Although Russia does not want me in its country, it also doesn't want me to leave. This paradox for days could not be resolved by me. Now, it can. Everything is about extracting every last cent out of me.
At the Russian State Department, I was not allowed to submit my paper work unless my host was there. I couldn't understand this. I found a woman who spoke fluent English, and she said would be my host. They accepted my paperwork, but somehow they discovered she was not my host. They threw the papers back to me.
So - I had to call my host. I felt so ashamed again to pull him away from his work. I called my Embassy, who tried to talk to the Russian State Department agent. She just screamed at me and told me she would not speak to my agency.
I hugged the woman who tried to help me. She was an angel, unlike the state department agent. Eventually my host came. They accepted my paperwork, but had more procedures for me to go through. They led us to the basement, which reminded me of 1984.
The walls were cracking in paint. There were a few, bright white fluorescent lights. You already felt like a criminal. After waiting an hour, they said, "Time to leave. Lunch break." My host called another friend to help me out.
When we returned, we waited long hours again and they really did treat me like a criminal this time. I said outloud, "I feel like a criminal." My friend said, "You technically are one."
They rolled my fingers in ink. They were wet and sticky. They rolled all of my prints on a paper. They then made me sign a paper that said, "I knew I had the right to remain silent, but I had waived my right."
I asked my agent, "What if I don't sign this?"
He said, "We'll throw you in prison."
I said, "Ok." So, I signed it. Remember, this is all for overstaying on my visa, while being told that I wasn't overstaying.
Then he made me fill out a confession. He dictated the confession to me word for word, and I just wrote it down and signed it. This is all real by the way!
Then, a few hours later, he drove my translator and me to the courthouse in a van. At least I wasn't handcuffed. We were being treated well because the other Central Asian, who violated his visa rules, was made to walk.
The court officials thumbed through my passport and said, "Oh, an American passport." They pointed to the chip in it. They thumbed through all the places I went through and said, "Ah - the guy's been to Dubai." My translator said this was a blatant abuse of official power to make fun of the American.
The agent walked in to see the judge before we were allowed in. I knew what was happening. They were setting my fine price. They didn't let us in.
Then we were allowed in, and I stood before the judge, proud and dignant because I had done no wrong - at least in my opinion. The judge summed me up and asked me to approach. I suppose I was supposed to be intimidated by everyone's uniforms and the formality they were on them. I was not. Probably because I've took on the LAPD enough times with my law firm. Probably because there was very little I was afraid of anymore. The following conversation was done through translation.
The judge asked, "Do you accept your guilt?"
I replied, "I did not know I overstayed. I was given misinformation at Moscow Passport Control; I followed it. And you can see, I tried to leave five days later, exactly like I was told."
"Where did you go?"
"I went to Lake Baikal and the Altai Mountains."
He smiled at this. It would be like a foreigner telling an American judge he went to Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Sequois. The judge was proud Russia had gems to offer me.
He said, "I still pronounce you guilty." Of course, I thought. He went on, "Your fine is 5000 rubules ($166)."
I said, "Your honor can you please lower your fine. This hassle has cost me so much in terms of flight changes."
"That is not the problem of this court."
"May I have one more word?"
"I was trained in law. Your honor, for me to be guilty I must have intended to break the law. As you can see, I had no such intent. I was under the belief my visa was valid."|
"Yes, but if you had intended to break the law, you would have been deported."
This statement angered me the most because I knew that he believed my sincerity and my story and still pronounced such a high fine for such a stupid infraction. I sat down.
The Central Asian, who came from a former Soviet country was also pronounced guilty. He lied to the judge and made up a story of how he was sick and couldn't leave. He overstayed several months to work on illegal contracts. The judge did not look happy and fined him only 4,000 rubules.
I left that courtroom upset. The agent was mad too and defensive. He said to my translator, "Your American friend should be happy. We could have deported him."
I didn't fight him, but I wanted to say, "And I would have been happy if you deported me so I could leave your corrupt country." But that wouldn't have helped.
I walked out angry and stressed. Usually, the fine is only 2000 rubules. I suppose the State Department is raising their price.
Let me explain why I was upset. One, I was fined more for being American! Everyone, in the room knew this and my translator admitted it. The agent even said, "He's American. He can pay." Two, the court is supposed to be an independent, fair, trier of fact. Here, it was just a pawn of the State Department. I told my translator, this is just a show and pony trial. Russia wants to pretend it's democractic. It forces a confession out of me, and then proceeds to have a show trial, all so they can charge me this much money. It's a business to keep all these state officials alive.
He just said, "The only injustice here is not that you were charged 5,000 rubules. It's that the Central Asian was charged 4,000 rubules."
Anyways, I thanked my translator and bought him dinner. For the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to be in the scapegoat class. You have no remedy but to put up with it. I heard so many stories of how the Jews in Russia were told that they couldn't be doctors or lawyers because they were Jewish. Well - being Asian or American really didn't put me in a better class. I was punished more severely because of my nationality. Now, I know why they didn't let me leave Russia. You can leave Russia but pay lots more first!
I hatched plan (I think viable) to leave Russia like a coyote. My translator called my host, who said, "What?! Is this some kind of American joke?" I guess that idea was a no-go, but I think it viable nonetheless.
Although I've been blogging on the unhappy, which readers cannot read too much of without it being too much, there is some good news. While under Russian house arrest, I've come across plesant surprises. I met a new Russian friend. I began doing more scientific research and think I know what's the origin of all cancer mutations. Tomorrow, I probably tour some cathedrals and the day after some modern art galleries.