DALLAS — Jabin Bogan spent seven months sleeping on the floor of a cell in a maximum-security Mexican prison, detained after he accidentally crossed the border at El Paso with 268,000 bullets in his truck. Nine people lived in Bogan's cell, with just five beds. Only one spoke English.
Bogan said he didn't eat for three weeks. He constantly wondered if he was in danger.
"You never know what's going on," Bogan said Friday. "You're surrounded by people that don't speak your language, so you never know what they talk about."
The Dallas trucker gave new details Friday about his release and the ordeal leading up to it. The 27-year-old Bogan returned to the U.S. Friday after being freed from prison the week before.
Bogan maintains he was on his way to Phoenix in April to deliver the ammunition stored in his truck. He says he accidentally crossed onto a border bridge in El Paso, Texas, and tried to turn around after he realized his mistake, but Mexican customs agents wouldn't let him go back. He was detained and eventually sent to a Mexican maximum-security prison.
Bogan was convicted of smuggling and sentenced to three years in prison even though Mexican customs agents contradicted prosecutors' claims at trial that Bogan had hidden the bullets under the floorboards of his 18-wheeler's trailer.
His sentence was later commuted to time served and a fine. His U.S. attorney, Larry Taylor, said about $5,000 in donations covered a fine paid to Mexican authorities and fees for an attorney there.
Taylor and Bogan declined to say whether Mexican authorities had banned him from returning to the country.
Bogan said a few guards spoke English, as did a cellmate who had lived in Oklahoma City. Otherwise, he was isolated. He said he didn't receive letters or phone calls most of the time.
"I prayed in the showers," Bogan said. "I prayed when I ate. I prayed when I used the restroom. I prayed just when I was playing chess with somebody else. I prayed while I was playing with them. I just prayed as much as I could to keep myself focused from losing it."
He said he didn't eat prison food at first and eventually made it through his time by imagining he was being served a cheeseburger or slice of pizza. His first meal on the plane ride home was from Burger King.
Bogan said he was first told an investigation would take two days.
"Forty-eight hours turned into seven months," he said.
Mexican authorities have tried to crack down on smuggling of weapons and ammunition across the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has blamed U.S. gun laws for allowing weapons to flow into Mexico, where rival drug cartels are fighting a bloody war.
That sensitivity made it more difficult for American officials to get Bogan back, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson said. Johnson, a Democrat from Dallas, said she and her staff continuously called Mexican embassy officials and others to work for Bogan's release.
American officials wanted to let Mexico "understand that we were at their mercy" and that Bogan had not done anything wrong on purpose, Johnson said in a phone interview from Washington. She said she hadn't spoken to Bogan yet, but likely would meet with him when she returned to Dallas in coming weeks.
"I could write a book on all we went through just trying to make sure we had some kind of humane resolution to this," Johnson said.
An appeal filed in August by Bogan's lawyer in Mexico, Emilio de la Rosa, reduced the charge from smuggling to possession of military ammunition. That cut Bogan's sentence and allowed him to get supervised release, which he can do by mail.
On Wednesday, Bogan repeated that he had made an "honest mistake."
"If I would have known that crossing that line with bullets was going to get me in trouble, I would have backed up from the border in the middle of traffic," he said. "But I didn't know."
Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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