If you tuned in to Mike Cooke’s heart-pounding story on Locked Up Abroad: Mexican Prison Escape, I’m sure you have questions. We checked in with Mike to get answers and see what life is like for him today and here’s what he had to say:
Before you took off for Mexico with your buddies, how were your sailing skills? Had you been sailing a long time?
Had sailed for a couple of years previously. Local Channel Islands (like Catalina) and one trip to Ensenada, Mexico. (120 mi. r/t)
You initially went to Mexico searching for a dream surf spot… What type of place did you imagine? Did you ever find it?
Mexico surf at that time was uncrowded and mostly unknown, especially the spots only accessible by boat. We found waves, but not the ultimate Shangri-La.
When you guys arrived in Mazatlan on your boat, you mentioned it was falling apart… Did you have any harrowing close calls during this first leg of your sailing journey?
After we had anchored in the bay at Mazatlan, we went into town, only to come back and find that the locals had cut our anchor line and stolen our anchor. The boat was sitting high and dry on the beach! (We think the same guys that stole it, helped us get the boat back out off the beach.) We used a standby generator (it had never really worked) as our new anchor. With limited success.
Before you met Frank, had you heard stories of people successfully transporting marijuana back to the States? Did any other ex-pats talk openly about this?
Of course we had heard of people smuggling pot, but didn’t know anyone personally. There was always a lot of talk but very little action.
What was the scariest thing you witnessed in the Mexican prison?
I saw a guy shoot up heroin into his [penis]. That scared me so much I swore I would never do heroin myself.
During lock-up, were you surprised by anything you missed? (ex: a particular food, drink, scent, or clothing item?)
Freedom and women!
Do you still keep in touch with any of the guys from this ordeal? Did you ever find out what happened to Benny?
Mace and Frank only. Have tried to contact the others, but never have located them.
What do you think would’ve happened if you’d been caught during your prison escape, or if you never attempted escape in the first place?
First thing they do is beat the crap out of you. Then throw you in the “hole” for 30 days. Then, start your time to trial over. They don’t have to give you a trial for one year, so whatever time you’ve already done waiting for trial, starts over. However, under Napoleonic Code in Mexico, as a prisoner, it’s your right to try and escape. We would have been sentenced to at least 5 years each. At that time, the U.S. was paying Mexico extra money to keep Americans locked up.
How has the experience in Mexico changed you as a person?
It made me see “you can get it if you really want” (that’s a song) and if you don’t try, your never gonna get it. Guaranteed!
Have you ever traveled back to Mexico?
I’ve been to Ensenada only once since. My lawyer said it would PROBABLY be OK, just don’t go back to Mazatlan! I’m OK with that.
Did you ever sail a boat again, after that terrifying shipwreck ordeal?
I went ahead a few years later and built my own 42′ sailboat from a bare hull (took 3 years) then went to the So. Pacific on it for two years. Then I lived aboard and sailed locally for the next 20 years.
What are you up to these days?
After my sailing trip, I went to a diving school for two years, then worked as a saturation diver in the No. Sea (Scotland). Then I was a commercial diver here in Calif. for the next 10 years. Then I was the boat captain of the diving boat for the next 15 years. For the last 15 years I have been a carpenter here in Santa Barbara.