Mark Borg* was a 22-year-old Maltese youth who just got a new job at a popular pastizzeria. While he was working one evening, an incident happened that has left him with severe anxiety and a lack of trust in the island’s authorities.
He spoke to Lovin Malta on condition of anonymity about the night his life changed forever.
As told to Lovin Malta’s Johnathan Cilia. Mark’s words have been edited for brevity.
I’m about to share a traumatic experience that I learnt a lot from. I believe that no matter what happens if you learn from your experience, you’re better for it.
In 2016, my brother somehow got me a job at a popular pastizzeria in a central area. At the time I was young and didn’t want to make any mistakes to get him into trouble… I really didn’t want to.
I was bouncing between dead-end jobs, but I was happy selling pastizzi, working seven days a week but also going out to party with a bit of money. Working at a pastizzeria, you get to meet all types and it can be very interesting, speaking to everyone from important people to junkies.
One time, a woman bought spinach pies during the evening and came back the next day. She put the spinach pies on the display and asked to change them, saying she hadn’t touched them and that I was going to throw them out anyway… I’m telling you, all sorts.
I enjoyed cooking there, and I loved the stability of the job – knowing exactly what time you start and finish – was good for me. I’m a bit of a geek, so I loved to make sure the cash register accounts were always correct and everything was balanced.
As I got a bit of money, I bought my very first big bike, and I was really happy with it. It was my first big bike, my Sunday ride.
One Sunday evening, I was about to close, with the last few items in my display and I was bent over cleaning the stove.
While cleaning, I suddenly hear this loud banging noise. I get up to look and see this young guy sitting on my bike.
A crowd was forming around him, guys and girls, all 19 and 20-year-olds, and this guy, tattooed up, is playing with my new bike.
I still remember the noise of him banging my handlebars all the way to the left then all the way to the right, boom, boom, right to left, left to right.
I immediately started shouting at him to get off my bike – I swore at him, opened the door to go outside and… I woke up in hospital nine days later.
I thought I had been in a motorcycle accident.
But as I looked around, I saw that I was tied down to the bed. My arms were stretched out completely.
My brother was there, and I said: “what is going on?” And they said I had had an “accident at work”.
What accident? I was told I had been in a coma, and had a broken nose and had bruises and cuts all over my body… but I didn’t have any ribs or anything broken.
Then my brother said: “Listen, the police want to speak to you.”
I was told I had been put in an induced coma after being found in a “marijuana psychosis”. It actually said that on my medical documents. I was told I had been in a coma for seven days, but later on I found out it was nine days.
Then I remembered: I had a joint in my pocket at the time. I was feeling really confused… the nurses just told me that was due to the heavy medication I was on.
It took me a couple of days to begin to get things clear in my mind. I was so confused when I woke up, I’m still a bit confused as to what exactly happened that evening to this day.
After getting out of ITU, I spent another week in hospital before going home to recover for another two weeks. I was still trying to put the puzzle together. I went back to work and the shop’s neighbours filled me in on what happened that night.
One guy told me he saw me lying on the floor, and a group of guys were kicking something. A nearby Turkish restaurant owner also told me all about it… but then later on when police asked him to be a witness, he suddenly hadn’t seen anything… apparently, the tattooed guy dines at his place a lot.
Eventually, a man who lives and works nearby explained everything.
He told me he was trying to sleep and heard shouting and screaming, went to the window to tell people to be quiet because he’s trying to sleep, only to see a group of people beating up a guy. He began calling the police and they ran off, and when he saw who they were beating up, and saw my display counter unattended, he realised it was me, the pastizzi seller, being beaten by a group of teens. At first he hadn’t realised it was me because my face was “unrecognisable”.
Then the police called, saying they wanted to speak.
When I got to the local station, the officer was, excuse my language, a bit of an asshole from the get-go.
“Taf x’kellek fuqek?”
Yes, I know what I had on me, that’s why I’m now freaking out. Because instead of investigating the fight, you’re about to investigate me, aren’t you?
I could see it from a mile away – the fact that I had a joint on me was going to affect the investigation in a major way.
He asked me what I remember and details about the people who beat me – and that’s the last time I ever heard the police talk about my beating.
Soon after, the Drug Squad called me, saying they also wanted to speak.
At the time, I was working seven days a week, from 6am to 10pm. I’m a respectful guy, I’ve never done anything bad to anyone… I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve never hurt anyone.
Now, all of a sudden, I was being investigated over a joint after being beaten by a gang of people.
Tell me what you think, but my God, that is not right. It’s just not right.
I met the Drugs Squad, and they sent two officers first, then they sent a third guy with coffee. He was really friendly, and after a while said he needs to take my statement, and asked if I wanted a lawyer.
I asked him if I should get a lawyer, and he advised that it might mean the case would drag on. So I didn’t get a lawyer.
As I’m giving a statement on the weed, I got a sinking feeling. I realised no one is even mentioning the beating anymore… that’s finished.
It’s all about my joint now.
I was asked to give the names of the people who gave me the weed. I refused.
A few minutes later, the officer looked at me and said: “isma, let’s close the statement now, and just give me the names quietly if you are in danger. I won’t tell anyone you told me.”
“But the guy’s a friend of mine, a family man, and I don’t want to mess up his life because I was beaten up.”
At the time, I genuinely thought our conversation was fine, but I now think the way the police worked with me was so sleazy. Then they took my fingerprints and photographed me, putting everything on my record.
My fingerprints, not the guys who beat me up. And until this day, I’ve never heard of what happened in the investigation into the guys who beat me.
What should I do, chase the officers over the eight people we all know beat me? With all due respect to all the decent officers in Malta, some of whom I know and who have helped me… but unfortunately, it’s the ugly ones that show the most.
People posted about my injuries, calling on officers to “do their job” and look into my beating. But then when it got out that weed was found on me, people began deleting their posts and left me alone. There was a lot of stigma.
I went back to work, then got a new job, and continued my life, even going out, and I decided to go on my first holiday. As I was looking forward to it, a whole two years later, I get the court summons for the joint.
I was charged over 2.5 grams of weed for simple possession and pleaded guilty.
I had already said it was mine in the statement anyway. My lawyer told me if I hadn’t said it was mine in the statement, there would have been a good probability I could get out of the charge.
I still remember the magistrate looking at my statement, her closing it, reopening it and reading it for a long time, closing it, and reopening it, then finally asking me if I wanted to say anything to the court.
I was dying to say something, about my beating, my induced coma, the way I was being treated… I wanted to ask why my beating was being ignored as an entire case was made about my blessed joint.
But my lawyer told me not to. I said nothing, and I got two years probation.
I was so pissed off with the way the system was treating me. I wasn’t being protected but prosecuted.
I’m still pissed off about it in a way to this day.
Weeks later – I was still angry and hurt over the whole affiar – I went to meet my probation officers for the first time.
I asked them: “what happens if someone gets caught with weed in their system? Just start the process now – I have no interest in stopping weed, I did nothing wrong to anyone, I’ve been put through the grinder and now I’m being told to stop using weed as well, to top it all off?”
My probation officers, thank God, were levelheaded, and asked me to calm down and speak to them. I’m very thankful for them, I really am, and they helped me understand the situation to a certain extent, better than anyone else.
They handled my anger and were able to calm me down over the next few months. After a while, I was even nearly attending our meetings willingly. They were different – they listened, and more importantly, they accepted me as I was, instead of looking down on me and making me feel tiny and humiliated.
I’m thankful to the probation officers who showed empathy and patience, and helped me start a course at MCAST and today I am happy to be working my dream job with a local TV station.
But I never want to see what happened to me happen to anyone else. Someone sent to the hospital in a coma, and all the authorities are concerned about is the stupid joint in his pocket.
It’s wrong. It’s not right.
And I want them to remove the conviction from my record. Not for a job or anything, but purely for the point – I was taken to court over a joint, spent hundreds of euro, suffered stigma and was humiliated.
I was the idiot left standing in the court hallways – not the people who beat me up.
And this happened in Malta, and not some third world country where justice is regularly miscarried.
I wasn’t even smoking the joint at the time, it was just in my pocket… it’s not right, no matter how you spin it.
I wanted to tell the officers: I bet if this was your son who got beaten up, sent into a coma and found with a joint, you think you’d give a shit about the joint? They’d sort it out in a second.
But for me, I was sent through the grinder. Even if you are beaten and sent to hospital, the system will be biased against you as soon as you are stereotyped as a drug user.
My story has now passed. We’ve all grown up, including the people who beat me and left me lying in the street. But when I heard of this expungement, I thought – maybe there’s actually a chance this country moves forward.
*Names have been changed for the protection of the individual.