tv Locked Up Abroad MSNBC February 21, 2016 6:00pm-7:01pm PST
i cannot believe i really was in colombia. not only 18, i wasn't even thinking about you're going smuggle drugs. i'm going literally have it in my bra and in my underwear. >> get me out of here! >> i realized i was set up. so now i'm suspicious of everybody. bitch, this better be a part of, you know, the plan.
how do you call your mom and tell her that you're in a third world country for trafficking heroin? i just felt so destroyed inside. my life had been ripped away from me. ♪ >> i was born and raised in brooklyn, new york. i was 18 years old with no direction in life. my mom and i lived by ourselves in a two-bedroom apartment. never met my father. it's just been me and my mom, so that's why i was always kind of hurt at the fact that we never
really got along. i just wanted to be free and live my life, you know, and her being a mother and keeping me in was making me want to break free even more. i was around 370 pounds. and being 5'4", that's big. when you're stuck in a certain mind frame and you don't have hope to get out of that, and you have this habit of eating, you basically stay right there. because this is all i know. this is my comfort food. i love clothes and i like fashion. when i did apply for a job, i felt like they would look at me like she is not going to do the work. she is going to be lazy. >> i don't think so. >> and i just felt like a lot of times i would be discriminated against because of my size. but i used to act like it didn't bother me. but now, you know, it bothered me.
i remember one day i see this article about gastric bypass surgery. they were just making it seem like oh, this surgery, and it will change your life. because there were people who got it already and they have lost this dramatic amount of weight. and i'd be like oh, that's going to be me. oh, and i'm cute. i'm going get that. so it was like a eureka moment. i'm going to be able to go shopping. i'm going get a job, and i'm going to have money. i just felt like with that surgery, all these great things in my life would come to. i started, you know, trying to find out about it. i found out that i was going to have to pay, like, roughly $6,000. that's when it became, like, oh, boy, money again. like it always boils down to that. i found something that can actually help me lose weight and
maybe lose weight quickly and help me change my life around, and i had to find a way to come up with money and really think, you know, what am i going to do. i think it was in the morning, and there was a knock on my door. my cousin went to go get it. >> what's up? >> so i go to the door, and she has this guy with her. i hear him telling my cousin, talk spanish. >> hasta la vista. >> i'm standing there thinking who is this? why is he at my door? why is my cousin speaking spanish to this man? i asked him why do you need someone to speak spanish? and he said do you know spanish? yeah, i do. >> can you tell me something in spanish? [ speaking spanish ] his eyes lit up. to me it's so normal like hello, i'm puerto rican and colombian.
i was okay. why do you need someone to speak spanish? >> and he is just like i need someone to go to colombia. >> i was like really? my grandmother is from there. it was always a dream of mine to go to colombia. and he lowered his voice. and he was, well, i need someone to -- >> bring some drugs back for me. >> it was kind of like are you serious moment? drugs? okay. i was kind of, you know, alarmed. but at the same time i was kind of curious. i was just thinking no job. i know there is money involved. what are you going to do, viv? he was well give me your phone number. i'll call you later, you know. so we can meet up. >> okay. >> okay. take care. >> basically crunch time. it's either i'm going to do it
or i'm going to stay in the same predicament. [ ringing ] >> peter called me like around 5:00, 5:30. >> okay. >> he is like, what are you doing? >> yeah. >> damn, this is for real. everything is happening so fast. >> hi. >> i'm, like, well, what do you need me to bring back? and he is like, well, i need you to bring back a kilo. >> cocaine. >> so i'm thinking, like, okay. a kilo. okay. that's a lot. so i asked him, like, so how much does it pay? he is okay, well --
>> $20,000 something. >> $20,000? when was i ever going to get an opportunity like just handed to me like that? when was that going to occur? never. what's so special about this life of mine that it's not worth taking a risk of doing this for 20 grand? like hey, why not? so i was just, like, i'll do it. >> okay. >> yeah, i'll go. i was traveling on the 26th, which was the day after christmas. i hid the ticket in a box. i was so excited. i would open it and i'm looking at it. i wasn't even thinking about oh, you're going smuggle drugs. i was thinking you're going to colombia. it's now december 26th, the day
that i was going to fly out. i tell my mom that i was going to go stay with a friend of my cousin. finally with enough pleading and arguing with her, she gave me the okay. and i was just looking at her, like, i hope i see you again, you know. >> i got to go, mom. >> i gave her another kiss. i told her i loved her. and she gave me the bendicion, which is in spanish is like a god bless you. i just kind of wish like she would have found the ticket and ripped it up and i wouldn't be doing this. but then i had to face the fact
that what was done was done. i already said yes, you know. i couldn't go back. being on the plane, you know, for the first time, it was very exciting. i cannot believe i'm really almost to colombia. i'm going to my grandmother's birth country. i'm going finally get to see the one place that i've always wanted to see my whole life. oh my god, i'm going to finally have the money to do this gastric. i'm not going to spend my money stupidly, and i'm going save it and i'm going to do what i got to do with it. and i was just like this is so unreal. when i landed in barranquilla, it was like i stepped into a furnace. it was so hot. i was worried about the danger in colombia. i knew that they kidnapped tourists because they think tourists have money. i was scared somebody could have tried to rob me. stab me, like i didn't know what
to think. i went into the waiting area. i see this guy there, and he is waving at me, and he is like viviana. >> viviana, viviana, hola. bienvenida. >> i definitely had a sense of relief that i wasn't abandoned at the airport and there was somebody there to get me. i was feeling still a little bit nervous because i didn't know the driver. i didn't know what they could have been capable of doing or if things could have went ugly or what, you know. and i get in the car. carlos turns around. he's like coma estas? he had the salt and pepper hair. he had the mustache, that he
could be my grandfather. i was a little bit more reassured about my trip, was i'm feeling like okay, everything is flowing the way it's supposed to. it may sound weird because i wasn't born there, but i just felt like i was home in a sense. i'm in my grandmother's home. so we pull up into this hotel. carlos, he tells me to be up bright and early in the morning because he is going to come get me. >> okay. >> i go in my room. and i'm thinking, like, oh my god, viv, you're really out here by yourself. i basically was trying to psych myself into thinking oh, everything is going to be --
everything is going to be fine. but in the back of my mind i'm thinking well what if everything ain't fine? it's kind of a little battle with myself, you know, trying to calm myself down but still having that urge of thinking what if something goes wrong. that night i had a dream with a friend of mine who had passed away. he is really upset at me. he is tomorrow you get locked up. esurwhich means fewer costs, which saves money. their customer experience is virtually paperless, which saves paper, which saves money. they have smart online tools,
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♪ no, you're not ♪ yogonna watch it! ♪tch it! ♪ ♪ we can't let you download on the goooooo! ♪ ♪ you'll just have to miss it! ♪ yeah, you'll just have to miss it! ♪ ♪ we can't let you download... uh, no thanks. i have x1 from xfinity so... don't fall for directv. xfinity lets you download your shows from anywhere. i used to like that song. the next day when i woke up, i was kind of hoping that it was all a dream. i'm looking around, and i'm like
damn, i'm still here. so i come outside, and the first thing i'm thinking is what are we doing for the day. then when we left, he told me he was going to take me to his friend's house. and he is like peter did tell you how you're going carry, right? yeah, peter told me that i was going to have it on me. he is, like, yeah. but don't worry about it. we're going to go measure your bust and you know, your hip size, to make the underwear and the bra to hold the drugs. i got a little bit nervous. i really didn't know what to expect. this guy comes out. and he is an older man.
he is very nice. and the first thing he asks is do we want black coffee. that's a very big thing in colombia is black coffee. i'm looking around the house, and it was a very humble home. a lot of pictures up. so we're sitting in there, and carlos goes go in the room and take off your stuff real quick, you know, so he can measure you. so i'm like thinking to myself, i don't even know him, and i got to take my clothes off and stand in bra and panty in front of him.
and he is don't worry, you look really uneasy. i'm going to do it really fast. i took off my pants and my shirt. i felt very uncomfortable because i'm a big girl. it was very uneasy for me. what kept playing in my mind is why do i have to have it on me? why can't it be in my suitcase? i've never heard of that before. i've never heard of no one traveling with drugs on them, you know.
all these thoughts are running through my mind, and i'm trying to no, vivian, just relax. i get dressed and i go out there, and i'm thinking to myself, again, what is it with these people? do they really think carrying this stuff on me isn't going to be noticeable? but then, you know, try to brush it off and i'm thinking to myself well, this is what they do. he must know what he is talking about. let's go with the flow. so we pull up into the hotel. and i'm thinking i didn't call home yet. i go across the street, and i call my cousin.
>> hi, maria, it's vivian. she is you like it out there? how is it? i'm telling her that i was fine, i was safe. >> no everything is fine. >> so i tell them i'll give another ring soon. i'm, like, wow, you know, colombia was really nice. it was very alive. so that kind of calmed me. i definitely was feeling a little bit more safe. as soon as i woke, i saw my phone rings. >> hello? hi, carlos. >> and he is like don't call home too much. >> what? >> at this point i feel like okay, i'm being watched. so now i'm suspicious of everybody. everybody that speaks to me, everybody that says hi. i feel like the receptionist in the hotel was the one who told
him because she was just super friendly. >> hello. >> i couldn't sleep. i was just scared that something could happen to me. so now i'm basically, like, a sheep in a pack of wolves. the next day a part of me really wanted to run back, but i'm like, all right, i'm still here, you know. let me just do what i have to do. carlos calls my phone. >> hello? >> he is, like, you're going have a good day today. and i'm like okay. we're going somewhere special. we're going to take you to the beach. so but i'm thinking to the beach, you know, to have fun. you know, we're going to go,
we're going to be on the sand, i'm going to get to experience the water and go swimming. i come downstairs, and he is like, you're good to go? yeah, i'm good. we're driving, and we're driving, and we're driving. we had to be on the road for about close to an hour. i asked them, you know are you sure we're going to the beach? and they start laughing. the driver is like, yeah, we're going to the beach. don't worry. we were going somewhere that kind of got me a little iffy.
finally we pull up to a hut restaurant. and he was, like, i just want you to meet some people. so i'm thinking, oh, lord, like what now? and there are these two women sitting there. one of them was really quiet. the other one, she was more on a friendly note. >> do you want to sit? >> gracias. >> i'm thinking to myself, okay, maybe these two girls are going to be trafficking with me. you know, that's the first thought that ran in my mind when i saw them. i thought why are we coming to meet two females. carlos is like, okay, well, these two work at the airport. one of them works here in barranquilla, the other one
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i went by the water. i just really thought about, okay, like, oh, viv, you were so worried for nothing. everything really is taken care of, you know. don't worry about it. like you're going to be good. you're going to go home. everything is going to be fine. i was actually very surprised, because i'm thinking, you know, i know that people all over the place, you know, they have inside jobs. but i can't believe they're in on this. like they're really going to search me. carlos drops me off. he is, like, i'll be back tomorrow, and i'm going to come bring you the undergarments. >> manana?
>> si, manana. >> when he said that, that kind of put the nervous fright back in me. tomorrow he is going to bring me the undergarments, and the next thing i'm leaving that kind of put me at a damn, i'm really about to do this. [ ringing ] >> yeah? hi. >> the phone rings, and it's carlos, and he is i'm coming up. [ knocking ] >> he was very businessy. he gives me the duffel bag. he tells me go in the bathroom, you know, just put this on. the bra was normal. it just felt really heavy.
everything fit. it didn't look abnormal. it looked fine. but as i'm touching it, i notice that you can hear the plastic from the package. that really scared me. it would just take the wrong person to brush past me, it's over. >> carlos? >> i basically was touching it and telling him, don't you hear it? and he is looking at me like oh, only a little bit. i'm no, you can hear it. i can hear it. i'm not going crazy. and he is like no, it's fine, i'm telling you, don't worry about it. that's what he kept telling me. don't worry about it. >> okay? >> okay. >> i wanted to give you these. they were two little real small
blue pills. he was like these pills are basically for your nerves. the way i was feeling so wrecked at the moment, it was like just give them to me. he is saying they're for my nerves, i'm going to believe that they're for my nerves, and i'm just going to take them. >> bueno. >> he was like i didn't know you were going to be this young. so when he said that, i'm thinking something is up, but i can't really put my finger on it. now that i'm thinking back, it was my instinct letting me know, like, this is no good. i was okay, if pat lightly, i can't really hear the plastic.
but if i pat hard, i can. so now i'm really worried and scared. this is do or die. i was trying to calm myself down, but still having that urge of thinking what if something goes wrong. about 25 minutes into the ride, the impact i guess of the pills just hit me like, and i just felt really high. i was on cloud nine. you could tell me anything. i just felt like i was cool. i had my shades. i sat in the car and i feel good, like everything is going to be okay.
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he gave me that boost. so i basically feel i'm going to get through this. everything is going to be fine. so i'm looking, i'm looking. all right. where is isabel from the beach? and i see her there, you know, all with her uniform and everything. she's at the check stand. i got in line, and i got close. we gave each other like a quick, like that quick glance, like all right, i see you, i know you're there. so i put my case through the x-ray machine. i stand in front of her, you
know, i put my arms out. and at first she did the scanner. and then she did, like, a quick pat. as she was patting me down, i was just thinking dear god, please don't let this plastic sound off. i know she is going to the hear it. i don't want to make it as obvious. maybe someone behind me or beside me could have heard it. she was like you're good. so i grab my bag, and i'm just thinking, like, whew. phase one, out the window. we got, you know -- i'm fine.
♪ >> i made it through the first airport, but i had three more to go. okay. all right, viv, game's on. we arrive at bogota, and now i got to change flights. i see all the security that you got to go through. and i'm like oh my goodness. i didn't get warned about this. and then there are all these police dogs everywhere. and i'm looking at the dog, and i feel like the dog is looking at me. stay over there, dog.
don't come this way. my heart was just pounding. everything was becoming too much. i used the bathroom, and i'm thinking, like what if i just flush all of this and just go home and say i lost it or something. but i'm just thinking like, i laugh to myself. no, you're crazy. this is a man he knew my apartment, he knew where my mom lived, he knew my friends. so i just chucked it up and felt like okay, what is done is done, i have to go through with it. the moment i see maria, i'm just thinking thank god she is here. she didn't make no eye contact with me. she didn't look at me, you know, she played her part pretty damn well.
one of my main concerns was that one of the other security guards near her were going to be finished. and if they would have been finished, they would have told me, you know, let me search you. i'm just praying nothing goes wrong. i'm in her line. she is about to search me. everything is good. so i walk up to her, and i put my arms out. she is being actually pretty rough. she was, you know, tapping me real hard and grabbing me. i was looking at her like, okay, but then as i saw how the other security guards, they all kind of were a little aggressive. so i was thinking maybe they
have to be this way. she comes down towards my breasts, she stops. she is like what is that? and i was like nothing. >> nadie. nada. nada. >> she was, like, come with me. and i give her the look like you got to be kidding me right now? the pills haven't worn off yet. i'm trying to be positive on every level. okay. maybe she has to do this. maybe this is part of the whole routine. the first thing she does is she
goes into the bra. and she pulls out the package. i'm thinking like okay, she has to do this, maybe she is supposed to do this. i'm just kind of confused. at the moment, i guess the pills were like a savior for me to keep me from worrying. she takes out the package in the back. she turns me around, and she does it also in the front. she is like, sit down. she gets on the phone. and she was like i need you to come into the search room. and i'm looking at her with this face like, bitch, this better be a part, you know, of the plan. >> maria!
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in comes this girl. and then maria tells her, like, i got to go. you stay here with her. you act like you're the one who arrested her. and then she told her we'll fix things later. this girl starts talking really fast in spanish. the pills didn't wear off yet. everything was vividly clear. like i knew i was caught, but in my mind i was thinking maybe -- maybe they're going to let me go. all these officers come in. and the pills actually had me at a very calm state, like even through all of this. i know it may seem unreal, but nothing was really registering, you know, in my mind. it wasn't like vivian, you've
just been arrested. they take me on this long walk, and everybody is looking. it was like the walk of shame. yeah, like i'm really in such denial at the moment. like everything kind of got blurred. is this for real? no, this ain't for real. i didn't get handcuffed. i'm thinking, well, maybe they're just going to keep my drugs and let me go home, put me back on my plane. the police officer says, like, you know, who sent you out here? and i'm like nobody, myself. and he is like oh, so you arranged all of this? i'm, like, yeah. i don't in telling. i don't believe in snitching because i basically put myself in the fire, and now i got
burned. he is, like, well, you know this is heroin. i was shocked. i was numb. and i felt -- and i was very angry. he is like, well, you know that you're going to go to jail for, like, 12 to 20 years. i'm thinking oh -- the door slams. and it's like literally the slam knocked the damn pill effect out of my body. and i'm thinking i'm really going to jail.
i'm really going to jail. but if i really do get these 12 years, i'm only 18, 12 years, i'll be getting out of here in my early 30s. i basically feel like i was done, completely done. >> i want to make a phone call. i'm an american! >> i was banging the door. >> i deserve a phone call! >> i'm banging and banging and banging, telling them to get me out of here. >> i'm an american! i deserve a phone call! get me out of here! can anybody hear me? >> i got a guard to come and finally convinced him to let me out to make a phone call. i called home. what am i going to tell my mother? what am i going to tell my mother? how do you call your mom and tell her that you're in a third world country for trafficking heroin?
>> hi. >> and i'm like, ma, you know, i need you to sit down because i have to tell you something. and i take a deep breath, and i'm like, i'm in jail. she just got so hysterical. and i'm trying to calm her down. and i felt very selfish at that point because i just felt like was $20,000 worth -- is any amount worth going to jail, or losing your family, losing your friends, being alone? nobody move! get on the floor! do something!
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they drove me to the jail. and i remember seeing all these military style men. and i'm like, where am i? you know, i didn't really know what to expect. you would have thought like a top-notch celebrity just walked in the building. all eyes were on me. and it ain't because i'm american. it was because of my size. got these ugly women asking me real stupid questions like, how did you get that big? and what do they eat in the
states? like anybody can grab you. anybody can snatch you up or steal your belongings or anything because everybody is just there. i don't know if i'm even going to be able to handle this. meeting other inmates, and you know, sharing -- exchanging stories, i basically realized, like, i was set up. i think carlos was in on it. peter was in on it. i know for sure maria was in on it. isabelle, she let me through, but that probably was just part of deal, too, for me to get caught in bogota. i was like a small fish. like, i was basically bait, you know, so bigger -- bigger
shipments could probably go through. i just would sleep literally from the count in the morning all the way until about 7:00, 8:00 at night. i just felt so destroyed inside, and so numb. and i just felt like my life had been ripped away from me. i just one day woke up with this thought of, no. i basically wrote myself a letter. it says, dear vivian, i know you're going through, you know, a hard time. and i know you feel like you are
never going to make it out of this, but you are. from that date, i did a complete 360. i started teaching english. and you know, i felt like i was actually doing something really productive with my life. it just made me appreciate, you know, our classrooms, our teachers, you know, the free education. that's what really made me say, okay, you know, when i go home, you know, i'm going to try to go back to school. the moment i stepped out was like the air was different.
i was just looking around, and embracing the littlest things. you get all these mixed emotions at one moment. i got a chance to live to see tomorrow and try to make up for all the wrong that i did. when i got to new york, i think i was a lot different from the person i was, you know, when i got locked up at 18. i learned to value all the little things in my life and not take it for granted and be ungrateful and be selfish. stop here. when i saw my mother, i just gave here, like, the biggest, you know, tightest hug.
i was just saying sorry. and i loved her. and she was telling me she loved me. ♪ it took almost 22 years for us to have this real connection as a mother and daughter. i start to go back to school and get my g.e.d. and my associate's degree in social work to be a social worker. and i just decided that, you know, i wasn't going to let my size or other obstacles come in my way, stop me anymore. i learned that no amount of money in this world is worth your freedom. being free, you are capable of everything.
the sky's the limit. you know, everything is in front of you. being behind bars, that's where you're stuck. >> we were in among some pretty extreme guys. we needed to get the hell out of there. >> they were like robots programmed to kill. >> i was the enemy. there was nothing but the trigger pull. you will not hear another sound. >> his life was in my hands. >> you're an american spy. >> i'm faced with something that goes beyond the bullet. at that moment, there were no two people that could have been closer.