Episode 37: Lia McCord
What happens when a naiive Texas cheerleader from an abusive home tries to pay for college by smuggling heroin in Bangladesh? Probably not what you think. Though her story has been seen on National Geographic’s Locked Up Abroad, it only scratched the surface of who she was and who she has become.
Paul: Welcome to episode 37 with my guest Lia McCord. I’m Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour of honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions to everyday compulsive, negative thinking; feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy and that vague sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. You give us an hour; we’ll give you a hot ladle of awkward and icky. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice; I’m a jackass that tells dick jokes. This is not a doctor’s office. Think of it more as a waiting room that hopefully doesn’t suck.
Uh, the usual bullshit I need to get out of the way: the website for this show is, um, mentalpod.com. If you want to support the show financially, you can make a donation through PayPal at the website. You can buy stuff, uh, on Amazon through our search link – Amazon gives us a couple of nickels for that. Um, and you can support us non-financially by giving us a good rating at iTunes, which we, uh, we really enjoy.
Um, my interview today with, um, with Lia McCord, um, is, uh, a couple of things I wanted to tell you about it. Um, at the end of the interview after we wrapped things up, Lia had kind of this, this weird look on her face and I-I-I said, “Is something wrong?” She said, “Well, there was something I wanted to talk about but I, I didn’t and let me run it by you, what I wanted t-t-to say.” And so she ran it by me, and I said, “That would be great if you would talk about that on the air.” So, at the end o-of her interview, you will her come back. We pick up the interview again and it’s worth sticking around for because it’s very brave wh-what she shares and, and, I think, profound. And, um, I’m just really grateful th-that I have guests who are willing to, um, risk the judgment of other people to share what they believe um, is the truth and is coming from, coming from the heart and, uh, and what she said made total sense to me as well. So, um, a-also there’s a friend of hers that she talks about in the podcast who, uh, since passed away. Totally unrelated to her story, but because her friend was involved in drugs, um, her family would prefer that, uh, the friend’s name wasn’t mentioned so you’ll hear me bleep, uh, her friend’s name throughout the, uh, the podcast.
Before we get to, to the interview with, uh, with Lia, uh, as I told you, there’s a survey you can take, uh, lets me get to know you guys a little bit better and I go through there and I look at the responses that people have sometimes and every once in a while I just feel absolutely compelled to read, uh, somebody’s responses on, on one of the, uh, on one of the shows. And so I want to read you, uh—I just love th-this woman wants to be uh—her nickname is, uh, Porcelain, um, she’s in her twenties, she’s a, uh, student at NYU. Um, the environment that she was raised in – she writes, “Totally chaotic.” She says that she is uh, a vegan. She does go to therapy. And she says, “I have to say my therapist is utterly amazing. My whole life people either ignored or were simply too shocked ever to respond to the details of my life.” I always love hearing that, when I see that somebody is-is going to get therapy and it’s working for them. Um, she has ADHD and she takes, uh, stimulants for it. And she says that that aggravates her anxiety. Um, to the question, “Do you share your feelings with anyone on a regular basis,” she writes, uh, “Yes, but I don’t know if it helps. I share my feelings because I have this awful habit of never filtering out my thoughts, ever, and I’m pretty sure it offends people a lot. I’m surprised I have the few friends that I do.” Um, let’s see, what else does she say? Um, what are the most common negative thoughts you have? She writes, “I’m always worried that people are just humoring me, that they pretend to be okay with me but in reality think I’m absurdly fucking strange. It’s not their opinions that would frighten me but just that I am so blind to it. Like an autistic retard. I also consistently think I’m huge. That I’m wasting my education. That I’m trying to play with the real smart people but I’m actually pretty stupid and have only gotten as far as I have in academia on a fluke. Oh, and my overwhelming body hair. I’m constantly loathing how much hair I have for a girl. I feel like it just gets worse and worse.” I fucking love this woman. Um, describe any behaviors you wish you didn’t engage in but you do anyway. She writes, “Biting my nails eating my skin.” I’m not sure what that exactly means, eating your skin. She writes, uh, “Digging into my legs with pins and tweezers. I hear this is something meth addicts do and my ADHD meds are a form of meth, so makes sense. Also eating too much, procrastinating, oh, and sitting on the toilet for hours waiting to poop because I’m not convinced I have pooped all I have for the day and am worried that my stomach is still building too much because of all the poop.” Oh my God. (laughs) I can never get enough honesty, uh, from people like this. Uh, another behavior that she says she, uh, she engages in but, uh, but wishes she didn’t so much, she says, uh, “Masturbating a lot even though I live with my boyfriend. And obsessively shopping only to return everything the next day.” Uh, to the question, “Does anything cause you feel ashamed,” she writes, “Living in New York City going to NYU, I’m consistently ashamed that I can’t be as thin and toned as everyone around me. I feel like they’re all looking at me and thinking, ‘that flabby bitch can’t exhibit any self-control. How can she possibly be here right now?’” To the question, “Does anything cause you to feel guilty,” she writes, “I’m pretty materialistic especially when I’m feeling pretty anti-social. I shop for clothes, always imagining how beautiful I will look so I can go out in the world again and people will like me. I’m actually a poor college student and I engage in all the time while my boyfriend is struggling to afford food.” Um, does anything cause you to feel angry? She writes, “I’m angry that my boyfriend wants to be a woman. I don’t care if he ever switches his dick for a vagina, but I want to be the metaphorical girl in the relationship and I get so mad that he exhibits no sort of chivalry or protectiveness towards me ever.” To the question, “If there is a God, what are some of the things you would say to God,” she writes, “I would thank Him for blessing me with more than enough food, clothing, etc. and access to good people and a great education. Then I would apologize for wasting it all.” And then, uh, to the question, “Do you have any comments or suggestions to make the podcast better,” she says, “I want to thank you, actually, for this podcast. You launched it on iTunes just as I was hitting a very, very dark place in my life. It was just awesome to hear about people who were once in that exact place but were now totally social and usually pretty happy. Inspirational shit never includes the gritty, gross details that your podcast does. And it does wonders for helping me relate. As I’ve been picking myself up again, it’s nice to listen and remember how I felt during the old podcasts and measure my progress. So thanks.” Well, uh, Porcelain, uh, I don’t know you, uh, but I feel like I know you and, uh, you fuckin’ rock. Hair and all.
Paul: I’m here with, uh, with Lia McCord and, uh, you know, Lia, one of the great things about, uh—for me, having a terrible memory, is, uh, I’m gonna almost get to hear your story again for th-the first time. I was watching TV, I guess it would be about six months ago, and I was watching the show, uh, Locked Up Abroad, and I saw your story, and I was, like, I would love to get her on the podcast because, uh, for one, it’s an interesting story, but, two, something told me th-that there was, uh, something about your story that made it good for, for this podcast. Um, let’s start fr-from the beginning. And, uh, are you comfortable talking about your childhood and the stuff you went through? Wh-wh-what was your home life like, uh, gr-growing up?
Lia: It was difficult. Uh, I come from a large family and, um, my father—
Paul: How many kids?
Lia: Six. Six of us. I’m the—
Paul: And you grew up where?
Lia: In Dallas—Houston Texas for the most part. We travelled a little bit when I was younger. But around third grade we settled down in Texas. And my dad was in computers. He was a consultant so he did a lot of contract work – 1099 work. And, um, so when he didn’t want to deal with the 1099’s and file his taxes, that led to my issues after high school trying to get financing for college. But before we get to that, it’s probably good to say what put me in the mind—in the mindset that I was willing to make the choice I made at 18 years old. My father grew up in his own broken home, and as a result the cycle continued with us. I was, um, was sexually molested from the time I was seven years old, seven or eight years old, until junior high school. And he, we turned him in multiple times.
Paul: Your father?
Lia: My father. My father. And my mom would, you know—is Hispanic. My mom’s Mexican and she wanted to keep the family together. It was a sign of failure for herself if she could keep her family unit together. So, in her view—I understand her mentality, but she made some poor choices for the safety of us children in an effort to maintain that unit that was fractured from so many levels. But—so he went to jail a couple of times before he was finally sent “away” for eighteen months. And, um we went—my sister, my brother and I were pulled out of my mom’s house for a year to stay with my grandparents i-in Dallas, Texas. And, uh, then we came home and Dad was still in jail and we went to (inaudible) to see him, and then he came out of jail and he was in an apartment away from the house; and she took us to visit him. And as soon as the, you know, unfit mother restrictions on him were lifted, she had him back in the house. And along with the sexual abuse he was, you know, he was emotionally abusive. You know, we were stupid, and we were spanked. We went to school with long pants on all summer long. So it was, you know, it was not happy. And he and Mom would fight and they would wake us up in the middle of the night.
Paul: Did the, did the abuse end after—once, once he went t-to prison, th-the sexual abuse, did that end?
Lia: Yeah, for the most part. He still wanted me to sit on his lap inappropriately. Things like that would happen and I was like, ohhhh. You know, and Mom was—
Paul: What would you say to him when he would do…?
Lia: I would look at him and I would shake my head “no” and sit somewhere else.
Paul: And you were like seven or eight at that time?
Lia: When he came out of jail, I was, I was fifteen, fourteen.
Paul: He wanted you to sit on his lap at fourteen or fifteen?
Paul: Wow. So he really did not, uh, did not work on himself, he did not try to get to root of why—
Lia: He’s wicked smart and he read the psychology books and knew exactly what to say and what not to say to pass their tests – what the picture’s not supposed to look like.
Paul: So a master manipulator.
Lia: Yeah. Yes, very much so. Which we inherited, I think. I have to catch myself not doing that to other people.
Paul: It’s so good that you’re, that you’re aware of it though, because most people that were manipulated then, in turn, learn how to manipulate and that’s their blunt tool, their coping mechanism. But, uh, but go ahead. So, uh…
Lia: So the—that’s what was going on. So in high school, I was constantly trying to get him to be proud of me, you know, despite the other thing, he was still my father and I still wanted him to be proud. So I was working after school to pay for outfits to be on the dance team, and I was on the dance team in high school, and I was an honor student, and went on the trip with the dance team, and went to UT to visit the campus because I wanted to go to UT when I graduated. I had a couple of girlfriends who wanted to go, and we all took the trip and saw the campus, and he was like, “Yeah, you should go and check it out!” And when it was time to fill out the financial aid forms, it was, “Oh well, we haven’t filed our taxes in the last four or five years so you need to leave that stuff blank.” Well, that doesn’t do me any good.
Paul: That doesn’t help.
Lia: And they’re not—we can’t prove we’re broke. We’re so broke we can’t prove we’re broke. So, I, uh, was unable to pay for college, and I’d gotten accepted and still couldn’t go, so, um, my best friend in high school, she had a diff—she lived a few blocks up the road, but her parents owned that house. We were rent—we always rented, we—my parents have never owned a house, they’d never saved money, so it was, you know—so, she—her parents owned this house and she went on annual vacations, like to, you know, out here to places, like, from Texas, and, so she was bored. Everything she ever wanted, she got. She never had to work a day in her life. And, uh, one of two children.
Paul: She probably thought your life was so exciting.
Lia: She was like, “You’ve got so much drama!” Like, she would come and rescue me from the house. Like, I would call her upset, a-and, she—my dad had gone off on my about something, and she would come and just say, “I’m taking you out of here. You’re coming with me.” And we would hang out in her, in her bedroom, and it would freak me out, because in the morning she would get up and she would have her little tank top and underwear on and she’d walk down the hall to go to the bathroom with her dad in the house. And I was like, “Aren’t you gonna put some clothes on?” And she was like, “It’s my dad!” I said, “Right. Right. That’s normal.”
Lia: That’s supposed to be ok.
Paul: Oh…..That’s so sad.
Lia: So it really—I was just—I realized that that’s not—that’s not everybody else’s experience. And, actually, when I was in—
Paul: And what was your friend’s name?
Paul: You don’t have to say if you don’t want to.
Lia: I’d rather not. Her sister didn’t want me to mention it anymore.
Lia: She’s passed since I got back.
Lia: So, um, so, I, uh, it was one of those moments that hit me. So I did get into college. So she said, “Let’s just move out.” She goes, “We’re both eighteen. We can move out. We can get an apartment….”
Paul: She had no desire to go to college?
Lia: She was ready to put it off for a year.
Paul: I see. She was kind of a party girl, or..?
Lia: Um, when we went out to parties, like the high school’s, the drama team, I was all about drama in high school, so we went to the senior cast party and she, she would be the one that would get drunk and smoking, and start clinging to the really unattractive guy, and I was constantly pulling her off, and, “Ok, now it’s time to go home,” and would drive her home. So we—you know, I would get silly too, and when it was a bad night, she took me out and I got really, really drunk and blacked out and apparently danced on the table at the male strip joint in downtown Houston and just—but I apparently, you know, I needed that. She let me, you know, cut loose and then she drove me home and took care of me that day and she left me on her lawn. I passed out on her grass and she just let me sleep there. (laughs) But, that was, I was—she was my, my co—my anchor, you know, I would go to her. And so when we moved out, we had started modeling lingerie outfits and doing little raffle contests at, you know, hotel lounges and a couple little bars down in Galveston and so, um… I had—you know, eighteen years old, so, of course, you have a cute figure. Who didn’t look cute at eighteen? So, um, I did well at the crappiest places cuz I was just happy-go-luck, la la la, yeah, look at us! But, I hated it. I mean, it was just—
Paul: That had to have been so painful for somebody who was objectified their whole childhood.
Lia: It’s a, it’s a weird thing. I think anybody who’s been through childhood molestation can tell you, it’s, it’s a weird thing. You wanna be cute. You really wanna be cute and get recognized and appreciated, but then at the same time, you hate yourself for being—for thinking about that, and suddenly it’s a bad thing.
Paul: Yeah, it’s like you discover your pow—it’s a power you hate having, but it’s power nonetheless.
Lia: Right. And it’s like, is that what you like about me? Is that all that people like about me? Because, I mean, I went on a binge on Facebook one night—anyone else tells me I am sexy, I’m gonna slap them, because I need more than sexy at this point.
Paul: You know what? A lot men, I think, don’t understand that. Um, yes, women want to be attractive, but th-they want to be more than that. Th-th-they want to be recognized for their, for their intelligence, or their empathy, or their sense of humor, or something else. It’s great to have the attractive thrown in as icing on the cake, but I think very few people want that to be the most important thing about them because it’s gonna change. You’re gonna get—you’re gonna get old and that’s not gonna be there forever. The thing I love about you most is disappearing every day.
Lia: (laughs) Exactly.
Paul: You know, who wants to hear that?
Lia: Diminishing as we speak. So, um, s-so that was, so that was some of what I was doing after high school. And I didn’t, I didn’t like it. And I wanted to be—and I would see the commercials on TV and I was—this is really cute, it makes me laugh to think that—there was the Bradford Business School. And it would show the girl, like, in her jeans and t-shirt and she’s all poor, but, you know, she wants to do better, and then she goes the Bradford Business School and she comes out in this executive suit with a briefcase and it’s like (song) “She’s going places! She’s a Bradford grad!” And they had, you know—my big dream was to have the money to go and become an executive assistant after graduating from Bradford Business School for, you know, like, new assistants. I wanted a briefcase. I wanted a suit and some little pumps. And so I went to the Bradford School, and they said it’s $8000. And I was like, “Oh my gosh. Ok, well, we’ll see.” And I went back and I had to go—of course, I didn’t have two pennies to rub together. We were barely making—paying our rent at this new apartment, so (name bleeped) said, “I’m gonna start waitressing at this strip club.” I was like, “Oh, I could do that.” I’ve always had a fairly big top section, so I was like, “I should be able to get good tips if I go and waitress at this strip joint.” So I went in to talk to the guy, and he goes, “Honey, with all of that, you are not waitressing, you are gonna be on my stage or you’re not working here.” And I don’t know if he thought that was gonna convince me, you know, like, “Ok, then, make me a star!” No, I was like, “Well then, I’m not working here, because this is not going on display.” So I was stuck once again not being able to keep up with the, with the making money.
Paul: Now, just let me stop you for a second. What is—in your mind, what was the difference between doing the lingerie modeling and, and being in a strip club? It was just, there was a line somewhere between there that you just weren’t comfortable crossing?
Lia: Well, I—we always wore tights underneath the lingerie and we were never topless.
Paul: Oh, oh. Okay.
Lia: Yeah. So, and i-it wasn’t, it wasn’t today’s lingerie.
Lia: It was in 1991. It’s gotten a lot more open.
Paul: Okay. It was in a hotel lobby, which was certainly different.
Lia: It was dark, and—
Paul: I gotcha, I gotcha.
Lia: So it was not, uh—I was not naked.
Paul: It was creepy classy.
Lia: It was creepy classy (laughs). Exactly. It was tickety tacky, but classy. So, uh, I-I wasn’t gonna strip. I was not gonna be taking my clothes off for money. I couldn’t do it. It was not something I was comfortable doing. So I said no, I’m not gonna do that. And then, while she was working there, she ran—one of the customers there was an importer/exporter, quote/unquote. And he said, you know, “You’re really special. You’re really smart. You shouldn’t be wasting yourself here. You know, you should work for me.” And she was like, “Well, what, well doing what?” And we says, “Well, I could get you a job, you could export some stuff—import some stuff for me from Bulgaria. And, uh, in a week, week and a half, you’d make $10,000 cash. And you can do that as often as you wanted.” So, she was like, “Well, okay, sure.” So she comes home, and she’s like, “Yeah, Lia, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I met this guy. It’s gonna be great. I’m gonna go to Bulgaria, can you believe it?” And I said, “Whoa. Are you sure it’s gonna be OK?” She said, “Yeah, you know, it’s like diamonds, no big deal.” So, she went to Bulgaria. She calls me, she’s staying at this fabulous five star hotel, she went on a tour, she’s saying, “It’s so crazy here. It’s so different.” Cuz, in Texas, it’s no joke. Texas knows about Texas. There’s not-Texas, America, and there’s everything else.
Paul: Texas is like its own separate country.
Lia: We really, we really, barely care about anything other than that. So Bulgaria was, was—it could have been China, it could have been Mongolia, it was all, you know, not Texas.
Paul: Where’s the mall, y’all?
Lia: Yeah, where’s the McDonald’s y’all? So, she comes back, and sure enough, she’s got cash. You know, he gave it to her in like twenties—she flew into Atlanta, made her delivery at some motel, and then got on the plane and came to Houston and she’s got money in her chest, money in her shoes, money lining the edge of her suitcase, so she didn’t to claim the $10,000. And, uh, I was like, “Oh my God. All I need is $8000 and I can go to school.” And for like $1000, I can get a piece of crap car. I didn’t have my own car. Like, I was—she was my ride, she was everything. So, like, then I’d have a little bit of money left over to help Mom pay some bills. So I said, all right, I wanna talk to this guy. You know, Bulgaria sounds exciting, you know. And, so, she took me to, uh, we went to this, like, Olive Garden, big fancy place. And we meet this guy, and he’s a black gentlemen and he’s wearing a suit, he’s got kind of a British accent with his, uh—when he speaks. And he says, “Wow, you really are—you’re everything she said, you’re very special.” And, like, I think how corn—how corny is that? Of course, at eighteen, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear. Yes, or course I’m special. Look at me! And he say, you know, “I, um, I really think that this, this will be a really good opportunity for you. You, um—however, I think for you, I’m thinking we should probably send you somewhere a little different. With your look, you should to, like, I’m thinking, Bangladesh.” I was like, you know, excuse me? A Bangla-what? And he says, “Bangladesh. It’s in India.” And I said, “India, wow, isn’t that where elephants are from?” And he says, “Yeah.” I said, “OK, well, what would—give me some details here. What am I taking, what are we transporting?” And he says, “Well, it’s actually…” I said, “Is it like gold or diamonds or something?” He said, “Not exactly. It’s worth more than its weight in gold, though.” I said, “Well, what?” And he says, “Well, actually, it’s,” like lip-synching, “heroin.” And I literally jumped out of my chair. You couldn’t have gotten—you could have lit a fire under my seat, like I said on the, on the show, “What?!” Because we had a friend in high school, (name bleeped) and I—his brother committed suicide, and then he would write poems about how hurt he was at losing his brother because his brother got messed up on pills and he killed himself. Well, then proceeded to get messed up on pills, and killed himself, and we went to his funeral, and his father, having lost both of his sons, stood up in front of the church and said, “Please, make a promise to me, all of you students, that you will not ever have anything to do with drugs. I don’t want any other parents to ever have to suffer this.” So we made this pact, like, we all held hands and made a pact that we were not gonna do anything with drugs. And so (inaudible), is that what you did? She says, “Calm down, sit down, shhh. You’re freaking out, relax.” And I said, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it.” I said, “I am not bringing drugs (heroin) into this country. I have little brothers—there’s just no way.” And he says, “I appreciate that, I respect that. That’s—there’s—that’s totally, totally understandable. Cindy, she’s got a, she’s got a point.” Totally pandering to me, and says, “What if I had you take it to Switzerland? It’s practically legal there.” Reader’s Digest had just done a thing on Needle Park, which I had actually read, and so, um, he says—I said, “Switzerland. They do have Needle Park.” He goes, “You know what? I will give you twice as much.” He goes, “You wanna help your mom out, right? You wanna pay some bills for your mom, you wanna go to college?” He goes, “I’ll give you twice as much as I gave her, she’s gonna be doing something really big for me.” And I said, “Twenty thousand dollars.”
Paul: And this is in what year?
Lia: 1991. Well, ’92. It was January of ’92. And I was like, oooo, all right. “Just this one time, and I’m not bringing it here.” And he goes, “No, no, no. You don’t have to bring it here. No problem.” So ….
Paul: And then he said, “And then he said, whatever you do, don’t rent Midnight Express.”
Lia: Yeah, exactly, whatever, no. I was so naïve, I was thinking, “I’m gonna see elephants. It’s gonna be an adventure. I’ll be in the jungle.” I was, like, excited. And, uh, I got there. When I got off that plane, I had never left America. Like, we drove down to Mexico, I think, once when I was younger to see my mom’s grandparents or something. But we never flew anywhere out of the country. I had no expectations—no idea what to expect. And didn’t, like, embassy—the American Embassy, you’re supposed to check in, I had no idea. So I get out at the airport and there’s this—they have this system where all the rickshaw drivers come up and they try and help you because that’s money, they’re all trying to make money and they’re like, “Excuse me, madame, help you madame, help you madame!” And they’re grabbing at my suitcase and they’re very—the whole personal space thing we have in America – nonexistent over there. And they don’t smell very good. And so it was, like, whoa. I was accosted with noise, and the smells, and the language I didn’t understand and their accent was funky and there was a—I found out later there was a plant, this guy, this cab driver, came over and walked through, and he says, “Excuse me. Would you like some help?” Perfect British accent. And I was like, “Oh, yes!” And he goes, “I will take you to a hotel. Come with me.” And so he took me to, um, a guest house that was crappy and then I decided I wanted to spend my last couple of days on my visa waiting for the dude at the fancy hotel. Went to the fancy hotel and, uh, checked in. It was five stars ….
Paul: And you paid for the stay at the fancy hotel?
Lia: Well, they—he gave me some spending cash. He gave me like $1500, which was to cover the hotel, the taxi, and my food and everything. And of course, I didn’t go to the cheap places for food because I was American and I went wherever they had dollar symbols. Like, “Dollars accepted.” Yeah, ok. I didn’t exchange my money until much later. Um, later, it was “Get some taka. It’s a lot cheaper if you use taka.” And I was like, “Oh. Oh, ok, yeah, sure. They have different money here.” I mean, just completely ignorant. I mean, for all the studying I did and for all the honor student I was in high school, I just—I had no, no training or education of what to expect overseas. So, um, let me skip ahead. Stayed there, I don’t know, I thought I was having fun, got sick, had to stay a couple extra days, which worked out for them, because the guy bringing the drugs was, uh, delayed. And then, uh, had a really scary experience. I was gonna run away. The guy was late bringing me the drugs, the day I was supposed to leave. It was the last day of my visa, and I was like, “You know what? I am going to escape. Like, I’m not gonna do this. I don’t want to miss my flight. I’ve been—I’m just getting freaked out.” So, um, the hotel had a policy where you check in your luggage when you check in, and then once you pay the bill, they give you this little coin thing that says your bill’s paid, and then a bellboy will take the coin and then escort—take your luggage out. So you’re not supposed to run off without paying your bill. Well, I was planning to do just that because I didn’t have enough money to pay the bill. I’d stayed too many days at the fancy hotel. So I took my suitcase and I, like, sneak out of my room into the stairwell. I’m like, I’m just gonna go down and go out by the service desk, service entrance, you know, just sneak out. Well, I run, schlepping this suitcase full of all these roses that I got because someone at the hotel was offensive and he apologized and gave me a bunch of roses. And, uh, I’m like, that’s the first guy who’s ever given me roses, I’m going to keep all of them. So I’m running down the stairs with this suitcase full of flowers and stuff, and I get to the bottom, finally, panting, and I open the door thinking it’s going to be the kitchen or, you know, some service area, and it is the middle of the lobby. Like, in the middle of all the glorious mirrors. And it’s like, oh, crap. So, I was like, well, maybe I’ll just keep my head down and just kinda go. You know, if I put my suitcase out, and I’ll just—and, of course, all the bellboys, looking for their tip money, this is their livelihood, throng to me, “Oh, can I help you madame, ma’am, can I help you? Help with your bags?” And I was like, “Oh, no, I got it.” “Where’s your coin? Lady, we’ll carry your bags.” I was like, “No, no, no, no, I’ve got it. I’m gonna carry it.” Where’s my coin? Crap! And as this was all happening, the guy, Tony, that was bringing me the drugs shows up. And he is a very scary person. He’s not Mr. Rico Suave that I met in Texas. He is intense. He’s very hardcore. And, uh, then he spotted me. And I was like, “Man.” He came across, and he was like, “Where are you going?” And he grabbed my passport out of my hand. And he goes, “You’re not running away. Here’s your money. Go pay your bill. Meet me out front.” So, I go out, I go to pay my bill, and they’re, like, watching. “Are you OK? Are you OK?” And I said, “Oh, yeah, yeah.” I was raised at home that we didn’t tell what my dad was doing abusing us because the authorities aren’t going to help you. Just this mechanism. When someone asks you if you’re ok, you just say yes. You can’t trust them to do anything. So I didn’t go to counselors at school when I was being abused because they would break up the family and I didn’t tell people at the desk I’m being coerced. You know, so many things that a normal child, I think, would have registered and would have reacted differently, because of what I went through, I just kind of, head down, took my punishment, thinking that that’s what I had to do. And so I did. I got to the rickshaw and he was mad. And I don’t like anyone being upset at me, that’s just my mentality from forever. So even though he’s a criminal, I still don’t want him mad at me for some reason. Like that matters. So, um, we went to his, his guest house, which is the same guest house I’d been dropped off at, which is how I know that cab driver was a plant. I was supposed to have been there, and it would be a lot easier, which is part of why he was annoyed. But, so, he wanted to put them into my suitcase, the packages, but I had had all these flowers and two big metal vases that they had come in. They were taking up a significant chunk of space. And he says, uh, “You can’t take these. They’re not gonna fit. I’m throwing these away.” And I was like, this is moment that I got some gumption, w-w-worst moment, was when I said, “Do you know what? No, I am keeping those roses. You cannot tell me that I’m throwing them away. I am keeping them. They are mine. They’re staying.” “Alright, fine. Then you’re have to wear the product.” And I said, “Ok, fine, I will.” You know, at this point, that was the worst thing that I could have done. If you put it in your suitcase, you have plausible deniability, there are so many reasons not to do that, but I—I decided to fight for my roses.
Paul: Wow. Wow.
Lia: (laughs) I know. I know, it’s terrible. But, uh, uh, so I put on this horrible girdle, and these packages of, of the heroin were wrapped in coffee grounds and sprayed with opium perfume to kind of throw off the dogs, it was just—
Paul: Hold on for one second, do you think there’s a significance in the fact that those roses meant so much to you that you were willing to make the—this mission more dangerous, th-th-that someone’s expression of you being special to them was so profound and important to you, it colored the logistics of you doing this thing—what did those flowers—who had given you these, these flowers?
Lia: The marketing guy from the hotel had asked me out to dinner. And we went to dinner, and on the way back from dinner, he behaved inappropriately, because I was an American woman traveling abroad on my own, and he had just a set expectation, and, you know, went to smell my hair, and put his face—burying his face in my neck, and I pushed him out, and was like, “Get away from me. Don’t ever come near me.” And, uh, he was mortified. Yeah, uh, I guess it meant a lot to me. I didn’t—you know, nobody had, uh …
Paul: Nobody had ever done that for you.
Lia: No, my dad certainly didn’t do that. For all of the stuff that he did, he never—I never got roses from him. I didn’t get any apologies from Dad.
Lia: So, uh, well, he’s said he’s sorry, but then he’s recanted. You know, he goes back and forth defending himself and so, um …
Paul: It sounds like your dad’s actions always undermined anything he had to say.
Lia: Right. I mean, a-a-and now that he’s, you know, he’s 67 years old, and he’s had a stroke, I mean a heart attack, and I-I’m in contact with him, and we’ve reached—you know, I forgive him. I wouldn’t have my children around him alone, but I still talk to him, he’s my father and I get where he was coming from. I kinda know, I know why he’s broken.
Paul: He’s a sick person.
Lia: Yeah. I realize he’s broken. We’re all broken in our own way. And he’s come a long way, so …. But, um, yeah, so that was a big—it was weird that I decided to fight for those. And I-I had sworn that I wasn’t—I think it was meant to be, that I wore it. And actually, you know, when I went through security, actually, they were body searching, and I-I got caught. And so that was—I was arrested trying to smuggle the heroin.
Paul: Did you know that th-the drug smuggling penalties were stiff in Bangladesh?
Lia: I had no idea. I had no clue.
Paul: I’m sure the guy didn’t tell you all about the (inaudible).
Lia: He didn’t tell me, “If you get caught, this is what’s gonna happen.” No, the guy in the rickshaw told me, you know, “Look. Don’t get any ideas. Don’t think you’re gonna go throw this stuff away.” He says, “We’re watching you.” And my friend (name bleeped) was back home, and I knew he knew—they knew where she was and I didn’t want to put her in any danger so I was gonna go through with it, you know. Whoo, suck it up – I can do this. And, so, um, they had been tipped off at the airport. And the DEA, when I spoke to them later on, they suspected there was an even larger shipment in some kind of a box, like a bag full of heroin going behind me, but, you know, we don’t know for sure.
Paul: The Bangladeshi DEA or the American DEA?
Lia: The American DEA.
Paul: So they were working in concert with, with each other?
Lia: They, they came to see me after I was arrested. When I was in jail, they came to talk to me. They called me—the one guy called me “Sly. You should be sly.” I’m not sly. I don’t like that adjective. And he kept using it. I think it was like one of those things to get me to keep talking.
Paul: So was the American DEA on your side—after you got arrested, were they on side because they wanted to use you to help bust this larger ring? Had they..?
Lia: They tried.
Paul: Had they been aware of your complicity in this even before you’d been arrested?
Lia: No, they had not been aware.
Lia: So they found out when the Embassy found out and it all got reported up the chain through Customs and everything, I guess. The DEA guys came to talk to me. And I was happy to tell them all—it’s like, “There’s a girl in Switzerland waiting for me. And she’s gonna fly back home empty-handed.”
Paul: Th-these people—there’s at least a chance that, that you’re gonna get, get your st-story heard and—
Lia: And be able to go home.
Paul: And be able to go home.
Lia: I was ready to testify against the guy in the States. I mean, they looked for him and they actually reached out to my friend to see if she could tell them—give him the contact information. And, of course, she was—I’m sure she was threatened and scared out of her wits and denied everything. Didn’t know where I was, didn’t know what I was talking about. And, um, and so they couldn’t find—they were looking around Houston. Like, they went into the woody—woodlands areas looking for him to be hiding out in the—and they could not find this person. So, um, someone asked me once, “Are you afraid he’s gonna find you?” And I said, “No. I really don’t ever think about him.” But, um, so the DEA—I did try to cooperate. I told them as much as I could. And, uh, I thought for sure that they were gonna fly me home, but they didn’t have—and I don’t know that we do even now—but they didn’t have an exchange agreement to where you can bring the American prisoner back. But as—to an American jail. Which actually would have been worse. I think, being an American in a Bangladesh prison, was really, uh, not a bad, I mean, it wasn’t nice, but it was better than being in an American, in an American prison.
Paul: Wait, wait, hold on. Being in a Bangladeshi prison was nicer than being in an American prison?
Lia: For treatment wise, not necessarily the accommodations. I mean, it was hot, there was no air conditioning, there was no heat. I mean, it was tropical weather. And, but, I had a position of esteem with them. I had a separate cell away from the other prisoners.
Paul: I see, because you were from another country, or, specifically America?
Lia: Um, the treated western—Westerners, British—there were some British gentlemen in the men’s side that had a separate cell.
Lia: Anybody with money could pay to have a cell. I guess one woman, a garment factory owner, paid her way her way to share a cell—the cell with me. And I got a better diet, and, basically anything I said was, you know, was treated with respect. And, you know, they were—the Embassy came to make sure I was being taken care of and well fed and the jail knew that so they were very conscientious. So I’ve—
Paul: Did you have any, uh, clue as to how lucky you were, given the fact that you were already unlucky in that you got caught, did you have any clue, um, that it could have been so much worse?
Lia: At the time, no. No, I didn’t have any idea. I mean I, I was, um, making friends and making the most of my time there. I learned the language because they didn’t speak English very well. And so I learned to read and write it because they had books. They had—the women would bring their children with them, because the husbands remarried and their kids, they’re first born, their lives are in danger. It’s that kind of society. It’s so crazy.
Paul: What do you mean the children are first born and their lives are in danger?
Lia: So, everything is about inheritance, like, land ownership and things like that, it’s inherited. It’s inherited and passed down. So, like, the Bible, think the Bible. So, the men would marry these women, they’d have a kid. And if the woman gets arrested for theft, or framed for murder because they have—their family has valuable land and somebody wants to develop on it and nobody wants to sell, they would frame them for murder or some other horrible thing and send these women to prison, and women, more often than not, would choose to bring their children with them into the jail rather than leave them with their husband, because he’s going to remarry, and the new wives—there were some women in jail with me who had killed their senior wife’s child.
Lia: Because that means more inheritance for their own children. So that was—and that was bananas to me to go in there and have these children serving time with us. But it was also a nice little reprieve. Because the kids were cute and I got to play with them.
Paul: That had to have been on some level really soothing to have th-that innocence around in this place that’s just so, I would imagine, cynical and frightening.
Lia: Well, they were—and they were praying. I mean, it’s a Muslim country, which I didn’t know anything about at the time. They pray—they all got the call to prayer five times a day, and they were all in a troublesome time, and that’s when you go to your faith. That’s when you reach out to your, you know, you go to your—
Paul: And were you somebody that had any faith before you went in—
Lia: We were raised evangelical Christians. The Bible was the truth and there was only the Bible, and we believed it. And we went to revivals—to camp revivals and stuff. I mean, we were …
Paul: So, so, I mean, cuz I-I also went to through that stuff in Catholic grade school, but I-I was just kinda, it just, I felt like I was pushed into doing it. I mean, you can be raised evangelical Christian, and still, your soul’s still not into it. But your soul was into it, kind of?
Lia: Uh, not—I had questions because it was coming from my dad, and my dad was doing what my dad was doing. So uh ….
Paul: That’s gotta fuck you, fuck you up, you know. That’s a really bad message to give. God loves you, but we’re gonna put that on the back burner for about fifteen minutes, you know.
Lia: Yeah, it his Bible—his belt that he spanked us with was about two inches wide and it was embossed with “Jesus loves you” and a rainbow.
Paul: Are you kidding me?
Lia: No, I’m not (laughs).
Paul: Are you kidding me?
Lia: I’m not even kidding. It was—we had JE and SUS imprinted on our asses.
Paul: Are you kidding?
Lia: You think I—no, not at all.
Paul: Did he get that at the You Gotta Be Shittin’ Me store?
Lia: Yeah, exactly.
Paul: I need something to whup my kids with. What would be the most ironic?
Lia: Exactly. (laughs)
Paul: Oh my God.
Lia: Well, spare the rod and whatever that scripture is. He felt like showing us—
Paul: Spare the rod, spoil the child.
Lia: He felt he was really serving us by spanking us.
Paul: Oh my God. So, so you’re in this prison, and had you been sentenced yet at this point?
Lia: No, um, I got—I’m trying to think. At the time—the timeline gets fuzzy. It took a long time for my court dates to actually start. They chased down—they did find the guy who gave me the drugs trying to cross into India. And, um we had a—
Paul: It’s so easy to catch a rickshaw with a cop car.
Paul: It’s so easy to close in on them.
Lia: They said he was—I mean, I’m impressed with the dog—with the Bangladesh police force for being able to find this guy hiding. Because i-it’s mayhem in that country.
Paul: It’s so populated.
Lia: It’s so over populated. But someone was—they must have had some kind of a reward or something. But they found him, brought him. I identified him. He denied knowing me. But after a couple of days of, I’m sure, horrible, horrible coercion, he admitted and pointed them out to the person that brought the drugs from, I think the said he brought them in from Nigeria. So he had a third person that I’d never laid eyes on that was coming to court every day with, uh, with me for all hearings, and, um, it took some time. They, uh, they told me to say I didn’t know what it was, which I thought was ludicrous.
Paul: Who told you to say this?
Lia: My lawyer.
Paul: Okay. And was it a-a-a Bangladeshi lawyer?
Lia: It was a Bangladeshi lawyer.
Paul: And he was a—was he a good guy? Seemed to be on your side?
Lia: He tried to be. The Embassy gave me a, gave me a list and it was, you know, alphabetical order, it was in no particular order, they can’t show any kind of preference to one or the other. And so I picked an Abdul Something. And, uh, not the sharpest tool in the shed, I came to find out later. I mean, I-I-I had, I don’t know, I’d never needed a lawyer before, I mean even with the stuff with my dad, I wasn’t, I was not involved with the legal aspects of it, I mean, so …
Paul: I mean, who could navigate that, y-you know, let alone an 18 year old who’s never been outside of Texas.
Lia: Right, right. So, so I had a, kind of a dope for a lawyer. He, he tried, and w-we did get my—we got my sentence, um, it was not, it was not to be hanged, which th-they could have done, um, it was life, which, in Bangladesh, the life sentence there is, is actually only thirty years. It’s a signal of their life expectancy in that country. It’s pretty short.
Lia: So, I was, I guess three and half years into it when they—well, three years I guess, when they finally sentenced me. And, uh, and then we went to the high court and the high court—I went and testified in front of the high court. And I was wearing a salwar kameez, the traditional outfit for the country. And I spoke in Bengali to the judges and told them, you know, I was very sorry, I, you know—
Paul: Can you re—can you remember how to say what it is that you said in Bangladeshi?
Lia: It’s been so long. I can speak—
Paul: Is that the right word? Bangladeshi?
Lia: It’s Bengali.
Paul: Bengali. I’m sorry.
Lia: Bengali. Bangladeshi also works. Yeah, um, Bengali—I haven’t spoken it very much since I got back, but I—when I hear it, like, the shopowners in New York are predominantly from—
Paul: It must blow their mind.
Lia: I go and they’re like, “You’re from Bangladesh.” And they’re like (Bengali spoken). That means, “I lived in Bangladesh for four and a half years.” And they’re like, “Where?” (Bengali for “where”.) And I say, “Ummmm….”
Lia: I said, uh, I’m like, “You won’t believe me.” (Bengali for “you won’t believe me”, then “why wouldn’t I believe you?”) “Why wouldn’t I believe you?” And I said, “Uh, I was in (Bengali), which is the central prison.” And they all just look at me, “No.” “Yeah.” So, um, I-I testified, and they asked me, which was really sweet, the judges were kind of cute, these three white haired men, and they were like, “So, you’re, you’re, um, you’re 18 now?” And, of course, by then I was 22, and I said—
Paul: And so it’s take three-and-a-half years for your case to even be heard!
Lia: And that well—
Paul: Three and a half years waiting to find out if you get life.
Lia: Well, at three-and-a-half years, they sentenced me to life. I was going to hearings for about a year.
Paul: I see.
Lia: And it was a big to-do when I went to court. And I had braces, and I went to the medical college to get my braces tightened and that was a big to-do. I mean, it was, I guess I shouldn’t say it was—because it’s surreal. There were people lining up the sidewalk on a—entering into the prison, or entering into the courthouse, and there were men with bouquets of roses because they’d seen my picture in the newspaper and I have Indian features and people will often mistake me from being from the southeast Asian continent, and so—and I-I was young, and cute, and so they were proposing to me, and were petitioning with my lawyer to be able to marry me and save me and then we would—hoping I would take them back to America once I was free kind of a thing. So I had—going to court as a, you know, to be convicted of heroin smuggling, and I’ve got literally throngs of young men, and mothers of young men, waving and calling out to me, cheering to me like I was a movie star on the red carpet. It was bananas.
Paul: Bizarre. A-a-a—throngs of people who want—still want to use you, but in a less creepy way than you’d been used your whole life.
Lia: Right, right, my whole life. Yeah, the American—they wanted to use the American card. Which is …
Paul: You know, that’s the beauty of life is, you’re—you never cease—it never ceases to—you never cease to encounter, uh, a new way that somebody wants to use or manipulate you.
Lia: There’s always some new twist to it. Yeah, but I went, I went to court, several times, and, um, then men—well, typically, in that culture, if there’s a man and a woman accused together in a case, it’s, you know, they were intimately involved and committed this crime together. And, you know, so that was assumed, and encouraged, by the jerk that was accused with me, Tony. And so I would go to court and they would be like, you know, “Do you two want some time alone? Do you want to be by yourselves?”
Paul: That had to turn your stomach.
Lia: I was like, “Oh my God, do you know this man ruined my life? I’d never laid eyes on him until the day I was arrested.” You know, people ask me now, “Have you heard where Tony is?” I’m like, “I don’t give a rat’s ass where that guy is! I hope he’s rotting in prison still!” You know, I understand there’s a curiosity because he’s part of the story when I tell it on National Geographic and, so, I mean, I guess technically I could care, but I really, really don’t care. And I’ve never asked or looked for it. But, um, so, went to high court and they asked me to lie about my age in order to be able to help me. “Because if you are only 18 now, then you were under age when you were arrested and we would be forced to let you go.” It’s like, “No, I’m 22, and my ID will show that. The American government can confirm that.” And they go, “Oh, paperwork can be forged. We wouldn’t be able to rely on paperwork alone. If you told us that you’re only—“ I was like, “Really?!” I said, “Really, I’m flattered—“
Paul: Do you think they were trying to lure you into a trap because then if they could show that you were lying they would make it worse?
Lia: No, I think my—I think they were really—there was a lot of sympathy for me in the media and I think they were really looking for a way for me to get out of jail.
Paul: I see, because th-th-the—I would have thought that public opinion would have been, “Hang her.”
Lia: You would—there was an element of that, but it was not—from, from what I gathered, which, you know, m-my perspective, I’m sure, was, was skewed, but it was a lot of popularity. There were a lot of people who thought, you know, the American girl, she’s so young, and she’s so innocent and let’s, let’s, you know—unless you had a family that was serving time for similar crimes, you were very sympathetic.
Paul: Describe what you were feeling and thinking when you were thinking, “I’m gonna be in here for the rest of my life.” What is—what is that like?
Lia: Well, when I—when I was arrested and I first heard from the Embassy that they weren’t gonna be able to get me extradited, I said, “Well, look, you have to get me out of here. I’m gonna kill myself. I am not gonna stay in this jail.” It was horrible. I didn’t speak the language at that time. It smelled awful. You know, these people were just weird.
Paul: And you were in the good part of the, of the prison.
Lia: I was in my own cell. I still, I, you know, when I went in, th-the head woman in the jail, you know, spent a lot of time examining my chest, like I might have been hiding something in my boobs. It’s like, really? She spent a lot time.
Paul: Oh really, she was just kind of getting, getting off?
Lia: A little friendly, yeah. So I just wanted—I was creeped out. I wanted to leave. And um, and then when they sentenced me to 30 years, I actually knew that was going to happen a few days beforehand because they interrupted another drug case in the middle of its trial, mid-witness, and issued a sentence of thirty years because the Embassy said you have to have a precedent of setting—of sentencing a woman from your country for a similar case before you can sentence an American to whatever it is.
Paul: I see.
Lia: So they, they stopped this woman’s hearing and they charged her—sentenced her to life. She got off on a technicality but that set the precedent—
Paul: Set the precedent.
Lia: Set the precedent. So I knew I was—she came back and said, “I have good news and bad news.” I was like, “What?” She goes, “Well, the bad news is, you’re gonna get life. The good news is I’m going home on a technicality because I just set the precedent for you and it was in the middle of my hearings.”
Paul: She really said that to you?!
Lia: Uh huh.
Paul: Did you kick her in the face?
Lia: No, no, she was kind of a tough lady.
Paul: Did you strangle her with her sarong?
Lia: No, she came in putting her—she was grinning as she was folding her convict—they have this—
Paul: Is sarong even the right term?
Paul: Sari, yeah.
Lia: Sari. She had the convict sari on and she’s pleating it and just grinning from ear to ear, “I’m gonna be in here for a month at the most.”
Paul: What a bitch!
Lia: Yeah. (sighs)
Paul: How do you … Oh my God.
Lia: It wasn’t anything—it wasn’t her fault, you know. I mean, I-I-I’m pretty good at not blaming the messenger.
Paul: Yeah. And, you know, let’s not forget too, uh, your complicity in this. You know, that fact that you—yes, y-y-you were somebody who, um, had experienced a tough childhood and, and had, you know, certainly been taught a lot of fucked up lessons, but you still chose t-to do this stuff.
Lia: Oh, absolutely.
Paul: A-and, you know, I-I don’t want, I don’t want to gloss over that and make it, make it sound like, um, you’re the, you’re the victim, in all this. And I don’t get the sense you feel that way either.
Lia: No. I mean, I was surrounded by women who were, in fact, victims and had been framed and had been—I mean, there was the occasional actual murderer who would describe killing the four-year-old son of her senior wife, but they would—a lot of people who were there for, you know, had not done—there was this eighty-year-old woman who could barely lift her head up had been accused of killing a man who was thirty years old. She couldn’t have done it.
Paul: W-What did that feel like, being around all of that—all those sad stories?
Lia: It was, it was, um, very humbling. And, um, I wrote, like, I wrote a poem about one woman because, um, her kids had been taken away from her and she couldn’t take care of them, and they took her land away, and it was, it was very humbling and it gave me a perspective on, you know, m-my life had a lot of crap in it, but it was not that kind of crap, like not losing my family crap or not having—no food on the table, and, you know, wrongly imprisoned, and taken away from infants, and having—the women could only keep their kids until a certain age, even in the jail, then they were taken to an orphanage and the bureaucracy was impossible to get your kids out after that.
Paul: Oh my God.
Lia: So even if they got out of jail, the chances of being able to get their children was very remote.
Paul: A-a-and does Bangladesh have the caste system like, uh, India does?
Paul: So yeah, if you’re from the lower caste, you’re, you’re less than a citizen. If even that.
Lia: Right. Yeah. So it was—um, I got a sense perspective. And I (laughs) and I learned that there’s more than what—I’d always had an issue with Hell, growing up with the religion my dad—you know, like, if you’re not a Christian, you know, the Way, the Truth, the Light, no one gets to the Kingdom, to the Heavens but through Me, I thought, you know, I know a lot of people who aren’t Christian. And I’ve known some pretty crappy Christians. Thinking of my dad. And, I just didn’t think that God was populating the planet with people to fill Hell. I didn’t think Hell needed fuel. I feel like that was just not something that God would do. So when I went over there and I met all these people who were not Christian, there was maybe two Christian women the whole time I was there. There were several Hindus, but even that was a very small minority, and I thought, you know, these women are suffering, and they’re praying, and they’re, you know …
Paul: Living with dignity.
Lia: Living with dignity.
Paul: They had compassion for each other.
Lia: Exactly. And so I, um—it was funny, they said—they would do their prayers and I would ask them what they were doing. They were doing their fasting one year, and I was, like, “Why aren’t you eating? There’s no food coming. What’s going on with that? Like, mine’s the only food coming.” And they said, “Oh no, this is our sacred fast.” And I was like, “What do you mean – a sacred fast?” And they said, “Well, you Americans don’t have this. You don’t have the discipline.” Uh, yeah, I’m a Texas teenager who’s just left home and flown across the continent, the world to come here, and you’ve just thrown down the gauntlet. I was like, “Ok, what do you have to do? Bring it.”
Lia: In learned the prayers i-in Arabic, I learned how to read the Arabic alphabet for Koran, for the vowel sounds, above and below it, and I did prayer five times a day. I fasted from dawn ‘til dusk. And I went through the whole, you know, singing through the certain nights that you’re supposed to be up all night singing, and, um, I was like, “Ok. I’ve done it.” And they said, “So now you’re truly Muslim!” And I said, “No. You know, I appreciate the value of focusing on, you know, the Supreme Being that, you know, on Allah. I think, I think that’s valuable.” I said, “But, um, yeah, I think Christianity has a direct line that doesn’t revolve—doesn’t require all the ritual—“
Paul: Was it kind of a welcome distraction that gave you something to focus your mind on other than going, “I’m fucked?”
Lia: Yes something to do with my time.
Paul: “I’m fucked. Oh, great, rice again.” How many times did you think that? “RICE! Really?”
Lia: I never used to like rice as a kid and now I love it. Like, I-I make—I have a—
Paul: Does it remind you of that prison?
Lia: No, I love it! I love rice. I love Indian food. Like, if I go—
Paul: Indian food’s the best.
Lia: If I eat an Indian meal, I’m full for the day. Like, I’m—it makes me happy to—the flavors make me happy, I have, I have no—nothing really nothing hurtful or upset about actual—what happened when I was there. Like, I recognize that I deserved to be there. I walked into that. And there were people that wanted to help. Like this missionary I’d never laid eyes on was coming to see me once a month. Went through all kinds of trouble to be able to come and see me and help me out. For no reason. Bill Richardson was the congressman from New Mexico at the time. He heard my story when he came to Dhaka for some other purpose.
Paul: Bill Richardson?
Lia: Bill Richardson. And, uh, the Embassy people had—you know, were all familiar with my story. They were all sending me little goodies. I got these big gift boxes of goodies once a month, from books and shower gel and stuff.
Paul: S-s-s-so i-it sounds like there wasn’t ever really a point where you felt forgotten in there, because so often that’s the—when somebody gets locked up abroad, oftentimes, there’s not connection with the Embassy and they feel like, “I’m just withering away and nobody knows that.” That was not your—you never had that feeling.
Lia: No, not at all. I was very, very fortunate in that regard—and that was the—I was the first American ever arrested in Bangladesh, ever. And so it was a novelty. And I had a couple of, um—the foreign service agency was their first assignment, and they got sent there because it was kind of a good training ground before you go to the other countries. And so the—having a prisoner there was a whole new thing but it was part of the consulors’ job—they came to see me and they were really sweet. I mean they were green they were wet behind the ears too, so they weren’t really sure what they were supposed to do. And I was—I like to think I was charming and so I got—they would bring me all kinds of goodies. It was like Christmas every month. So, um, I forget where I was.
Paul: Sorry, I interrupted you because I thought that was so important to interrupt you. I do that a lot.
Lia: That’s Ok. No, but I have—I’ve had people say, you know, that they, they’ve had—
Paul: Oh, Bill Richardson. You were talking about Bill Richardson.
Lia: So Bill Richardson heard about me from the Embassy folks and he—they said, you know, we want to do something for her but we can’t because America has the war on drugs and we can’t do anything on her behalf but as American—as a member of the American government, you could ask their government for a pardon. And so he did. He says, “Yeah, let’s do it. What do I have to do? Let’s get this, let’s get this girl home.” And, uh, again, my congressman and senators were getting letters from my parents and were non-responsive, so I have huge appreciation for Bill Richardson. And, uh, he sent me this postcard, “I’ve heard your story and we’re going to get you home soon.” And took it, like, I was like, “Yeah. Sure.” I had zero—I mean, I just didn’t think—how could you? Why would you? July fourth th-they gave their—they read their statement. And they said, you know, “While we feel for this young woman, the law is, uh, not meant to be sympathetic. And according to the laws of this country, she has, in fact, broken them, and, uh, is, is appropriately sentenced to life for her crimes. But we would ask the government to take a look at this and we would encourage her lawyer to pursue, you know, some sort of clemency from the Prime Minister or the President because that is what they are there for.”
Paul: I see.
Lia: And, so, and then it was actually much better because—I mean, I have—having a pardon is better than having a shortened commutation. I mean, I would have gotten out maybe a little bit sooner, but, I actually ended up with no record. I didn’t, I didn’t know how long it would take for the pardon. I thought it would take a lot longer. But Richardson came back again—they advertised that he was coming again in about a week, and I was like, something in my head said, ‘Oh my God, he’s coming to take me home.’ I just—I suddenly knew. There was this (inaudible), whatever, he’s coming to take me home. And the Embassy guys came and said, you know, “IF you were to get your pardon, and IF you were to go home then this would be your schedule.” And they had this whole, this, like, moment-by-moment schedule, and I was like, “Yeah, IF …” Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, I’m so going, “I’m so out of here!” You know, I was—I had a couple of days of just being ecstatic. You know, and they took my picture for my passport because my passport had gotten stolen. Shocker!
Paul: So, then y-you get released, you come back home to America, you start living your life. A-a-am I skipping over, uh, a-anything that you feel is, uh …
Lia: The flight home, uh, was kind of crazy. Because I was panicked. I was like, ‘I have been in prison for four-and-a-half years, and I am going home.’ And it was—like, my youngest brother when I left in ’92 was twelve. And I was coming home to a 17 year-old—16-, 17-year-old boy—man, almost. And I had—they had sent me some pictures and I didn’t recognize my own siblings. Like, they were all—they had all grown up. And, um, I didn’t have any skills. I hadn’t worked—I mean, I just couldn’t imagine what I was gonna do. I was very, I was very scared. And I was missing my friends I’d made in jail because I—every day I would wake up, and there was a couple of older women, and they would come up and look at me and they would, they would be praying and looking at me through my little window in my cell, and I asked her, “Why? What are you doing?” She goes, “You’re just so beautiful, you’re like this light in this jail. And I just like to look at you when you’re sleeping.”
Paul: You’re so beautiful?
Lia: Yes. And I was—I would say, ‘I’m not gonna have that when I go home.’ You know, it was—
Lia: So many things I did I was missing.
Paul: How did it make you feel when she said that?
Lia: I just—it was surreal. I can’t—I just—I don’t know what it would have been like, I guess, not to hear because I heard it so many times. Like, they said I looked like one of their Hindu goddesses. And, uh, I had letters, a few letters that came through from, from, uh, local men. Just going on and on about how beautiful I was and I should be in movies and … I always thought—you know, in the middle of just being really down on myself for being so stupid and having to be there in the first place and losing all of this time and not seeing my brothers and sisters; and I was worried more for them missing me and knowing that was hurting them, than I was about myself. I mean, I was, I was where I was supposed to be, I screwed up, this is wh-what I get. But I also knew that I was the big sister and they looked up to me. And I got letters from my little brother and my little sister and I could tell they were hurting. And that, that was harder on me than what I was actually going through because I’m going through hearing how gorgeous I was, and how smart I was, and learning a new language. And I did learn the language pretty quickly, and I felt proud of myself. I got this sense of—I had a really strong sense me as an individual person, an entity separate from my family, an entity separate from the people who were around me. Because I wasn’t one of them, but I certainly felt a connection with them, and I, I just became aware, really, self-aware. I mean, this is who I am. I was reading some things and for the first time in my life, I felt I had permission to disagree with something I read. Because I always was—in school you’re supposed—this is what you learn, this is what you agree with, you agree, you agree, you agree. And then I was reading and I was like, ‘You know, I disagree with that.’ You know, I’d always had issues with Hell and the Bible and that was my only, one thing that I knew I disagreed with. But I got to the point where I had read so many things and I had formed some opinions …
Paul: So like what things were you reading that you were disagreeing with?
Lia: There were some philosophy books I got, um …
Paul: So you were just devouring books while you were in prison. Yeah.
Lia: Devouring books. Anything the Embassy people read and they got—they handed it back to me. And, um, fiction. Like, I read a, I got a book, and I didn’t like it. And it’s like, ‘I don’t have to finish it.’ Like, I am not enjoying Clive Barker, I’m just gonna, I’m gonna stop. (laughs)
Paul: I think that you should start—you should have other girls go through this and it would be like your Bradford Business School. And you show them walking out of the Bangladesh prison and say—
Lia: She’s a Dhaka grad!
Paul: Yes. I learned how to question. During my commuting, uh, life sentence for smuggling drugs.
Lia: My dad came—when I came my dad said, “You know what? Jail was good for you.” He goes, “Listen to you arguing a-and standing up for yourself.” He goes, “It really did you some good.” And I just thought, you know, “And who beat me down? You jerk.”
Paul: Did you believe him? Were you able to see that when he said that, that jail had done you some, some good?
Lia: M-my immediate response—I remember feeling very good. Like, oh, thanks.
Lia: You know, I-I didn’t, uh, I didn’t continue to be the person that had been beaten down at the time but I thought back about it and was like, you know, yeah ….
Paul: You know, th-th-that to me is one of the, one of the things in life that is so, um, so easy to overlook, is the fact that really, really tough stuff can be the best thing that ever happens to us sometimes, but when we’re going through it, it’s so miserable and it’s so hard, and I’m struck by, by hearing your story, th-the two things that kind of stick out me, um, both involve patience. You know, th-th-the mistake that you made of, of smuggling the drugs, to me, it’s not that you were a bad person, or that you were a-a-a-a not smart person, it was that y-you lacked the patience to believe that some good stuff in life was gonna come your way. That you were gonna, you were gonna be able to, to fulfill some type of dream of educate yourself or anything like that and you thought, ‘I’ve gotta force it. I’ve gotta break my moral code to make this happen because it’s not gonna, it’s not gonna happen.’ And then the patience of you being in this, this prison, um, and using it to, to, um, kind of expand, expand your mind—I suppose it was easier in that your prison was not as hellish as, as it could have been and you had these people that were, were caring for you—but, I don’t know, that just kind of—the word patience just kind of strikes—jumps out at me. Does that, does that, uh …
Lia: I guess I have—I consider myself an incredibly impatient person. I have, um—my poor mother. When I was in dance practice after school, if she was late picking me up, there was hell to pay. It—I—it just made me so angry. I hate waiting. And I hate making people wait because I know how much I hate waiting. So patience has never been a good—and then I have friends that say, “You know, Lia, you put up with things for so long, I can’t believe that you don’t think you’re patient.” And, so, I guess, I guess it depends on what form the waiting is taking. Like, if I’m waiting—if I’m consciously waiting for something, then I can’t take it. But if I’m trudging through something that’s not necessarily a nice situation, but just going through something, then I have a lot more patience.
Paul: So when you go through something today, so you ever look back on your time i-i-in the prison, uh, and draw on any of that for strength, or is it something that you just kind of, uh, put behind you and don’t really think about?
Lia: Um, when I’m—I tend to have a really high positive attitude, and people are like, you know, “God, you’re so upbeat.” And I know I’m looking back and it could be worse. I mean, I count the years. I would technically still be—just be getting out maybe of prison. So every day is—everything is better than being behind bars in a third world country away from my family. So, um, when I’m going through something hard, that does come up. And I do think about that. It’s, it’s, um, it’s still very immediate appreciation for what I have and where I’m at.
Paul: To me, uh, one of the benefits of having gone through stuff th-that’s painful is I know that there’s always some—something beautiful or good—even in the worst circumstances—if I can really try to find the good or the positive, there’s always something in it. And, um, do you feel like that is, is something that you’re more attuned to now that you’re able to …. ?
Lia: I-I am more attuned to that there’s something good, um, about it, or that there’s a reason it’s happening, you know. This doesn’t have to necessarily be good, but it will be good for me. And I think that that has helped me because. Um, I use the metaphor of a diamond. I like that because that’s a black piece of coal and it goes through incredible, incredible pressure, squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, to become this gorgeous diamond. And that I think that we humans in our development, we have to go—I mean, you don’t have to—I find that when we go through the storm, when we weather storm after storm after storm, and just keep coming through it, I think it just hones and brightens and adds to the sparkle of who we can be if we choose to use it as a growth, and not as a—knocking you down. I mean, you hit a wall and you can choose that that’s helping you to get over the wall or you can say that you’re gonna lie there, dig under the wall and just get lower and lower. And I find that because of what happened, and getting out of jail, was so miraculous, and I came out with a pardon, and I’ve had some pretty wonderful things happen in my life that I choose to obstacles, they suck, they’re never fun, but if I recognize that it’s going to be good for me to have gone through this, that there’s gotta be a reason that I have to go through this. I just have to get through this and get to the next things. And that’s been, uh …
Paul: Well, I want to thank you for, for being my guest and—
Lia: My pleasure.
Paul: And opening up and talking about some stuff that I know couldn’t have been, couldn’t have been easy. But I-I appreciate it and, um, it would probably be inappropriate to ask if you wanted to go get high.
Lia: [laughs] That would be …
Paul: I don’t do, I don’t do it anymore, but how ironic would that be if we then went, “Oh boy, that was stressful. Let’s go get loaded.” And then we got busted. But, uh, thank you. Is there any, um, thing that you’d like to plug, a website or a Facebook thing or ….?
Lia: I have a fan page on Facebook, I just topped 900 fans on my Facebook fan page.
Lia: Which is exciting. Lia McCord. There’s my personal profile and there’s the public profile fan page. It’s a picture of me and the girl who played me in the reenactments on Locked Up Abroad. So, yeah, fan me, send me questions. I’m working on writing my book, so if you have things you’d like to hear more about, that’s feeding m-my content of my book, so … I love questions. I love knowing what else people want to know.
Paul: Well, I-I’m, uh, touched by the amount of forgiveness that you’ve, that you’ve had for, you know, not only the people that hurt you in your childhood, but for yourself. That’s a really, really beautiful quality for a, for a human being to have and really important. I think one of the best tools to go through life with is being able to forgive yourself and other people so …
Lia: It’s important, yeah.
Paul: Thanks, Lia.
Lia: Thank you. My pleasure.
Paul: As I said before, uh, this is where I thought the interview had, uh, had ended, and then, uh, we had a conversation out in the hallway, there was something that she still felt like she wanted to say but said she wasn’t sure it was appropriate for the show and I said, “No, I think it’s totally appropriate for the show.” So we came back in and here’s where we, uh, pick that up.
So, um, th-the age at which y-your father began, uh, molesting you was what?
Lia: I think I was eight. Seven-and-a-half or eight. And, uh, it went on for four, a little over four years. At first it didn’t feel like anything, right, I mean, at eight years old you don’t have those responses, your body’s just—it doesn’t have the sexual reactions. But at one point, it actually, I remember it actually felt good and I actually had, you know, um, a release, a climax, my first climax. I was like 11 or 12 years old with my father.
Paul: It had to have been very confusing.
Lia: It was really odd. And I, I just thought, “Whoa, that felt good.” And, um …
Paul: What was your emotion? I mean, was it all positive or was it a-a-a conflict?
Lia: I felt really confused. Like, I know that’s what he had wanted, and his response, because he could tell, was, um, was very excited. He was very proud of himself. He was very excited that, you know, “That’s what’s supposed to happen. That’s normal, baby.” And had, um, I had known because we had, we had turned him in a couple times before that, my brother, my older brother was the one that was like, “He’s not supposed to be touching you like that. He’s not supposed to be doing that. We’re taking him to the police. We’re getting out of here.” My brother was always—we were running away in the middle of the night and my mom would come and find us. And so I knew that I was not supposed to be enjoying it. It was, it was wrong and it was bad and I felt, I felt really conflicted at enjoying it. And so I never actually went after it at first, and then there was one instance where I, you know, I couldn’t sleep, and we were at my grandparents’ house and we were on a fold-out sofa, and he placed himself next to me, laying on the bed next to me, and I, um, I instigated it. I wanted—I couldn’t stop thinking about how good it felt and I-I wanted to feel that. And so, you know, I feigned sleep, rolled over, put myself in a position that I knew he would start doing what he likes to do. And, um, and he did, and then I went to sleep, and then later on, several months later when we turned him in for the final time, and we had to say something—it was in Dallas that we chose to turn him in—and I was supposed to say what happened in Dallas, what did he do to you—and I recant—I retold that story but without the fact that I had started it. And so when they—I went to therapy and they said, you know, ‘It’s not your fault, he’s the, um, he’s the bad one, he should know better, he shouldn’t do that to you. You can’t blame yourself.’ I nodded my head and, ‘Oh, yeah, sure, right.’ And my—in the back of my mind I was convicting myself because, no, I actually did that, you know. I wanted that and I enjoyed that and I am bad because I did start that. And years and years and years, I mean, it was just a couple of years ago that I actually saw something that hit home, and that I want people who have been through that—like, you started out being abused before you knew what it was. Before you had any reaction. And you’re programmed to accept that and then it starts to feel good. It’s not your fault for enjoying what naturally feels good. That’s biology ….
Paul: Your body doesn’t have a sense of morality.
Lia: Right. So, um, but I still—I mean, we still feel this guilt, we carry guilt—any of us—any of you out there who’ve ever purposely kind of placed yourself or instigated an incident with your abuser. And I saw the movie Towelhead with Toni Collette and, um, I think it was Tom (inaudible), I can’t think of his name, but the young girl seduces her neighbor. She can tell he kind of likes her and she goes over and she seduces him. And, uh, Toni Collette picks up that there’s something inappropriate happening, her character does. And she brings her over to the house and she’s her, you know, “It’s not your fault. You know he should—he is wrong, what he did is wrong, and, uh..” But she’s like, “But, no, I wanted it.” Which was very brave for her to say because I know I was never—I would never have said that to someone when I was that age and it had happened.
Paul: But you didn’t start out wanting it.
Lia: Well, no. I didn’t start out wanting it. But th-the thing that Toni Collette said to her afterwards registered with me as an adult hearing it and thinking back. She said, “No honey, he is an adult. And you are a child. And no matter what you did or said, he should have known better. It is his place to protect you and not behave inappropriately with you. He should not have done that.”
Lia: And so I thought, yeah. If my ten- or eleven-year-old nephews—because I’ve got a couple—I’ve got a few, were to, you know, come into their puberty and were to, you know, watch me or try and start something with me, never in a million years!
Lia: Absolutely—I mean, just ludicrous the concept, the thought of it, and so, I got this sense of …
Paul: Why can’t I feel that way towards myself?
Lia: Like, why, why did that never register with me? Like, people kept saying, “It’s not your fault.” But they weren’t realizing I was blaming myself because I’d kind of wanted it and finally started enjoying it.
Lia: And so I think a lot—I don’t know how many others are out there, but that is the thing you need to remind yourself. As an adult person looking back, look at the youngsters at the age you were when you were abused and when you started liking it even, if someone of that age came to you, would you ever? And how wrong is that?
Lia: And recognize that that is what your abuser did wrong. Is that they went ahead, when they absolutely had no place.
Paul: Right. Because that—the adult knows that there are ramifications to it, th-that it’s a lot of different stuff is mixed up in there, that that child is problem wonting for attention, and a lot of things in other ways, a-and the adult knows th-that all of that stuff, but the child doesn’t know that.
Paul: The child just knows th—something—somebody’s paying attention to me or something feels good physically but they don’t know, uh, the full package that it’s coming in. And you can’t, yeah, you can’t judge. Um, that’s a really profound and brave thing for you to say and I really, really appreciate that, uh, that you said that because I imagine there’s a lot of people out there, um, that are still blaming themselves for something and that forgiving yourself is so, so important if you’re ever gonna, uh, feel better about yourself or how you feel about other people.
Lia: Right. Yeah. And so I’ve—and I’ve, I’ve learned that the other thing about the abuse from my dad, and knowing that my dad loves me. And he did this horrible thing to me. And it has led to me in relationships—people who are treating me less than the way the should be, I keep, uh, giving them the benefit of the doubt that they really do love me more than they really do. And not letting their actions tell me how they feel about me. So that’s been something I’ve been having to teach myself over and over again.
Paul: How do you set boundaries, though, wh-when it hurts you the way those people treat you? Or, I should say, are you able to set boundaries when—because I think there’s a certain point at which it’s ok to, you know, have empathy towards them and take their actions with a grain of salt, but at a certain point we have to draw a line and say, okay, this is where …
Lia: This is the end. Yeah. I’m constantly reminding myself to set that boundary. And I—you know, they keep—I almost got married to someone who was basically a project. You know, I was trying to prove to myself that I, you know, then I just said no. Then I had my sister-in-law and my brother and we all talked and they said, “Really, why are you considering marrying this person, considering how they treat you and the things they say about you?” And I was like, “Yeah….”
Paul: Do you think you wanted to change that person? Or, or something about the way they treated you felt familiar and comfy?
Lia: Felt familiar was kind of the bad things—the things I thought were bad about myself were the things they thought was wrong me and kind of went on and went on about it.
Paul: You though, “Oh this person’s—
Lia: This person knows me so well!
Paul: They get me! They get me! They know I’m a piece of shit!
Lia: And rather than lifting me up and recognizing some of the great things that I’ve had people, you know, comment on about me—you know, I really need to find the person that’s more about what’s great about me and not what’s hung up about me.
Paul: God. Thank God you did and you held off on having kids and not bringing kids into a dysfunctional marriage.
Lia: Yeah I know. No. No. No. It’s uh—I’m still alone, but I feel confident that I’m better alone than I would have been with either of the two folks I’ve considered marrying when I was much younger.
Paul: Yeah. So many people get into horrible relationships because they’re terrified of being alone and they think it’s a comment on who they are as a person. Yeah. It can be such a, such a mistake.
Lia: True. True that. (laughs)
Paul: Many thanks to Lia McCord for that great and brave interview. Thank you guys for listening. Uh, if you feel so disposed, go to iTunes, give us a good rating, write something nuss, nice, and th-that boosts our, our ranking, brings more people to the show. Um, somebody wrote me an email, wanted to know where’s a good place to find out more about mental health, and, uh, to maybe find a therapist. One website I’ve stumbled across, they don’t give us any money, but, um, psychcentral.com. We put up a link on our, on our website, but we’re certainly not, uh—they’re not a paid endorser of our show. They just, uh—I checked out their site and it seems to have a decent amount of, uh, resources there. Remember this is a tough time of the year. I’ve personally cried about eight buckets of tears in the last three weeks, but I know it’s not reality, it’s just my brain. So, uh, if you’re out there and you feel stuck, you ain’t alone. Thanks for listening.
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