Mark in Venezuela

I was arrested at the airport, on my way home from Venezuela. Because of my long dreadlocks the police nicknamed me Bob Marley. That was to be my name for the next four years, inside one of Venezuela’s most violent prisons.

I was held in San Antonio prison, a smashed-up building on the tourist resort of Margarita Island in the Caribbean. When I arrived I was greeted by lots of prisoners, hands outstretched through their cages, all yelling, “Gringo! Gringo!”.

Inside the front door, four inmates with guns gave me a knife and ordered me to fight another prisoner. They said that new arrivals must fight, so the gangs can see if you’re a bad boy or a wimp. I thought, This is survival, and took the knife. The other guy attacked, but I hit him. Signalling to end the fight, the boss said, “Bob Marley, you’re a bad boy.” He then introduced me to another Englishman who they had nicknamed King Kong.

His first words to me were: “Welcome to hell.” I asked what he meant, but he simply said, “You’ll see in the morning.” The next morning, the boss sent for me. He was on the roof. He pointed at a prison wing he was at war with, pulled out a handgun and started shooting.

The prisoners wandered wherever they wanted. There were no guards or locked doors. Some of the local gangs roamed around picking on foreigners, pistol-whipping them for no reason. One day, one gang member called Thomas insulted me. I tried to stay calm, but when he pistol-whipped me, I pushed him over. Other gang members came. I told them Thomas was causing trouble. Thomas pointed his gun in my face, but I managed to knock it away.

We fought a couple more times over the next few weeks; he obviously didn’t like me. Then one night he decided to kill me.

I didn’t feel any pain, I just heard the gunshot. It was like someone had pricked me with a pin. I saw a grey colour near my stomach. King Kong said, “Oh my God! Thomas shot you!” Holding my side, I started to walk, but collapsed. I felt blood gushing out. I heard someone say “Bob Marley, don’t die. Don’t die. Stay strong.” I saw a white light. I reached for the light. When my eyes reopened I was in a hospital. My stomach had stitches everywhere. I had breathing and feeding tubes going into me. The doctor said my survival was a miracle. My stomach had been blown to pieces, and I was 50 / 50 at one point. I’d lost four litres of blood.

After that, I always slept with one eye open. I wanted to transfer home, but it was a long process. Thankfully, Prisoners Abroad supported me all the way. At one point I made a phone call to my family, told them I loved them, and asked them to take care of my daughter and my son, because I didn’t think I was going to survive.

I’m very grateful to Prisoners Abroad for the money and newsletters they sent me. I don’t know how I would have survived without them. In 2007, during a time of less violence, two of their caseworkers visited me. That visit gave me great hope.

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