“Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together” – Vesta M. Kelly
Fragility can also be applied to us humans; maybe or maybe not! Fragility has been one of the many weaknesses of man, how complex we have developed in every respect. But alone as an individual; we are stricken and far from home we remain fragile. Like the saying goes “Far from home is near to harm”
Fragility and strength goes together with numbers and majority. Like the snowflakes; havocs caused when they stick together are enormous and can be deadly.
Behindbars in a distant land far away from home and safety (Hmmmmmmm! at least, at home more chances of survival and one knows how to)! One is left to take up alliance like wolves in a pack; for safety to be guaranteed. Living among Latino Americans has taught me life’s essentials, on unity and strength. Numbers matters a lot; it determines how long a time one will do, to anybody locked up behindbars, quantity means strength.
Even in our trouble-free pavilion, they roam about in groups, never alone, I guess it’s typical of them. Even the government who will never admit failure has conceded to the gangs; allowing gangs and inmates take charge of the inside of most pavilions, by housing members of same gang together in one pavilion. Even then, with no known enemy in sight, they still fight and kill each other; guess power struggle! Good old politics! Crazy?
A normal person in his or her right frame of mind, will wonder how gangs from different pavilions, separated by wire fences could engaged in a deadly fight like one we just witnessed. They wait and search for every little opportunity; could be in school or during medical visit. In the past, we had several stabbing in the school, which has prompted the authorities to use metal detectors, but the exercise didn’t last. Maybe until another stabbing, they will remember to install a permanent metal detector.
The latest incident occurred during the visit hours, while one group were leaving, guess the cops didn’t managed or probably forgot they were dealing with wild animals. The inmates saw that opening and opportunity, the two factions from different pavilion made the most use of the free fight! Knives were drawn and all sort of crude weapons were pulled out from their stashed spots.
We heard, barrage of gunshots, we heard many were slain, but the press kept the fatality at one, just one and that was the servio (an ex gang member turned Pastor) As the norm is, when there is a fight, the servio (Man of God) goes in to break up the fight, but in this case it took a different turn. He gave his life for a cause he preached; Peace!
The fight took place in front of visiting families members, as many witnesses recounted the incident on television, many blamed the wardens and cops for bringing in arms and weapons for inmates and the cops in turn blames families for smuggling the weapons for their wards; a good blame game and we without weapons are the damn losers!
A Pistol (.38), Machetes, and other crude weapons were found in the two pavilion after an intensive search by cops. Grenades and other sort of weapons had been found stashed in different pavilions in the past, so it’s no new thing what they find as more will always find their way in when they are needed! Survival at all cost is the most important thing here. Right from our food, medicals, beds and most importantly when it comes to physical brawl! One must survive.
The Latinos are known to be macho even when they know that you know that ain’t worth a punch from you; they try to show strength just because they are a number in a gang. And so much believe and confidence in the gang.
Wonder how much the Govt is doing to curb gang violence behindbars, as most are feuds from the streets being brought into the jails. Even among the foreigners in my Pavilion, have seen Colombians get into heated arguments over past dealings. Something about them, they don’t forget, no matter how long it takes.
An Ex-cop who lead a double life while in service, nicked drugs From evidence room and resell to the Colombians, was a nice guy though when we were in Renacer, after doing 6yrs; released to the streets. Sired two kids through the conjugal process, he was actually living large while locked up, got fatter and was controlling stuffs in the centre. Twelve days into his release, he was rained with bullets from Colombians he double-crossed before he was jailed. Well, if my opinion is needed; the dude would have stayed back in jail. As he was living very much OK! 6hrs visit every Sunday and getting laid every fortnight and loads of boys running things for him on the inside. Well that’s the life in Panama and most Latino America countries.
And the ones very closed to me, two Colombians released after doing two yrs plus and found not guilty. Went back to what they love doing, moving El Polvo Blanco; too bad as the norm here in Panama is. The Panamanians are always setting up ambushes to Rob the Colombians of the produce. Kinda make sense, like in old Europe; hoodlums hid around bushes waiting for travellers and pounced on them for their possessions! But this is more deadly. It’s like a war game, the Colombians are armed to teeth and the Panamanians also armed.
Our two newly released were ambushed and shots were exchanged, unfortunately they were the only two casualties, life expectancy in such a place like this is pretty low and lower if one is involved with you-kown-what-biz! One of the dude killed was a very good footballer who played in the Colombian league before he took a wrong turn for quick bucks! Such is life! “Another one bites the Dust”
The only way to survive in place like this is either one is in it or live on the edge; watching your back constantly; always with one’s back against the wall, I actually do that sometimes!Lol! . But as I have come to know, out of sight is much better. Glad for my bunk, can spend hours there when I’m not in the gym. But still, trouble can grow limbs and walk around. Some inmates are just here to set up situations, maybe for the fun of it or just a kick and idleness.
The should-be-library has now become an extension of our cells, with the new inmates sleeping there, tired of arranging and sorting the books! Most are gone, to be used as pillows or stand for whatever they deemed fit! Difficult if you are alone and trying to make some little change when people are used to a certain way of life and are convinced; that it is the only way.
Most inmates, if not all of them here go through the same thing each day. Nothing new and nothing to do; guess this will be partly true of some argument about what prison is all about; place of reform or punishment. Don’t think anyone here is actually reformed, seen many released and couple of Months, they are back and hustling to get their former bed-space! Guess it won’t be that easy now as the place is full to capacity. They’ll be too lucky if they are sent to our pavilion as it’s the best compare with others in the whole complex.
Talking of reform and inmates turning a new leaf after doing time. Well, seen so much; one was wild-bill, real name William or whatever. Killed couple of people and hitched. He was listed on interpol and finally apprehended, confessed why he did it, some were for self-defence, others were he-knows-why! Had a presidential reception, thanks to the media. Got a cell to himself, the press always hanging around to see him when he comes out to the yard. In one of his outing, he actually said, he’s glad he got arrested in Panama as he has found God. That made him popular that women were coming to him for autographs and many wanting to be girlfriends or lovers. Soon he will be having conjugal thanks to corruption in Chiriqui prison. An English mate who came from there; said the cops are more than corrupt, if you want a piece, one can get it there.
Now, one of the so called prison reformed, a former inmate released but still under house arrest with a tag! Was actually in my cell and I got his bunk when he left! Glad he left. He was Colombian who was the servio in my Pavilion, did 8yrs in the Rayo Montaña case, without charges since Brazil won’t extradite the principal defendant; Rayo! The case is stalled, many are locked up for more than 8yrs without trial. I guess the govt has found out, the case ain’t going no where, so they are systematically releasing all the defendants one after the other; goodwill gesture I will assume!
While he was here, we were always at loggerheads as his principles and mind collides. To him everything is sin, not long ago, rumours which is always truth has it; he’s back in business!
Reform will only take place if an alternative is provider for ex-cons! All through the 8yrs behindbars, he wasn’t paying no rent or any utility bills, but now he is or should be paying for something. Now he’s faced with reality and what the real world is all about. Hope he stays true to what he was while behindbars!
There always things happening here; one released and ten brought in. My cat and her tiny kittens are sharing bed-space with two Spaniards; hope they don’t think something stupid. The old inmates always go out to see whose new and place value on them, if they look rich, they try to get them into their cell so they can milk them dry.
Today, 2nd of May; supposed to be a day of rest as most marks labour’s day and also happens to be our visit day. Most of us should be out today with our loved ones. But I guess not, while the rest of the world are celebrating a death of a villain, we’re mourning one of a valiant. Despite all the odds of survival in a place like this, he maintained an active lifestyle; football, running and weights-resistance training. All to stay healthy and live above his ailment.
It began last night on the 1st of May. Few minutes after President Obama announced Osama’s death and my cell finally locked. The alarm and pandemonium sets in. We knew it was a distress call, but was a different type, I could feel it, despite technology and innovations, locked up in a place like this. One will learn to develop his natural primitive and animal instinct needed for survival. I felt right inside, that it won’t be an easy one, but always being optimistic; I hoped fate and luck will save the night.
If I hadn’t locked my cell, I believe I would have answer the call and helped ripped the lock to his cell as that was what eventually was done. So appalling, the cops on the watch-towers, stone throw away from our pavilion heard all the pandemonium, but simply turned a deaf ear to our cries. If it was an escape attempt, we will hear barrages of gunshots and see them running helter-skelter. But when we need them most, they won’t show up.
I’m left to wonder if all prisons are like this! All the deaths among foreigners has been due to negligence from the authorities; failure to do what is necessary to help those victims (which I’ll surmised as Criminal Negligence). All would still be alive today if all measures were taken and proper contingency plans in place, as many of the foreign inmates are elderly men compared with the nationals who are all young adults with few older men. And many of us are suffering from one chronic ailment or the other; which requires proper medication. Talking of medication; ran out of my BP drugs, after calls from my Consul (Bless her), I kept receiving the drugs, was surprised at such a gesture, unlike them. Eventually received a 6 Months worth of drugs within a week. But on checking the packages, found out they will expire 05/11; apparently which is this month. Now they are of no use to me and same applies to other inmates who had unknowingly received expired drugs, hope they check before taking them. The Lad tried against all odds to live, but how fragile we are, within a split of seconds, we breathe with strength and the next moment we are struggling to breathe; a breathe of survival. From eyewitnesses accounts, after he was taken from his cell, he spent 30 minutes outside before the cops came down. The infirmary has got nothing to offer, other than first-aid stuffs; nothing that would have saved his life. The clinic in the Complex is not staffed at night. Thus, we are left at the mercies of death!
Won’t say the Nationals don’t have their own share of fatalities, but as we know the most if not all are results of gangs related violence; liquidation, revenges, or payback! The few older ones among them even the youths all get visit from loved ones every fortnight but among us foreigners, barely a handful of us; those who were living in Panama before their arrest. Even on visit days, they are not allowed to come in with vitamins or any needed medications, have heard of some female visitors stashing medications and also drugs in their Butterflies just to get it through the securities. One of my cellmate’s missus actually does that, she brings him his needed pills in her you-know-what! Wondered how she packed them so well in there. Do get some painkillers for my persistent migraine! Glad it’s in a sealed foil, won’t want gulping his missus’s you-know-what juice!
One will wonder, why a tropical country like this can’t afford to provide prisoners with fruits which is widely grown. When families comes in with fruits, they are taken away from them. Just because they believe, it will be use for moonshine; which most will be, but that shouldn’t be their major preoccupation. Since our main and stable food is half-cooked white rice with whatever they find to top it up. At least fruits should be allowed in; we will buy. Though when it comes, we are paying through our teeth; bloody expensive.
I believe this death will kick-start a whole new process. And this was a welcome incident for our new Director; my old boss back in Renacer. He actually came down to listen to us, guess this wasn’t part of what he bargained for. Few weeks into his new job, he is met with this. Showed him my expired drugs, gave him one sachet, promised to do something. Hope he does, as they all love making promises but fulfilling those promises is the hardest part in these cat and mouse game.
Of all the incidents that has happened here, the death of Linea crowned it all. He was such a good fella, when it happens to someone so close, it’s damned touching and heartbreaking.
When I started writing, little did I know that the quotation I picked will come to true and very close to me.
“Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things”, the fragility is what scares the wit out of anyone under this situation. I look freaking healthy and strong, hence my nickname; Negro Grande! But deep inside, I know my ailments, within a split of seconds it could be me or any other.
And once you are seen, walking and moving, people assumed you’re healthy, no one knows about the silent killer lurking on the inside.
My fellow inmates, under the influence of anger or whatever had came on them this morning destroyed all the locks (We need a course on Anger Management).
It’s 18.49hrs, 2nd of May, likely we will sleep with open cells. Heard someone said, we will contribute money to buy new locks. Why destroy the old ones if we have to buy new set of locks; Another course on stupidly!
We will do all we can, but at the end the authorities will enforce whatever they deem befitting on us. It’s been done in the past and nothing will stop history from repeating itself. They know majority of us are family men, and none is or will ever be ready to go into the front line. Unlike the Nationals, young, stupid and nothing to live for. If they were the ones in our situation, it would have been bloody!
Day 3 into our hunger strike, a national television has aired our plight before the country. But many remained pessimistic about the situation or its outcome. Too bad nobody saw this coming, we would have stocked up food. Now i’m left with green tea, a jar of peanut butter, a sachet of packed pre-cooked chicken breast, and lots of empty plastic containers that are supposed to be filled with cereals and other stuffs.
Since Monday, the pavilion is manned by armed cops 24hrs. The perimeters are being patrolled by mounted, motor-bikes armed cops. They believe due to the stand-off, there’s a likelihood of escape (s)!
Joe, My Diabetic English buddy just collapsed, was due to be seen by a doctor yesterday. But nobody came for him, he has been waiting all morning. In the wrangling of this morning, he slumped down, was taken by our special ambulance service; The Wheelbarrow! Wheeled outside to the cops at the gate. Hope he comes through this one. He eventually made it through after a brief brawl with the Doctor, after he complained about the poor medical service.
Couple of cops came around and took some of the seriously sick to the clinic. Well, that’s what they always do after incident of this kind. Exactly what they did after the kid who died from HIV/AIDS related illness; they came in and rushed us to d clinic. Many were given jabs for only-God-knows-what!
The pavilion is over populated, built for 200+ but we’re more than 400 now. And no one knows what the next man is suffering from, what sort of illness they carry around. We walk, breathe, eat, even talk at such a close distance that any air-borne diseases will easily be spread among us.
Day 3, 15.42hrs. Another knife pulling incident by a fat Venezuelan new kid, don’t know what argument he had with an old compatriot of his. He ran into the cell and came out with a knife. It’s becoming stressful and unbearable. Even, it was a case that drawing one’s knife is needed, not on a old man, who can’t even throw a punch! And that’s where the whole pavilion demanded, he be chucked out of the pavilion. Later found out, he felt the old man was nagging after the old man persistently asked him to pay him his $6! Didn’t say $6000! Just bloody $6 and d lad drew his sword on the old man. Well among Latinos Americanos, they can kill for a dollar; have seen it among the Panamanians.
The hunger strike and stress of this dead lurking around is getting on all of us now. Most can’t handle it and don’t know how to go about it. It was an impromptu calling; as if Mr. Death always tell before he comes knocking!
But it’s a very sad situation for one to die so far away from home and his loved ones. Every man dream is to take the last breathe surrounded by his loved ones; but like soldiers and band of banditos (whom we are)!. It could come calling any day. Thus be prepare!!!
Between Monday and today, Wednesday, there’s been two knife-pulling incident! I can surmised that leaving our cells open all night won’t work. We have seen from the Panamanians side, how they attacked each other at night. Just 3 days into our stand-off, we’ve started pulling knives on each other. Doubt if any resolution will work. If we agreed for the cells to remain open all night, I’ll personally get a lock for my cell. Prevention, they say is better than cure! Won’t go to bed and close my eyes in sleep knowing fully well that the doors to the cell is not under lock!
Heard from my sources, lots of old timers here are walking around with knives; I thought we are in mourning and grieving over one of us. The Latinos are born into a world of violence and they live in it and also leave it through violence. So I wouldn’t blame them, it has become part of their culture. Living with the anticipation that you’ll be next, thus they live in a survival mode!
As one of mates rightly put it “when one is hungry, he can never think properly”. Since we acted without a good contingency plan as to what will happened when our reserves run dry. Many are becoming hungry and the looks on their faces are changing, so also what they are thinking in their heads!
Heard so much comments that I’m beginning to take very serious, the Chinese kept staring at my cats and talking. Rumours had it, my cats will be used for soup. Thus, I kept a close eyes on them, that even the cats will be surprise, why I kept calling and bringing them close to my cell. Got no damn clue where they are now. Hope all I heard remains a joke, BigBlack will break bones if anyone touches my cat!
Among decisions taken, was one to either throw out a Panamanian who’s living among us and whom lately has been acting and thinking he is cop. He stays outside with the cop and open the door for anyone going out. There are many others Panamanians here; most paid wardens to get them here, he was told, it’s either he leaves the pavilion or remain in his cell. He shouldn’t be seen outside as many believes he is a SAPO (Frog), but in the underworld; A Snitch! And inmates will and always be looking for a scapegoat to pick. So unfortunate, it’s him, but he was actually acting like a cop. He knows too well what it is like to live among his people, so he Will abide with our new laws. One that was thrown out after a fight with a Colombian is pleading to be allowed back in. He’s been rejected. And he look so sick the last time I saw him across the patio. He regretted what came on.
Yesterday, the Panamanian who agreed to stop being a cop, begged me for oats and a can of evaporated milk, got the last from Hector on credit for him. I don’t believe he is a spy, snitch or Sapo. But he was taking that job damn to serious, forgetting that he’s a fcuking inmate like everyone of us.
Well, been up all night to round this up. And on a final note; this may be my last blog as we expect the million dollars jammer activated soon; spent so much on jammers to keep phones outside their jails. But can’t afford validated medications, food and not even the public telephones are working. To place a call on the public phone, one need a phone card, which is not sold in the centre. You need a mobile to receive card information from the outside. So it comes back to Mobile phones, without it the public phone is useless and especially to those of us from distant lands. Hope It doesn’t get to that!
Our demands are within the framework, and stated here by the Office of the High Commissioner On Human Right ( OHCHR) | http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/treatmentprisoners.htm.
We demand a just and fair treatment that is given to prisoners in any civilised society.
As criminal offenders we lose our liberty when sentenced to imprisonment, but in a civilised society, should we also lose our rights as humans and citizens?
The imprisonment is the punishment for our crimes. And the prisons were meant to be places of rehabilitation, not places where extra punishment is added, as it is in our case.
In conclusion, I will draw our attention to the UNO’s international law on the treatment of prisoners:
Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that:
1. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
3. The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation. Juvenile offenders shall be segregated from adults and be accorded treatment appropriate to their age and legal status.
human rights standards
The United Nations has adopted a set of Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/treatmentprisoners.htm).