Guitarist DJ Williams, who plays in Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe along with his own projects, was detained in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year during a visit to see his sister in Abu Dhabi, and in a new interview with High Times, Williams opens up about his harrowing experience in the city’s jails and drug detention facilities.
Williams had flown to the UAE to visit his sister’s new baby when he was stopped and searched at the airport, as he had apparently unwittingly brought a hash oil cartridge for a vape pen with him on the flight. The guitarist says he believes he was “picked out” of the crowd because of his appearance, saying, “The other people around me getting searched looked like hippies and artists.” Once Williams was taken to the Abu Dhabi Drug Enforcement facility, his belongings were confiscated, he was interrogated and he was not allowed to contact family or friends. Once he realized the situation he faced, Williams says he “found a corner in there and cried for a very long time.”
The guitarist describes the facility as having fly-ridden food and brown water, with a bathroom that amounted to two holes and a dirty hose. Though he refused to eat or drink, Williams was eventually forced to by the guards. One day in a collective cell, Williams discovered a new detainee to have died on the floor in front of him, and another inmate asked others to help him hang himself out of fear.
Williams eventually received a visit from his mother, who gave him a book to read to help him through the situation, one of the two English books he had access to, which he ended up reading countless times. After being moved to a larger prison, Williams and others were shaved and hosed down naked. There, Williams faced similarly harsh conditions and was attacked by other inmates, one with a makeshift weapon.
“The kid with the weapon pulled me to the ground, and they were calling me Donald Trump,” he says. “It seems these guys were trying to be initiated into an anti-American group, that’s why I was attacked.”
After a surprise court appearance, which was in Arabic and thus mostly unintelligible to Williams, the guitarist was wrongfully placed in solitary confinement. Eventually, after getting help from the U.S. embassy, the sentence was reduced to a fine and deportation. Williams is now back home in Los Angeles and, as High Times notes, diagnosed with “slight PTSD.”
“We want to get the word out, get people a little more aware of what’s happening in other parts of the country and help them appreciate how lucky we have it here, with the laws changing now in [places like] Colorado, California and Washington,” Williams says. “As much as I wouldn’t want to go do that experience again, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I have a whole new outlook on life.”
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