We were aware that the journey from Vietnam to Poland would not be the pleasant one. Multiple plane changes and 28 hours of travel is very tiring no matter how much you try to sleep during the flight. We also knew that coming from Asia to Europe we will be required to have 10 days self-quarantine. For us it sounded like a nice rest, so we didn’t mind at all. What we didn’t know is that one of us will be forced to have an extreme version of the quarantine.
Due to the constant changes in Vietnam, we bought last-minute tickets. It wasn’t cheap but cheaper than booking the flight a month in advance. After that, we had to take a last-minute PCR test, do some souvenir shopping and quick packing.
At the airport we met another nomad – a Scottish guy, who like us decided to go back home due to the quickly deteriorating covid situation in Vietnam. He had some problems during check-in because in Great Britain there was a required quarantine hotel booking for people coming from Asia. No one wanted to listen when he said that Scotland has different rules. In the end, he was forced to book a hotel in London even though he didn’t even go there. All just to be let onto the plane.
It wasn’t easy for us to check-in either. We were asked why we overstayed in Vietnam and had to explain that our visa was automatically extended every month. We had to go to the immigration office where the officer, after a short phone call, gave us a “leave” stamp in our passports. Finally, we were free to go back and check-in this time without any issues. From then on, it was only a long flight, layover, another flight, layover etc.
Not so nice surprise
When we landed in Warsaw, Poland, we were already extremely tired and smelly from the sweat. All we were thinking of was a nice shower and a comfy bed. At the airport, passport control was divided into a few sections. The easiest was an automatic check for EU citizens with vaccine certification. Unfortunately, we had to stay in a separate and long queue with other people coming from outside the EU, without vaccination or with small children.
At one point some man approached me and asked for my passport. I showed him and he said I needed to go with him to a small room nearby. Very confused and not knowing what is going on I followed him to find out that I was on the European Wanted List and I am going to be detained.
Obviously, I didn’t expect that. Why would I? I was in Poland last about 10 years ago and didn’t have any problems then. Quite sure it was some kind of horrible misunderstanding, I went with the Policeman and waited for them to do their paperwork and take me to custody.
After, I was told that I am a suspect to taking out a contract for a mobile phone 7 years ago and never paid it. I was certain I had nothing to do with it because I wasn’t even in Poland at that time, so I expected they would take my testimony and let me go. That didn’t happen though!
When the policeman finished his paperwork, he and two of his colleagues took me to the car and drove to the local detention facility. I recall thinking that I would only stay there over the weekend as it was late Friday. The prosecutor was probably home already, and he will hear me out on Monday. I was so sure of it that I followed all orders calmly.
At the detention facility, a guard took all the items from my handbag out and listed it all on a special document asking me to sign under each one. Luckily, I had only this handbag with me as I asked my man to take the rest with him. I can’t imagine how long it would take to write down everything I had with me in my backpack and the suitcase!
After that he gave me 2 blankets, 2 bedsheets, a small pillow and pillowcase, 2 hand towels and a set of green plastic dishes and cutlery. With all this stuff they took me to block six, where my “extreme quarantine” was about to start.
First though, I had to speak with a social worker though. It was a nice, thin blonde woman who asked me right away “why are you here?”. I explained that I don’t know but it must be a huge misunderstanding. After telling her about my situation, she said that most likely they will take me to give my testimony and let me out. I ended up staying there for 2 weeks.
My room was big enough to fit 4 single beds (including one bunk bed). On the left, there was a small table and 4 chairs. Right next to it was a sink and a very small toilet room. Windows were barred obviously and additionally covered with some plexiglass. All you could see was a few centimeters of the grass below and a few centimeters of the sky above. On each bed were 3 square pillows instead of a big mattress. All those were very dirty and badly damaged.
When I came, in the room there was one person already. She’s been there for a week all alone until now. What’s worse, she didn’t speak Polish and most staff in the custody didn’t speak English. She was happy to have someone to speak with.
Additionally, together with me came another girl so we 3 were there. M., 22 y.o. Suspected to use fake documents in some big money fraud, detained for 3 months. W., 25 y.o. Also detained for 3 months for possession of a large number of drugs. And I…. detained for 2 weeks for unpaid mobile bills?
I stayed positive all the time and tried to spread that attitude to my new friends. After all, there was nothing we could do but wait. Plus, I was pretty sure I will be free soon so there is nothing to worry about. Even if I was to stay there 2 weeks, it is still much better than 3 months.
Our everyday life and activities
The plan of the day in the prison is the same all week:
6:15 wake up (the bulb in the cell was turned on by the guard)
6:15 – 7:15 cleaning and hygiene activities (normally nobody did that and we all stayed in bed as long as possible)
7:00 – 7:15 roll call (guards literally opened the door, checked if all are still there and closed the door)
7:15- 8:00 breakfast, making appointments to the doctor, nurse or social worker, cleaning the cell. (Breakfast could be at any time between those brackets but it was usually closer to 8:00.
Making appointments was simply writing a request on a small piece of paper and leaving it in a sort of paper mailbox glued to the door. Normally, we were doing it the night before and guards took it during the roll call)
8:00 – 13:00 cultural, sport and educational activities. (My favourite ones. It all sounds really nice on the paper. You’d think there are some nice activities organized for prisoners. Nothing like that! It was simply free time that we could do nothing, or read a paper, or talk with each other. If we asked to go for a walk it was possible (but not ensured) that it will be during this time. If we asked to see a doctor or social worker there was a chance it will happen in those hours too… just a chance though. Nothing for sure.
13:00 – 13:45 dinner/lunch
13:45 – 17:00 cultural, sport and educational activities again. The same sort of “attractions” was possible as in the morning.
17:00 – 17:50 supper
17:50 – 19:15 free time
19:00 – 19:15 evening roll call
19:15 -22:00 free time, cleaning and hygiene activities.
22:00 bed time – lights off
You can do nothing all day long. Ideal place for lazy people!
If I ever thought I wasted all day doing nothing, now I know how wrong I was. Even the laziest day was more active than a day in custody. The first few days weren’t too bad because we all just met so each one had a lot to say, explain why we are here etc. After that we tried to do sudoku or read the paper. Every day we received 1 newspaper to share between all of us. The biggest attraction of the day was a 1-hour walk, visits to doctors’/ nurse/social worker office and twice a week, the shower.
The walk was taking place in a room not much larger than our cell. The difference was that there was no roof so we were exposed to all elements there. In the middle was a small bench to sit. We were always there alone. No contact with other people. Completely different from what I’ve seen in movies.
The shower was assigned to us twice a week. There were 6 separate shower cubicles with a plastic curtain. Inside was a button on the wall to start water running from a small piece of a pipe above. I didn’t see anything that would allow changing the water temperature. Water pressure was so bad the water was running on the wall. We could do much better wash in the sink in our cell. Anyway, we had only 10 minutes to spend in the shower and only 7 with running water. Showers were another thing that I expected to be completely different based from what I’ve seen in movies.
Most of the day we spent in the cell doing nothing. We didn’t always have something to say. Nor did we always want to read or do sudoku. Often, we just took a nap during the day between other “daily attractions”. If I ever wanted to get some rest, I had it more than enough here.
During my extreme quarantine, the worst thing was that I didn’t know what was going on outside. Does my family know where I am and why? It’s frustrating and exhausting to not know anything.
Treats for a prisoner
Contrary to popular belief prisoners are well fed. In movies, we often see some undefined mash as a meal. That’s not true. For breakfast and supper, we always get some hot drink, 1-3 bread loaves (depending on the number of people in the cell) and something to put on the bread.
Only a few times during my stay there we managed to recognize what we’re drinking. Most of the time it was hot brown water that smelled like coffee and tasted like very strong tea, or smelled like tea and tested like sweet brown water, or sometimes we thought it’s a mix of coffee and tea together.
For bread toppings we normally got some type of margarine and a piece of sausage, fish, jam or honey. They were all low-quality products but still quite good. Especially for me because I haven’t eaten Polish food for many years so everything tasted good to me. My cell friends were always amazed and sometimes annoyed when I was devouring another piece of food when they didn’t even want to look at it.
For dinner, we always got an undefined soup and a main dish. The soup wasn’t great. It always seemed to taste the same and never even close to what they told us it is. It wasn’t inedible but not so good either. The main dish usually was quite good. Only once we got a very overcooked pasta with something mixed in it and this one went straight to the toilet. I can’t say those dishes were high quality, but it was good enough to not starve. Unless you really try to do so.
The way prisoners are treated will always raise my brows. Maybe there is a reason for it and I simply don’t see nor understand it. I have never seen how other prisoners act and how they are treated but I don’t think people should ever be treated like animals. No matter what they did, they still should get at least minimal respect and kindness. You need to keep in mind it is not a prison, it’s detention. All people there were only suspects, they haven’t been sentenced. In the eye of the law, they are still innocent until proven otherwise beyond any doubt. Right?
Once during the morning roll call, the guards opened the door and commented: “Silence again…”. We were new there. Didn’t know if we’re expected to say something, so I asked what they expect us to say? “Nothing” barked the guard and slammed the door. Ok, nothing means nothing so in the evening we didn’t say a word either. The other day we asked kindly to switch off the lights. We heard back “You wish”.
I understand that guards have their own responsibilities and a lot of work with so many prisoners under their supervision. She could simply say something like “later, I’m busy” and we’d understand. We would turn the light off ourselves… if we could but the switch was outside our cell. And the light was on all day long from 6:15 am to 10 pm no matter it was needed or not. Waste of energy and money of hard-working taxpayers.
Once, we asked whether she knows if the walk will be after breakfast. She answered: “I don’t think at work”… Right, we’re under a robot’s supervision. That makes so much sense now! Maybe they all are trained to be like this? I still don’t think it’s fair though. A little bit of kindness doesn’t kill.
Every now and then guards asked us out of the cell, searched us, asked to put our hands on the wall outside while two of them went inside and put all our stuff upside down and knocked the window bars with a wooden hammer. It wasn’t a big inconvenience for us because we didn’t have much but I imagine other people who stay here months must have a lot of stuff and a lot of cleaning after this.
After a few days of listening to very unkind barking towards us, we decided to make a small experiment. No matter what we showered them with all possible kindness: “Thank you”, “Sorry”, “Please”, “Good morning”, “You’re so kind to us today!” (Even if she wasn’t). It paid off fast. Soon we started to see a change: small smiles, kinder words and even some jokes from time to time! That’s all we needed! The day was all the more pleasant for us and surely for them too!
End of the quarantine
Although I thought I wasn’t going to stay in custody for long, in the end, I was there for 12 days. It was in fact 2 days longer than the required self-quarantine at home. On the 12th day in the morning, the guard gave me a loaf of bread, a bit of sausage and some cheese and a few minutes to prepare sandwiches for the day. I ate the sausage and left the rest for my cell friends.
I gathered all documents and letters and waited patiently for the door to open and hopefully, take me home. The guard asked me about the papers and said I can only take legal documents. I started to panic because I promised girls I will call their families and without those papers, I won’t be able to do it. I told the guard those are legal documents, she skimmed through them and didn’t notice the private letters so I was free to take it all! So lucky!
After a personal search, I was taken to a police car with two policemen – a male and a female. It was a long 3 hour journey by car because they had to take me to the prosecutor where the case was brought up. Somewhere about halfway there, we stopped and each policeman went for a short bathroom break. I asked the policewoman if I can go to the bathroom too, she said she doesn’t think so. So I waited for the policeman to come back and asked him the same question. This time there was no problem with that. I already noticed in the custody that female guards treated us all like dogs or even worse while male guards were much nicer, more human.
When we arrived the policeman took me to the building to give my testimony. The prosecutor told them to wait in the car because it may take some time. My case apparently was not so simple as it may seem. During my testimony, he often looked at me confused and surprised asking how it was even possible?! When we finished he decided I am free to go. He told the policeman they can take all the required documents and go back. They left me right there without money or documents. Luckily for me, it wasn’t that far from my parents’ house so I just walked back home.
Everyone at home was surprised and happy to see me. They asked a lot of questions. They already contacted a lawyer to find out why I was detained but they couldn’t do much more without my written consent, so they just waited for me. Instead of answering all the questions, I started to make all the phone calls I promised my friends from the detention facility. My family could wait. After all, I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Families of those I stayed with for the last two weeks also don’t know what is going on and deserve some help and info.
A few warning words
You probably asked yourself a few times already what happened to me? Why did I have to have such extreme quarantine? The answer is a warning for all. Especially those who share all your life details, photos, places on the internet.
A few years back I accidentally found out that someone stole my identity and used it everywhere for everything! This person knew nearly everything about me and my family and used my photos (thank you Facebook!). Anything you need to prove it’s me, this person had. It took me a lot of time and energy to remove myself from the web. The worst was obviously explaining to some people who encountered fake me what exactly has happened.
I still check google from time to time to make sure I’m not there but this time it’s more my paranoia than a possibility because I haven’t used my real details online since. I also often educate my friends and family to not overshare anything online and use appropriate privacy settings everywhere.
No matter how hard I tried to remove myself from the web apparently there still was one thing I’ve never found. I didn’t live in Poland for many years. Nor have I been here even as a visit for over 10 years. I was not able to commit any crime here.
The prosecutor who didn’t know where to find me to give testimony in a case I was a suspect in, decided to create a European wanted letter to find me. This way, unaware of anything I came to Poland and got arrested at the airport only to have a 12-day extreme quarantine and answer some questions. The case is now closed and everything is cleared, but a subject of future jokes and stories will stay forever.