VICE reports on Urban Escape & Evasion class
He whispers in my ear, “You’re in for it now.”-
I learned how to cut through zip ties, pick locks, and lived through a fake kidnapping—all in the name of girding myself for the lawless world to come.
The young one is shouting again, in Arabic. “La ilaha illa Allah!” The Muslim profession of faith: There is no God but God. His partner, who sounds older, keeps one hand clamped around the nape of my neck. He whispers in my ear, “You’re in for it now.” Then louder: “Convert or die!”
It is September 10, early morning and hot already, and I am in Los Angeles, seated cross-legged on the grime-caked floor of a white work van as it careens through the industrial vastness surrounding LAX. Shoeless and handcuffed, I huff for breath as the older man stuffs another bag over the white pillowcase already cinched tight around my neck. “This is going to be fun,” he says.
One of the four other hooded men with me refuses to convert, which is, apparently, a bad choice. The older man orders his partner to throw him from the van. The back door jerks open, sunlight suffuses the muffling layers of my hoods, and I hear the roaring wind and the screaming tumult of other cars, the two men laughing. Then the door snaps shut and everything goes dark and quiet again.
My turn comes and I stutter something about being an atheist, which is true, foxhole exception notwithstanding. I’m anxious and stressed, the sweat streams from my body, and I can’t think clearly. Even I don’t believe me. The Arabic speaker wants to know whether I’m married, and I decide to say nothing, just hold up my left hand and waggle my ring finger. He takes this as defiance and smacks me, promises worse once we get to the “secure location.”
I sit in silence after that, head down, brooding over my answer, wondering what comes next. Suddenly, the kidnappers shout “drone attack!” and the older one knocks me to the van floor. We shudder to a stop, the back door swings open again, and our captors flee, slamming the door behind them. We are suddenly, and somewhat eerily, alone. Nothing happens at first, our response times slowed by the data overload and the adrenaline still roiling our emotions.
Then I snap into focus and rip off my hoods, gulp hungrily at the fresh air. I get to work on the handcuffs: Smith & Wesson, police-issue, nickel-plated, double spring lock. I’ve hidden a few metal hair clips, the kind schoolgirls use, pink with sky-blue polka dots, in the bottom of my socks and have a couple hooked onto the slit of my boxers. I fish one out, snap off the top, fold the central clip bar back and forth until it breaks off. I am left with a thin strip of metal. Starting with my right hand, I insert the strip into the space between the cuff’s single strand of teeth and the check plate, tightening it a couple of clicks to help work my jury-rigged shim in more deeply. Then, pushing my wrist slightly upward, I pull the shim out and release the cuff. I have the other one off in seconds. I look up and the other men have freed themselves as well. No one says much, but we are laughing, in relief and perhaps a little hysteria, at how easy it was.
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