Here’s something to do today. Let’s help Stacey Addison get out of jail at the ends of the earth.
Specifically, Addison, from Oregon, is in prison in Timor-Leste, which used to be known as East Timor until, after much suffering, it gained its independence from Indonesia a dozen years ago.
Addison hasn’t been tried for anything. She hasn’t been charged with anything. Actually, she hasn’t even been questioned about anything. She has no criminal record in the United States or anywhere else.
Addison’s problem (we can hardly call it a crime) is that she loves to travel. She got the bug when she took a sophomore year abroad in Spain. She went backpacking around Europe and North Africa, and ever since then, as she studied veterinary medicine at the University of California Davis, and then practiced as a large-animal vet in Portland, whenever she had free time she’d try to discover some new corner of the world.
But Addison wanted more. She was 39 and unattached, no kids and no responsibilities. “You know, you meet people who’ve been traveling for a year,” she told me, “and you wish you could do it.” And finally she decided she would. She sold off a lot of her possessions, planned out a budget, including money for “reentry” when she got back, and set off around the world. She traveled in local buses, stayed in hostels and cheap hotels. She worked with wildlife as a volunteer in Peru and the Galapagos; she worked with elephants in Thailand, at a zoo in Australia.
Now, maybe you have done a little low-budget traveling, and you know there are certain things you probably shouldn’t do, and you know that, well, you did them.
So it was with Addison.
She was traveling around Indonesia, far from Jakarta, far from Bali, at the far eastern end of the archipelago, when her visa was about to expire. To get it renewed, she had to leave Indonesia, which meant crossing into Timor-Leste.
At the border, there were cars waiting to take people to the capital, Dili. One of the drivers said he’d charge Addison $10. She said okay. She and another passenger, a man she’d never met, got in.
On the way to town, the other passenger said he wanted to pick something up at the DHL office: a box of pipes and tubes.
Obviously the Timorese police knew more about that package than the car’s driver or Stacey, because as soon as the passenger picked it up, the cops swooped in and arrested everybody.
That was on September 5.
Addison spent four nights in jail, she told me on FaceTime during a period when she was out on her own recognizance. She could have told tales of horror, of course. Many Americans jailed in foreign countries regale journalists with their own versions of “Midnight Express.” But not Addison. She wasn’t strip-searched. She wasn’t roughed up. The first night, there were 13 women in her cell. Some were there for prostitution. Some were there for driving motorcycles without licenses. Then one night she was all by herself, and two nights with just a couple of other people.
“It was a very, very bad experience,” Addison told me, but mainly because “there was a lot of uncertainty about what was going to happen.”
There still is. Addison was allowed out of jail, finally, but her passport was held pending an investigation—even though nobody questioned her. The man who picked up the package, which supposedly had 1.6 kilos of methamphetamine hidden in a metal hose, has testified he was just paid to get it and had never met Addison before.
The United States Embassy in Dili has been consistently supportive, which is an indication there’s no evidence or even suspicion that Addison was involved with drug trafficking. “Dr. Addison has shown strength and resiliency during an extremely difficult time,” an embassy spokesperson tells me.
Nobel Peace Prize Winner José Ramos-Horta, one of the founding fathers of Timor-Leste, has written to Addison’s mother in Oregon, Bernadette Kero, to reassure her that the justice system will deal fairly with her daughter. Ramos-Horta also recommended the lawyer, Paulo Remedios, who is handling Addison’s case, and one of Ramos-Horta’s colleagues contacted me about it.
But, still, week after week, Addison lived in a Dili hostel waiting for the rusty wheels of Timorese justice to set her free. Finally, last week, she decided to travel around a little more of Timor-Leste, and when she got back to the capital on Wednesday she went to court with Remedios to check on the status of her case. Their expectation was that her petition to have her passport returned might be honored.
Instead, the court said the prosecution had appealed the original decision to release her on her own recognizance. She was arrested immediately, transferred to a prison for administrative processing, then transferred again to the women’s prison at Gleno, where she is right now.
Under Timor-Leste’s legal system she could spend many more months there pending the investigation that seems uninterested in what she has to say or what she did not do.
What can we do? This will give you a taste of the frustrations Addison is facing. Before she was re-arrested she was asking people to email the Minister of Justice in Timor-Leste, but when she visited the offices there, “in a crushing blow to morale I found that no one actually checks the email address listed on the Government of Timor Leste website or was able to give me an alternate contact.” She suggested emailing her directly so she could print the letters, but of course that’s not going to work now that she’s in prison.
So, for starters, one easy step: Like the Help Stacey Facebook page. Her mother, Bernadette Kero, and others will be posting more information there. Share that site. Share this article. And let’s see if we can’t help Timor-Leste, a country that has been through a lot of bad times, end the pointless misery of this one American woman whose only crime is wanderlust.
Oh, and by the way, Addison’s mother tells me Stacey’s 41st birthday is November 5. With luck, maybe she’ll be out in time to celebrate.