It took a few minutes for Chris Parks to realize that when he was taken aside by Homeland Security at the Charlotte, N.C., airport it wasn't just another airport security check. It was when the officer told Parks that he had deserted from the Army a decade ago that the 27-year-old Washington contractor realized he had fallen into bureaucratic hell.
Within days, Parks' head was shaved boot camp style and he was wearing Army issued fatigues, pulling weeds and collecting trash at Fort Knox.
"When I got to Charlotte, N.C., I was really happy to finally being going home," said Parks, who remembers being especially anxious to go home from his South American trip because of the hives he had developed while backpacking.
"The customs officials put an X on my forms and asked me to stand to the side. I thought it was a routine search," said Parks.
But Parks told ABCNews.com that he quickly learned there was nothing routine about what was happening to him when Homeland Security told him that he was going to be held in custody.
"The official told me that it appears I've deserted the Army and at that point I still don't even know what he's talking about," said Parks. "I thought it had to be a joke or a big mix-up."
Calls made by ABCNews.com to the Army about Parks' case were not immediately returned.
"I kept thinking that there had to be a mistake," recalls Parks. "I've had a speeding ticket and I've gone back and forth to Canada and have been in no way hiding. I was on the grid 100 percent. There was no reason that someone looking for me wouldn't be able to find me."
Parks said that it took him about five minutes to realize where the confusion may have stemmed from. In 2000, when Parks had just graduated high school and was 18 years old, he enlisted in the army in Spokane only to decide later that no longer wanted to serve.
"I was young and I was trying to figure out what I was doing with my life," said Parks, who now lives in Washington State where he works as a general contractor and as a fisherman. "My heart wasn't really in it and I didn't want to commit myself to anything quite yet."
According to Parks, he was blunt with this recruiter about his desire to de-enlist, but was told to take an oath anyway and was later made to write a two page summary of why he had decided to not pursue a career in the military.
"A couple of recruiters gave me a lecture about how a good American would make a different choice, but when it was all over they told me I was free to go," said Parks. "That was the last time I talked to anyone from the Army, and that was in late August of 2000."
Nevertheless, within an hour of arriving in Charlotte, N.C., on April 8, Parks said a sheriff took him to the nearby Mecklenburg County Jail where he was issued an orange jumpsuit and was held for a week for being a deserter.
Online records viewed by ABCNews.com confirm that Parks was held at Mecklenburg from April 8 until April 15.
"County jail is quite a sight to behold," said Parks. "Of the entire experience, I'd say the county jail was by far the most unpleasant."
Parks said that it took three days before he was able to talk to his fellow inmates because of the shock he endured, and was forced to sleep on the floor with up to 60 other inmates because of prison overcrowding.