When I hear stories about the noble FBI protecting us against the Russians, I feel sad, bitter and resentful. I think of the time when I was sitting across the table from the FBI, and they were trying to break my spirit.

When the FBI are trying to break your spirit, it feels pretty convincing. They know what they are doing. On that day, they were asking me a lot of questions indicating their intimate familiarity with my bio, and they kept telling me that my life would not be super pleasant if I “didn’t collaborate.”

By then, I had been in jail for over two weeks, experienced being rolled around the back of a car while handcuffed to two crying Chinese girls, forced to sleep on a metal bed, and fed food that smelled like piss.

[Listen to Tessa Lena’s interview on Univision podcast In Our Words]

I ended up in that position courtesy of my abusive ex who wanted me deported. To be fair, the feds were merely following his lead. Technically, I was in immigration detention.

The problem is that nobody checked the facts – and my Russianness in combination with my resume and the prominent role of Ivan Drago in the American psyche, led to the unforgettable experience – me sitting across from the FBI and digging my teeth into an amazingly tasty peanut butter sandwich that did not taste like piss.

And while I am not a weak person, I was not feeling good. The closest I have ever came to espionage prior to that (or at any point in my life, for that matter), was watching James Bond flicks.

Which is to say that the situation was both frightening and completely f*cking insane, and so I couldn’t decide whether I was inside a strangely hot action movie, or a very bizarre comedy.

I was wondering if they would torture me. Yeah, I was in democratic America. But at the same time, I was in jail for no f*cking reason, so….

My mind was spinning anxiously. I didn’t know what to expect at all. I wanted to believe that the FBI would wake up from their surreal dream (and mine!) … that they would realize I was a pretty standard law-abiding individual … and that due to my in-born expressive straightforwardness, I would make a terribly clumsy spy – despite the fact that I look generally okay in a Russian spy uniform.

Tessa Lena new york speaker survivor

Tessa Lena. Photo credit: Victor Zamalin

Confession: I was scared. Scared, depressed, exhausted, cornered, humiliated, degraded, indifferent, struggling, depressed, living from day to day, from one hour to the next.

During the first week of my incarceration I tried to practice salsa dancing in my cell, then the dancing stopped.

Then hope.

Then resistance to cruelty.

Being in jail and treated like an animal is shit.

When I think about it, I suspect that the same people who were trying to break my spirit, went home to somebody, loved somebody, kissed somebody, maybe forgot their “enemy” completely, maybe even felt good about their cruelty toward the subhumans. You know, the way military people do.

But I was not, and am not subhuman! Subhuman, I am not! I feel! I felt then, and I feel now, and whenever I hear stories about the noble FBI protecting us against the Russians, I feel sad, bitter and resentful.

That thing really sucked, you know.


I am lucky that they gave up on me.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to look them in the eye one day and ask them if they finally see me as a human, now. Maybe?

But then I quickly conclude that it is a horrible idea, and I opt to forget all about it and eat a piece of mango instead.

I am lucky that they gave up on me.

But don’t make me praise them as they celebrate another dangerous Russian redhead in captivity.




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