By ZARA GOLDEN
DJ Esco’s Amsterdam birthday celebration ended with an IRL nightmare. Here’s what it’s like to get locked up in the UAE.
On January 13, Future‘s affable DJ Esco (real name: William Moore) returned to his mother’s home cooking after an unexpectedly long stay in the United Arab Emirates. He’d traveled there to perform with Future at the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a swanky weekend also attended by Kim Kardashian, Prince Harry, and the Spice Girls. Future would later call his experience in Dubai “priceless” and something he would “never forget.”
Esco will also never forget his experience in Dubai, which began when he was arrested at the airport for marijuana possession. He ended up spending 56 long days in a prison where few others spoke English. As he tells it, during his stay he met a Taliban legend, learned about Islam, and befriended a warden who would ultimately help facilitate his release. “I wasn’t pissed that I was the one that got caught,” he said, recalling his experience for The FADER a week after he got home. “I was more focused on how to get out then how I got in.” Here, in his own words, is his crazy, terrifying, and totally riveting story.
DJ ESCO: We had been on the European tour for a month and our last show was supposed to be in Amsterdam. My birthday was around that same time, so I was like, I’ll wait to celebrate my birthday in Amsterdam. I had never been to Amsterdam, so wanted to go to a cafe and the red light district. Just typical tourist shit, you know?
Then we got asked to do an extra show in Abu Dhabi. Once we left from Europe, we were gonna do this one show in Abu Dhabi, then go back to America. At the time, I wasn’t really aware of the whole geographics, where everything was at. We’re at the end of the Europe tour, and it’s my birthday, and we’re in Amsterdam, so we’re gonna celebrate! I got the weed.
But I’m not trying to walk around around with all this weed, you feel me? I was not intentionally trying to bring weed to Abu Dhabi. And if I would have known the rules and laws they got over there, I would have quadruple checked my bag and made sure there wasn’t a piece of weed. I swear I would have.
So we land in Abu Dhabi and I’m just walkin’ through the airport and I got everybody’s bags. Probably, like, 20 or 30 bags. It’s a whole buncha bags that we pushin’. And I didn’t realize at the time that discrimination might be an issue, so I’m just walking around and thinking everything’s normal.
Our cameraman starts filming me walking in the airport, but apparently there’s no cameras allowed in the airport. This is how this whole thing started—now we’re causing a scene. I’m on my way out the door and a police officer stops the cameraman first. They’re real mean. He’s like, “No cameras in the airport! Delete the pictures!” He made our cameraman delete all the pictures right there on the spot. After he did that, I was like, Damn, he’s gonna do something. Like, Shit, man, we got him riled up.
We keep walking, but the officer ran to catch up to us. He stopped me and he’s like, “Who are you?” Because the camera was on me. I tell him I do music and that I just came here to do a show at the Grand Prix. He’s like, Lemme see your passport. Then he wants to see everyone’s, but it’s just me and and my manager. Everyone else had went ahead.
Then he was like, “I wanna check all these bags. Who these bags with? You? I wanna check every single one.” There’s no point of separating them, because now you’re searching six people instead of just one person. So I said, “Yeah, they’re my bags.” But I’m thinking, like, this man really wanna check these? He really wants to hand check 40 bags? He crazy!
So he’s checking the bags so long, his coworkers are coming over like, “Man, would you leave these people alone, because you had this man standing here for an hour and you still haven’t found anything. Why don’t you just wrap it up and let it go.” Meanwhile, it’s like when you in high school and you going to the principal’s office and you trying to think, like, Did I do anything in class? And eventually I’m like, I should be cool, he’s just turnt up.
So, okay. He finally found like, this fairy dust particle of weed in my backpack. They’re trying to get like a magnifying glass and—I’m for real—they’re like, arguing if it’s green or brown. They’re tearing the luggage apart like I got kilos of cocaine or something, ripping the bags apart looking for extra compartments and shit. The officer gets down to the last two bags, and that’s when he finds a bag with some weed in it. It was a good little amount, probably 15 grams or something like that.
At this point I’m thinking, first of all, What the fuck? I didn’t know the weed was there. And second, I didn’t know what the hell they was gonna do. Cause once they seen some weed they went crazy. You would have thought I had a bomb and there was ten seconds left and the world is about to end if they didn’t get every officer up there. But I’m not scared yet, because I’m still thinking that worst case scenario, they’re just gonna send me back on the plane. Okay, I can’t come. It’s the last show anyways, and I don’t really want to go through all these interrogations. Do what you want to do with the weed, and send me back next flight. So I’m still relaxed at this point. Little did I know, I was gonna be in that motherfucker for 56 days.
They don’t tell you you’re not going home. They’re trying to see if I’ve been to Dubai, to see if I’m trying to sell this. I don’t know nobody in no Dubai. I’m like, “It’s for me! It’s for nobody else. We do music, I didn’t come to Dubai to sell weed.” This is when I’m learning, okay they have zero tolerance for this. Period. They’re really acting like this is the biggest drug in the world. And that’s when I was like, Okay, this might be serious.
“There’s no judge, no jury. They assign you to a prosecutor, and the prosecutor can just do what he wants.”
They take me to a police station. No English is going down at this point. When they arrest me at the airport, nobody speaks English. Your only hope is this translator, and you don’t know what the hell he’s translating. His ear isn’t even trained to capture my English. So you’re saying shit and he’s repeating it back in Arabic, and the officer is looking at you, and you don’t know what they’re talking about. Then they give you a paper, the paper is in Arabic, nothing in English—I didn’t even know they read from right to left, it took me a long time to figure this out—and they tell you to sign it and then you can go home. But I didn’t know what the paper said! They’re translating what I’m saying—I’m saying I don’t know what’s going on. I never been here, I don’t know nobody here, I came here for a music show—but I don’t know what they’re translating, if he was saying what I was saying. You just don’t know. And it’s discrimination—I had my hair down and I got dreadlocks, I got tattoos.
This is Thursday, November 19. Everybody had gone, because I’d already said I’ll take care of this and see you later. We’re American, so we think you’re gonna get up the next day and get bailed out. But it don’t work like that in Abu Dhabi.
They say, “Grab some extra clothes because you’re gonna be here for a couple of days.” So I was like, “A couple of days? I thought y’all was takin’ me home right now!” Then they take me to the jail cell and I never came back out.
When you first get in there, you don’t know what’s going on. First of all, I’m the only American. It’s Pakistanis, Saudis, Afghans, Kuwaitis, Iranians. And then you got some Africans, like Somalians, Nigerian, Egyptians. All these people was the people in jail. So when I come in, the first thing I’m seeing is like, How am I going to communicate with these people? I don’t know what to do.
One of the guys who could speak a little bit of English, he was saying, “U.S. Embassy, call the U.S. Embassy.” But I don’t know how to get my U.S. Embassy’s number, how to get a calling card to call them, what kind of money they use. I don’t know nothing. I’m just in here.
The next day you go see a prosecutor. There’s no rights. When they arrest you, they don’t have to say you have a right to this, you have a right to an attorney, you have a right to remain silent. There’s no judge, no jury. They assign you to a prosecutor, and the prosecutor can just do what he wants with you. They don’t have to tell you anything. They don’t even have to explain what the charge is.
You get a piece of paper, and the paper is in Arabic. I still don’t know exactly what it said to this day. But I would go find somebody who could read Arabic and knew a little bit of English. It said something like: You gotta go to court on such and such date and you’ve been charged with drugs. It could’ve been cocaine, it could have been heroin, it could have been marijuana, they treat it all the same over there. So I’m in there with people who had 10, 12, 20 kilos of cocaine from Brazil. There’s an old man in there right now, 67 years old, he stole a box of candy from the airport, and he still in there. He’s still in there right now because his paper just said he stole something and now he’s in the same category as the people who stole 850,000 Dirhams. So there’s an old man in there right now, I can see his face, and he’s going crazy over a chocolate bar!
So they give you this paper that tells you in seven days you gotta go to court, but then you only get to say one word. They ask you, did you bring a drug into this country? You don’t get to explain. You just get to say yes or no, and you have to say yes because if you say no, then there’s a whole ‘nother case going on. So you say yes, and then they give you another paper for 14 days. Then you get thrown in Dubai jail. I don’t care what you did, how minor it was, you can’t do anything for the first 21 days, no matter what.
It took three days to get the U.S. embassy’s number because the guards wouldn’t give it to me, because there’s a language barrier and they really ain’t trying to help you like that. I found out the third day that you had to hit 1-3-3 on the prison phone and then they give you embassy numbers. So I called the U.S. Embassy, and I’m like, “Yo! I’m American and I’m in Abu Dhabi prison, get me out of here!” And they were like, “Aight, we gonna send somebody down. Visit days are Tuesday, we’re gonna have somebody down there no later than Tuesday.”
So now I’m like, Okay, Tuesday it’s going down. My U.S. Embassy, they coming, and I’m getting out of here. People was like, “He’s American! He’s American! He’s gonna be outta here in three days.” Everyone keeps saying this because they’ve never seen an American here. It’s like I’m a fucking unicorn, for real. They’ve never seen an American where they can walk up and touch him. It’s like I’m an extraterrestrial.
Tuesday the Embassy comes. Two people show up, and—first of all, I almost broke down because I’m just happy I see an American that’s talking English. I’m sitting there like, “You guys came to get me right? So, what’s the fastest I can get out of here?” And I’m thinking they’re gonna tell me, like, now. But then they’re like, “Well, with cases like this it’s probably gonna take eight weeks.”
I’m like, Hold up. Eight weeks? You can’t tell me nothing better than this?! I think I blacked out. My whole body went numb and I was just thinking my life is gonna be over. There’s no way I can survive eight weeks in here, mentally. I cuss out both people from the U.S. Embassy, and then I walked back devastated ’cause that’s when it hit me—I’m not getting out of here. Every night I was having dreams that I was doing something else, then I would wake up back in jail. Waking up used to be the worse.
In the jail it’s two sides. There’s the Arabic side and the other side is predominantly African. and it’s like a war between both sides. But I could go on both sides ’cause I wasn’t neither. When I first moved in, both sides were tryna see who was gonna get the American. And I’m like, I know I’m gonna be cool with them Africans over there, but I need to make sure I’m cool with the Arabic side too. We had one dude in there who’d been in the Taliban, and he was celebrated. He got caught because he fell asleep when he was supposed to be detonating a tank. He was waiting so long that he fell asleep, and the U.S. found him with this bomb in his hand and he said he got tortured by the CIA for 40-something days. With no clothes on, in the cold. And he never gave no names, so the U.S. let him go. This was his little legend.
All of the people there were so far from what I’ve ever known. People carrying kilos of coke in their stomach. Stuff I wouldn’t even imagine doing, these people are doing to try to make it. These folks was living crazy, but I learned from them. Like, there’s a difference between North and South Pakistan. I didn’t know that in Cameroon they speak French. You learn about Islam. In prison they pray five times a day. They just put me on. I talked to everyone about their government and their language. Like, while I’m here, I got to figure it out.
The only thing you could really do is try to make yourself exercise, like on some Rocky shit. You gotta do push-ups, sit-ups off the cell bars. People were making dumbbells out of six liter water bottles. I wanted some books, something to get my mind off the situation. But the embassy couldn’t even get my books in. I stopped talking to the embassy. They were always two steps behind.
I used a whole lot of money on phone cards, I was talking to my mom all the time. Otherwise I didn’t want to talk to anyone else from America. It makes you think about what you miss. You think of the food you was missing, you think of the club, the drinks. And it just really makes it worse.
“For that moment everyone was just on the same level. Everyone was the same. Everyone was just happy to see me walk out.”
To make a long story short, the warden blessed me. He took a liking to me, taught me some things about Islam and we ended up growing our own relationship. He’s the one who ended up helping me when my lawyer told me it might be six months, a year, or four years. I was sitting there in a daze after my lawyer left, thinking bout what I’m gonna do for the next year or whatever in here, and the warden came in and he was like, “It’s not in my job description and I really don’t care about your case, but I’ve come to like you as a person. I’m not suppose to do this, but I’m going to call your prosecutor.” I couldn’t even get the U.S. Embassy to call the prosecutor!
The warden said, “Gimme 10 minutes and I’ll let you know.” He called me and was like, “Hey I just talked to your prosecutor, I think you might be going home in a week.” I just gave him this big ass hug. And the inmates, they not even used to seeing that. That can’t see an inmate giving the warden a hug. I called my mom and I was like, “Mom, I think I might have good news. The warden just did me a whole favor.” And she was like, “I knew it! I knew it! Everybody been praying.” We’d been on an up and down roller coaster—I was supposed to be there for Thanksgiving, and then we thought I was gonna be there for Christmas.
When I left it was real dope. Everybody from the African and the Arabic side came out of their cell and walked me to the door. Everybody was like “America! Going home, America!” Everyone from both sides was clapping. That shit was dope, ’cause for that moment everyone was just on the same level. Everyone was the same. Everyone was just happy to see me walk out.
The first thing I did was walk into the airport paranoid. I bought some headphones, because after no music for all those days—and they don’t know nothing about hip-hop—I wanted to listen to music so bad. So I bought some headphones, then I went up to the escalators and bought some ice cream and some cookies and I was like, I can’t believe this. Like,What just happened?