Good Cops / Bad Cops

He does not remember how many days had passed since his last time with his torturer when three guards came for him. It was not to take him to be tortured or the courtyard to be shot, but the infirmary.

The nurse who tended to his festering wounds while his guards left them alone to perform the noon prayers took pity on him, or so it would seem. After bandaging his feet, she gave him some money and opened a window to the outside world and asked if was too high for him to jump. He jumped.

Torture was usually followed by execution not a trip to the infirmary. The escape from Bushehr prison may have been facilitated by the Revolutionary Guard who, having failed to convince Sohrab through torture and fake executions to reveal the identity of his associates, now hoped he would lead them to them.

Sohrab was now on the run, staying for a few days in “safe houses” to give a chance for his wounds to heal and his beard to grow as he made his way towards the Afghan border. The Revolutionary Guard would undoubtedly look for him in the opposite direction, that of Khomeini’s mortal enemy: Saddam Hussein.

When his beard was long enough to fit in with the Taliban, he crossed into Afghanistan. On foot, and using whatever transportation was available, somehow he made it to Pakistan. He stayed there for more than a year before circumstances allowed him to purchase a plane ticket for Kuwait. It was while in Kuwait that he became an alcoholic.

He was in Kuwait illegally. To earn a living he passed himself off as a Christian, obtaining a Christian card on the black market. With his Christian card, he would check into a hotel and have hard liquor delivered to his room. By prior arrangement, groups of Muslim men would pay him a visit, and for a fee, quickly guzzle what Sohrab had to offer. To reassure them it was not a setup, Sohrab would down a bottle of his booze before anyone else.

It was only a matter of time before the Kuwait government announced another crackdown on those who were in the country illegally. Sohrab escaped to Poland, then the former Czechoslovakia, and finally Spain where he was able to obtain the necessary documents to come to Canada where he claimed refugee status.

In Canada, he started a business that he had learned from his father: restoring Persian carpets to their former glory. The money was good and that meant he could afford to drink to excess. He had never learned social drinking. He indulged in the type of drinking he had done in Kuwait, and that meant many a trip to the Ottawa police station for being found intoxicated in a public place.

It was during one of these trips to the Ottawa police station that he was given a lesson in prisoner etiquette. He says he probably had it coming (although I don’t see any justification for what happened) because he was “mouthing off” perhaps more than usual. The car pulled over in a darkened section of the street and the officer in the passenger seat got out of the car and got in the back seat with him and started punching him hard in the ribs leaving him in pain and gasping for breath. There was nothing he could do to protect himself with his hands handcuffed behind his back.

As Stacy Bonds would discover you have to be careful about what you say to Ottawa cops, even a simple question might set them off. On one visit to the police station he got a more discreet appreciation of what she would experience. The officers, who were literally holding him up, said that the elevator to where they were taking him was broken and they would have to take the stairs. At the top of the stairs they accidentally let go of Sohrab sending him tumbling down the stairs.

Sohrab does not hold a grudge. He says, for the most part he was well treated, and considers most of the police officers who had to deal with him decent people. I got proof of this when we were walking on a downtown portion of Bank Street and a police officer who recognized Sohrab and whom Sohrab recognized joined us to congratulate him on turning his life around.

On another occasion it was a squad car that pulled over to ask Sohrab how things were going. Because of the friendly nature of the conversation I have to assume they were not looking for a reason to pick him up.

The most heartwarming  was the officer who listened. During his “drunken years”, as he calls them, he caused a lot of grief for local merchants and the police, for which he is very sorry. Thanks to the John Howard Society and Alcoholics Anonymous he is a new man.

As part of Alcoholics Anonymous twelve steps program to recovery he has tried to apologize to merchants, to people he treated shabbily, including police officers. Most of the merchants accepted his apology and left it at that; one exception, a large drugstore in the Ottawa community of Vanier from which he had been banned during his “drunken years.”

He was looking for medicine for a severely blistered foot when he was detained by security based on a more than two year old warning that he was not allowed in the store. The police were called.

The officer who answered the call, instead of believing security who told him what he was like before, took the time to listen to the man who talked about the person he is today. The officer then asked store security to apologize to a shopper who was simply looking for something to ease the pain.

Thank you.

Bernard Payeur