If you just tuned in to Erik Aude’s horrific story on Locked Up Abroad: From Hollywood to Hell, I’m sure you have questions. You can live-tweet with him during the 10P EST premiere on Twitter at @lockedupabroad. But in case you miss him there, we checked in with Erik to get answers and see what life is like for him today and here’s what he had to say:
When you traveled to Turkey, do you think that you actually unknowingly brought back narcotics for Ray?
I didn’t at the time, but I absolutely believe I was taking drugs back with me on those 2 previous trips to Turkey now.
(If yes….) Do you think the customs officer was “in on it” or that he just didn’t catch the contents in the suitcase?
NO. That’s a ridiculous question. What are the odds of me coming across the one customs officer in that huge airport in Istanbul that would be in on it? Little less, two more airports from my trip home? The suitcase was just that professionally packed to conceal the drugs in such a great way, that not even Customs agents in Sweden, or in America were able to find or detect it the 1st two trips I made to Turkey and Sweden. The people in the drug smuggling industry are smart, and they are pretty good at getting their product to where it needs to be. And because I was not in on it, I never raised any suspicions.
By the time you were sentenced to seven years, how much time had you already spent in prison?
Almost 11 months.
You mentioned learning Urdu while you were imprisoned for the two years, ten months… How else did you pass the time?
I enjoyed reading and learning. I was learning Turkish, French, pickup lines in Italian, Urdu, Hindi, and Arabic. I had books brought in from out of the prison, and overseas from family and friends. Or I just traded for books. I learned to read and write Arabic and Urdu. I learned how to play Texas Hold’em Poker. I learned that the guards were beyond corrupt, and that I could literally get anything smuggled into that prison. It began with food, then a cell-phone, then a VCR player, and hundreds of movies, then a laptop computer where I wrote screenplays, jokes, songs, and kept an online journal.
Eventually, it would become my hustle and I was known for getting things into jail. I was like ‘Red’ from Shawshank Redemption. I dealt in movies, and cell-phones mostly. I never got involved in alcohol, drugs, or women, although those were available for the right price. I exercised, ran poker tournaments, cleaned up the yard, grew my own garden, fixed up the cells in the cell-block that I was directly living in to make the place more comfortable and clean, and organized a water well to be installed for our cellblock, so that we could have running water longer than one hour a day in our cells. I became a teacher, and was allowed to travel all over the prison to help people read their own language, or learn English, or just tell jokes and make hard times pass a little easier for others. It also helped me kill my own time. I found a routine and beyond prison walls, after everything is said and I done, I adjusted to the situation quite nicely and had a good time.
Did you make any friends?
Not too many, but the few friends I made were the best friends I ever had. I met a guy on death row named Murad who taught me the game of Texas Hold’em. He would end up sharing his last meal with me, having it prepared with no hot spices in it so that I would enjoy it, and then not tell me that he was getting executed the following day. He showed me that you can find kindness in the worst place on earth. And what he did for me is still to this day the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.
I became friends with the Palestinian hijackers of the Pan-Am hijacking of 86. They had been in that prison since it first opened in ‘86 and were left alone by the guards and the other prisoners. What made us bond was that I was a foreigner and they were foreigners. We’d share books and lunches, and stories. Eventually I earned these men’s respect by sharing my cellphone with them. They were able to speak with their loved ones for the first time in 17 years because of that phone, so they were indebted to me. Later on they would repay that debt to me by saving my life in jail as I was being attacked during a riot and had a knife in my shoulder and one in my stomach by prisoners trying to collect a 5000 rupee bounty on my head. The hijackers would also find me a lawyer that would help finally get me out of jail and not try to retire off my circumstances. I’ve since learned that they are all on the FBI’s most wanted list and are worth five million dollars each today. I wish I knew where they were. I’d go say hi and catch up. I’d never turn them in, because I believe in my heart they are not the guys they once were. They’re probably out there watching Spongebob Square Pants and eating homemade smoothies and just trying to hash out as peaceful a life that they can.
I was friends with the future prime minister of Pakistan. Yousuff Raza Gillani. He was a good man. He never asked me for anything other than my friendship, which is very rare in jail. Everyone is usually always looking to get something out of someone. He just wanted to walk and chat, which would become our routines before evening lockup. I would have dinner with this political prisoner in A-Cell, which was an upper class cell-block, and then walk around a nicely gardened courtyard for 30 minutes before the evening prayer. Gillani was one of my best friends and I hope to see him again one day.
Several of the superintendents, and deputy superintendents would become my friends and allow me to keep whatever I wanted as long as it didn’t disturb anyone else. They liked to come have lunch or special dinners with me, or just come to laugh. Making people laugh was something I was great at. Made bad times a little easier.
During your detention in Pakistan – from the three days of torture to prison time – you fought for your life and stayed true to your character. What kept you going during times of hopelessness?
When I was first arrested, anger for the man that set me up is what kept me going. Then when I found out that someone I loved was waiting for me on the outside back home, I focused on getting back to her. When she disappeared because my situation was too much for her to handle, I had to resort back to anger again. Being bigger and stronger than everyone else in the prison really helped. But the best thing of all that helped me, was learning the language. Because the guards and other prisoners started seeing me as a human being rather than a hated American. I took a lot of beatings before I earned the prisoners’ and staff’s respect. Once that hill was crossed, it was quite peaceful for me in jail. I had fun.
Do you know whatever happened to Ray after he was arrested?
I had originally thought he was deported, but recently I found him on Facebook under his real name. I was able to meet up with him in a shopping center parking lot in Granada Hills. He thought he was meeting up with a pretty girl at the Coffee Bean, but it was me instead. I made him talk with me. He started repeatedly apologizing and saying he wanted to talk to me and tell me what really happened. He claimed that he himself was a victim and didn’t know I was being used to smuggle drugs. I asked him, “you didn’t know I was smuggling drugs?” He again claimed he didn’t know. “That’s why six months after I was arrested, that Swedish woman working for you was arrested also for drugs” He claimed he learned then what it was we were really being used to do. He just again and again lied to me and wasn’t even clever in his lies. He was trying to say that he was a victim too and that the people he was working for never told him that this job was drug related and that he was sorry for what happened to me, but that it wasn’t his fault.
I asked him one more question. “So if you were innocent too, and not involved, then why did you tell me your name was Rai Ghazarian?” He looked me in the eyes, and says “I never told you that.” That’s when I lost it. I wanted to hurt that man as much as possible that day. He cost me three years of my life for a crime I didn’t know I was being used to commit, and he still couldn’t admit to me that he set me up. The only good thing about that day was that I got his cellphone number, his license plate number, and I know what city he works in. Since I was awarded a $20.4 million settlement in a civil suit against this man back in 2006, I now have an attorney and private investigator trying to go after him and see if there’s anything worth collecting from him. I had always thought that if I were to run into this man ever again, that I would without a doubt kill him and not think twice. But I didn’t have it in me. And I’m glad I didn’t. I have too much good going for me now in my life and he’s already taken too much from me. He’s not ever going to take anymore.
How are your ears now? Have they healed or do they still cause you pain?
My ears are very weak. They cause me intense pain when I go up and down in Airplanes. And I still get recurring earaches throughout the year. They suck. But I’ve gotten used to them.
Why do you think this happened to you? Are there any lessons you can draw from your experience?
This happened to me because I was gullible. I was trusting. I never thought someone could do this to someone else. I had everything going for me in my life and I was young. I wanted to believe in the best in people. I’ve learned that there are some pretty awful people out there that will take advantage of people whenever possible. I learned to never carry anything for anyone anywhere. If someone even asks you to help them carry a couch, you tell them to f&*% off.
What’s life like for you now? Are you still pursuing your interests in acting and the movie business?
I have a pretty amazing life now. I still act a lot. I love acting and doing stunts. I’ve written a cool song that can be downloaded on iTunes or Amazon called “I Dont Think So.” I play poker all around the world for a good part of my living, and I’m currently part owner of five different restaurant/bars. Four of them are called Big Wangs, and the last one is Stout in Studio City, California. I do very well for myself.
Do you openly share your story with friends?
Sometimes, but not really. I’m not nearly as trusting anymore, so I don’t really have too many friends these days. I quite honestly stay to myself a lot, other than when I’m playing poker. I didn’t ever really want to do Locked Up Abroad. I used to think that the people on this show were all guilty and had deserved most of the time to go to jail. I was and have always been somewhat embarrassed by what happened to me. Because I do feel stupid for having been naive enough to be tricked into doing this. I feel stupid for not seeing what is so obvious now. I look back now and ask myself “How did I not know what it was that I was really being used to do?” No matter what I say or do, people want to assume the worst about me. They want to think that the reason I was in such a horrible situation was because I deserved to be in this horrible situation. I believe that in the eyes of others, that it’s easier to swallow what happened to me if they think that I deserved it rather than believing that I was innocent and going through this mess. If I was guilty, people would say “It sucks what you went through, but hopefully you learned a lesson.” But being as though I’m innocent, people think I’m not only a drug smuggler, but I’m a liar and a drug smuggler. I wish things were different.
Is there anything you didn’t say in the show that you think people should hear?
I finally did this show because I wanted people to know what is happening out there. There are several ways for drug smugglers to get their product across, and tricking someone to unknowingly smuggle drugs for them is just one of their ways. Had I seen a show like this back in the day, I think I would’ve been a little smarter, and not gone. I played myself in the episode, because I wanted the story to be done right.