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Gary Chrisman – free at last!

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Gary Chrisman & his grandfather

Gary Chrisman & his grandfather

Gary Chrisman is free after 607 days behind bars in a Mexicali Jail.  We are happy to hear of his release and that he is back in the US.

Since we live in Mexicali, we have been following the case—in fact, we had written about him in 2009.

Somehow, Jim had heard that this was going to happen, as he mentioned on our last trip to Los Algodones.  How Jim knew this is a mystery—he claims he can’t remember.

Three Mexican Supreme Court judges in the state of Baja California dropped all charges against Gary Chrisman and ordered his release.

“It’s all very surreal,” said Chrisman, “When I shut my eyes, I expect to see bars when I open them again.”

What happened was that Gary, then 42, and his grandfather, Edward Chrisman, 90, made headlines back in 2009 when they were detained after a trip across the border from Yuma, Arizona to Los Algodones, Mexico.

Both men were arrested by the Mexican police after visiting a convenience store.

Gary Chrisman’s grandfather, a World War II veteran, spent 65 days imprisoned in Mexicali, and was released back in 2009.

Gary Chrisman had to stay behind bars awaiting trial.  He survived a flu outbreak and general bad health.

Since Gary’s return home to Yuma as a free man, he says the experience destroyed his life.

First off, media reports in Arizona ruined his reputation.  He no longer has a job and estimates his family’s fight for his freedom cost them nearly $100,000.

Gary Chrisman, however, is philosophical about his experience, saying, “What happened to me—it could happen to anyone,” he said.

It all started on January 8, 2009 when Gary Chrisman and his grandfather traveled to Los Algodones to see a dentist.  The Mexican town is across the border from Yuma, where you can get affordable medical care and dental services—unlike in the U.S.

Gary’s grandfather sat in the car while Gary went in to convenience store buy some goods.

Apparently, he gave a young woman in the store his phone number.

It never occurred to him that there was anything wrong with what he believed was a flirtatious exchange between two adults.

“She was 18 and I was flirting,” he said.  “I was interested in her.”

Not long after Gary and his grandfather left, police surrounded their car and arrested both men.

“I started to realize then there might have been a miss-communication,” said Gary.

Mexicali's jail

Mexicali's jail looks modern

It was nearly a week before their family learned where the two were being held.  It was several months before Gary Chrisman said he learned the exact charges against him. What they were, we don’t know.

Chrisman knew he hadn’t broken any laws and assumed the police couldn’t hold him indefinitely without evidence.  He thought if he just waited the police out, he’d be released.  He was wrong and he and his grandfather wound up in jail.

Gary Chrisman worried about his elderly grandfather.  The nights in jail were freezing cold and the food made his grandfather ill, and he became progressively weaker.  Fortunately, the grandfather was released.

As in many countries, prisoners in Mexico depend on family to bring food and other basic necessities.  Gary Chrisman’s sister and father visited him every Saturday.  They brought fresh food and company.  The rest of the week he remained locked in the cell, other than two-hour exercise breaks on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Chrisman kept himself occupied by watching a 14-inch television purchased by one of the inmates.  Communication was difficult and Chrisman often felt isolated.  He said there was incredible kindness by some prisoners, who shared blankets, bed space and food.

“I was sick the entire time,” Gary Chrisman said.  “I felt like I was catching the same flu over and over again, I’ve never been sicker in my entire my life.”

He returned to the U.S.  50 pounds lighter.

Now that’s he’s a free man, Chrisman said he’s still in shock that it happened.  He’s concentrating on caring for his ill mother in Yuma and planning a memorial service for his father who died while Chrisman was in prison.

Gary Chrisman sounds like a pretty resilient guy.

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