TBT - (1971) "JAIL TIME!"

All experiences are learning opportunities - going to jail can accelerate that. In the early '70's I was in Central America and thrown in jail on the small island of Utila, Honduras. We had recently opened the island's first tourist hotel (the Bahia Lodge) and the conservative element in the town's 1,800 citizenry was going through a kind of 'culture shock' with all the hippie/backpacker foreign tourists invading their quiet little backwater island town.

The town's mayor and police chief decided to come up with local regulations to curb any immoral influence we foreigners might have on the island - first and foremost was the "no shirt" law. Any foreigner in the town limits not wearing a shirt was to be arrested and fined 15 Limpiras (Honduran currency). My protests about these regulations and pleas for encouraging and not discouraging tourism fell on deaf ears - all I got was "NO!" It was like dealing with Republicans.

What I really saw in the actions of the town leaders was jealousy and envy - what I did not know was how to deal with it. So . . . I got myself arrested for not wearing a shirt just outside my hotel. In the spectator crowded courtroom the police chief and I had a big argument as I pointed out that Honduran law does not require shirts in public and that the fine for being totally nude in public was only 5 Limpiras. So I asked the chief should I advise the tourists to strip naked when arrested and save themselves 10 Limpiras?! Then things really got heated and . . . . I stripped off my shirt and threw it in the chief's face.

Next thing you know I am in a 6x6 dirt floor concrete hut with a small barred window and a tin roof. The jail was right on the beach - so I did have a good view - and a little fresh air. Telegrams requesting help were sent to the U. S. Embassy, Honduran newspapers, Honduran Tourist dept., national airline offices, etc. on the mainland. Two days later - no responses. Absolutely nothing (later I found out no one on the mainland believed the messages! ). Well I figured there is one thing that motivates people on this rock more then jealousy and envy - ridicule. So I started writing simple rhyming poems ridiculing the police chief, the mayor and their supporters. For the next two evenings the poems were copied, distributed and recited throughout streets of the town. It drove the town's leaders absolutely bonkers. The mayor himself came to my cell on the fifth day to open it up and request that I never again write another poem about the island - and to tell me not to worry about the shirt regulation anymore. I promised no more poems - but I made no promises about telling this story!