Recently released Marine Jon Hammar was threatened with beheading while imprisoned in a Mexican prison, according to Military.com.
"They threw every threat in the book at me," Hammar said Thursday in his first public remarks since his release Dec. 21 after more than four months in prison.
"They'd cut my head off, they told my family," he said.
The gangsters demanded money to let Hammar, 27, remain alive, and the beheading threat was a scare tactic that harkened back to his tours of duty as a U.S. Marine in Iraq.
Hammar enlisted in 2003, serving a four-year tour in Afghanistan and Iraq followed by another four years in the Reserves. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with PTSD.
Hammar had been wrongly imprisoned since Aug. 13, 2012, after attempting to legally register his shotgun, trusting information from the United States Customs and Border Patrol. He was travelling to Mexico on a surfing trip meant to help him work through his PTSD.
Hammar was released Dec. 21. His ordeal was brought to light in early December 2012, sparking outrage among fellow Marines and members of Congress.
Hammar spoke of prison conditions in Mexico:
The prison where Hammar was kept in Matamoros is notorious for being under the control of the dreaded Los Zetas criminal gang, which has used beheadings and mass killings to instill fear in rivals and protect their drug trafficking and criminal activities.
Hammar said prison inmates controlled the facility, not the guards.
"There was a tattoo artist in there, and he said to me, ‘You can die in this place for nothing,' " Hammar said.
Prisoners are "full-blown" mobsters, he said, some of them serving up to triple life sentences.
"I knew not to go around picking fights with anybody," he said.
Compared to prison guards and judicial employees, however, the gangsters struck Hammar as efficient.
"To me, they were acting more professional than the officials in Mexico. If I needed a translator, and the cartel was talking to me, I had three. But when I'd go to court, they laughed at me when I asked for a translator," he said.