Out of Office Reply is Associate Editor Taylor Paul’s column on surf travel, big waves, and other manly bits
Doing time in a dank European prison cell is core score way up. Ricky Whitlock. Photos by Jimmicane
Note: The following story took place three years ago. The effects of the incident still linger.
Ricky Whitlock’s cell is an eight-by-eight-foot concrete box that’s three stories below the ground. No windows. No bathroom. There’s a bench, also concrete, that he can lie on. The walls sweat icy condensation.
Ricky’s alone in a Spanish jail, accused of murder. He doesn’t know he’s accused of murder, however; he thinks he’s there because of a fight. A scuffle, really. Some drunk teenagers jumped him outside of a surf industry party in San Sebastian and he fought back. It tapered off. It was over. Not really, though. The cops grabbed him a few blocks away and threw him in la carcel. That night (with Ricky in his cell), the cops killed a man while making an arrest. In their panic to lighten themselves of such a burden, they said something that loosely translated to, “Let’s pin it on the yank.”
This is Ricky’s second visit with a judge in as many days. His honor presents Ricky with a photo of a Spanish man with a dirty beard, the same photo he showed him yesterday, and asks Ricky if he saw the man at the industry party. Ricky did not. And who cares anyway? That wasn’t one of the guys I fought, Ricky thinks. The judge barks something to a guard, who leads Ricky back down the stairs.
The cell bars swing shut behind him — meeeeee — door hinges whine like a closing submarine hatch. As the guard locks the cell, Ricky asks for the time.
“Dos y media,” the guard says.
Ricky lies on his concrete slab, staring at pocks in the grey ceiling. Insomnia’s plagued him the past two days, but his mind swirls with worries, what ifs and what the f–ks. It overwhelms. Ricky dozes off.
He dreams of Carlsbad and he dreams of Tank, his English bulldog. Tank sits in a hallway, head tilted, and speaks to him, “When are you coming home?” Ricky moves towards Tank, but his prized pet vanishes before he can embrace him.
Ricky twitches awake and sits upright. Dizzy, he wonders if it’s today or tomorrow. “Hey,” he gets the guard’s attention. “What time is it?” The guard frowns, annoyed. “Son las tres,” he says. Today.
Information about Ricky has spread on the outside. It’s on the news in Spain — Americano Incarcerado en San Sebastian. His friends, family and sponsors know more than he does. His Facebook page is splattered with “Are you okay?” and “Dude, is this true?” messages. His mom pleads for help from the U.S. government, but they can’t or won’t help.
Ricky is sitting on his bench when they arrive, and it happens fast. Cell opens — meeeee — they take him to the judge. They know he’s not guilty and are letting him go. He must leave San Sebastian immediately, they tell him. The locals still think he did it and want to kill him. Ricky doesn’t bother with the how’s and the why’s and gets the f–k out of there. He gathers his things from his friend Piko’s house, gets a cab, and he’s on the next flight home.
He’s one of the last people on the plane, and shuffles impatiently behind the remaining passengers. Just get me out of here. Ricky finds his seat and stows his backpack in the last remaining overhead bin. He shuts it — meeeee. His pulse sprints. His hands clam. His brow moistens. It’s Ricky’s first of many bouts of anxiety associated with the sound. A noise that means metal bars, cramped spaces and cold slabs of concrete.