Nowhere in my wildest dreams had I planned to be locked up abroad in the back of a Poland Police car during the first hour of April in 2016, but that’s exactly where I was. And honestly, I was not near as scared about being arrested abroad as I should have been looking back on it.
I was visiting my Polish friend, Adam, who lives in Poznan, Poland. I had been there for three days prior to this moment and was starting to get comfortable with my surroundings.
We had been invited to a birthday party of a girl we had met the night before. Not knowing anyone at the party we were about to go to, we planned on relying on alcohol as our form of liquid confidence.
As we sat in Adam’s flat and drank some beers and planned our night, I asked Adam about the Poland Police open container law.
“So, can I drink this beer on our way to the party?”
“Well, you can do whatever you want. I can’t stop you,” he replied sarcastically – which would be the theme of the night; sarcasm.
“But will the Poland Police stop us if they see us drinking beers on the street?”
This is a typical question for two 21-year-olds to ask themselves in the prime years of their party lives.
“It’s not legal, but hardly illegal.”
I had no idea what he meant so I asked him as we were leaving the apartment building.
“Well, I’ve never been caught drinking a beer on the street and I’ve been doing it since I was 15, but technically, yes, it’s illegal in front of Poland Police,” he explained.
As fate will have it. . .
Sure enough, that was enough of a jinx to get the attention of Poland Police. Not even ten minutes after we left Adam’s apartment, we were walking along the sidewalk of a residential street – each with our first of many beers we had brought in a backpack for the party.
We walked directly in front of a white van parked along the sidewalk. The van had no back windows, no signs that it was a police car, and two middle-aged men who were not in uniform sitting in the driver and passenger seats. It was around midnight. The man behind the wheel called us over to their window with a “Hey!” and a wave of a hand that gestured us over.
He said something in Polish to us.
“I’m sorry?” My friend said – not revealing that he is Polish but probably under the impression that these two mystery men were undercover police.
The Poland Police looked at each other before the cop in the passenger side seat spoke in English (He spoke better English than the police officer behind the wheel).
“You know that you are not allowed to drink beer when you are in public,” he said in the tone of a statement that I think was meant to be a question.
Adam lied and told them we didn’t know. Why was he doing this? He was blatantly lying to the men. I assumed that perhaps it was a local secret that Poland Police tend to let foreigners off the hook.
The plan backfired: Locked up abroad
So, for the next ten minutes, they struggled to speak English with us. Then, they asked for identification. This probably caught Adam off-guard because when they asked, he gave a nervous answer.
“I think I left mine at my flat, but let me check my pocket – I mean. . . backpack,” he said.
When Adam pulled his Polish I.D. from his wallet, it indicated that he had lied about not knowing how to speak Polish. They scolded him in, now speaking Polish and outside of my realm.
Then, I made the move that ultimately got us locked up abroad. I pulled my Malta Identification card from my wallet. It was a drunken mistake. I got too drunk and embarrassed myself.
I knew the I.D. was expired and would expose me for overstaying my European visa. My permit expired about three months prior to this happening when my semester studying abroad in Malta ended.
Instantly, I knew I just put myself in big-time trouble. They put both Adam and me in handcuffs and threw us (literally) into the back of the unmarked police van.
I knew there were stiff penalties in place for those who overstay their visa in the European Union. Consciously, I had made the choice to overstay my visa with this consequence in mind. I just thought I could be more discreet than blatantly handing a European Union police officer proof that I overstayed. My permit expired and I was now in handcuffs and illegally overstayed.
Arrested Abroad: Growing frustration at myself
For the next hour, they ran background checks on both of us. Once they figured out Adam was Polish, they began speaking their native tongue and I was left out of the conversation. We were in handcuffs until well past one o’clock in the morning. I began to think I was going to spend a night in a Polish jail cell.
I started to argue the fact that they were leaving me out of the entire conversation that was about my identification. They weren’t letting me explain myself (although, there was no explanation).
It’s incredibly frustrating to be in such a predicament and have no idea what is going on or how things are progressing. All I could do is watch the clock on the dashboard run by faster than Usain Bolt in the Olympics. I hoped the Poland police would unlock me soon.
My friend, Adam, would update me on the conversation every once in a while, but only briefly and without detail. He told me later on that he thought they were confused as to why I would hand them an expired identification, but not too concerned with overstaying my visa. I got too drunk and embarrassed myself, but it seems as if I was going to get away with it.
Lying to escape Poland police
The officers asked me when I was going home (as in back to the United States) and I lied. Between Adam and I, we were asking for disaster if they ever caught on to all the bull shit we were feeding them.
“I’ll be taking the train to Frankfurt in an hour to catch a flight home in the morning,” I told them, knowing that Frankfurt was one of the biggest intercontinental airports in the world.
Ultimately, I think that lie ended up saving us from further delay in getting to the birthday party. They un-cuffed us and let us go with a minor fine (100 Zloty) only because I was “heading home tomorrow”.
Locked up abroad: Lucked out
It was the first time that I had ever been arrested and hopefully the last time I will be arrested abroad. If even not for more than an hour in handcuffs, it turned into quite a story at the party we went to ten minutes later. It just goes to show you; avoided disasters can always be turned into excellent travel stories!