting "Dur!"behind me.

And then there was a terrific explosion as he fired his gun at me. "Like wow!"I thought, and a terrified cat streaked across my path. I turned another corner into a side street, but the cop was almost on me and I turned and stopped. We were both out of breath, and he was livid, screaming at me, and I screaming at him that I wanted my rights. Who was he, and why had they brought me here? He took my arm and marched me up the hill and back to the van, both of us panting, he cursing me with every name under the sun.

A creepy old man accompanied us praising the cop and hung around the van after I had been roughly pushed inside to the back seat by the cop who then realized that he had a nasty cut/graze near his elbow where he’d fallen in the chase, and he showed it to me, furious, saying he was going to kill me. I said it looked nasty and he should put something on it. His fury grew and grew and he forced me to put my hands behind my back and handcuffed them tightly, then, as I was defenseless, began to hit me on the head. I put my face down on the seat, worried that he might break my glasses, and he hit me on the back and spine, saying that he was going to fuck me and torture me.

"Ah yes, this is Turkey!" I said; but of course that wasn’t very wise. "Look at me!"he said. "I will burn out your eyes with my cigarette!" And then hitting my head again, we repeated the process of me ducking down on the seat and getting pummeled again. The old man came back with some gauze and plaster, and cop dressed his wounded arm. I told him he should have it cleaned first, but I shouldn’t have bothered.

The other 2 cops came back out of the prison with a group of Iranian men prisoners, all handcuffed at the front, who joined me in the back, and off we went, the driver telling them about the chase, and how the firing of his gun had damaged it, and for the rest of the journey screaming back epithets at me, promising my imminent death.

Eventually we stopped outside a building which I now know to be the ‘Yabancilar Sube’, where foreigners who have been arrested in Istanbul are held, (mostly for having out of-date visas,) in a large room, totally packed with all nationalities and colors, waiting to be deported to their own countries, sometimes having to wait for very long periods. Me and the Iranians had to sit in the hall outside the closed metal door. There was a film on the tv about vampires (nasty ones) being staked and beheaded by stars such as Juliette Lewis.

The cop driver was now in his element, surrounded by sadistic warders, and leered and loomed above me, threatening me and kicking me. "God is watching,"I told him, and he dragged me out onto the stairs and cuffed me around the head and pulled my beard, saying he could easily smash my face against the wall, me with my hands still linked behind my back.

Returned to the hall, I stared too long at the little Hitler behind the desk (who was staring disdainfully at me) and he exploded. "What are you looking at? Do you want more!" An excuse for the wounded one to start kneeing me again. The poor Iranians didn’t know where to look.

Eventually they were escorted into the room where the foreigners are held, which even at this time of night was noisy with a babble of different languages (it holds 400 men!), but I (being English and older?), was taken instead to a windowless office off the hall, where I was told to sleep on a row of 3 chairs. It was very uncomfortable and narrow, and with the light on all night I hardly slept a wink. But I noticed that the 3 other rows of seats were used by the duty guards for a snooze. Judging by their snores they had little difficulty in dropping off. I felt like getting up and prodding them awake like one of my cellmates did to me and others snorers during the night in Umraniye prison. But, of course, I didn’t.

MICHAEL DICKINSON is an English teacher who lives and works in Istanbul. He can be reached through his webpage at the Saatchi gallery.