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The Saturday Profile: A ‘Hillbilly’ From Arkansas, Doing Life in Qatar

Senator Boozman wrote to Mr. Trump in March urging him to “raise the issue of Mr. Downs’ release” when the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, visited Washington in April. It is unclear if Mr. Trump mentioned the matter.

Mr. Boozman’s spokesman, Patrick J. Creamer, said his office never received a White House response. The White House referred queries about Mr. Downs to the State Department, where an official said nothing about prospects for his release, but that the American Embassy in Qatar would “continue to provide all possible consular assistance to Mr. Downs and his family.”

Mr. Downs, in the meantime, has sought to make the best of his predicament.

In the telephone interview from prison, arranged by the David House Agency, a crisis-management firm for Americans arrested abroad, Mr. Downs said he had taught himself Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, and is permitted periodic visits from relatives and a shortwave radio — though no internet access.

When he first arrived at the prison, Mr. Downs said, some Arab inmates assumed he was Israeli. “They were calling me ‘Mossad’ as a joke,” he said. “I’m not Mossad, I’m not Jewish. I’m just a hillbilly.”

As prison librarian, he has amassed a collection of books, partly through care packages from his family. Borrowers from the women’s wing tell Mr. Downs what they want through a paper-messaging system, he said.

“I’ve got a Colombian lady, a lifer, who is reading ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ ” he said. “I’ve got one that reads ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘50 Shades of Grey.’ Lebanese and Turkish ladies.”

While he has not been mistreated, Mr. Downs said, the confines of the prison are isolating.

“You feel very alone,” he said. “I’m the only American.”

Asked what he wanted most, Mr. Downs said, “The only thing I need is to go home and take care of my grandkids. That’s the only thing I want. There is no other thing.”

Source: NYT > World

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