Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

HOWARD MARKS

Mr Nice

Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Published by Vintage 1998 2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1 Copyright © Newtext Limited, 1996, 1997 Howard Marks has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser First published in Great Britain by Martin Secker & Warburg in 1996 Vintage Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA www.vintage-books.co.uk Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at: www.randomhouse.co.uk/offices.htm The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009 A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 9780749395698 The Random House Group Limited supports The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the leading international forest certification organisation. All our titles that are printed on Greenpeace approved FSC certified paper carry the FSC logo. Our paper procurement policy can be found at www.rbooks.co.uk/environment

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Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Introduction

I was running out of passports, ones I could use. In a few weeks I intended to visit San Francisco to pick up several hundred thousand dollars from someone keen to exploit his connections, both with me and with a bent US Customs Officer working in the imports section of San Francisco International Airport. A few years earlier, I had been declared the most wanted man in Great Britain, a hashish smuggler with documented links to the Italian Mafia, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the IRA, and the British Secret Service. A new identity was vital. I’d already gone through about twenty different identities, most of which had been backed up by a passport, driving licence, or other indicators of documented existence, but they’d all either been discovered by friends/enemies or compromised by featuring in some suspicious trail meandering through a recent scam. We drove to Norwich. After a couple of awkward meetings with go-betweens, I was introduced to a gentle guy named Donald. I couldn’t tell if he was a drinker, a stoner, or a straighter. His kitchen gave no clues. He looked normal, except that his eyes danced like those of a villain.
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‘We can talk privately out here,’ he said and took me to a garden shed. ‘I need a passport, Don, one that’ll stand up to all checks.’ ‘You can have mine. I won’t be needing one. But there’s one problem.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘I’ve just done twelve years of a life sentence for murder.’ Convicted murderers, although clearly people with a criminal record, would rarely be declared as unwelcome at a country’s borders. They were regarded as mere menaces to individuals rather than threats to the fabric of society. The latter attribute tended to be restricted to dope dealers and terrorists. ‘I’ll give you a grand for it,’ I said, ‘and a few hundred quid from time to time when I need more back-up.’ I was thinking of a driving licence, medical card, local library card. Just a passport with no supporting identification is suspicious. A membership card to the local billiards club, obtainable cheaply and without proof of identity, is enough to give the required credibility. ‘That’s the best deal I’ve ever been offered for anything.’ ‘What’s your last name, Don?’ I asked. I’d been lumbered with some terrible ones in the past. ‘Neece.’ ‘How do you spell it?’ ‘N-I-C-E, just like the place on the Riviera.’ It was up to Don how he pronounced his name. But I knew I would pronounce it differently. I was about to become Mr Nice.

Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

One

BRITISH

‘Marks!’ yelled the guard. ‘What’s your number?’ ‘41526-004,’ I mumbled, still in a really deep sleep. My number was used more often than my name, and I knew it just as well. ‘Get all your shit together,’ he ordered. ‘You’re leaving.’ Slowly I woke up. ‘Yeah, I’m leaving.’ I was leaving El Reno. El Reno, Oklahoma, houses the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ transit facilities and is host to between one and two thousand federal prisoners, who are cajoled, bossed, and bullied by a few hundred guards. Every prisoner who is required to be moved from one US federal prison to another passes through El Reno. Even if the prisoner is being transported from North Dakota to South Dakota, he still has to go via El Reno. I had been through there five times. Some had been through more than fifty times. Expensive illogicalities and inefficiencies do not worry the monsters of American bureaucracy, and the taxpayers are enthusiastic and eager to spend fortunes in the name of fighting crime. Prison places cost the US taxpayer more than university places. The American belief that prisons are the best way to
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combat crime has led to an incarceration rate that is at least five times that of almost any other industrialised nation. Overcrowding is endemic. Conditions are appalling, varying from windowless, sensory-deprived isolation to barren and futile brutality. Mostly, prisoners are taken to El Reno in aeroplanes confiscated by the US Government from the Colombian cocaine cartels, who have made billions of dollars out of America’s War on Drugs. There are at least two large airliners, each seating well over one hundred prisoners, and numerous smaller planes carrying up to thirty passengers. Every day, between three and six hundred prisoners arrive and leave. Arrivals take place in the late afternoon and evening; departures take place in the early morning. Flying courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons is a gruelling business. The only consolation was that this would be my last of over a dozen flights on this airline, known as Conair. I was going to be released in three weeks. My release date was the same as that of Mike Tyson. I had been continuously in prison for the last six and a half years for transporting beneficial herbs from one place to another, while he had done three years for rape. ‘Getting my shit together’ meant putting my dirty bedclothes in a pillow case. No personal possessions of any kind are allowed in El Reno. I got my shit together. Along with about sixty or seventy others, I was herded into a holding cell to await processing. Our names, numbers, fingerprints, and photographs were carefully scrutinised to ensure we were who we said we were. Our medical records were perused to ensure that if anyone had AIDS, TB, or some other dreadfully contagious disease, the right space on the form was filled in. One by one we were stripped naked and minutely examined during the ritual known as ‘shakedown’. In full view of, and in sickeningly close proximity to, three Oklahoma rednecks, I ran my fingers through my hair, shook my head, tugged my ears to show the wax,
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opened my mouth, pulled out my Bureau of Prisons denture plate, stretched my arms above my head to show my armpits, pulled up my balls, pulled back the foreskin of my dick, turned round to display the soles of my feet, and finally bent down, pulling the cheeks of my bum apart, so that the rednecks could treat my anus as a telescope. A federal prisoner has to perform this series of indignities before and after each time he is visited by his family, friend, religious counsellor, or lawyer, and each time he enters or leaves any prison. I had performed it thousands of times. The three Peeping-Tom rednecks made the same jokes that prison guards never tire of making when shaking down: ‘I recognise that hole. Didn’t you come through here three years ago?’ During the course of this departure process, I checked among the other prisoners where they were expecting to be transported to. It was important to establish that I was not about to be sent somewhere in error – a most common occurrence. Sometimes the error was deliberate – part of a practice known as ‘diesel therapy’. This punishment of keeping one on the move and out of contact was frequently administered to troublesome prisoners. The ‘treatment’ could last up to two years. I was meant to be going to Oakdale, Louisiana, where criminal aliens (the word ‘alien’ is preferred to the word ‘foreigner’) nearing the expiry of their sentences began the gleeful process of being removed from the US and sent back to civilisation. I began to panic when some of my shaken-down companions mentioned they were going to Pennsylvania; others thought they were going to Michigan. Security reasons always prevent prisoners from knowing where (and sometimes when) they are going. Eventually I met someone who was also expecting to go to Oakdale. He was a gentle, bright marijuana smuggler, longing to finish his ten-year sentence and get back to his loved and longed-for native country of New Zealand. He told me that he knew it was just an hour’s flight from El Reno to Oakdale.
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Mr Nice

We caught a glimpse of the time – 2 a.m. We were then outfitted with our travelling clothes: a sleeveless shirt with no pockets, a pair of trousers without pockets, socks, underwear, and a pair of very thin, beach-type shoes, which were made in China. Next came the part that everyone hates, even more than the shakedown: the adorning of heavy metal: handcuffs around the wrists, chains around the waist, chains from the chains around the waist to the handcuffs, shackles around the legs, and, if like me one is described as having a propensity for escape or violence, a ‘black box’. This last lump of heavy metal is like a portable pillory without the hole for the head and renders the handcuffs completely rigid, preventing any independent hand movement. It is chained and padlocked to the chains around the waist. I have never attempted to escape from anywhere and have never physically harmed or threatened anyone. Nevertheless, according to information furnished to the US Federal Bureau of Prisons by Special Agent Craig Lovato of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, I’m an Oxford graduate and a British Secret Service operative, and, apparently, I can get out of places that Houdini couldn’t even get into. We were then placed in another holding cell. Two or three hours had passed since our awakening; two or three more would have to pass before we would leave by bus for Oklahoma City Airport. We sat around talking to each other, comparing conditions in different prisons in much the same way as I once discussed the pros and cons of various firstclass hotels. Dog-ends that had been miraculously smuggled through the shakedown process were produced and fought over. At times like this I felt very glad I had given up smoking tobacco (after thirty-five years of fairly constant use). Prisoners clanked and jingled their chains as they shuffled to the solitary toilet bowl and performed the acrobatics necessary to unzip and undo. Federal regulations require prisoners to be fed at least once every fourteen hours. Each prisoner was provided with
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a brown paper bag containing two hard-boiled eggs, a carton of ‘Jungle Juice’, an apple, and a Granola bar. People began to trade food items furiously. The gates to the holding cell were opened, and we were led out into the sub-zero temperature in our sleeveless shirts and were counted and checked again against copies of photographs. We were then patted, as opposed to shaken, down and guided into a mercifully heated bus. A radio blared the two kinds of music with which Oklahoma rednecks are familiar: country and western. The icy roads made for a slow journey to the airport. There was a long wait at the runway before we were finally handed over by the prison guards to the United States Marshals. None of them looked like Wyatt Earp. They handle interstate transportation of federal property such as prisoners. Some of them are female, kind of. Soon I would see real air hostesses – and then my wife. After an hour in the air, we landed at a military airfield. Names were called, and some passengers left. My name was omitted. I panicked until I realised the New Zealander was still on board, but he looked worried too. Some different prisoners boarded and told us we were at Memphis. We took off again, and in an hour really did land at Oakdale airport. A bus took us to the prison, where we were dechained, shaken down, fed, and otherwise processed. I was beginning to look forward to the various facilities that every federal prison tends to have: tennis courts, jogging track, and library. Processing is an irritating and lengthy process, but most of us had been through it dozens of times. Each newly arrived prisoner has to be seen and checked by a PA (physician’s assistant) and a screening counsellor. Each prisoner also has to be fed and given clothes that fit at least approximately. These seemingly straightforward activities take several hours to complete. The screening counsellor’s function is to decide whether or not the prisoner may be allowed to be accommodated in
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Mr Nice

the general prison population. If not, the prisoner is locked up in the prison’s ‘hole’, a very uncomfortable prison within a prison. There are a number of reasons why a prisoner would be separated from the others. Occasionally, the prisoner would himself request segregation: he might have been warned that someone at this new prison was out to get him to settle some old dope or gambling debt. He might be terrified of being raped, extorted, or discovered to be a snitch. Sometimes, particularly if release was imminent, the prisoner would wish to be isolated merely to diminish the chances of getting into any trouble inadvertently. One had to do one’s best to decrease the frequency of random cock-ups. Moreover, there is an obligation for prisoners to be gainfully employed, and one of the very few methods of avoiding work is to be locked up in the hole. Accommodation in the hole could always be requested: checking-in was easy, checkingout extremely difficult. More often than not, it’s the screening counsellor who determines who goes where, and the most scanty of reasons are used to justify placement in the hole: a history of violence, escape, connections with gangs, and high profile would almost always ensure at least a limited spell inside. My file was littered with absurd allegations of escape attempts, but I did not expect problems from that quarter because of the short time I had left to serve. It was March 3rd, and my parole release date was March 25th. Not a sensible time to attempt to leg it, but American law enforcement is prohibited from making common-sense assumptions. Despite valiant attempts, I hadn’t pissed for over twelve hours. The toilets in the holding cells are always crowded by smokers, and I’ve never yet been able to piss covered in chains and sharing a pressurised airplane cabin with a redneck marshal whose job is to stare at my dick to ensure it doesn’t turn into a dangerously offensive weapon or dope stash. I was bursting. My name was the first called. I went into the screener’s office and immediately noticed on his
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desk a piece of paper referring to me with the word ESCAPE highlighted in yellow. ‘Oh no!’ I thought. ‘They can’t be that insane.’ But I knew they could be. They didn’t use my so-called escape history against me, but I was put into the hole anyway. The screening counsellor informed me that as I had less than thirty days of my sentence left, it would be pointless for the prison to go through the time-consuming charade of admitting and orientating me. The screener didn’t care who I was. It was policy. ‘How am I going to see Immigration and get deported? How can I get my passport? How can I get the airline ticket that will take me out of this horrible country if I can’t telephone or write?’ ‘Don’t worry,’ said the screener. ‘They’ll come to you, tell you what’s happening, and arrange for you to have all the calls and stamps you need.’ They lie so easily. The New Zealander saw my solemn face as I returned to the holding cell. ‘That’s too bad. Nice to have met you, British. Take care of yourself.’ I was so angry. I went to the toilet, now really crowded with dick-staring smokers. ‘Fuck them,’ I thought, and I let loose a stream of vilesmelling dark green liquid. That was the last time I had any problem pissing. After a few hours, I was called out of the holding cell, handcuffed behind my back, and marched to the hole. The Oakdale hole contained about forty cells. Everyone coming into the hole has to be showered under supervision in a cage; submit to mouth, anus, and foreskin search; and be given a pair of underpants, socks, fairy slippers (Chinese made), and a sterilised, oversized jump-suit. Nothing else could be acquired without a struggle. I had long ago reached
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10

Mr Nice

the point where degrading rituals ceased to matter. Had they taken away my dignity, or was my dignity too formidable to be dented or diminished? Most of the prison officers in Louisiana are Black. A Black duty officer took down my particulars. Custodians of the hole have no interest in why someone has been placed there. There was absolutely no point trying to explain that I had committed no disciplinary infraction, that I was only in this punishment block because I was almost free. They’d heard it all before. Sometimes it was true, sometimes not. Instead, I did my usual trick of being excessively friendly and polite. This was the only way I could begin to get the essential books, stamps, paper, envelopes and pencil. The duty officer liked my accent and did an almost recognisable imitation of John Gielgud. I laid on my best Oxford inflection and called him ‘Milord’. He loved it. Sure I could have some books to read. He locked me for one hour in the library cell. I rummaged around and found Lord of the Flies, 1984, a Ken Follett novel, the inevitable Bible, a Graham Greene novel, and a textbook on calculus. These would last a few days, much longer if my cellmate turned out to be a jabbering Yank or loony. I got some paper, pencils, and envelopes. Stamps and phone calls were issued only by counsellors and lieutenants. I was taken to a fairly clean and mercifully unoccupied cell, which contained the usual fixtures and fittings: steel bed, frayed and stained mattress, continuously flashing neon light, and a filthy, malfunctioning WC and washbasin. It had been an exhausting day. The time was almost 10 p.m. I read and slept. ‘You’re in the jailhouse now,’ sang a tone-deaf Irish hack as he passed coffee, cereal, and other quasi-edibles through three-inch slits in the cell doors. I knew it had to be 6 a.m. Breakfast in bed. If it wasn’t for time zones, well over a million American prison inmates would be consuming the same fare at the same time. It was cold. *
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Special Housing Units, euphemism for holes, were always deliberately maintained at discomforting temperatures in case one or more of the prisoners were there to be punished. One of the hole’s inmates was assigned the job of orderly. He came round and took the breakfast waste back through the slits. The orderly’s other official duties included keeping the areas outside the cells clean and supplying prisoners with toilet requisites. Unofficial duties, ‘hustles’ that he could maybe make some money from, included distribution of contraband (non-generic coffee, stamps, and cigarettes) and liaising between buyers and sellers of the same. ‘Got a stamp?’ I asked as he retrieved an empty box of raisin bran. ‘Maybe,’ he said, ‘but I’ll need two back.’ This was the standard prison loansharking rate for almost everything. ‘Give me two, and I’ll give you five back.’ He looked as if he trusted me and nodded assent. The cells were patrolled every couple of hours. When anyone other than the orderly passed by, I banged the door and demanded to make a phone call, to contact my lawyer, to contact my family, and to contact the British Embassy. Chaplains (authorised to listen to prayers), psychiatrists (authorised to listen to everything else), and medical officers (authorised to distribute Tylenol) are required by law to make daily rounds of the hole. They cannot supply stamps or arrange phone calls, so one is kept insane, stressed, and in need of help from above. I would have to be patient. Now that there was no one to watch my bumbling attempts to rescue my body from ugly deterioration, I could resume my yoga and callisthenics. And I had my books. Someone would come sometime and let me make a call. The orderly would bring some stamps. Relax. There wasn’t long to go until I became free. What was Special Agent Craig Lovato of the Drug Enforcement Administration doing? Was I in the hole again because of him? Was he going
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to be able to stop my release? He had ruined so much, so very, very much. Craig Lovato’s ancestors were rich Spaniards. They emigrated to America from Spain about 250 years ago and were given 97,000 acres of what became New Mexico in a land grant from the Spanish throne. By the time Craig Lovato was born, his family had lost most of their fortune, and he had to work for a living. He missed both the Vietnam War and the Sixties movements which opposed it and joined the Las Vegas Sheriff’s Department as a deputy. He learned about street life as a patrolman and ‘goon squad’ officer chasing undesirables out of town, about dope as a narcotics detective, and about life and death as a homicide detective. In 1979, he yearned for a new way of life and joined the DEA. The DEA has offices in sixty-seven of the world’s countries. It has more power than the KGB ever had. One of its offices is in the United States Embassy, Madrid. In August 1984, Craig Lovato went to work there. At the same time I was living in Palma peacefully carrying on my international drug-smuggling business. Lovato found out I was not only smuggling dope but actually enjoying it. God knows why, but this made him lose his marbles, and he has been hounding and persecuting me ever since. The weather in Louisiana comprises rain, light or heavy, and thunder, loud or very loud. Although quite early in the evening, it suddenly got very dark, and a torrential downpour began. Four hours later, the rain was still tamping down. I went to sleep. In a few hours, I was woken by thunderclaps and observed about three inches of water on the floor. Strange creatures were swimming in the water, but I was too sleepy to be scared. I went back to sleep and was vaguely aware of the rain ceasing. In the distance I heard, ‘You’re in the jailhouse now.’ I looked at the floor. The water had disappeared, and in its place was a writhing mass of hideous Louisiana insects: multicoloured spiders, grotesque underwater cockroaches,
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large worms, and giant beetles. All my carefully cultured Buddhist beliefs on the sanctity of all life quickly evaporated, and I set about systematically murdering the creatures of the night by whacking them with my Chinese fairy slippers before accepting my breakfast. The corpses filled two empty cartons of raisin bran. The air-conditioning was on full. It was very cold. I did more yoga, callisthenics, and reading, but I couldn’t get my mind off the primitive life-forms. Did Tibetans really ensure they killed no insects when building their temples? ‘Put your hands behind your back and through the slit,’ ordered two hacks in unison from the other side of the cell door. One of them was the Irish crooner. They slipped on the handcuffs. I retrieved my hands. It was now safe for the hacks to open the door. ‘The Immigration want to see you.’ This sounded good. ‘Can I wash, change, shit, shave, and shampoo?’ ‘No, they want you now.’ The crooner and his buddy led me out into the blinding sun, across several yards of squelching swamp, and into a building labelled INS. I sat down. The handcuffs were removed. I heard a voice in the background say, ‘Well, he was extradited, so is he going to be excluded, deported, repatriated, expelled, or permitted to depart voluntarily?’ Since at least 1982, I have been prohibited from entering the United States. I did not have a visa, and in order to gain entry when I was extradited in October 1989 I was paroled (a strange use of the word) by the United States Attorney General to satisfy the public’s interest in prosecuting, convicting, sentencing, and incarcerating me. Paroling is not entering, and I was not to be considered as having entered the United States despite having been conspicuously present here for well over five years. Legally, I was to be treated as
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still just outside the border, and no decision regarding my deportability or excludability could be made until the reason for my being paroled into the United States no longer applied, i.e., until my release from incarceration. Given I was a felonious, criminal alien, I could not in any circumstances be allowed to walk the streets of the Land of the Free. Given I had not applied for entry, I could not be excluded. Given I had not entered in the way the law understood the meaning of the word, I could not be deported. Given I was soon to finish my sentence, I could not thereafter be held in prison. I had read all the relevant law in the law library of United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute. As a consequence of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, freedom of access to the courts had to be available to all prisoners. This was achieved by putting law books and typewriters in every prison and allowing prisoners to litigate to their hearts’ content. For years, articulating other prisoners’ legal presentations to the US courts had been my ‘hustle’. I had achieved a few successes and was quite a respected jailhouse lawyer, but I had no idea what on earth the Immigration authorities could or would do. I didn’t know of anyone else in the same position. I was very scared of law enforcement bureaucrats. Anything could happen. I could become a Cuban illegal. ‘Come in, Marks. Can you get a passport and pay for your own ticket? If so, you can avoid all court proceedings and leave the United States as soon as you finish your sentence on March 25th.’ What a very nice man. ‘Sign this, Marks.’ I had never signed anything so quickly. I read it later. I had waived all court proceedings provided I got my passport and ticket within thirty days. I knew Bob Gordon of the Chicago British Consulate had already sent an emergency passport, and there were plenty of family and friends prepared to pay for my ticket.
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‘Get yourself an open, one-way, full-fare ticket from Houston to London on Continental 4.’ ‘I’m in the hole and not allowed to make telephone calls,’ I said, ‘and I can’t get any stamps.’ ‘Don’t worry. I’ll speak to the lieutenant of the hole. Your phone calls will save the United States Government several thousand dollars. He’ll agree. Ask for him when you get back.’ Since when were these people into saving money? ‘Will you please take some passport photos?’ I asked. Maybe the ones I’d sent Bob Gordon wouldn’t be suitable. Spares would always be handy. Armed with photographs and a signed waiver form and feeling happier than I had for a good few days, I was handcuffed and marched back to the hole. I was greeted by the lieutenant. ‘Listen up, British. I don’t give a motherfucking fuck what those motherfuckers at Immigration said. I run this motherfucking place, not them. This is my motherfucking hole. You get one motherfucking call a week, and your first will be next Sunday. On Monday, you can ask the counsellor to give you some stamps. I’m not authorised to. Now fuck off.’ Angry and frustrated, but not really surprised, I returned to my cell. The orderly gave me a couple of stamps. I wrote to the consul. After another two days of yoga, meditation, and callisthenics, I again heard from the other side of the door, ‘Put your hands behind your back and through the slit.’ ‘Where am I going?’ ‘Oakdale Two.’ ‘Where am I now?’ ‘Oakdale One.’ ‘What’s the difference?’ ‘Oakdale Two is run by Immigration. That’s where you’ll be deported from.’ This news made me feel on top of the world. There were
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still two weeks of my sentence to go. Were they trying to get me out of the country as soon as possible? I was halfway through being handcuffed when the foulmouthed lieutenant came tearing along, yelling, ‘Put that motherfucker back in his motherfucking cell. The Warden’s Executive Assistant wants him.’ After a few minutes I spotted a human eye at the door’s spyhole. ‘Some journalists from an English newspaper want to interview you. Yes or no?’ barked the Warden’s Executive Assistant. ‘Oh! No!’ How did they know I was here? Did they know I was about to be released? If they knew, who else knew? Would there be an international storm of protest from the DEA, Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise, Scotland Yard, and all the other law enforcement agencies that had struggled so hard to get me locked up for the rest of my life? The Warden’s Executive Assistant pushed a piece of paper under the door. ‘Sign this. It states you refuse to be interviewed.’ I signed. I had to keep a low profile, but I felt bad about it. On the whole, journalists had written sympathetically about my incarceration in America. Their sympathy, however, might galvanise the authorities into preventing my release. I couldn’t risk it. I slid the paper back under the door. Footsteps receded. Two sets of footsteps returned. ‘Put your hands behind your back and through the slit.’ Handcuffed and chained, I was dumped in a holding cell for six hours, taken to a van, and driven by two hacks sporting automatic rifles to another prison a hundred yards away. There I was dumped in another holding cell for a further four hours, but this time I shared it with eight other dumpees: an Egyptian, a Ghanaian, four Mexicans, and two Hondurans. The Ghanaian and the Hondurans were ecstatic. Never again would they have to endure the brutality
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of the United States Justice system. The Egyptian and the Mexicans were subdued, as each had been deported from the United States at least once before and had re-entered illegally. It was a way of life. Cross the border, get an illegal job, get busted, spend a few weeks, months or years getting fit and fed while incarcerated at the American taxpayer’s expense, get deported, and start the cycle all over again. I’d forgotten. Most people don’t want to leave America. ‘What’s it like here?’ I asked my fellow criminal aliens. ‘Just like any other federal joint,’ replied one of the Mexicans. ‘I thought this was run by Immigration,’ I protested. ‘No, it’s run by the Bureau of Prisons. You’re lucky if you see an Immigration Officer. It’s just another joint, man.’ Handcuffs were removed, dozens of forms filled in, photographs and fingerprints taken, medical examination given, body and orifices searched, prison clothes issued, and cell assigned. My roommate was a Pakistani, fighting deportation by seeking political asylum. There were almost a thousand inmates of all nationalities: Nigerians, Jamaicans, Nepalese, Pakistanis, Chinese, Indians, Sri Lankans, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Laotians, Spaniards, Italians, Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Canadians, Central and South Americans. Most were convicted dope offenders and spent all their free time discussing future dope deals. ‘We’re not bringing any more stuff to this country’ was often voiced. ‘Europe and Canada are where it’s at. They don’t give you much time if you’re busted. They’re not all snitches like Americans.’ Many deals were hatched. Many, I’m sure, will come to fruition. The Mexican was also right about the difficulty in seeing an Immigration Officer. I tried relentlessly. We were able to phone, so I called the British Consul. ‘Yes, Howard, your passport has been sent. Your parents, who send you all their love, paid for your open ticket, and that’s also been sent.’
Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

18

Mr Nice

I finally found an Immigration Liaison Officer. ‘Yes, we’ve received your passport and ticket, but they’ve been mislaid. Don’t worry. We’re all on the case. We’ll find them.’ Apparently everyone’s ticket and passport got mislaid at some stage. We just had to wait patiently. There was nothing we could do. A Walkman was permitted. I bought one and spent every day walking twenty miles around the jogging track listening to the oldies’ station. During my years inside, my daughter Francesca, now fourteen, had regularly written to me of her fondness for my record collection. Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, and Jimi Hendrix were among her favourites. Soon we could listen to them together, and she could educate me on the new music I’d missed. I became sun-tanned, nostalgic, and bored. Three days before my supposed release date of March 25th, I was pacing the track listening to a New Orleans disc jockey raving about the latest and greatest British band, the Super Furry Animals. They were from the Welsh valleys. I was listening to them calling me home when the prison loudspeaker cracked. ‘Marks, 41526-004, report to the Immigration Office.’ ‘We’ve got your passport and your ticket,’ said the Immigration Officer. ‘Everything’s ready for you to leave. We can’t tell you precisely when, of course, in case you initiate plans to prevent it. But it’ll be soon.’ My release date came and went, and a week or so passed by. ‘Lovato’s doing it,’ I thought. ‘He’s persuading his buddies in the DEA to stop me leaving.’ On Thursday, April 7th, Komo, a Thai who’d been fighting deportation for seven years and who’d not been outside of a prison for seventeen years, came running towards me. ‘British, British, you’re on the list. Leaving tonight. About 1 a.m. Please leave me Walkman.’ Komo’s prison job was cleaning and tidying the offices of
Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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the administrative staff, so he had access to confidential information. He also had about twenty Walkmans, which he would attempt to sell to new arrivals. Every long-term prisoner has to have a solid hustle. But it was such good news that I immediately handed over my Walkman. ‘Good luck, Komo. Maybe see you in Bangkok one day.’ ‘Me never go Bangkok, British. They kill me there. Me American. Stay here.’ ‘They’ll kill you here, too, Komo,’ I said, ‘but much slower and more painfully.’ ‘Slow is okay, British, and very slow is very good.’ I couldn’t risk telephoning anyone with the news. It might not be true, and besides, the phones were tapped. If the authorities discovered that I was leaving, they just might change my travel plans. There were eight others leaving that night: an Americanised Nigerian of British nationality and seven South Americans. ‘Is this all your property, Marks?’ I had approximately one hundred dollars, a pair of shorts, nail-clippers, comb, toothbrush, alarm clock, papers confirming my ‘release’ date of two weeks ago, a credit card I could use in prison vending-machines, and five books, including one written about me, Hunting Marco Polo. ‘Yes, that’s it.’ I put the money in my pocket. It felt strange. First time for over six years. How often was I going to be thinking that? First time for over six years. Money, sex, wine, a joint of marijuana, a bath, an Indian curry. All around the corner. My other belongings were put into a cardboard box. I was given a pair of blue jeans with legs about a foot too long and an extremely tight white tee-shirt. This was called being ‘dressed out’, a gift from the United States Government for those re-entering the free world. We were handcuffed, but not chained, and squeezed into
Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

20

Mr Nice

a small van. Then we picked up two other guys from another prison exit. One seemed Hispanic, the other seemed northern European. Everyone was silent, excited by his own thoughts. The van’s engine made a terrible racket as it headed towards Houston and the dawn, just beginning to break. By nine o’clock, it was like sitting on a rock in a sardine can on fire. By ten o’clock, we were sitting in an enormous holding cell at Houston International Airport, along with over fifty other criminal aliens. The northern European asked the Nigerian, ‘Where do you live?’ His accent was strong South Welsh. I had never met a Welshman in an American prison, nor heard of one. I’d met very few Americans who’d heard of Wales. ‘Are you Welsh?’ I interrupted. ‘Aye,’ he said, looking at me with deep suspicion. ‘So am I.’ ‘Oh yeah!’ Deeper suspicion. ‘Which part are ’ew from?’ I asked, laying on the accent a bit. ‘Swansea,’ he said, ‘and ’ew?’ ‘Twenty-five miles away from ’ew in Kenfig Hill,’ I answered. He started laughing. ‘You’re not him, are you? God Almighty! Jesus wept! Howard bloody Marks. Marco fucking Polo. They’re letting you go, are they? That’s bloody great. Good to meet you, boy. I’m Scoogsie.’ We had a chat, a long one. Scoogsie explained how he, too, had just finished a drug sentence, and he told me of his early days in the business. ‘My wife has worked for a long time in a drug rehabilitation centre in Swansea. Not a bad partnership, really. I get them hooked; she gets them off. We keep each other going, like.’ Memories of South Welsh humour had often helped me through the bad times in prison. Now I was hearing it for
Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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real. I was heading back towards my roots, and they were reaching out for me. Looking confused, the Nigerian belatedly replied to Scoogsie’s original question. ‘I live in London. I am being deported there. I am never coming back here. They took away my money, my property, and my business. Just because someone I didn’t know swore in court that I sold him some drugs.’ An all too familiar story. The number of deportees in the converted aeroplane hangar was dwindling. ‘Anyone else going to London?’ Scoogsie asked. No one. Soon, there were just the three of us left. We’d found out that the Continental Airlines flight to London should be leaving in an hour. An Immigration Officer came in holding a gun. ‘This way, you three.’ A small van took us to the gangway. With his gun, the Immigration Officer indicated we should climb the steps. The Nigerian led the way. Scoogsie followed and spat dramatically on American soil. ‘None of that!’ ordered the immigration man, waving the gun. ‘Don’t mess it up now, Scoogsie. You know what they’re like.’ ‘I know what the fuckers are like, all right,’ said Scoogsie. ‘I hate them. I wouldn’t piss in their mouths if their throats were on fire. I’m never going to eat another McDonalds. No more cornflakes for breakfast. And pity help any Yank who asks me the way anywhere. Let anyone dare try to pay me in dollars. God help him.’ ‘Take it easy, Scoogsie. Let’s get on board.’ Walking into the aeroplane was like entering the starship Enterprise. Passengers with spacey haircuts and clown clothes took out computers of all shapes and sizes. Had
Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

22

Mr Nice

things really changed that much, or had I forgotten what it was like? Lights flickered on and off. Glamorous and smiling women, the like of whom had existed only as photos on a prison cell wall, walked the aisles. One actually talked to me. ‘Mr Marks, your seat number is 34H. It’s in the aisle. We shall hold your passport until London. Then we’ll give it to the British authorities.’ I didn’t like the sound of that, but I was too mesmerised to pay much attention. Scoogsie and the Nigerian were placed out of sight. I sat down, gloated over magazines and newspapers and played with knobs adjusting seat position and volume of canned entertainment, like a child on his first flight. I had flown on commercial airlines thousands of times before, but I remembered none of them. Take-off was magic. I saw Texas disappearing. Then, all of America vanished. There is a God. ‘Would you like a cocktail before your meal, Mr Marks?’ I had drunk no alcohol and smoked nothing for three years. I was proud of my self-discipline. Perhaps I should carry on as a teetotaller. ‘Just an orange juice, please.’ A tray of food was placed in front of me. In the old days, I would rarely eat while flying: apart from the caviare and foie gras given to first-class passengers on long-haul flights, it was all fairly disgusting and well below the cordon bleu standard to which I had become accustomed. Prison fare had cured me of that bit of pompous pseudery. This meal was the best I could remember, and I loved fiddling around with the little packets of condiments. There was a very small bottle of red wine on the tray. Surely, I could drink that. It was exquisite. I ordered six more. I began worrying about the remark made by the air hostess. Which British authorities? There were so many I’d upset and so much they could still do me for. While I was spending the last six years in prison, the British authorities had obtained evidence that I had been involved in countless
Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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other marijuana and hashish importations to England, ones that I hadn’t been charged with. They’d also found more of my false passports. There are no statutes of limitation in British law. They could bust me if they wanted to. Two books had been written about me, each making it clear that I was an incorrigible rogue with nothing but contempt for the forces of law enforcement. Fourteen weeks earlier, at the end of a high-profile, colourful, nine-week trial, I had been acquitted of being the ringleader for the largest-ever importation of marijuana into Europe – fifteen tons of Colombia’s best. The charges had been brought by Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise. It had been their biggest-ever bust. They would never forget me. A chief inspector of police had committed suicide after being blamed for leaking my involvement with the British Secret Service to the press. Scotland Yard had lost a good man because of me. There wouldn’t be many friends there. MI6 weren’t too happy with me either, smuggling dope with the IRA when I was supposed to be spying on them. Ten years ago, after assessing me as having earned two million pounds from cannabis smuggling, the Inland Revenue reluctantly settled for a total tax liability of sixty thousand pounds. As a result of public proclamations by the most senior of DEA staff, it was now accepted as a matter of fact that I had well over two hundred million pounds in Eastern bloc bank accounts. The tax man would want some, no doubt. Even if the British felt I had been punished enough, Special Agent Craig Lovato was bully enough to change their minds. During the mid-1980s, he’d almost singlehandedly mobilised the law enforcement agencies of fourteen different countries (United States, Great Britain, Spain, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Pakistan, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, and Australia) to band together in unprecedented international co-operation to get me locked up forever. He
Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

24

Mr Nice

would be bound to take my premature release as a personal failure and suffer extreme loss of face. He’d get the British to arrest me on arrival. He’d get tough with them and promise them helicopter rides, computers, and days shopping in Miami malls. What was waiting for me at London’s Gatwick airport? A large-scale map appeared on the screen and indicated we were descending over the Welsh mountains. Kenfig Hill seemed a long time ago.

Copyright © Howard Marks 2011. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, storedin a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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