Rachelle and I arrived home at 1:00 a.m. this morning after one of the most difficult weeks of our lives. Many of you have read about my experience in a Mexican jail and have sent notes of encouragement. I appreciate all your prayers and words of support. The experience was particularly hard on Rachelle and the three kids who found themselves on the cruise ship for six days in the Caribbean without Boe or me. They spent many hours not knowing where I was being held or how I was being treated, and of course, they were worried for Boe as he tried coordinate arrangements to get me out of jail. The greatest disappointment for all the Burlesons was being unable to reconnect as a family before the cruise ended on Sunday (March 20, 2011). Boe and I met the rest of the family when they docked in Galveston yesterday morning and drove them the ten hours home.
A simple plea for those of you considering renting a vehicle in a foreign port when on a family cruise. Don't. I should have listened to my wife and I have paid a heavy financial price for not heeding her counsel. I assumed the Mexican premium full coverage insurance that I purchased for the jeep in Cazumel protected me financially. It did not. When you are in an injury accident, you find yourself at the mercy of the Mexican police, the court system and the families of the injured victims. If--or when--you get out of jail is dependent upon how much money you are willing to pay. Mexican law says you must settle in cash with family members of the injured victims for their "lost wages" before you are released. If you cannot come to an agreement, the Mexican insurance company, after you have spent a few days in jail, will go before a Mexican judge and post your bond. Then you are free to "flee" the country as a fugitive. I was told that American tourists do that all the time. It's one of the reasons the car insurance company wants you to settle in cash with the families. They have a vested interest in not losing their bond money.
I was surprised when the original offer I made to the families, suggested by the car insurance company representative, was rejected. I was further surprised when I doubled the amount I offered and it, too, was rejected. The families came back with a counter offer that was nearly ten times more than what the insurance company deemed fair for me to pay. I genuinely wished to settle with the families, but I could not pay what they were demanding.
What baffled me was the rough treatment I received from the Mexican police when I could not reach a settlement. The American Consulate representative told me that about three times a year an American tourist is involved in an injury traffic accident in Cozumel where jail time is spent because an agreement on the amount of cash to be paid could not be reached. In those cases, the tourist stays in the jail cell at the tourist police station or a cell at the Cozumel District Attorney's office until the preliminary hearing before a Mexican judge where bond is then posted by the Mexican insurance company. Heaven forbid no insurance was purchased by the American. In that situation, the tourist stays in jail until he pays in cash, in full, what is demanded by the Mexican courts. I had the premium insurance. I was able to get access to cash. I just could not agree on the amount I should pay. What surprised me is where the Mexican police took me when an agreement could not be reached.
I was moved into the criminal prison system of Mexico. Worse, the Mexican police went to the criminal jail and picked up a muscle-bound prisoner with tattoos of the devil stitched over his body, and brought him back to the tourist police station for the sole purpose of handcuffing him to me. Then, in a procession worthy of the ancient Roman emperors' victory marches through the streets of Rome after foreign conquests, the Mexican police marched their handcuffed prisoner out of the police station, by the families of the victims, and into the backseat of the waiting police car in order to transport me to the Mexican criminal jail in Cozumel. The Royal Caribbean representatives with me, the port authorities, the American Consulate representatives and my son all believe it was an attempt to soften me up to pay what was being asked.
When you are in a Mexican criminal jail it is up to your family on the outside to feed you, or you must bum food and water off of other prisoners. If you have no family to assist you, you don't eat and you don't drink for you have no water. I asked for water from the jailers and they said it was for them, not the prisoners. I went over 24 hours without food or drink. Because people were pressuring Mexico on my behalf, I only stayed a few days in Mexico. I have a deep empathy for those not as connected as I with the outside world.
The condition of the jail cell I was in was not fit for a dog - seriously. Spiders crawling over the walls, ant trails that I tried to avoid but soon passed the time by watching the ants cross my shirt as if I was part of the wall. I had no blanket, no pillow, no lights in the cell. There was nothing but a concrete toilet and a concrete bed that slept one, but the jail cell had two people in it. Feces and urine stains were everywhere and the stench made you want to vomit. The graffitti on the walls that could be reached with human hands made the walls black - above the reach of the human hand the walls seemed white by the moonlight. There was trash everywhere.
In twenty years of service to American tourists in Cozumel, the American consulate agent had never seen the jail to which I was taken. Again, I honestly believe, though I cannot prove it, that I was chosen for the special treatment because somebody had been bribed to rough me up in order to soften me up. In other words, it was believed that just a few hours in that Mexican jail would convince me to pay the families and the police what was being demanded.
The Night of Mercy
Of course, what happened in that jail cell between me and that tatted up prisoner is one of the most moving experiences I have ever had in my life. I have not gone into a great amount of detail about Alan's conversion to faith in Christ, but I plan to tell the specifics of the story to the people of Emmanuel this Sunday. I am a cynic by nature, so I empathise with those who think the story of Alan's conversion is grandiose and discount it as an alleged jailhouse conversion. All I can say is my words will not--cannot--do justice to what actually happened. The truth is far more incredulous than anything I could ever make up. It's like I could visibly see and physically feel the forces of darkness lining up for battle to keep possession of Alan's soul. The gates of hell did not prevail.
The picture above was taken of my family on Monday night, March 14, 2011, the night before the accident. Boe and I returned to the United States from Cozumel late Thursday, March 17, 2011, arriving at George Bush International still wearing our swimsuits, t-shirts and sandals from Tuesday. Since my release I have learned that the Royal Caribbean Cruise line has issued a company wide order that employees are now forbidden to rent vehicles when in foreign ports. My wife was informed on the cruise ship that the order went into effect last Thursday after representatives of the cruise line saw what happened to me at Cozumel. Good for them.
Driving back from Galveston I heard a new song by Laura Story entitled "Blessings" (see the video at the top). The words of the song really sunk home to me as I reflected on the very difficult and costly week and the incredibly moving conversion of Alan in th jail cell in Cozumel. Laura sings it well:
"What if trials of this life--the rain, the storms, the hardest nights--are Your mercies in disguise?"