TBT - (1981) "The Trouble With Parrots: Part 2 - 'The Great Escape'".

As you may recall: in Part 1 "The Raid', my friend JR and his associates had been arrested for 'Parrot Smuggling' and I was trying to help get him out of jail. By the third day of his incarceration his wife had arrived in Guatemala City to find out what could be done for his release. I had dinner that evening with her and a 'trouble shooter' sent down from Florida by the Miami parrot importer that worked with JR.

The trouble shooter fit the image of a soldier of fortune - straight out of central casting. He passed me his business card and it just had his name and a phone number on the front, but turning the card over he had the following printed on it: "Wars Started, Revolutions Quelled, Damsels in Distress Rescued, The Impossible Made Possible." That card - plus the 25K he was asking in advance without mentioning the options he was considering for getting JR out made me think he was just another phony hustler. And of course they both razzed me about my sending the 'high powered Guatemalan attorney' down to the jail to see JR and the police threw the attorney into the clink too!

JR's wife told me the police had let her into the jail to see her husband and it was chaos in there. Large overcrowded cages with everyone sleeping on bare concrete. They hosed down the prisoners and the cells when the smell got too bad. She slipped him a few bucks to buy meals and favors - like not getting beaten by the guards. JR had already made a preliminary court appearance and the judge had enough incriminating evidence to put him in the worse prison in Central America - Pavoncito (rated as one of the top ten worse prisons in the world). All JR had to do was get someone to slip the judge's aid $100,000 and the court would consider leniency.

I headed back to Miami and the ornamental plant business. Two months went by without any word of JR in Guatemala, and so I went to the parrot importer's office for any news. Surprise! There was JR sitting alone in the main office! He looked like a Holocaust victim - although he was still fit and in good shape, he had those hollow deep set eyes with dark rings around them. You could tell he had experienced a living hell.

He commenced to tell about his harrowing escape from the Guatemalan jail. It seems he had one good associate still outside the jail with some money and a plan - if JR could manage to get to the associate's house on his own. On JR's final appearance before the judge he was told then and there he had to 'make arrangements' (pay off the judge) or they would send him directly to the Pavoncito Prison. JR again pleaded innocence and poverty - so three guards took him to their vehicle for the ride to the prison outside the city.

JR speaks perfect Spanish and can think fast on his feet. So he talks the guards into letting him have a 'last supper' at a side walk cafe in the hotel district - the four of them would be eating a lavish meal together before continuing the trip out of town. The guards enjoyed a couple beers with the meal too and relaxed in the company of such a congenial prisoner. Then JR asked if he could leave the table and walk the 20' over to the pay counter and buy some candy as well as pay the bill - and would they want him to get some cigarettes for them?

Watching out of the corner of his eye - there was a moment when not one guard was looking his direction, so JR jumped the low fence separating the cafe from the street and took off running. Five seconds later he could her the yelling and commotion of the guards coming after him. JR knew his way around the hotel district - dodging in and out of entrances and exits of the tourist buildings until he lost the guards. He quickly made his way to his friend's house and collected some money and a ride to another safe house. Later JR learned that he police arrived at the associate's place moments after he left - busting up the place and his friend trying to get information about the 'escapee'.

Early next morning JR was sitting with a pilot in a small plane at the Guatemala airport - waiting for the 6AM opening of the airfield. As he anxiously watched the clock, he said he kept expecting the police to come roaring into the airport any minute . Then when the pilot was cleared by the tower for take off his plane engine just kept turning over and not firing up. JR said at this point his nerves were really shot, but then the motor finally caught and they were out of there! As they got close to the Mexican border at Tapachula - the pilot said his flight plan had no destination other then a return to Guatemala City, so he would have to make a clandestine landing near the river on a dirt corn field. Swimming the river to the Mexican side, JR found a one ton stake bed truck in a banana plantation hauling produce to Mexico City and negotiated a deal to ride and hide to Nuevo Laredo on the Texas border.

JR had enough adventures to fill several exciting novels - but the last adventure in 2012 did not end well.

"Dying with your boots on often means there are a lot of foot notes in the biography" BRM