If you tuned in to Shaun Attwood’s incredible story on Locked Up Abroad: Raving Arizona, I’m sure you have questions. We checked in with Shaun to get answers and see what life is like for him today and here’s what he had to say:
What was going through your mind as you drove to Los Angeles to pick up your first supply of 500 ecstasy pills? Did you just have the $7,500 cash payment in the car with you?
Driving to LA, not knowing what I was getting into, I was terrified of getting robbed at gunpoint, or kidnapped and held for ransom, or even shot. I thought the police might have Sol’s place under surveillance as he was a known Ecstasy supplier, and maybe follow me, pull me over, search my car and find the drugs, or track me all of the way back to Phoenix, and arrest me there. I was concerned about Sol selling me pills cut with something other than Ecstasy, which is why I insisted on testing one by chewing it. Driven by greed for fast cash, I put myself in a lot of danger. It was foolish and selfish of me not to consider the harm that drugs cause.
In the car apart from the $7,500 cash was my best friend, Wild Man, twice my size and not lacking in fighting skills. He had instructions to smash Sol’s door down if I didn’t return in fifteen minutes. I had a Sasha and Digweed CD, Renaissance, which I listened to on the way home.
When the money started rolling in from selling Ecstasy, what did you spend it on? Any extravagant trips, investments or goods?
Although I had fun spending it, I regret the enormous waste of money. I started using limos like taxis, and spent thousands on clothes. When I first arrived in America with only student credit cards to survive on, I lived off cheese on toast, and bananas, and shopped at Ross Dress For Less, whereas at the peak of my wealth, I’d jump on a plane to go clothes shopping on Melrose Avenue, LA, or Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Most of the money went on raves and lavish after-parties at resort villas that lasted for days. I gave drugs away for free because it suited my ego back then, which was as big as the Grand Canyon. I bought cars and rented apartments for my friends to show off, too. The cost of living in a million-dollar mountainside home with all of my other payments on apartments and cars raised my bills to $20 – $30 thousand per month. I invested in a rave clothing/music store called Sound Factory in Tucson. The Phoenix New Times reported that I flew my ailing grandmother over from England and smuggled money out of the country in the frame of her wheelchair. This is untrue. Not only did I lack the smarts to save any, my grandmother never had a wheelchair. After prison, I was deported back to England with no money or assets whatsoever. Rebuilding my life in the UK, I’m still scratching my head, wondering where it all went.
At the height of your drug-dealing career, what was a typical day in your life like?
Waking up late morning involved jumping in the pool with my wife, Amy, swimming laps and frolicking around. We’d head to our favourite Indian restaurant Sher-E-Punjab in Tucson – where I once dropped $30,000 cash on the floor in an envelope and the owner found it, contacted me, and returned it. Later in the day, my right-hand man, Cody Bates, would arrive to discuss my illegal business. , including how much cash he’d collected and secured in our safe house, which workers needed more Ecstasy, who was having problems paying for their drugs… To avoid police detection, we only discussed these things in person, never on the phone. If everything was running smoothly, I’d go to a fancy restaurant with my wife such as Anthony’s In The Catalinas or The Gold Room. But when problems arose or key business associates such as the New Mexican Mafia wanted a face-to-face meeting, I’d head to Phoenix, pick up my two top bodyguards, Wild Man and G Dog, and try to fix things.
Cody Bates is one of several friends I’ve lost to drugs. He hung himself in rehab, an example of the horror of drug use that I tell young people in my talks to schools.
When you decided to give up the drugs business and get back to trading stock, where did you go? Did you tell your friends or just leave town, knowing that the mafia was after you?
After separating from Amy, I fell in love with Claudia and moved into an apartment in Scottsdale with her. She talked me into quitting the Ecstasy business. I never let anyone from the drug scene know where we lived. I enrolled in Scottsdale Community College to study Spanish. Unfortunately, my addiction to the drugs and the lifestyle was such that I still heard wolves howling for me to come out and party on the weekends, and I’d sneak off with Wild Man, getting high on GHB, which was my downfall. The evidence the police used against me was mostly calls around that time when I was dumb and desperate enough to talk about personal use on the phone. Although I’d quit dealing Ecstasy by the time the police caught up with me, I’d committed a lot of crimes over the years, so I certainly deserved to be punished. I take full responsibility for putting myself behind bars.
Did the police ever catch up with Sol, your ecstasy supplier in Los Angeles?
No. But they caught up with another one of my LA Ecstasy suppliers, DJ Mike Hotwheelz, an Englishman who served federal time and was deported for mailing drugs across state lines. I presently live with Hotwheelz near London. Three times a week we jump around to thumping dance music in a mirrored room with 60 women – but not at a rave – at an aerobics class called BodyCombat. We’ve both realised the error of our ways and become fitness fanatics. Our friends at the sports center find it hard to believe Hotwheelz’ stories about me, such as the time he played at one of my raves, and afterwards in a Scottsdale villa, he opened the refrigerator in the hope of getting a drink, and found an Uzi sub-machine gun.
What did you learn about yourself during the many years of incarceration?
In prison, I went on an amazing journey of self-discovery. Previously, I’d been zipping through life without considering the consequences of my actions, especially the harm drugs cause to society. Prison forced introspection and sobriety. After years of drug use, I felt a cloud lift from my mind. The clarity of vision made me wonder how on earth I was still alive after taking so many drugs and putting myself in so many dangerous situations. In jail, Gerard Gravano – the son of Salvatore ‘Sammy the Bull’ Gravano, a Mafia mass murderer – told me he’d once headed an armed crew dispatched to take me out to the desert. Prison forced me to grow up. I saw how emotionally immature, selfish, and foolish my behavior had been. The pain I caused my family made me ill, but added extra motivation to my soul searching. My mum had a nervous breakdown, which haunts me to this day. I regretted sending people down the road of drug use, which inevitably devastates not just users, but also their families. Shocked, I set out to try and make sense of my behavior. I submerged myself in psychology and philosophy books. I had counselling with a brilliant neuro-psychotherapist Dr. O, who helped strip the layers of my personality down in order to analyze my inner dynamics. I learned that the bad decisions that led to my arrest stemmed from anxiety and my addictive adrenalin-junkie personality type. I started doing drugs as a shy student to socialize because I lacked the strength of my mind to enjoy myself at a party sober. Dr. O said the key to staying out of trouble is to channel my energy into positive things, which is what I do now via writing, karate, gym classes, yoga, and meditation. To this day, I fall back on what he taught me and I’m forever grateful. Meditating for hours on end in prison, going deep inside of myself, gave me a great insight into my personality, especially how my brain manufactures excessive worries and anxiety through thoughts. Over time, I learned to stop such thoughts by concentrating on breathing, which short-circuited my anxiety. We have the ability to heal ourselves with a powerful tool called the brain. Thanks to yoga and meditation, which I practice daily, I’m still tapping into that power.
What did writing your blog “Jon’s Jail Journal” mean to you during lock-up? How did you hide the logistics of writing secret documents from other prisoners and guards during the day?
Blogging meant a tremendous amount to me and my family – it was a team effort. My dad came up with the idea of starting a blog after he read about it in the news. My aunt smuggled my writing out of the maximum-security Madison Street jail, and typed us some of my early blogs. My parents handled all of the administration, typing blogs up and handling the correspondence with the public, which became a full-time job in itself over almost six years, taking up all of their spare time. Writing about the conditions – dead rats in the chow, cockroaches trying to crawl in my ears at night, gang murders, mayhem and violence – helped me deal with the situation and contributed to saving my sanity. Jon’s Jail Journal was inspired by a guard who said to me, “The world has no idea what’s really going on in here.” With a golf pencil sharpened on the door, I started documenting everything. I hid what I wrote in legal paperwork and letters. My aunt took the blog entries – still hidden in paperwork – out through Visitation, typed them up, and emailed them to my parents in England, who posted them to the Internet. As the blog became well known, kind strangers started to mail me books and letters from around the world. Their outpouring of support helped restore the faith in humanity I’d lost after experiencing inhumane conditions and witnessing constant brutality. It was as if my blog readers were there with me in spirit, and I’m forever grateful to them. On a mission to get the conditions changed, I was delighted when the BBC reported my blog. International media attention to the human rights violations followed. The maximum-security Madison Street jail was shut down a few years later, but Sheriff Joe Arpaio runs six different jails. He opened a new maximum-security high-tech house of horrors down the street. I even have footage of him on my YouTube channel bragging about his Tent City jail being a concentration camp. I still use the blog to campaign against Arpaio. Although incarceration worked for me, it was a disaster for most people I saw. Young people came in, were recruited by the gangs, started shooting up drugs, and committed acts of violence to earn racist tattoos. Perhaps that’s why Phoenix has the highest crime and re-offending in America, and Arpaio is the most sued sheriff.
How did you feel when you returned to England again, a free man?
I got off the plane with a small box containing my scant belongings. Walking through Gatwick Airport, I worried that UK officials might want a word about my criminal activity and lifelong ban from America, but I breezed through customs, which was a relief. With blurred vision, I had difficulty locating my parents among the hundred or so people thronging around the gate. Out of nowhere, Mum ran at me, her jacket flying up and landing on the floor, my sister behind, tears streaming. I dropped my box, and with an adrenalin rush hugged Mum off her feet, and hugged my sister and Dad. After I reassured them that I was OK, we made jokes about me looking like a Russian dissident due to my lengthy stubble and gaunt face. On what felt like the wrong side of the road, Dad drove us away. For the first time, I read Jon’s Jail Journal on a computer, and posted a blog entry myself:
13 Dec 07
This is Jon/Shaun.
I can’t thank you enough for all of your comments and support over the years. My prison journey is finally at an end! I’m at my sister’s flat in Fulham, London. Tomorrow, I’m heading for my parents’ house in Cheshire. Tonight, I’m being treated to Indian food with my family, and I hope to get a good night’s sleep after several harrowing days spent in transportation (no food, sleep, showers, etc).
Much love. Talk to you soon.
Blog comments poured in from all over the world, congratulations and well wishes, raising my spirits. A documentary maker arrived to capture my return to society on film. At night, we went for an Indian meal. I tried chicken tikka masala, my former favorite, but the meat activated my gag reflex, and brought back memories of the mystery-meat slop known as “red death” in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail, so I decided to remain vegetarian.
The next day, I did two BBC interviews. We traveled home on the motorway, a five-hour drive. We stopped at a fish ’n’ chip shop. I tried to order curry and rice – popular in in the northwest – but the young server’s thick northern accent was incomprehensible to me. He fetched a girl who spoke to me slowly and concisely as if I were mentally handicapped.
The drive through my town brought back memories as if I were in a dream. Inside my parents’ home, the feeling intensified as I checked out each room. I ate, read the latest blog comments, and tried to sleep. Wearing socks, a beanie, a dressing gown, and buried under two fifteen-tog duvets in a room with a radiator on, I couldn’t stop shivering as I was so used to the desert heat. My ears turned to ice. I sneezed. My nose ran. I only slept for a few hours, and woke up with my vision still blurred.
The next morning, I went on a food-shopping spree, loading up on fruit, nuts, cheese, bread and beans. Going from aisle to aisle, being able to buy a banana was the height of ecstasy for me. At home, I filled a spoon with peanut butter and a cup with milk, and tried to consume them like I did daily in prison, but they wouldn’t go down, so I spat them out. After it being my main source of protein for almost six years, I could no longer eat peanut butter.
Claudia called to wish me good luck. One of my best friends, Hammy, showed up with champagne, and offered to hook me up with a local nymphomaniac, so I could make up for lost time.
In the day, my mood was mostly up, but exhaustion came in waves. The next night, I slept for thirteen hours.
Still traumatized from the journey and the whole experience, I sat down at a desk upstairs in my parents’ house and wrote about my release to the people who understand Arizona prison the most and with whom I feel a lifelong bond because of the intensity of what we went through: my prison friends I left behind. Longing for their company, I filled with sadness, almost wishing I could return to prison just to be with them. An ache expanded from my jaw up through my face. Tears fell on the paper, moistening it like my sweat did when I wrote from Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail. My teeth chattered. I missed them so much, I couldn’t stop crying – no matter how hard I tried.
It took months to adjust back to society. My parents helped tremendously. I was institutionalized, and used to being told what I could and couldn’t do. My mum said I was like a puppy dog following her around the house, awaiting orders. At first, it was hard to stop reacting as if I was in prison, but over time, I returned to normal. To adjust in a healthy way, I structured my life around positive activity. Exercise keeps me mentally strong. Writing books and talking at schools keep me focused.
What advice would you offer someone who is enamored with the glamour and money of a drug-dealing lifestyle?
I can understand why you are enamored, but it ends with the police, prison or death. Every time you do drugs, the pleasure slowly decreases, the pain increases, and the addiction gets a stronger hold of you. The addiction is extremely demanding. Over time, it will devastate your life and the lives of your loved ones. You may make fast cash in the short run, but in the long run, dealing will ruin you financially when you get busted and the police confiscate your assets. Your addiction will take your health, and in some cases – as happened to several of my friends – you will die young. In jail, I was surrounded by people who’d gone much further down the road of drug use than me. Most of them were injecting drugs and had hepatitis C, which is hard to treat and can kill you by slowly destroying your liver. All of the fun, glitz and glamor were gone, but they still couldn’t stop taking drugs. They were committing slow suicide. They had yellow-jaundiced skin and eyes, and their teeth were rotting out. Seeing their condition put me off doing drugs for life, and made me ashamed that I had dealt drugs. You have the opportunity to avoid a road that ends in so much misery. Life is meant at times to be tough and challenging. It takes a strong mind to remain sober and refrain from the lure of drugs. There are better ways to put meaning into your life. Take a look at all of your interests, and try to channel you energy into positive ones. Physical activity in particular will put you on a natural high.
What are you up to these days?
I credit incarceration with sending my life in a whole new positive direction. I tell my story to schools across the UK and Europe to educate young people about the consequences of choosing the drugs lifestyle, in the hope they don’t make the same mistakes I did. The endless feedback I get from students makes me feel that the talks are a better way of repaying my debt to society than the sentence I served.
When I’m not talking at schools, I’m usually on my computer writing my life story as a trilogy, which has turned into a 15-year project. My first book, Hard Time, was published in 2010, and covers the time I spent as an unsentenced inmate in the jail system with the highest rate of death in America run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The prequel to Hard Time, Party Time was recently published by Mainstream, a division of Random House. Many of the scenes in “Raving Arizona” are based on Party Time and Hard Time. I’m polishing up the third and final installment from the English Shaun Trilogy, Prison Time, about the time I served in the Arizona Department of Corrections once I was sentenced. I hope to finish it by the end of 2013.
In prison, I formed friendships with people serving long sentences, some of whom are never getting released. My brief taste of their suffering instilled me with a long-lasting desire to do what I can for them, including keeping their voices being heard on the Internet at Jon’s Jail Journal. It’s my hope that this episode of Locked-Up Abroad and my book, Hard Time, raise awareness of the conditions in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail system. I’d like to see Arpaio get voted out of office, and a new sheriff put an end to murder, mayhem and human rights violations. It’s also my hope that by posting to the Internet what I’m doing in the schools and how I’m developing as an author, prisoners will be inspired to achieve positive goals. I have a lot of friends in prison who are rooting for me to succeed, and looking at me as a role model.
Finally, I’d like to thank the staff at Raw TV and National Geographic for enabling me to realize my dream of exposing Arpaio’s jail conditions to the world.