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Detained & Deported

Well, as everyone has been asking for the full story as to how I managed to get both detained and deported in Manchester while en route to playing ball this season in England, here it is…

 

Deciding to go to England was obviously one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make.  After everything that happened with my ex and the trip to Vietnam and Cambodia which ensued, I really had to do weigh out all of my options, take all the various factors into consideration, and do what felt right.  I can’t explain it to anyone, especially given the outcome, but I prayed, meditated, made wishes off every possible method I could think of… Spoke with friends, family, looked for signs, read a bunch of books, quotes, watched movies and TV shows, all looking for the right thing to do.  And at the end of the day, every fiber of my being told me I needed to go to England.  Not so much for basketball, but to see my ex, one last time.

I had heard rumors from my friends, her friends and random people in-between saying all sorts of things.  But, basically it all boiled down to, I needed to see her in person.  Even tho everyone told me that’s what she was waiting for, that she was confused, unsure, still loved me, all these different things, I just kept thinking, I need to see her one last time.  Pick her up, hold her, and just have my moment under my terms. The last time I saw her was at the Atlanta International Airport.  We both cried our eyes out, and as she went thru the security line, I left.  Instead of waiting for her to walk away from me, I walked away from her.  No big deal, but she told me when she saw me turn that corner, she started sobbing uncontrollably and security had to come make sure she was OK.  I just can’t know that the last time she saw me was that moment.  Probably doesn’t make any sense to anyone, but I just can’t know her last memory of me, in person, was a sad one.  She deserves better than that.  WE deserve better than that.

So that’s all that I had planned.  Get to Middlesbrough, see her just 1 time, and I would be satisfied.  No clue what I expected from there, if anything, but that one moment… That is a moment I knew would be a deciding point in my life.  I have maybe 2 real regrets in my life that may have altered it’s course significantly, and I knew this was one of those times.  And there was no way I could let that slip away.  Despite better offers elsewhere, money, quality of basketball, living situations, etc… None of that mattered.  That moment… All that I cared about.

So, I booked my flight.  Planned everything out.  Had my going away parties, said goodbye to everyone, sold off everything I needed to, and planned on England for the next 7 months.  Seemed like a nice, simple plan, yeah?

Well… The previous season, given the level of basketball I was playing, a work or sports visa was not required.  I entered the country as a tourist and had to leave within 6 months.  Everything was cleared with England basketball and the UK Embassy and everything was done by the books.  Process was simple.  Given how difficult the previous visa application process had been for me (It had been denied bc of insufficient paperwork and documentation, despite 3 different sources verifying all of my papers were in order before both attempts at processing), we decided to go the same route.  As I was not getting paid any real salary there, just housing, food and living expenses, a working visa was not required.  So off I set, anxious to test fate and see what it had in store for me.

Given my father’s previous business, we were able to earn a substantial amount of Delta Skymiles, which allow me to fly for free.  Taking a look at the mileage necessary for this flight, it was only a small amount to upgrade to First Class, and given my need for leg room and excess baggage, the choice was obvious to go with the upgrade.  If I had to pay for it, no was I could have afforded it, but with the mileage, the extra cost was maybe $80 in taxes, but the extra baggage and weight limit would have been over $150, so choice was simple.  And yes, I am telling you about the ex, first class and all of these other seemingly pointless details for a reason.

So, I’m seated, treated with a few mimosas and down sits an absolutely gorgeous woman right next to me.  Couldn’t help but to smile a bit, but given I’m still in love with someone else, it really made no difference.  But, she seemed like an interesting woman, and given a promise and advice from a very close friend, I chat up every stranger I can, obviously her included.  She had a very exciting life as an actress and sports broadcaster around the world.  Got to travel 10 times more than me and absolutely loved her job.  You don’t meet many people that fortunate very often.  Throw in her degree with personal training and knowledge in diet, nutrition and cutting edge technology, we were set up for a flight-long conversation about anything and everything.  We only had maybe a 2 hour break while we watched separate movies, and then back to talks about life, love, and even took some time to look out the window and stare at the stars as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Truly good and inspirational conversation is hard to come by, and I have to admit, I had goosebumps half the time.  Throw in a couple of glasses of wine and it felt like fate had stepped in.  Again, not so much on a romantic level, just the fact to be reminded there are still intelligent, beautiful, and truly good women out there.  And single to boot.  And that she seemed truly interested in my stories just reminded me that, despite my recent turmoil and self-doubt, that I am a good man with a lot to offer, not only to Hannah, but the world.  Definitely departed that flight with a smile.

We had planned on exchanging information, but were going to do it after customs.  I had thought about asking her if I could accompany her through customs, saying I was her boyfriend, to both expedite and simplify my entry process, but thought that would be too much and just told her I’d see her on the other side.  Well, this is where the story gets interesting, and obviously I never got the chance to see her again.

Foreign customs was an absolute joke and took close to an hour to move maybe 50 passengers through.  I had a bus leaving at 10:30 and my flight arrived at 8:20, so I was starting to get a little nervous. I scanned the various agents, and they all seemed happy and were doing their best to move everyone along just fine.  Everyone except one woman who had nothing but a scowl on her face.  Of the 50 or so passengers, 8 of us were detained, and they all went through her counter.  I just knew she was going to give me a hard time and prayed to get anyone but her… But nope.  Stuck with the bitch!

Well, she takes my passport and asks why I’m in the country and how long I will be staying.  I state I’m there to visit friends throughout England and will most likely continue on to various other countries as I have several friends around Europe that I would like to see while continuing my travels around the world.  She asked how I knew these people and explained I met several on my last trip there, others from my trip to Vietnam, and others from playing basketball in Australia and a few Brits happened to be in the city I was living.  This seemed to raise a red flag for some reason.  She inquired further why I had no return ticket.  I had indeed purchased a return flight, but not for 7 months from then, but given my tourist visa only allows me to stay for 6, I didn’t want to tell her that and raise any more flags, so I told her the truth:  That I was there to travel, see friends and my ex, and was waiting to hear from my agent as to where I was going to play next.  That I was taking some time off, but had several offers in the works, and whenever one came thru, the team would purchase my ticket and fly me directly from wherever in the world I was.  Seemed simple and straight forward enough.  Nope.  Suddenly I was some big professional basketball player and I needed a different visa, even tho I told her I was there to only visit friends, not play.

Again, I did not need a special visa given the loophole and contract stipulations, but she told me to have a seat and someone would be with me.  I asked how long as I had a bus to catch and she told me, ‘However long it takes.  now sit down!’

So, there I sat.  Scared shitless, no way to call, or even really contact anyone.  Manchester Airport allows you 30 minutes of free wi-fi, per device, but it is amazingly slow and frustrating to log on.  I managed to use my I-touch to log on and email my team owner letting him know there was a complication and to call me ASAP as my former British number was still working via my old Blackberry.  Before he was able to call tho, I finally got called up by another gentleman.  He informed me we were going to collect my bags and that they were going to be doing a thorough inspection for anything that would hinder me being allowed through.  So off we went…

I asked again, how long will this take, as I have a bus leaving in 30 minutes.  He was a nice enough guy and we chatted the entire hour process, but it was obvious I was not making that bus.  He went through absolutely every single article of clothing, book, piece of paper, receipt… He even opened up a short journal I kept while in Vietnam and read passages, looking for any clues that I was doing something illegal.  Again, I thought it was help if I was just nice and forthcoming and told him the truth.  Told him about everything that had been going on, all my travels, my recent time in England and my experiences.  Only thing I really left out was the basketball part.  As we did do everything by the book, it shouldn’t have been an issue, but just didn’t want to cause any further complications.  So, he cleared me, told me I passed his inspection and he would let the next officer know how cooperative and respectful I was and that everything should be processed no problem.

So, back to detainment I went for another hour or so.  Another 30 minutes of internet used via my laptop.  Spoke w my coach, friend in Denmark and emailed several people trying to let them know what was going on and that at this point, I was genuinely scared I wasn’t going to be admitted.  Obviously, I got no real answers or help from anyone as there was nothing no one could do.  So, there I sat, again, scared shitless, just anxiously awaiting the next procedure.  Finally, an even unhappier woman came out with a folder and called me back into her office for an interview.

From the getgo, I could tell this woman had her mind up and had an attitude.  She asked me a multitude of questions, ranging from who I would be staying with, where in the country I was visiting, what i did on my previous visit, why I went to Vietnam and Cambodia, why this, why that.  Just a nonstop barrage of questions aimed to scare me and get me to slip up.  They slowly started to focus on basketball and if I was going to play this season.  Explained to her that i was there to visit friends and needed to try and see my ex.  Told her I did not play last season, as it seemed like it would only complicate things, and given it was amateur level then and I received no money, there was no issue.  It would be the same as me going bowling or playing pool.  It was what it was.  So, we went through all of that, she had me sign and date each page as we had gone through a dozen or so pages of interrogation and then that was it.

I knew the next question, but was in absolute dread of it:  Why did you lie to me?  Why did you lie about playing basketball last season?  Opened up her folder, pulled out numerous pictures, articles, etc… from the previous season and my hopeful return.  Tried explaining about it being amateur and that England Basketball and the UK Embassy gave us their clearance to go about our business the way we did.  She proceeded to tell me, “There is no way any of my coworkers or subordinates would have let you pass through here last year if you had told them that.  You clearly lied then and you’re clearly lying now.  You want to know what I think… You’re nothing but an arrogant American who thinks the rules don’t apply to him, and just because you found a loophole doesn’t mean I have to like it and let you in.  As far as I’m concerned, you’re a deviant and you’re not getting into my country.”

I tried explaining everything to her again, told her everything I could, but she just didn’t care at that point.  The decision wasn’t up to her.  Her report was going to be processed by her superior and I would have an answer soon.  So back I went to detainment.  For about another 2 hours.  Just sitting there.  No clue what was going on.  I was out of internet.  Barely had a signal on my phone and spoke with my coach several times and he confirmed they called him and asked several questions.  He even told them I wasn’t here to play.  that I had some personal business to attend to and they were hoping to sway me to play, but he knew I had other offers and was there at that moment strictly to deal with my personal situation.  But none of that mattered.

After about an hour or so, 3 cleared American came down where I was sitting and I was able to overhead some of their conversation and i clearly heard my name, as they were having trouble pronouncing it.  I finally spoke up and told them that was me and if I could do anything to help, to please let me know.  the man in charge came over and simply asked how long I had been in England previously.  Told him under 6 months because I knew the rules and wanted to follow them.  Seems one of the countries in SE Asia had put their stamp/paper over my departing stamp from Manchester.  Anyway, that was it.  He said, Thank you, and walked away.  They spoke for several more minutes, he was called back into the office with that woman for about 5 minutes, and when he exited, he walked right past me, didn’t even look at me, told his partners, “They don’t need us anymore” and walked off.

That didn’t help calm me whatsoever.  Assumed at this point I was absolutely screwed, but would have hoped they would have told me something.  Anything.  So back I sat in detainment, for another hour or so.  Finally another very friendly guy came out and took me into another room where they proceeded to take several pictures, fingerprints and all of that fun stuff.  But while in process, he started telling me about several shops around town he knew about that I should go to to find some local clothes for big and tall men and all these places to see.  I obviously started getting hopeful based on that, but then he told me he had no clue what my status was.  The woman came out and asked if I would be staying at the address I had put down on my form tonight.  Of course I said yes.  So here I am, thinking everything got turned around and I’m being let in.

We, back to detainment for another brief stint, and then finally the woman calls me back.  She sits me down and very clearly tells me that I will not be entering England.  That given the information they have, they believe I am definitely there to play basketball and nothing can change their mind at that point.  That yes, I did do everything by the book, and that i could be let in, but given all of their data, they believed I would be taking advantage of said loophole, and they would not be allowing that to happen.  I told her the God’ honest truth was that I was there to see my friends and ex, that I had offers for other countries and honestly didn’t know what I was doing.  That the only thing that mattered to me in my life, was to just see my ex.  That I needed that closure to move on and I would do absolutely anything to have that.  To just give me 48 hours to get there, see her, and I’d be back.

She told me, well, you may just get your chance.  We’re going to let you stay the night in England and go to Middlesbrough, but you need to be back here by 8 AM tomorrow to catch your flight home, or you will be a criminal in the eyes of the UK government and we will come and find you.

Now, it is over a 4 hour bus ride to Middlesbrough, assuming I could even catch a bus.  It was around 3 or 3:30 I believe at this point, and even if I would have left right then, I wouldn’t have been there til 8.  And in order to be back on time, I would needed to have taken a bus which leaves around 3:30 AM to make it back.  Obviously no bus runs that late, so my only option was to get a hotel and stay the night.  So that’s what I did.  frustrating to know I came all that way, was so close, so damn close, only to fall short of possibly the single-most defining moment of my life.

To say I was struggling would be a massive understatement.  Various times throughout everything, I was right there on the edge.  Right there to just breaking down, knowing that everything I had just worked so hard for, everything I had hoped and prayed for, it was all going down the drain in an epic fashion.  But, I managed to keep it together.  Spoke with my coach a few more times and he arranged a hotel for me, so off I went.

Upon getting to the hotel, my priority was to call Hannah.  No phones in the hotel and my cell would only receive incoming calls.  But I had her number.  Begged, pleaded, and ultimately bribed the receptionist to let me use her phone for a minute as it was an emergency.  So I called.  And she answered.  She was shocked, taken back and very quiet.  She told me this was crazy.  maybe it was fate, but she was actually driving down to Manchester that night, but that there was no way she could see me.  Told her everything I had just gone through, literally traveled the world, spoke with a 1000 people, prayed, looked for signs, everything… and everything told me I needed to come back and see my best friend 1 last time.  That she was the love of my life and I would be there, just waiting if she could make time.  I had bought gifts for her and her family in the hopes I would see them 1 more time as well.  But, she told me she didn’t think she could make it, and I just left it with, “My old number is working.  My email works.  If you want to see me, you’ll find a way.  I love and miss you.  Good bye.’  And that was it.

Spent the next several hours speaking with everyone I could, trying to get a grasp on the situation and begin to face the fact I was being deported.  At this point, I’m going on 36 hours of no sleep, no food for 12 hours with only a few sips of water, and no clue what to do with myself.  Just want a hot shower and to curl up and forget about things for a while.

But… no hot water.  Too stressed to sleep.  And the calls, texts, and messages started pouring in.  The support I received from everyone around the world was absolutely amazing.  Various coaches, players, teammates, fans, friends…. Everyone was shocked.  But I received some absolutely amazing messages, basically saying England Basketball as a whole would suffer without me and that so many people were looking forward to me being there, even tho they weren’t particularly fans of the club.  A very good offer came in right then and there for later in the season.  A previous offer seemed to turn concrete in Chile all of a sudden.  And instead of breaking down and getting upset, I was actually happy and smiling, knowing I had just done everything I could, and despite things not going as I had hoped or planned, that everything was gonna be just fine.

Even got to speak with my newly acquired friend from the flight via Facebook as I remembered her name.  Sleep did not come easy, so spend most of the night tossing and turning and speaking w various people throughout the process.  Alarm went off at 6:45 and from there the arduous journey back home began.  I was fearful of what was going to happen next as they had my passport and who knew how complicated the entire process would be.  But, off I went… Ate a quick breakfast, called a taxi and my record turn-around to Manchester was officially under way.

I don’t mean to come off as conceited or arrogant in any way, but the fact is, I stand out and people constantly stare and ask questions.  My height really does set me apart and I’m not sure if I’m oddity that attracts people like a sideshow, but this day, it was clear I was the main attraction.  Starting with the taxi driver.  He inquired why I was flying out, I gave him a short explanation and he just went off about how bad the UK border patrol is and that he absolutely hated them and felt truly sorry for me for having to deal with this.

From there, everyone at Delta knew about me and knew I was coming as it seemed like quite the situation.  To throw in, as they told me, I was the first 1st Class passenger to ever be deported, that the flight was delayed 3 hours and that they were using a smaller plane bc of plane difficulties and they had to make room for me by law, that this was something no one had dealt with before.  Throw in I used my miles, paid my fees and taxes, England was responsible for sending me home, and trying to get all that sorted into their computer system, and I was stuck at various ticket counters for about 2 hours.  To make matters even more interesting than they already were, I had to have an Immigration Officer by my side the entire time.

So there I was, bouncing from line to line, through this security line and that security line, talking to this manager, and that person at the counter and everyone in-between, every person at that airport just stared at me.  They probably thought I was some big criminal, some famous basketball player, or God only knows what else to be getting so much attention from both Delta and security.  But, throughout the whole process, I was friendly, personable, and made a bunch of new friends.  Even the Immigration Officer shook my hand at the end of the process and thanked me for being so helpful and compliant, and that if I ever came back in, which he said would be a process, but absolutely doable, he would make a note of how cooperative I was and try and single me out if he ever saw me again in Customs.  And even better, the Delta manager apologized for everything, took note of where I was from and actually knew several people not far from where I live in Georgia and pulled out his wallet and showed me pictures, promised to meet me at the gate to make sure everything went smoothly and gave me access to their VIP lounge to relax and grab some food before my flight.  Despite being a criminal in the eyes of the UK, everyone in that airport treated me better than I’ve ever been treated in all of my years of travel.  Wasn’t exactly the experience I was hoping for by going back, but definitely helped ease the pain.

So off I went to the lounge, relaxed and watched TV while eating whatever random food was provided.  Had no clue they had a fully stocked bar of top shelf booze, but was way too early to take advantage of that.  Again tho, maybe it was my attire or just my height, but got a lot of odd looks while in there, like I didn’t belong.  But all well.  None of their business.  But 1 guy, he came in for the last hour and just seemed to stare the entire time.  Probably didn’t help I had on a Nike basketball T-shirt, but regardless, it was a bit creepy and odd.

Finally got notice it was time to board my flight, so off we all went.  Again, even at the gate, I was given all of this VIP treatment.  Manager came out and spoke with me briefly about everything, promised my passport would be returned once I boarded the flight and told me they were unable to get me my First Class seat, but managed an emergency exit and that they would reimburse me on miles, taxes and fees.  Somehow this whole thing financially worked out in my favor.  Well, kind of at least.  But the gentleman who had been staring at me in the lounge approached and finally asked why i was getting all of this treatment.  Told him, ‘Basically, I’m a criminal and being deported.’  He laughed and inquired further, so told him the story and the world being as small as it is, turns out I most likely have played ball with his son, and he knew probably about 15 of my friends and former coaches in and around Atlanta.  So it was nice meeting someone like that there randomly in the airport.

From there, I boarded the plane, and to my surprise, the exact same flight crew.  They were all shocked I was back on and everyone kept asking what happened.  The head flight attendant even came over to shake my hand and tell me that in his career, I was the fastest turn around in any international flight he’s ever been apart of.

So, as far as I know, I hold 2 records in the Manchester airport.  2 titles I would prefer not to have, but the fastest turn around to an International destination, and the first 1st class passenger deported.  Sigh… Couldn’t help but to just laugh at that point, but to make it even funnier, as I sat down, my flight attendant asked where my wife was.  Apparently everyone had thought that my new friend Hailey was actually my wife, or at least girlfriend, and everyone aboard gossiped about us after saying what a great couple we made!  Who knew?!

The guy seated next to me of course proceeded to ask me what was going on and how I knew everyone working.  Gave him the quick rundown and he just stared in shock.  And his response was one of my favorite things of the whole adventure… “How are you not upset?  You’re just laughing and joking like nothing happened.  I want to hit someone for you given everything you just told me!”

It really occurred to me then how calm and collected I was.  Maybe it was the exhaustion and lack of food, but I really wasn’t bothered at all.  Given how upside down my life was just 3 months prior, everyone assumed I would come home a wreck and be on the verge of yet another total mental breakdown.  But instead, I really put everything I’ve learned recently to test, and just stayed strong, had faith that everything will work out  just fine, and to sit back and stay positive.

Everyone always asks first, ‘Did you get to see Hannah?’  The answer is no.  Did I get my closure given her reaction?  No.  It is what it is at this point.  No, I don’t hate her for not coming to see me.  If I ever begin to hate her, then I’ll know it wasn’t love.  I still have too much love and respect for her to just start hating her… No, I don’t regret trying to see her and spending all that money, time and effort.  If I start to regret things, I won’t focus on the positive.  I made several new friends, have another offer in the works.  Actually a much more lucrative offer.  Have a new agent working for me.  Have another great offer lined up back in England if I want it after the 1st of the year.  Have more time to spend with my friends and father in Atlanta.

Ultimately, this has all taught me to just be grateful for everything I do have, and to continue to focus on that, and know that with a dream, sacrifice and lots of hard work, everything will be just fine.  And, to top it off, I’ve recently found out several people I rarely speak with are changing their lives drastically and going back to chasing their dreams, all because of my story.  Even if nothing else works out, I can hold my head high knowing I’ve helped others, just as others have helped me!

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