Escape From Mexico

By: Christine Kennedy Email
By: Christine Kennedy Email

He is a fugitive with a story that is truly unbelievable. Steve Wilson now lives in Pitt County, but for almost two years his home was a cement slab in three Mexican prisons. Every day inside what he described as dirty, corrupt and drug infested prisons was unbearable. But the day Wilson knew he had no choice but to escape came after he learned he was going to be executed.

The year is 1972. Wilson had graduated from East Carolina University two years prior and was working as an alcohol and drug education specialist at Tideland Mental Health Center in Washington. He got the itch to take a road trip out west...took a one month sabbatical from his job and embarked on what he had no idea would be the trip of a lifetime.

Wilson and his friend Bob Smith soon found themselves in a small Mexican village close to the Arizona/Mexico border. The two befriended Lucio Cabañas, the leader of the small rebel force dubbed the "Party of the Poor." The C.I.A. called him Mexico's best known guerrilla, a man still beloved by many Mexicans.

Cabañas was a fierce enemy of the Mexican Government and when the police found out where he was they ambushed the village. Officers didn't catch Cabañas that day but they did capture Wilson and Smith throwing the two in a Mexican jail.

Wilson says he was told by a secretary to a Mexican judge that he and Smith had been charged with possession of one tenth to 300 kilos of marijuana. Wilson says the two were never searched and had no drugs on them but with no trial or jury and no money they were sentenced to 30 years in prison.

About a year and a half into Wilson's prison sentence his mother got a call saying her son would be released from prison for $15,000. But that turned out to be a false promise.

It was in October 1974 when Steve Wilson received a silver dollar from the Sgt. of the Guards at Nogales Prison. It was also the time when the 25 year old found out he'd be put to death.

After close to 2 years as a political prisoner in Mexico and false promises he'd be released, Wilson says he knew he'd have to escape to live. With the help of Mexicans he met before his imprisonment Wilson comprised a plan.

It started with a 1958 station wagon custom equip with a special compartment he could squeeze into. Because there was an auto body shop in the prison, Wilson knew the guards wouldn't notice it. It took 4 months for his Mexican friends to get the car but the day it arrived Wilson took action.

He and his fellow American prisoner Bob Smith had mapped out the lay of the prison and knew how to distract the guards at key moments to break out of their cells and make it to the car.

When the two got to the car, they found just getting Wilson into the compartment was going to be a challenge as the space was extremely small.

For two and a half days the car sat at the prison. Wilson was hidden inside a metal box with two dime sized holes for air in 120 degree weather. With the pain unbearable and the length of time left inside unknown his thoughts turned to suicide.

But he couldn't go through with it and so the pain continued until he heard the car start. It was his Mexican friends who had dropped off the car they were back to take him to the border.

December 19th 1974, dirty and weak he approached the border patrol and with a made up story got back onto American soil.

A year and a half ago Wilson's book "Nogales" was published. It's a personal account 30 years in the making. These days he and his wife Cyndy and their Shih-Tzus sit back savoring each day of living freely.

Wilson is a retired Alcohol and Drug Counselor.

Bob Smith didn't escape. He got released through the prisoner exchange on April 4 ,1977. Thus the efforts of the House Senate Investigation Committee and the California Supreme Court hearings. Bob currently lives in Costa Rica, raises Spanish dancing horses, and is an enviromentalist that is reforesting the Costa Rican jungles.

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