American Gulag

I heard them coming, of course, you can hear everything that happens from inside a small travel trailer at three in the morning. Their ritual, that’s all. If they wanted to surprise me, they should have come at three in the afternoon, when the A/C was running. Too public, maybe. I turned on all the lights, opened the door, and stepped outside. I was naked.

"Robert Klassen?" the head man said. Black. Black uniforms, black belts, black boots, black helmets, black assault rifles. All black. "State your name, mister."

"Robert Klassen."

"Hold it right there, mister." I hadn’t moved. Two men went past me into the trailer. I listened to them trashing the place. "Why are you naked?" the head man said.

"I didn’t have time to dress," I said. He looked puzzled. "Throw some clothes out here," he commanded.

Shirt, jeans, and sandals landed on the ground and I put them on.

"Okay, mister, let’s get in the van." He waved his assault rifle off to the left. I started to move, then he said, "Wait." He came up behind me and grabbed my right arm. I screamed and fell. "What the hell?" he yelled.

"Arthritis," I cried.

I don’t remember the next few minutes, I was in too much pain. I was shackled, arms and legs, chained to a ring in the floor. Four men in black, visors down, guarded me. The van sped away.

I spent the first night in a padded cell, a sixty-watt bulb in its wire cage ten feet above illuminating nothing. It stunk of urine and feces. I pissed in a corner. I meditated, reached a certain state, then slept for a while.

"State your name." The man in military uniform was blond and about the age of my youngest son. He had blue eyes, too, but his were killer’s eyes, the eyes of a psychopath, cold and devoid of feeling.

"Robert Klassen."

"Your age and occupation."

"Sixty-two and retired."

The man stared at me. "You’re a writer," he said.

"Yes, I write."

"That’s an occupation."

"No. It’s a hobby. I don’t make any money."

The man wrote something on the form. The room was small, about ten by twelve, and painted olive green. There were no windows, only a table and two chairs, a steel door, and a caged light bulb overhead. It stunk of sweat and something else, I couldn’t figure out what.

"Okay," the man said, looking up, "now tell me about your family."

"Parents dead, wives divorced, three kids, alienated, no girl friends, no pets. That’s it."

The man looked at his form. "You have a brother."

"Oh, yeah. I always forget him. We’re not close."

"Who are your friends?"

"Hmmmm. Haven’t got any I know about."

"Not likely," the man said, consulting his form again. "Who is this Sarah?"

"Former landlady. I rented a room from her."

"You didn’t sleep with her?"

"Not as I recall."

The man made another note. He stared at me again. "You’re lying."

"If you say so."

I spent that night in a cell with a toilet. The bed was bolted to the floor and to the wall. Somebody slipped a food tray through a slot in the steel door. I flushed the food. Then I meditated.

People want to live and to thrive. They count on that. But what is the proper attitude for a prisoner of the state? To want to live and thrive? I have committed no crime against mankind, until they made it a crime to speak one’s mind. You are the criminals, I told them, you are killing social order, you are killing society, you are killing civilization, and they imprison me for saying so. Should I respond by wanting to live and thrive? I don’t think so.

This man wore a suit and tie and looked for all the world like an aspiring attorney. "Mr. Klassen," he said, sprightly, "why haven’t you objected to your arrest?"

"I didn’t know I was arrested."

"But the police came in the night and took you away. Isn’t that arrest?"

"I’d call it abduction."

"And you don’t protest?"

"I am not armed. They were armed. You are armed."

"Ah, but you would protest if you were armed!"

"Who knows? The fact is, I was not and I am not armed."

"But you might have, right?"

"I doubt it. I can’t fire a gun."

"And why can’t you fire a gun, Mr. Klassen? Do you have a thing about guns?"

"No. I have arthritis."

"I see." The man looked confused. He dug into his briefcase and pulled out a file. "I have some questions here about your friends."

"Good. I’d like to know who they are."

Now he was annoyed. "I have here your email correspondence going back for six months."


"Why don’t you use PGP?"

"I have nothing to hide."

"I don’t believe that’s true. You write in code. I want to know that code."

"I don’t write in code."

"You wrote: u2018That explains the shark attacks. They’re not sharks! They’re really Arab terrorist scuba divers! Now I have two questions. What do they do with their turbans? And how can you learn to scuba dive in sand?’ What does this mean, Mr. Klassen?"

I laughed until I cried. "Sorry, Mr. Spook," I said at last, "it means that you are a fool."

They left me in solitary for seven days and for seven days I flushed the food. Without medications my heart was fluttering and missing and pounding in bewildering cycles, though I hardly paid attention. My mind was trapped in withdrawal. Cold turkey.

"What kind of a world do you think we live in?"

This was a faux-blond lady dressed in a tweed suit. No make-up. Severe.

"You are a killer," I said, "I am a thinker. In what kind of world does a killer interrogate a thinker?"

"Answer my question."

"You just did."

After that session they put me into a cell with six Arabic speaking boys in their twenties. Late at night one of the boys came to my cot and leaned over me.

"Sick?" he said.

I nodded.

"Die?" he said.

I nodded.

He took my hand and he knelt down and he prayed.