Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Banged Up Abroad — My Few Days @ The Don Jail

One of those Friday nights three and a half years ago, I had a few drinks at home, took the camera and the dog and went down for a spin in my ex-partner’s car who was away for the week. Driving in Toronto was relatively new to me and I got a little lost, so I stopped next to some random black guy, asking for directions home. He clearly was a crackhead and was talking 243 words per minute; maybe 241, I can’t really recall. And since I had no intentions in trying ‘the pipe,’ I just left and made a right turn. Five seconds later, a police car is suddenly behind me. Weewa Weewa.

As one of the cops was approaching the car, I started by asking him if there was anything wrong, “officer,” through my window. He mumbled something about a wrong turn, though it wasn’t one. Then the first thing he asked was what I was telling that crackhead. I said I was lost and needed to go back home so I just asked him for directions.

Next he asked for my papers. And I had to call my ex as I couldn’t find the car documents in the glove compartment, and we briefly spoke. I told her what was going on and she told me where to find them. After checking all papers, he asked if I had been drinking. I said I had a few glasses of wine with dinner – in reality they were three vodkas, but I was totally fine. 

A moment later, the blue meanie told me to step outside of the car while his partner came closer and I’m cuffed and arrested. 
A few more minutes, another police car arrived at the scene of the crime to take away my dog and my ex’s car, which was registered under her mother’s name. And the girl was out of town.

Being the peaceful person that I am, I was highly cooperative. I knew that I was being filmed, so in the backseat of the police car I even started a conversation with both men about the night shift and how I did that for two years of my life. 

In about five minutes we reached the 51-Division Station, it was 1 am at the time. While searching me, they found a zip-lock with residue of greens in the inner pocket of my jacket — 0.2 gm as I found out much later. This is some ridiculous amount that would make a decent hit from those tiny key-chain pipes.


I used the breath analyser, for the first time; my first time and that night’s.

I also went inside a cubicle and spoke to a lawyer of theirs on the phone. He briefly instructed me on what to say and what not to say.

They asked if there was anyone I could call to come bail me out. Other than my ex-partner who was in the U.S, there wasn’t. Well, her parents were around, but to me they seemed out of the question. As such, with the girl being the only option in the whole of Canada at the time, I called her again from the station to let her know where I am.

A little later I was asked to strip naked in a separate room by the same two coppers. My instant response was: “Are you serious?” They were.

I used the breath analyzer one more time before spending that night in a cell at the station. I remember lying down on my side on those uncomfortable solid benches surrounded by a few other guys. But I didn’t really sleep.

In the early morning, I was sent to some other place because there was still no one to come bail me. And since it was the weekend so the courts open on Monday, I was told. I didn’t even know what that meant. Why do I need to go to court? What happens till then? I was in a weird daze. 

This was on my mother’s birthday. She actually got the call in Egypt while celebrating over dinner with my father and some friends. Aouch.

Saturday morning, instead of going home as my wishful thinking was screwing with my head, five other guys and I were cuffed to one another and taken somewhere in a Court Services vehicle. In about fifteen minutes, we entered an old building and remained in a cell for a while. 

The Don
We spent the next hour in some ‘waiting’ cells, during which our urine was briefly inspected by a nurse who was a 60-year-old Eastern European short lady. She handed my fellow inmates and I thin wooden sticks that look exactly like the ice cream ones, then told us to pee on it. Each on his own stick with his own stick, yes. The stick had five little plastic squares and when the golden shower touches them, each turn into a specific colour in 10-15 seconds. I don’t know if it was for drugs or diseases. She just looked at them from behind the bars and told us to throw them in the garbage.

Also part of the check-in process, is a huge metal chair that looks so much like THE famous electric chair. It’s actually more like the shocker chair we find in arcades. The first time I thought we were waiting in line for some kind of entrance-fee punishment à la 1984. I was asked to sit down and put my hands on its arms for a second, then told to get up while looking at some light that will switch on if I had... what…?

Next, I was asked to put my chin on the back of the chair in a designated area for another brief moment. It felt like I was at the eyes doctor getting me a new pair of reading glasses.

This was followed by another waiting session in yet another cell. Then, we were guided to a lockers area where we handed our clothes and, according to our different sizes, were given uniforms. It consisted of a Guantanamo Bay bright orange jumpsuit, two orange T-shirts, two pairs of blue boxers, two socks, two towels, and a lame blue shoe. 
I was once again asked to get naked and wear the new gear. 

I learned later that the distinctive attire was chosen so we can be easily spotted if we ever tried to escape. And by ‘we’ I mean prisoners of the world. It is known that prison uniforms in general started as a mark of shame. In old United Kingdom they were all stamped with the broad arrow to denote crown property. Not-so-modern day slavery, I guess.

All my contacts were on my phone that has already been confiscated with the rest of my clothes, so I can’t even call the only lawyer I knew in Canada. Bad luck. No bail, No one, damn! I’m in a real jail for the first time in my life. The few times I had trouble with the law it was just a matter of hours before I went home. After all the madness I have gone through, this time I’m incarcerated in some far away foreign land for an alleged DUI after taking part, for once, in a scoreless score. Great.

That gloomy realization started to slowly creep up on me after my pleasant check-in.

Holding to our orange amenities, the new inmates and I were guided up to the second floor where we entered a big loud hall and were locked inside. 

There was some kind of line ahead inside the hall and I gathered that it’s to shower. Shower in jail and bend over to get the soap? Me? Never. I won’t shower. You know what, I’ll never shower again. I saw the showers area and that line and simply made a U-turn. A big orange guy looked at me and said: 

Uh, OK.”

Later on, I assumed that new-comers must shower for health and sanitation reasons.

Looking around where I was, I could see a big hall containing about 20 cells in one row, with something around 38 men in total. Of course I was trying to look tough because that’s how it should be. But deep inside a big WHAT THE HELL moment was taking over. I simply could not believe I’m in a real jail for taking a spin in a car. That’s exactly how I saw it.

“Are you Russian? Hey! Where you from?” A few guys kept shouting. When I said Egypt, I could tell from their faces that they didn’t really expect to get that, a slight disappointment even. 

I heard a Latino guy who was sitting on the floor look at me and say, “Man, you look bad.”

I don’t know how I felt exactly at the time but if I wasn’t so dazed and confused, I would have probably smiled — internally of course. I wouldn’t want to send any messages and especially not on my first day of school. Who knows how these things work in here. 
Mission accomplished then, I thought. I looked bad enough for a Canadian prison. Later, I allowed myself to be flattered by that compliment and even bragged to my friends about it.

The cells were on my right, a wall with three or four medium size windows high up facing them on my left, and the shower/bathroom area straight ahead. I kept marching slowly, holding my stuff in hands not knowing where to go or what to do other than delaying my shower. My ‘destiny’ has led me to the area in front of cell #13. A superstitious Triskaidekaphobic must have crossed the ‘3’ from the 13 engraved above the cell door and added ‘2 -’. Later, I found out that the formal internal reports refers to this cell as #12 -. 

Well, if 85 % of the world’s buildings don’t believe in the 13th floor, why would prisons.

Throughout the bars inside cell # 12 - I could see a big guy, slightly taller than me with dense black hair that looks a little like mine. He looked at me and asked with a strong Eastern European accent:

“Where are you from? 



You too? 

Yes me too

You come sleep here,” the man said while pointing on the empty upper bed. No it’s not what you think.

“OK,” I whispered, feeling like a lost child finally finding the comfort of his grandmother. 

By that time I could roughly see what the cells were all about. Each was 6 by 8 feet (1.80 x 2.40 meters) with two beds one on top of the other on one side, a metal toilet and a sink right above it in the middle, and a small table-rack on the other side.

The man was the only one inside his cell at that time. Everyone else were outside, most were mingling in groups of four or five or just watching T.V. He then asked if I liked reading and I said yes. To my surprise, he reached over to the rack which had about two dozen books and handed me a Qur’an through the bars. I reached and took it and instantaneously my eyes got watery, probably a suppressed emotional outburst. I am not a religious person, yet it was some totally unexpected spark of light showing me that it might not be that bad in this sinkhole of a situation after all. Here I am in my first ten minutes in a Toronto jail having this unlikely interaction.

It’s not the end of the world after all, I always say to myself to keep cool in those times — and I’ve had a few. It never really is.

From behind the bars, Ragib introduced me to his buddy/subordinate whom I believe was Indian. He was a short man who was also Muslim, that’s why they probably stood together and formed a team. As Ragib spends most of his time in the cell, the buddy gets him food and saves him treats. He has helped me out a lot too and I returned the favour by teaching him the correct Arabic pronunciation of a few verses from the Qur’an which he had asked me about. 

I sat down on the bench in front of cell 12 - while they listed the few abc of the place. How to wait in turn for your shower, where to sit, how not to flush the cell toilet after the light is off. That latter one was told to me later by Ragib when the cell doors locked us in for the night. Yes we were in Switzerland, the neighbours sleep early and don’t want to be disturbed.

No seriously, this no-flushing-at-night policy has been self-imposed by inmates since the sound is so loud and the walls too thin, as I read in a 2010 Toronto Life article titled: Hell House: Why the Don Jail is a wretched, dangerous dungeon that should have been shut down ages ago.

I really needed these instructions on that first half hour. I knew nothing and wasn’t in the right state of mind for any trial and error. I’m surrounded by uncuffed, untamed, unleashed criminals inside that big cage, and contact is a split of a second decision. I’m certainly not ready for any of that.

When I did get to take that first shower a couple of hours later, it wasn’t that bad at all. I was all alone in a cubicle, wearing one of my two boxers as I was instructed and washing my hair with hot water and shampoo. Great, no big scary black guy standing behind me, and no slippery sloap.

They even have deodorant sticks and toothpastes in a big plastic bag hanging from the bars facing the showers area. If not during shower time, you could easily ask the one and only guard who’s sitting in the corner behind the bars of the main hall area to get you whatever you want from a storage room next to gate of the cage.

Later in the afternoon of that long day, tea arrived and everyone was filling their plastic cups through the bars of the main cage. The Indian mate guided me to the tray to get some and he brought Ragib extra, which he kept in jars inside the cell for later. I took a sip and it’s not like any tea I have ever tasted in my life. I took another sip or two. Still weird. I didn’t finish it and didn’t say anything.

Cells’ doors automatically open up and close by 7 or 8 pm and we have another few hours with the lights on. Then each cell is left with only one dim light. I peed one last time in that metal toilet, had some water from the sink in my white plastic cup, and hopped on that upper bed with a book.
The coverless toilet is only about two feet from Ragib’s bed and he covers it with a used boxer shorts. 


Sunday morning after breakfast and mid my dreamy reading, they called out my name from outside. Ragib told me to get up, wear my lame blue shoe — we wear handmade plastic slippers inside — and to go out of the cell because I probably have a visit. I got excited for a moment thinking it was my ex — which wasn’t logical at all — and rushed to the main metal gate of the hall. For another moment, I thought it could be the lawyer or someone from the embassy coming to save me from this shabby place.

The guard double-checked on my name and handed me an envelope. Hm, jail correspondence already.

To my pleasant surprise, it was from Animal Services! Stating they have my impounded dog and left their contacts. Great, it's not a mobile number and I can call from there.

I asked the Indian buddy for help to use the phone as you have to put a few codes then spell your name to be able to connect. I then spoke to a friendly woman called Nicola and asked about Caramella, explaining that I’m impounded as well and that I will reclaim the dog as soon as possible... not knowing what that meant in terms of time frame. Again, I was still sensing that I didn’t commit a crime or caused any threat and didn’t deserve to be there. 

I recall how I sincerely appreciated the fact that they sent me this notice just one day later and that the dog was alright. A small sign reminding me that, yes I am in jail, but in a civilized country where the system simply WORKS and people do their jobs. 

During the day, I found some guys training with bed sheets curled together, forming a big bulk with a handle. So I thought I would ask them about the gym. You know, like we always see in the movies. The answer came quick and firm: “They banned the weight training because inmates were killing each others while bench pressing!

Hmm, those are lovely sheets. —

The daily tea time came again, and, of course, I had to ask:

“Ragib, I’m from Egypt and tea is something I know about, but that doesn’t really taste like any tea, what is it?

That’s so your dick doesn’t get hard. 

. —”

Later I found out that these herbs are common and actually essential to keep inmates calm. Apparently they are also used in the army in some parts of the world. Otherwise, too much testosterone will kill you…if you don’t make up your mind.  

Ragib was really respected inside, by guards and inmates alike, and he got some special treatment. He was quite, well-composed, and didn’t speak much. All he did during the day was read and draw pictures, mainly of women; some from his imagination, others from magazines he owned, and some for other inmates. They give him a picture of their ‘women’ and he artistically draws it on white paper, charging them $5 or $7. He has his little business going, and that’s probably how he had it well. Money makes a big difference inside. 

His arrangement allowed him to stay inside his cell while everyone else has to get out of theirs for the whole day. He supposedly had a “dislocated shoulder” because of some fight he had got into. Not a huge treat, but at least he had his peace of mind and his bed, while the rest of us are trapped outside in one loud cage facing those cells. All day. Everyday.  

There was around 90% black people inside. That included Beefy, a huge muscled guy who owned one of the four phones; meaning no one could use it even if Beefy wasn’t on it! Yes, and if you saw him, you would simply agree that it’s the smart thing to do. The rest were a few Latinos and Eastern European, plus our Indian mate. 

There were four TV sets hanging from the ceiling, facing the cells and the benches. Some watch the classy Kardashians almost religiously, which is a really sad example of how America is glorifying a family that got famous because a girl had sex with a rapper then leaked the tape. It’s funny, sad, and strange all together. “Phenomenon” like these are the real Weapons of Mass Distraction which contribute to the dumbing down of the general population.  

unny, sad, and strange yet again that four years later she had to take off her clothes to stay in the limelight.

Others inmates follow rap songs and sing along, while the few older ones spend the whole day playing chess and domino. The few white guys were a minority and we didn’t speak much until a few days later. 

When he was done with his daily drawing, the 39 year-old Ragib read the Qur’an and its interpretations. Occasionally asking my help, like writing his name in Arabic which I gladly did in two different Arabic calligraphy fonts. We got along pretty well.

Ragib also owned the biggest collection of books and magazines around and was considered the main library. I felt lucky to be able to take whatever books I wanted as he gave me the permission from day one. I actually finished four books in five days! I was clearly hiding from my surrounding reality; it was my sole refuge.

One of the books was about a female groupie who lived a wild life in the 60s and 70s and how Jesus saved her and got her back on track. Another interesting and funny book was Howard Stern’s Private Parts, which was the one I enjoyed the most. 

Monday morning came and it was time to go to court. Those of us whose day to go get a special earlier bird wake up call. Our cell doors open up even earlier than the rest — I believe it may have been around 6 am. I could tell from how it was still dark outside as I could see from the windows facing the cell.

A tray of juices, sandwiches and coffee is brought to the lockers area on the ground floor where we are given back our own clothes and told to wear it. Then, we are all cuffed to one another and herded into the white van. 

I was happy to capture this one a couple of years later in Downtown TO. I made him (dental) smile too.

The vehicle labeled COURT SERVICES, and I was cuffed to six more guys inside a metal compartment (the door on the right in the photo). It was march and it was cold but I had my jacket, others weren’t so lucky. As the cars moved through the streets of Toronto, I kept looking out through a tiny window on the back to see the surrounding streets, trying to figure if I recognise the area. I believe the court we visited was Old City Hall.

Funny enough, until then I had no idea that my dear prison of residence’s name was “The Don”. When asked by an officer there if I was coming from “The Don,” I thought that might Canadian slang for ‘joint’ or ‘jail’ so I told him I don’t know.

Apparently, The Don is a provincial short term jail for remanded offenders. Its 1867 building is one of the oldest pre-Confederation structures that remains intact in Toronto. With an average stay between 30 to 90 days, it was overcrowded in recent years. 

Unlike the U.S where jails are run by the county sheriff’s department, in Canada, they are run by provincial governments.

I also found out that the Don is below the U.N standards and is regarded as a notorious place.
According to a famous newspaper; It
’s a disgrace for Canada. Yes they do have standards for prisons too. What do you think? Just like the stars for the hotels and the ISO 9000. Us too, are humans.

The Old Don Jail in 1860s. Booh.

The Don was officially closed on December 31st 2013, more than two and a half years after our little story here. 

We kept moving from cell to feel for many hours before reaching the court. Each of the waiting cells has one toilet and is constantly monitored by a video camera located in one of the upper corners of the room. In one of them, I met a Persian guy and we spoke for a bit. He gave me a business card of a good lawyer, which I had to smuggle in my socks once back to the Don.

Also, a lady from Salvation Army passed by us and asked if we needed help with anything. I had nothing to lose so I thought I would give her my ex-girlfriend’s phone number so she can come “save” me.

When it was finally my turn and got to the court and saw the judge, this bizarre lawyer of theirs whispered to me:

OK, so you have someone to pay your bail?”

I said yes, but my phone is in jail and they wont let me get the numbers from it. The only number I know by heart in the whole damn country is my girlfriends’ and she wasn’t in town, or the whole country for that matter. Plus, there are no mobile phone calling or three-ways from jail — well there was a way around it but I didn’t know it. So what to do, really!

He said just tell the guards as soon as you’re back that you’re allowed to look at your phone. 
I still didn’t really understand what was needed at the time. Bail and then there will be something else or is that it, or what. I think at the time I still haven’t awoken from the initial daze I had been in for three days. Everything was green and submarine.

But I was cruising with the car and I was in full control! That’s how one of the voices in my head kept seeing it.

Back to the Don by the afternoon, I was again asked to sit on the same electric chair for a few seconds. Some guys mentioned it’s “to check if you got diseases” when I questioned. Until today, though, I didn’t grasp the technology behind it. Is it a skin issue? Leprosy? Are their scanning by bungholio for narcs or weapons? I will find out someday.

I was such a newbie in all of this and actually don’t ever want to know anything more about prisons. Really Au revoir et merci as the French-kissers say. It’s probably one of the very few things that I don’t want to know more about. 

While checking-in at the locker areas, I told one of the officer what I had been told and asked for my phone. Somehow, he had to show me that he’s all mighty and powerful so he allowed me only one number to copy. Seriously. He didn’t even hand me the phone, he had to do it himself. It was actually funny with me trying to guide him through the contacts and my ex’s lovey-dovey nicknames. 
Yes, it’s the number under the name with one ‘e’ not the other one with double ‘o’. 

Thanx, buddy.

’m not buddy.

Thanx, man.

’m not man, I’m officer.

Thanx, officer


The rest of Monday I spent it between reading and playing chess with some of the older brothers.


During this stay, I made one long-haired guy angry a few times and he shouted at me. Being myself, I replied back.

Once I was using those weight/sheets for some shoulders exercise, then I dropped them on the floor after I was done with my repetitions when that guy shouted from across the hall:


I didn’t say anything and didn’t drop them again.

Another time, right after the shower, I was trying to dry my just-washed wet boxer shorts while wearing the other. So I found that same guy screaming from afar: 


There was a hand-written to-do list on the wall, even though that most rules are about stuff not to do. Maybe he has written it himself and was proud of it. One of the points on that list was not to wet the floor next to the showers because it’s dangerous and slippery. Not bad, really. But I just dropped a few drops ― yes, dropping the drops ― so it didn’t occur to me that I’m putting the life of my fellow outlaws in danger.


I’m not there to get into trouble but when someone shouts at me, especially if it isn’t the first time, I will let them know they could just speak normally and that there is no need for anger. We were in jail after all and can really do without the extra stress. So I answered right back:

Don’t shout man, just say so. I’m new here, you can tell me what you want without shouting.”

I found him approaching me while saying:

I’m this close to losing my patience with you,” signaling with his thumb and index to show me how little.

I just stood there right in front of him with a dead stare, followed by a light smile. 

That is who I am. I will not shout back because I never want things to escalate. What I will do, however, is letting you know that, first, I’m not afraid. And second, that we can communicate better without fighting. 

I felt from his face that this kind of reason was somewhat new to him, at least at The Don. But my words did calm him down on that second encounter. Though I still went and got paper towel and dried the area with my foot. 

We had a few of those moments. 

At first I thought he’s one of those guys who want to show off and act authoritarian and all — the bully we find in each and every movie. Well, it’s fine by me. My reasoning was that I’m only there because there was bloody no one to bail me out and that I didn’t want anything to do with this place, so worsening the situation is certainly not what I had in mind. I really needed to get out of there.

Another time, I took Ragib’s Howard Stern book and went to sit down a little further on a big black rapper’s bench... not a real one. I think he also “owned” one of the TVs, which whenever was on had rap music videos and he was always, always, singing along. 

There are two benches in front of each cell with a table in between, but he calmly told me that it’s his place so I got up and went back to “my” bench.

Later that night Ragib told me that I simply cannot sit in anyone’s place and that it’s safer for me to stay right in front of our cell so he can see me. Well sure, I’m convinced already. 

I liked how he was serious about his protection.

He also told me not to make that long-haired guy angry like I did already a few times because he is a “druggie” and has his mood swings.

Ahaa. That made sense. I don’t have an issue with him now, I thought to myself, he has his reasons for those fits. Actually, he’s the one who helped me using a three-way call from inside as you can’t dial mobile phones and got me connected. Well, I think Ragib told him to help me out and he did. They, too, seem to have an understanding agreement. After I knew his thing I never got this guy agitated again and things went fine from then on. 

Ragib hinted that he is sort of considered my ‘protector’ now since he shared his cell with me, and not to fuck this up.

Laying in that upper bed, I couldn’t help but reflect on my wild past and how my life story got me to this day that I’m in Canadian prison surrounded by criminals and convicts. More importantly, how horrible it must be to spend a long period of your life in such a place, which could have easily been the case with me because of much more serious law-breaking that I kept getting away with through the years.

I did survive Hell on Earth

I’m a believer in karma and life lessons and I think that helps me overcome any freaking out which could possibly take place while being exposed to such different environment. One thing for sure, freaking out never helps in any situation.

The Night Talk

The most fuckin’ beautiful 17-year-old girl in the whole town,” he said with his deep Eastern European accent as he started sketching. Sharpening his many pencils must be done outside the big cage as the electric sharpener is located next to the desk of the lonesome security guard. Most of Ragib’s were sharpened.

A pencil-drawn picture of Ragib’s (Raga) ex-wife with his signature

He explained that she was his first love and the mother of his three kids. She was already with a different man at the time. As he kept talking, I could sense some sorrow behind his voice and facial expressions, even from the way he was telling me about her while naturally drawing out of his imagination. 

He told me he was 39 and I think he was surprised that I was only six years younger and that I was only responsible for myself.

He later gave me this sketch as a souvenir when I asked for one before leaving. I kept on my wall in Toronto and took with me through my travels to Egypt and the U.S.

Afterwards he started talking about the violence… remembering how just two feet in front of his  — our — cell door, he once saw a guy being viciously stomped by three black guys after having his eyes covered with toilet paper and dragged from the neck to the showers where the guards can’t hear and the security camera is too far. So actually you can get killed and they might not find you until the next morning when the doors are automatically open.

I’m quite thankful I didn’t witness, or taken part in, any atrocities. Who knows how it would have affected my gentle, uncorrupted mind.

The closest I’ve been to prison fights is a couple of times when I heard “CODE BLUE, CODE BLUE” on the speakers and saw the guards running in havoc. This means there is a fight breaking; probably because Code Red is too cliché. And what fights there must have been!

Mid conversation, Ragib held two of his sharp pencils between his two middle fingers and punched the air to the right of my face with his scary, powerful fist. 

It’s my weapon, you see” he said with a sincere and quite familiar sparkle of lunacy in his eyes.

My hit is so strong that I hurt my shoulder bones,” explaining further. 

I can only imagine this sharp tip in someone eye balls or neck or ear with a force such as Ragib’s. Dang. 

This is an American History X curb stomp scene kind of Dang.

He went on with a short story or two about how he got some huge guy unconscious from one punch, and how he had to stay in solitary confinements a few times.

You live in a hole, it’s disgusting.

The whole hole
How inhumane that must be.

To survive here, he further explained, one has to have a constant eye over the shoulder because “they can come to you at night”. He was not the bragging type and had no reason to lie to me. I believed every word he said.

Ragib kept sketching, then after a long pause he looked me straight in the eyes and said:

“You’re crazy, huh? 

Yes I always got that,”
I replied with a slightly proud smile, yet totally clueless about where he was going next.

“Listen well, you’re gonna get into trouble and I won’t be able to stand up for you anymore. No one touched you until now but they come tell me. Do you know where you are? 
This is the worst place ever,” he answers himself in a mildly frustrated but calm tone.

“You can get attacked and no one will ever come for your help, then you’re found the next morning,” he repeated, probably to cement the notion in my head. 

I guess crazies recognise each other from their eyes. Though his message was loud and clear: No confrontations and following the few rules. Oh, and to never come back because he won’t be here to protect me next time.

The poor guy might have had many months to go, with only three already spent in. I hope I’m wrong, though. I made this assumption because on my first day in the cell I could see two calendars next to each other, 2011 and 2012. That was a big reminder that we’re on totally different levels. 

After all, the few ones who asked why I was there and knew that it was just a DUI, didn’t really believe me much since DUI people go home the same night, same goes in the U.S. Many actually gave me doubtful looks. Even Ragib doubted me for a moment and asked if I was into any “drug dealing,” and if yes, he wouldn’t offer his protection anymore. A convict with principals, his mother must be proud.

But I never asked why he was there. In a way, I didn’t want to know. I’m not sure why I felt so. 

Yeah, and he also told me that the “man, you look bad” Latino guy from day one is gay and has a boyfriend — one of the big black dudes. Aha.

Tuesday was my second day going to court. Same wake-up call ritual, however, 15 minutes earlier the doctor paid me a visit in the cell. He was a cute 70-year old man, and we spoke about medications as Ragib remained asleep. He then looked at the wall which was covered with some sexy art and happily froze in front of a specific drawing, got his digital camera out of his grandpapa pants’ pocket, and took two pictures of the foxy female.

She reminds me of someone,” he said in a nostalgic tone. 

He asked me a few questions and noted down that I speak four languages. I was desperately trying to show off to distance myself from my surrounding inmates with an “I do not belong here” kind of attitude. I think it was nothing but a mere defence mechanism. There was nothing else for me to do anyways. Though I never knew why the prison doctor would add such piece of info on his papers, but it can’t be too bad. 

Profiling me, perhaps.

Vous parlez Francais? Mai oui, très bien, moi aussi,” we merrily chitchatted for a moment.

Right after, we were rounded up again downstairs to have breakfast and wear our clothes, waiting to be driven to court. This time I recognised one of the officer from the day before and found myself smiling and joking with him:

Oh, officer nice guy himself who’s coming to pick us up today! Lucky we are.

He returned the smile before saying “You’re funny.” As a treat, I think, he let me go last in line to be cuffed to only one other person ― it was actually the big orange guy ― and we both sat alone in the back compartment of the vehicle (the door on the left in the Court Services vehicle photo). 

At some point, I was in one of the court’s ‘waiting’ room by himself. So I asked for some toilet paper and got out of my peter the biggest doodoo I think I have ever proudly produced. I was really hoping no one would come in while I’m mid my discharge, but I had already thought about this possibility and I wouldn’t have stopped or done anything differently. It has been since Friday morning after all so it really was a matter of life and poop. During normal times I would go every morning religiously, so with all these days being number two-less, I don’t think my stomach will easily forgive me for those hard times. Yes, intended.

Little did I know, in those two days in court I was being watched from an adjacent room through a monitor. 

Once again, back to the Don and the whole check-in process. An hour later as I’m reading a book, I hear the guys calling me. An Egyptian man just came in and they told him about me. A bold 40-year old with a moustache. 

You’re also from Egypt?

Yes, where from Egypt?He asked me. 
“Cairo,” as I always say.

Where from Cairo? As they always ask.

Uhm, Zamalek, you?


We spoke for bit and I found out that an Egyptian friend of his is the owner of the pharmacy located in the same street where I lived in TO. It was my turn to pass on the abc of the place to him, though I think it wasn’t his first time. I even introduced him to Ragib so he may add him to his protection circle. 

My ex had explained to me on the phone that I will be bailed out the next day, apparently by my brother-in-law who was going to fly from New York to Toronto. Why? Because according to her she didnt’t have the needed US$ 2,000, which sounded a tad sketchy and downright weird. Though at the time I wasn’t even sure of anything.

 I remember shouting at her: “I need to get out of here! I’m about to suck dick!” I said that, I really did. Despite the fact that I was not about to do any of this, but after five days I was sick and tired of being unfree; of the whole place, actually. I guess it was just an expression inspired by my set and setting.

Later in the day, I found myself heading to the rapper guy who was in the cell on our right as he was  standing with two other guys. I stood there in the middle and hit it…

My name is Uhm Cheeky Willie

I’m a mean mother fucker you can see from my clothes

I wear a black leather jacket from my head to my toes

I walked down the street and guess what I saw 

One hundred naked girls laying on the wall

I fucked 98 then my balls got blue

Caught my breath for a sec then I fucked the other two

So I went to the doctor and the doctor said 

Hey, Uhm Cheeky Willie, your balls are dead

I went to hell and then I fucked the devil’s wife and the devil himself 

And on my grave was written
“Uhm Cheeky Willie, The Fucking Machine


And the guys went berserk! Hi-fiving me and pounding and laughing hysterically. This was a little song I’ve learned from a teenage friend named Marwan since I was 12. It must have been a shock for them, too. I mean, I’ve been pretty much silent and immersed into my reading those last four days, what the heck was that rapping about, “White Boiii.” I think I was slightly more comfortable by then and the daze had relatively subsided, for a while at least. It did just came storming out of my subconscious; for no thinking whatsoever was involved. It truly was a fun brief moment... one of very few.

The food at the Don was another reminder that I was incarcerated. Man, I had to eat and the guys saved their stuff for the night hunger and traded them by throwing them horizontally from cell to cell. As for myself, I wasn’t thinking much about those night munchies; my whole life was on the edge. I deliberately didn’t make myself feel comfortable. I just wanted to leave this dreadful place and never, ever, again step my foot in any facility, as it’s really not for me.

The food trays are served three times a day from behind the bars by inmates who work in the kitchen

I truly hold that it’s much better for the world that I would have my freedom. Because I will create stuff and send out positivity to help my surrounding community, even the entirety of mankind. Yes, imagine this as an argument to the judge in court: 

“Your honour, my client cannot stay in jail because he sends positive vibes to the Universe, and if he stops, it’s ARMAGEDDON!” 

Health wise, I was relatively fine and used to sleep OKayish. This was during the final days of my self-medicating era, following seven years of opiate addiction. On the very first day I told the nurse and Dr. about the medication I was on, but they did not have it. Instead, they gave me some mood stabilizer along with Librium. Luckily, my dosage was quite low by then and did not feel much discomfort. One more humane thing in the whole lock-up experience which I was grateful for.

I could see the wide-eyed methadone guys running daily to the main gate towards the nurse who arrives at 7 pm sharp loaded with a trolley full of doses. The angry guy was one of them. In the morning they pass from outside the cell, chaperoned by a security guard. They hand you the little plastic cups and you have to swallow whatever you’re given in front of them ― 
each dose is labeled with the name of the inmate.

Remembering the horrific stories I had heard from friends and dealers who went to actual prisons in Egypt, Dubai, the U.S, or the South Asians and South American prisons we see in Banged up Abroad (Locked Up Abroad), made me feel so grateful that this is happening in Canada after all. Inmates are generously given shampoo, deodorants, and tooth pastes whenever they ask; each has their own bed, private toilet and sink. Believe it or not, compared to other prisons around the world, this may seem like luxury. And all that it was below the U.N standards. Man, if I only knew! I would have made this one big scene, asking for the Duty Manager and demanding a compensation, maybe 50% off my laundry, too.

And by the way, what a miserable job that must be: a security guard in jail. Most got attitude, others but very few got a sense of humour that I used to enjoy while sharing a smile. I think I was unconsciously trying to find any positivity in the whole freakin’ ordeal, even if it’s one-second smiley face.

And females guards too, yep. In Canada the Great, I was cuffed and uncuffed by a ratio of 5:1 men to women. They were also around at the Don but more were in court. 

Wednesday morning came and I had become apathetic. It had been already five days and I was still locked up. I stayed in bed and forced myself to sleep a little more time as an escape. But I couldn’t help smelling detergent. So I finally opened one of my eyes to see Ragib scrubbing the walls of the cell with a wet towel. 

Hey, what’s happening?

There was an inspection and all the writing on the wall needs to be removed.

I washed my face and decided to help out. A little bit of hard labour wouldn’t hurt. After all, I’m a menace to society and needed to be reformed. 

By noon, I get a notice that I will be going out today. Really? Am I not so dangerous to the establishment anymore, I wondered.

I was finally in the mood for some socializing. So I just went and stood next to the few white guys while they spoke about YouTube and sport cars and joined the white chit chat.

Ragib then asked me to leave him any money if I could pass by sometimes, because “everything here costs money.”

After four nights at The Don plus the first one at the station, I’m finally bailed out. 

The upcoming freedom really felt like a last day of class. Though it was only my last day. I was also hoping not to see the inmates again despite the fact that they were all happy for me. Even the long-haired zonk wished me good luck. I exchanged numbers with a couple, wished them luck too, took my Ragib souvenir, and said salute, Brother in Arms. I actually bumped into one of them in a Toronto subway a couple of months later.

By the afternoon, I was called to the lower floor to go through the check-out procedure. One of the guards was eyeing my Doc Marten boots while I was putting them on.

“Are those army boots?” He asked.

I was so happy I was minutes away from my dear freedom, that I was looking for the most pleasant answer I could come up with. Just for the sake of the slightly better mood I was in for the first time in almost a week.

“Yes they are, but they get slippery sometimes when there is ice.”

That was my exit punchline, the last thing I said at the Don. I recall I didn’t really know what I was saying, as my lips moved mechanically while my head was in the outer world. The daze was still there.

The Aftermath was comprised of lots of dark question marks regarding lawyer, case, bail, money, criminal record, parents ― mine and my ex’s ― and my whole future. Those were already invading my mind before I even step outside of the Don’s huge metal gate to meet my brother-in-law. It was actually a relief to see a familiar face. 

Back to my place, I sat down on the bed after losing my freedom for six long days spent around people who may have to still wait for 41 more months. My short stay, however, felt like an entire lifetime.

If there was anyone to come bail me out that first night, I would have never experienced this challenge and this whole tale would have never been told. What should have been a few-hour ordeal turned out to be a six-days rigmarole with bleak consequences. Perhaps that was the intended lesson, and that I took what I deserved for my life of wild recklessness. Well, I’m here now and that’s what matters. That which does not kill us makes us stronger, as the wise Homer Simpson once said.

Speaking of bail, my ex’s parents were right there all along as mentioned earlier, yet chose not to do anything to help out. Like, pay the bail. Despite the fact that they knew very well that I was completely alone in Canada. In fact, I left it all behind in Egypt to go join their daughter as they wanted.

But that is not just it: Remember when I wrote I was being watched the two days I went to court? Well, it was by none other than her father. “He doesn’t look remorseful,” he told his daughter later. Seriously.

 I’m not sure what the old man wanted to see. Me weeping, perhaps? Due to an alleged DUI. Detached from reality much?

So not only did they leave me in jail while they could have paid those two thousand dollars until I’m out and repay them. But they forbade the girl to see me again. The ‘girl’ was 26 years old at the time yet totally dominated by her parents. 

You know what else did the mother do? She called my father all the way in Egypt while I was still at the Don to tell him that I got caught with cocaine. I kid you not. I was so overwhelmed by the wickedness of that woman, I didn’t even bother to try to convince my parents that she was saying total bullshit. I had the police report in which was mentioned the drinking and that tiny little bud I had on me. But certainly no cocaine. She actually picked the wrong drug as blow has always been the least favourite, just like uppers and amphetamines. What Truly vile, black-hearted, and unloving attitude. Eventually, I felt such relief and gratitude to have escaped all of it before anything serious would happen. Phewww.

While through the years I taught myself to forgive, simply to set myself free, I never forget.

Back to our tale... one month later on a Saturday morning at 8.10 a.m., there was knocking on my apartment door. I opened to find two men in suits. The senior one showed me his badge. 

You were arrested and we have the breath analyzer result,” he said while giving me a pen to sign some document.

Of course I had no idea if they were here to come in, or to search or what. 
This visit didn’t really make sense to me. Breath analyser test was taken twice already on that same night, and the results were already with my lawyer.

When I told the lawyer later, he said that they do this with the bailed just to keep an eye on them until court date. 

Another month, same knocking but a little later, maybe by 9:30. I opened and this time they had the lab test saying that the evidence, the 0.2 g, IS actually marijuana. Well Hallelujah! Thanx a lot guys, I personally had serious doubts that it could have been 0.2 g of oregano which I usually carry on me in a zip-lock in case I feel like making pasta. You never know. 

The pigs just made me feel uneasy. Who wouldn’t with the police just showing up at the door in the early hours of the morning. Now I’m know those “results” visits served other purposes.

The case took three months to finalise. Fees of a really good criminal lawyer; a fine to take the impounded car back; fees of taking my impounded dog back from Animal Services who charge by the day; a fine to pay over a period of three months; no driving for three months; and no driving with any percentage of alcohol for one year as a probation. That was all totally fine with me, I didn’t even have a car there.

So did I really "look bad" at the time or was that just a pickup line? Photo taken in Montreal during the
aftermath, June 2011.

Before the last court date, The Crown offered us a deal and the initial charges were dropped and I pleaded guilty to “Careless Driving”. Phew. The lawyer said they had a 50 percent chance to lose, hence, offering the deal. So no big deal under my belt and I did pay my dues after all.

Did I mention that this was the first time I stay reefer free for six days in a row since 1997? Maybe I did deserve those few days of reform after all. Though bluntly, weedon’t know that for sure. 

I still had to go to court once at the end. I played Eminem and wore a white shirt and suit, and I looked neat. 
Your honour, my client speaks four languages and has worked here and there, making me look like a good, educated person not worthy of having a criminal record hanging around his neck at this age, or any age, and not worthy of being deported. And it worked.

He read the verdict, I did a Buddhist bow to thank him before the lawyer and I went out. The whole thing didn’t even take five minutes. Yey, I’m a free man. The judge must have sensed that it would be ARMAGEDDON if I would stop sending my positive energy.

Well, again and to be honest, I always had that inner knowing. By observing the patterns in my life, I cannot have survived all that I have then my new endeavour in Canada is ruined by getting kicked out of the country or ending with a criminal record ― which were valid options ―  for something so petty. It really didn’t make sense to me.

One of the things that didn’t make sense was the fact that I had three drinks of vodka. That’s exactly what I would normally drink since I was 16 when I started going out. Not to say that drunk driving is right, but after three drinks I’m never drunk and I certainly don’t act as such. That’s what I would consume before going out and I could, or not, drink more later. But at such dose I’m just mildly relaxed. My high tolerance [to almost everything] is actually one of the main reasons why I’m not too crazy about hard liquor. Besides, I never enjoyed losing control anyways, especially with booze. So driving was rarely ever a problem and that night was no exception.

Even my ex-partner said that I sounded totally normal and was speaking coherently when I called her twice that Friday night... and she knew how I sounded when I’m ‘different’. So technically I was intoxicated but I sure wasn’t acting intoxicated. No wonder it was only half a drink above the legal.

About the tiny nugget, let’s say that in Kensington Market in Toronto there is a café where you can go smoke your own shit, legally. So, if it’s legal to smoke there then by consequence it’s legal to carry on you what you will be smoking there. No quantum physics.

Let’s also say there is an event called Freedom Festival that takes place once a year on 420 (April 20th) where 40,000 people light up in peace, legally, while surrounded by police to protect them... in the middle of the city of Toronto.

Freedom Festival ― Toronto on April 20, 2011 (left) and in 2012 (right)

Let us not forget the fact that Canada grows some of the best and most distributed marijuana in the world. According to the U.N, Canadian smoke more than four times the global rate. Yep.

Moreover, let us not forget that something called The Marijuana Party of Canada (Parti Marijuana in French) exists. For those who are not aware, this is a Canadian federal political party whose agenda focuses on ending the prohibition of cannabis. Shortly after, cannabis was made legal following many U.S states.

So seriously, there was no need to fool each other. This is not even cocaine or heroine. A tiny 0.2 gm of some natural herb that is as socially and medically accepted in Canada as it is would not be an issue. It’s absurd to even be mentioning this in the 21st century. 

No wonder they offered to settle the whole case and totally disregarded the micro-nugget. It wasn’t even mentioned in the initial case.

The lawyer was like: “I told her [the Crown] that it’s such a little amount so she said that one could roll a joint with it”; to which he supposedly replied, “How would you know?”

Ha-ha, to lawyers’ sense of humour. 

Down deep inside all along, I knew all these things. I also knew why they stopped me in the first place. It’s that scoreless score where I was asking for direction from that pipehead. With virtual maps and GPS, not many people stop and ask for directions in North America nowadays, let alone late at night in a relatively small city as Toronto. So yes, they must have really thought I was scoring some drugs.

If I were a cop and it’s after midnight and there is someone parked on the side of the road in that area talking to that guy, I would have definitely thought something shady is going on. Though I wouldn’t have arrested the person. There was absolutely no good reason to. I was driving very slowly as I was lost and I was coherent when they spoke to me. They didn’t even offer any breath analyser or asked me to follow any chalk line or to touch my nose; they were fixated on “What were you telling that black guy.”

The whole case, I later found out, was just about pulling my ear like a naughty boy who fell into their hands. The lawyer made money, the government made money, and I, well, I spent 6 days in jail AND paid the money.

Exactly 90 days later, being in a civilised country has once again paid off; I found my international driving license in the mail and it has been reinstated. Thank you, Canada.

As for visiting Ragib, I didn’t want to go near the Don for quite a while so I wouldn’t be reminded. I kept postponing until one day a year and a half later, I decided to head there. On the way something happened and we got distracted and never made it. Now that I think about it, most likely he wouldn’t have been there. I actually felt a little bad because I sincerely wanted to leave him a little thank you gift, anything.

Then I left Toronto and the next thing I know is that this historical jail has been officially shut down by the end of 2013. I truly hope Ragib is free now and is productively using his artistic talent. I sure do. 


The After Aftermath was even more exciting. 

As I always say, writing is therapeutic for me. I have been wanting to share this story for a while. Perhaps it will make someone’s stay more enjoyable in case they were such first timers like myself. KIDS, stay away from jails, it’s really not a fun place to be.

We know how the Universe works in mysterious ways and that everything carries a piece of the puzzle. So on the bigger scheme of things, there was a different story. There was something cooking for me which I had no idea of. 

You see, before the Don experience, I had just moved to Toronto several months prior, not knowing what my future plan holds. At the time, I knew what I didn’t want to do, which is a healthy step in itself. But that was all I knew.

Writing had only been for myself in my ‘diary’ and later to my friends in the form of statuses and notes on Facebook. 

Once out from the Don, I wrote this story on my blog and shared it with a limited number of friends. Little by little, more than a year later, I published my first piece: A Not-So-Mysterious Secret of Happiness. And I started writing ever since never to stop. 

Only after another year has passed have I connected the full dots. I needed this experience to reset my life and prioritise my choices. I realised that if I kept going my old way I could very well end-up like Ragib, or any of the other guys who were there to stay for some time and will most likely end up with a criminal record to haunt them all their lives. So, I chose to transcend my own bullshit and move forwards. I took it as a glimpse of something, again, that I certainly do not want — or think I deserve. Lucky me, it was only a six-day lesson, but it was more than enough.

I also see that the experience has subconsciously shown me that Art — embodied in the character of Ragib, his books, and drawings — can win. The guy had the system in his pocket. Even though he was still in jail but he made the best out of the situation he was in. 
He also offered me his protection for no reason, and he delivered. Who knows how things would have been without him. Perhaps if I had replied to the coocoo guy as I did they would have teamed up on me one night.

Ragib was really dominating inside. He was respected and had his way. Most inmates were divided into sort of mini gangs, yet Ragib was more or less a lone wolf, like myself. I hold that given the circumstances, what the man had in jail is the ultimate one can have.

Reflecting further, I think I secretly admired his strength and survival skills.

 I, too, the pen is my weapon now, though it may be slightly more peaceful than Ragib’s scary fist. It may make you think and work that brain rather than knock it out.

As such, it was after surviving the Don that I decided to take writing as a vocation. This experience, coupled with my solitary self-induced confinement in Canada, are what lead me to writing, which, apart from the therapeutic benefits, I have always considered a creative way to understand my self and my thoughts. In truth, it felt like I was somehow ‘pushed’ to do it; like a spiritual calling of some sort. This is when I realised that one of the chief points of writing is sharing, and I decided to keep writing for life... simply because I felt that I must do it. 

Last edits of the piece before it finally sees the light ― Venice Beach in November 2014

Now three and a half years later, I have taken the old version of the story, polished it, added some photos, and here it is. I wanted to add all the details I remember so it’s currently double the original length. Because, there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you, as Maya Angelou wrote in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Knowing that such life challenges can only strengthen us and help us grow, I see that the Don was one of those experience that has fundamentally reshaped my life. Today, as I look back at everything and I’m more aware of the bigger picture, I’m actually grateful that I went through it. Simply because it made me who I am Here and Now. And if somehow I had the chance to change the course of history, I wouldn’t change anything. Absolutely nothing. Along with climbing to the top of the Great Pyramid, surviving Sakarana (Hyoscyamus muticus), and the Ego Death on Shrooms, this sure remains one of my top five wacky rides… for now.

Ex-inmate of cell number 12 - today enjoying his Health and Freedom 


The Great Pyramid’s Blessed Curse

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus 

Out-of-Body Experience and Ego Death on a “Heroic Dose” of Mushrooms

Stop-n-Search That Hippy

Attempting to Bridge the Gap Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’: Officer Roberts

Attempting to Bridge the Gap Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’: Sergeant Pepper

Attempting to Bridge the Gap Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’: The Coke Prank

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  1. Couldnt stop reading , well done.

  2. Wow, I admire your courage! Nice piece of writing :).

  3. Thank you for sharing this story. I am abroad most the year and I think one of my biggest fears is getting wrongly arrested. I think it might be all of the movies that have scared me into think that I would be framed or something. Glad to know you survived and made it out safe and sound fairly shortly.

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds

    1. Fear is our fiercest foe. Somehow after this experience I do not fear the authorities anymore. In fact, I treat them as normal humans now instead of trying not to make any contact, and it's working great.

      Cheers to you, Eliseo.