How it all began and life in Panama
Busted at Panama for a crime yet to be charged as the process is so slow and at a snail speed; that was how it all began. The mug shots and all procedures followed. Somehow the police that were meant to take care of my possessions also robbed me of them. That`s Panama police!!!
Another guy, an Italian, was brought along, charged with same offence. We ended up sharing a handcuff (silver bracelet; as he called it). That was how we became good friends.
From the initial police detention at the airport, we were moved to a transitory jail; where over 200 people are cramped together inside some block of cells that was made for 40 or less people at a time. Some had been locked up for Months, without seeing daylight or knowing when the sun set. Inside there, one neither knows when it´s day or night. A toilet and one bathroom serve the entire inmates. Each day, new convicts are brought in, most without any charge, as it is in Panama ¨You are Guilty till proven innocent¨. The Food comes in very cold and stale, there always a joke that the food are prepared in cold rooms. At the transitory jail, began to get the taste of Panama and her people.
There were so many characters at this detention centre. I have met people I assume are stupid, but here they are just more stupid. One had NANCY tattooed on his belly and had to do a bigger NANCY just above the older one, we all assume that whoever Nancy was, she wasn`t happy with the first work. She demanded another one!!! Another had Eduardo tattooed on his chest, wondered if Eduardo was his son, but when asked, he told us that He is Eduardo, didn`t bother to asked why he had his name tattooed on his Chest. I assume his friends kept forgetting his name. Eduardo had no other option than getting his name on his chest. He was in love with himself. Others when release end up being re-arrested and brought back and will eventually end up in jail, guess where they like to belong as there are shelter, free food and free bed to lay and also the only friends or family they know; the brotherhood of Gangs (which is seen by the different artwork of Tattoos on their bodies).
Right from the transitory jail, we get to experience and understood the brutality of Panama jails and its corrupt officials. The Transitory jail was suppose to be an investigative unit, when after that is done, the convict will be sorted and sent to the main jail (That without trail or appearance before the judge). Knives are kept for protection by most inmates and in case of fights; amazing how knives get in to such a place. The police are paid to smuggle in anything.
With a private lawyer and our consulate pushing things, we were transferred from there to one of the main jail, a 2 hours drive from Panama City. It was the longest trip I ever had, shackled with Irons like the ones seen on American TV, we were driven to the La Joyita (Pronounced La Oyita; as the J is silent in Spanish), when we got there, both the inmates peeping from their cells and the police at guard gave us the meanest look ever. It wasn´t the best reception anyone will expect.
But it turned out good for us, as we were not meant to stay in La Joyita, but La Joya (La Oya), there we will eventually end up with other Foreigners and without the Panamanians (whom are known to be aggressive and always with knives or other sort of arms) . We ended up in Pavilion 6 in La joya…. it was a world of its own, separated from other pavilions, housing Panamanians.
Pavilion 4; was told by my new cell mate will be the best place to look out whenever we are out and about from our cell. Didn`t seem to get what he meant, but with time, I found out that, truly as many said, it was actually the inmates of Pavilion 4 that were the main attraction whenever they come out. They were travesties (who usually gave the Pavilion 6 inmate some shows of what they got for some few dollars). Imagine, most of these men had been locked up for years, without you know what and no conjugal visit. They paid dollar each to watch those she-male throw off their tops. I never had the opportunity to see them do it, but seen some of them walk around. I guess missed the shows; some were apparently very beautiful and could be mistaken for the real woman.
We woke up on the second day from shouts from pavilion 5; housing Panamanians youths (most in jails for Homicide and gang related killings). There was a stabbing and we later learned that the victim eventually died from the wounds. That was a wake up call on living Panama jail, once you are in, someone on the street could have you silence for whatever reasons known to them.
Quickly we adapted to the life there, Started by sleeping on the floor. Though it´s a tropical country, but the floor can be very cold at night. And with a sheet of polyfoam bought by my consulate and a sheet for cover. As days turned to weeks, I was given a bed by a fellow inmate who chooses to sleep in the hammock. Now I enjoyed my night, also my taste for music began to changed, listening to Latino music and especially Vallenatos (a kind of amorous Colombian songs). Thoughts of Home and my love keep my night bit longer when I listen to these songs. Started reading, thanks to Gringo logo; an American in my cell, we shared books and we talked a lot. He is a well of experience; a Vietnam Vet who also served in Panama in the 1970s where he eventually married a Panamanian lady who was too beautiful to stay with him. Even his superior officers couldn´t resist her beauty, they eventually got divorced. He decided to come back to panama with hope of finding another love and marriage. But ended up in La joya!!!
Gringo Loco was good at telling jokes, guess one thing he learned from his days in the Army and as a prison correction officer after he was discharged from the army back in the states.
At La joya, met people with all sort of stories, some had been locked up for years without trails, some presumed they are innocent of what they have been charged. But locked up without reasons, some are there just for association. What a judiciary process!!!
The food here at La Joya was a bit better than those served at the Transitory jail, but the smell of the food and what they called porridge (Mixture of Rice, Brown Beans, potatoes and who knows what), can`t even pass as food for dogs in most countries. One got no choice, but thank God, we are allowed to cook and make our meals. That helps…..
Panama, so many has happened to this little country nestled among other countries. Once colonized by the Colombians. And in the late 1980´s the American made a just call and removed the then Dictator, General Noriega.
The Image of this nation has been laundered to make it appeal to tourist and businesses from the west and now it has become a big success. The Canal free trade zone offers a tax free heaven for many businesses. The Canal that runs through the country linking the Caribbean to the Pacific has brought a great deal of economic development to the country. Fleet of ship that passes through the canal everyday; pay certain amount to the country, thereby boosting the economy. All kind and types of ship sail through the canal every now and then. And just along the barbed wire fence of El renacer, the Panama Canal rail line runs through, the train are locomotives running I guess on Coal or diesel (Very noisy); bringing in Goods and containers from Colon (One of the province) to the canal depot. It also takes tourist on site seeing of the Canal, who apparently will wave at us whenever they ride by on the train; guess many don`t know who we are and what are all doing in the middle of the forest.
At El renacer, we love the view of the cruise ships, they are magnificent and massive. Whenever they sail through the canal, we can see passengers waving at us, same with them doubt if they also have idea of what is happening here. Most will think, it is a sort of holiday resort nestled in the forest, as that is where we are. An American inmate once told me, that he once sailed on of the large cruise that sails through the canal into Panama during the good old days. Then he thought of El Renacer as a holiday resort and wonder what goes on in here. But as live will have it. He is now a guest to the El Renacer resort centre as he thought. Told he, welcome to El Holiday of your life….
The Food at El Renacer is much the same as La Joya, but much warmer as it is close to the city and where the foods are prepared. And here, since visit is every week, one can afford to get fresh produce every week.
3rd Dec, woke up early from the sound of the guys that serve the breakfast. Almost cursed him, as he woke me in the middle of a sweet dream (guess that one thing they can`t take from you when you are locked up; right to dream!!!). Funny how breakfast are served here, as early as 5am, with the pitch of his voice, one can`t afford another second of sleep till he has made his round. Today was my first time to come out of my cell so early (6.30am), enjoyed the early morning fresh air and the light sun. Those on education programs and those working around the centre (when approved for either, one get a reduced term; a year is counted as 6 Months) started filing out from their respective cells to the main entrance. Others woke up to daily routine of exercises of diverse forms. Some to the early morning coffee (30ct per cup) and smoke of cigarettes which are actually prohibited in all Panama Jails; but they still find a way to get in. A call from my love after she got my sms about my dream… hummmm, was funny conversation, guess we both needed the talk.
Had a visit today from my consul and other representatives from our beloved country, it is the official visit done once in a month. Much like our own pay day, got all the necessary toiletries and loads of papers from back home and more books to read.
Still feeling and having ruthless pain on my lower back, taken all types of painkillers prescribed by the resident doctor, none seems to work. Hope to see him again, hope this time around, he will do something better, like sending me to the hospital for proper check up.
About to hit the gym, after spending the rest of the day at the library, reading and writing….
Spend the evening reading The Tailor of Panama, nice novel and later watched the Bank job and final destination IV. Hit the bed and deep in my sleep heard the phone rang, thought was my alarm set to 5am so I won`t miss my round of picking up the breakfast for me and my cellmate, can`t wait till Sunday, when my round will be over. Then someone else starts on Monday for one week. The phone call came from someone who has no idea of the time difference between Panama and where she was calling from. Here it was 1.40am (4th Dec) and I guess she was on a time zone of about 8.40am. Made her understand the time difference and promised calling back. Went back to my sleep and it was long as I can remember, my alarm woke me up. It was 5am, I felt as if I`ve not slept much. Got back to sleep till eightyish and up for the doctor appointment.
The centre seems to know what to do, but prefers not to do it, I`m dead sick with terrible backache (lower back pain), I know what`s wrong with me, as I have this problem for some years. I explained to him, but he`s been sending me away with different types of painkillers, which does do anything to alleviate the pains, that has now gone down through my left leg, sending burning sensation on my left bum and prickly pain on my leg. The doctor; who knows where he got his certificate sent me away with Amp and an injection to relieve the pain. Wonder what Amp will do with a disc problem on my vertebrae. Guess I`m hanging on the mercy of God`s grace.
Today 4th Dec 09, new inmates (those who have done most of their time and have got 2 years or less to serve) are brought in from different centres across the country. Has the process is, they are brought here to be rehabilitated and become functional members of the society when release. But as I have heard, most end up reoffending and are back to the centres. It `s like a circle that doesn`t end. Though some come to realize they could better their life here, a friend Karlito got his law degree while still here, he has spent 10 years here and hope to be out next year. Many others are following in his steps, taking up programs organised by the prison as part of the rehabilitation process.
Today 9th Dec 09, yesterday was Mother`s day in Panama unlike the rest of the world, wasn`t any special for us here at the centre, except for those with permission to go out for 12 hours of visit. In numbers they left as early as 6am, with what they will do in mind. When they got back, some where drunk or stoned, told one that by this time next year many will be fathers. One confesses that he spent the whole time in bed with his girlfriend. Rang his mum that he wasn`t allowed out. Hummm! What a naughty fellow. On Monday, the 7th, went to the centre`s Doctor again for my back pain which is becoming unbearable, hope he won`t give me another ibuprofen as that is the only medication he has to issue for everything and antibiotic. No, this time around, he gave me a new prescription to be purchased by me and finally signed the letter for an X-ray appointment with the hospital. I heard, making the appointment may take another century, which I hope not. Rang my consulate and she promised to go with me for the x-ray and help wit the language. Tried getting the new prescription fax to the consulate, that I have to pay someone working at the office to help me do it; should be free of course.
Over the week, there`s been few releases and several batches of new arrivals, mostly youths from the juvenile prison, many don`t just know how to adjust to the system here, but they sort of like it here, more food and it comes hot, as most of the adults don`t eat the prison food. Picked interest in a dumb and deaf youth, who wasted 5 lives, learnt he was paid as little as $500 to do the job, and being very small and sleek, he move undetected and did his operations smoothly. In panama you can get anyone wasted for as little as nothing.
Expecting my Lawyer today, hope he comes as I don`t hear from him and he does not return calls or my text messages. What a lawyer!!! Had calls from a good old friend from Germany and also from my love. Her calls and conversation with her has been my greatest source of strength and comfort other than one I get from the man above.
Another one bites the dust!!! On the news this morning, 2 guys from my country were picked up at the airport, waiting to hear more. Hope someone tells them that Panama is a no go area and they should desist from coming here. More on news, more homicides and robbery, that`s Panama for us. No day goes by without such on the news, so it`s something we are used to, don`t know what image it portrays of the country that many are planning to come for their next holiday. It`s also a banking heaven, with over 120 Banks, money laundering and drug money end up here in Panama and a good source or origin is made up for such fund. Guess that`s so much for Wednesday, will be do some exercise later in the day. Before then, back to my Spanish lessons, I`m enjoying my self-study program, but not doing much practically as most people wants to speak English with me. I hope they stick to their language and I learn from them.
Finally, got the laptop tonight, hope to be online and get all these online, call this evening from a friend who and several others from Nepal had been locked up for more than 6 months at the transitory jail. Can´t believe they are still there, this is mean has this men came in to Panama seeking for asylum. Well, guess that is Panama and it justice system.
Tonight, tempers flared up in my cell between 2 inmates, as I have learned, prison is where you learn to tolerate anything and moreover watch over your back as nobody will do that for you. Thank God, it ended up with just words exchanged among the 2 guys, over watching TV or DVD. They drew lines, but no blows and both end up sleeping.