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I woke up on Monday, April 8, 1996, from my daily siesta in Sevilla, Spain, to my host father, Paco, telling me the police just called looking for me and George, my New Jersian housemate. We were instructed to go down to the local police station with an interpreter from our school we were studying at in Sevilla.

George and I reluctantly went to the police station to find out that we were accused of getting into a fracas the previous Saturday night. Not just me and George, but my alleged blonde girlfriend was there as well.

We told the police what we did the previous Saturday night: I was out to dinner with my black-haired girlfriend and her mother, and George was out with fifteen of his friends dancing. Mind you, this entire conversation was in Spanish, not our native tongue. Luckily we had a translator there to represent us.

The story that was fabricated stated that the victims were talking to George, my blonde girlfriend and myself, and I was upset that they were hitting on my blonde babe and I punched one of them in the face. I have never in my life punched or hit anyone – never! The reason why these Spaniards named us was because they went to every American school in Sevilla asking to see pictures of the students, and randomly chose George and I cause they thought they could squeeze some money out of our “deep” American college pockets.

The police didn’t believe a word we said. They handcuffed us and took us to a bigger police station to put us in the lineup with some old bums off the street. Of course the descriptions of the assailants were American, which I fit, and Arab, which George resembled. I remember standing in the lineup, looking at George saying with a surreal tone, “Man, can you believe that we are right here, right now?”

After the lineup, the police took us to a small room with two interrogators who didn’t speak much English. George’s Spanish was minimal and I was somewhat proficient. I implored them to get our translator but they wanted to strong-arm us. I kept on telling them our stories and pleading with them to call my actual girlfriend to verify my story. They said they couldn’t get through to her. Apparently the victims positively identified me as being the number one assailant. This didn’t bode well for my defense.

Before I knew it, the interrogators took me down to the bowels of the station. I was alone. No George, no interpreter. This is the part in my life where time seemed not to matter – a time when you think your life is in grave danger.

I arrived at a desk with a police officer sitting behind it demanding that I take off my clothes and take the shoelaces out of my shoes. All the while, I was begging in Spanish with a knot at the top of my throat to speak with my interpreter, but to no avail.

They threw me in an 8x8 cell with the sounds of other prisoners heckling me. They closed the door, and I was alone in a Spanish jail cell. I started to cry. I thought I was going to be there for the rest of my natural life. After about two-and-a-half hours, they released me under the custody of my school program director, Juan.

Two weeks later I had to appear in court. I brought my black-haired girlfriend and her mother as well as some character witnesses in the form of my host family. George brought all fifteen of his friends from the evening of the alleged fight. Let me tell you something about southern Spain: Time moves very, very slowly. The farther south you go in Spain, the slower time goes.

We showed up to the courthouse ready for a fight along with Juan and his slick lawyer, Miguel, and the wonderful court of Sevilla, Spain, told us to come back whenever we got letters in the mail.

The next two weeks passed by like molasses flowing out of a jar. George and I received our letters and we finally started the trial. During the proceedings, the victims stated that my teeth were missing or broken. I told the court that my teeth were real and in great condition. The victims then declared that I paint my teeth black when I go out. It was obvious that they were grabbing anything they could to pull me down.

Consequently, the day before I flew back to America on May 23, 1996, I had to go to a dentist to get enormous, obscene photos of my teeth to prove they were bona fide real teeth! The word “surreal” didn’t even begin to describe the thoughts going through my head as I sat in the waiting room of a dentist office in southern Spain for photos I needed to prove my innocence! These photos were then submitted to the court after I had left the country. Naturally I had some trepidation about being able to return as a fugitive.

Two months later in Massachusetts, I received a letter from Juan stating that the judge had dropped the charges against me and Miguel was going to charge the plaintiffs for emotional damages for my horrific experience.

Needless to say, the muy lento southern Spanish way of life was not in any rush to relieve me of my suffering for a day that was supposed to be one of my most memorable. April 8 was my twenty-first birthday.

While many twenty-one-year-old birthday boys and girls go and get completely wasted, I spent mine crying in a dark 8x8 Spanish jail cell. It was one of the worst times of my life – but in retrospect, I got one of the best stories of my life.

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Derek Ray May 8, 2010 @ 9:59 p.m.

Great story, Matt. Your experience sounds horrifying!


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