Life Behind Bar; In Pursuit Of Happiness.

In Pursuit Of Happiness.

Happiness; Each man have a different view, meaning as to what constitutes and makes one happy. To an inmate incarcerated in a country like Panama; Happiness will only exist in one’s imagination or probably reminiscing on past glories as the status quo is inside the wall of the prison; my cellmates wakes each morning to talk about how their speedboats would’ve been and types of Guns they’d like to use or had used! Such is Happiness to these folks!

Many walks and lives with starry-eyed happiness; unrealistic dreams and hopes. Some will die with those dreams and castles in the air! Many will never accept the reality of where they are. Sooner or later as it dawn on them, but then it’s too late to change and find a new path!

Lives of inmates could easily rot away as the pressure mounts on. Many on walking in here will seek solace and comfort in religion, but as soon as the pressure sets in, they take to other vices in order to keep their sanity. On the long term; they rot away, slowly the system takes away the sanity from them, turns them to vicious animals. they’ve just experience the hard-knock school of life.

Others will go back home not waking up from the shock and nightmares of this place; my cell mate who was released after six years, went back home and couldn’t fit into the society of the outside world. Since he is from one of the Latino countries around, there’s no provision for rehabilitation of any sort, there’s a tendency of re-offending, the biggest mistake he made, was isolating himself from the outside world while he was here. Buried deep in prison business; was lucky as he had a job in the kitchen; which brought him in close contact with the Nationals and all runners for all kind of stuffs; fags, liquor, knives and anything one wants to keep going. For a year or more that we live together, he rarely read, watch anything secular or listen to news; he was always glued to the Hosanna Channel, a Tele-Evangelist who is taking Panama by storm and very popular among Panama inmates.

It’s so pathetic how the government so believe that religion alone will change these lads; they grew up from the slums of the city, born into the life of crime and some started stints in the slammer as early as 12 years of age. Met one who did 13 years or more for murder and he has become a prison chaplain, back in El Renacer, he used to walk around with Bible in his hands and a knife in his pants; what a joke! His slogan, like the many Bible carrying inmates here is “Dios Bendiga” (God Bless you)! It’s like “Open Sesame”; a password into many things! The cops are easily fooled by these Bible-carrying cons, not me; always watching my back when I’m around them; that last incident in the front of visiting families, made the families to raise their concerns about the so-called “Siervo” – Men of God; as it has come to light that they are the weapons-runners; moving arms between gangs from one pavilion to another. Guess they are fighting God’s own battle in the way their little-shallow minds tells them.

They’ll never get reformed or rehabilitated as the system only punishes; the system doesn’t do anything about the second part of what Prison ought to be. In most part, some inmates do come to their senses and sought redemption but then, with major preoccupation; thinking and hustling of what you will eat and constantly being your own guard, barely no time to sit and open a page in any book.

Such has been my predicament; unlike what we see on films; about jails and prison in The West, it’s a different story here in Latin America. As much as 15 inmates in cells meant for 6, and each morning and all day chattering and talking with their buddies as they have nothing else to do. Music blasting from improvised speakers and someone calling your name; just because he can’t just keep a moment of silence to himself. Everyday is a hustle for me, the only moment and time I have for me is between 1am and 6am; even then, I’ll be the talk of the day for having my reading lamp on all night! What a pathetic life.

Back to my freed-mate; I knew he was fighting a lost-battle, he couldn’t keep up a conversation like an adult he was, easily flies into anger-rage and tantrums like a kid. He was so obsessed with his physical appearances; spent hours cleaning and polishing his face and left his inside untouched; wild and on the edge. Doesn’t smoke, snort nor drink, he carried the Bible alongside his hidden knives; wonder where or whom he gave them to. To make matter worse; my gym-freak and roid addict compatriot introduced him to steroids; then came the Roid-rage, who will suffer most from all these?; guess his loved ones who were happily waiting for his return. Glad he left without both of getting into a fight as we were at the brink of that. Hope he sorts himself out!:-(

He is not alone in such predicament, many among us are living in a void they can’t understand; life is lived on daily basis. You wake up alive, go through the same routine each day; like a mouse in its little cage running round its wheel of fortune, Fortune; if one live to survive the menace of this place, then he is fortunate enough! 😉

So much has become norms and tradition within our small-big world; stabbing, slashing and battering is normal, pray it ain’t you. Within our pavilion, the most has been between debtors and creditors; knives drawn, punches are thrown, pocket of fights get started while other stand and watch; sounds crazy, but that’s what is happening. Fellow inmates rather see blood than hear rantings from grown up men who are pussies!

The only #Arab among us got into a bash with one of the lads over money. He is so large that you don’t walk with him, you swim with him. Hope he loses those pounds of fat! Lately the rumble between debtors and creditors seems to be taking place in front of my cell. Wondering what the affinity is, my released cell mate was an enforcer for one of compatriots; but now, he’s left to fight for his money alone.

Knives are drawn but yet to be used, one can’t tell when that moment will come; true blood to be drawn. As the population is growing so also is the impatience, anxieties and urge to strike grows among us.

We wake up to each new day with different faces, one could look into our faces and what you see is emptiness and void; vacuum that needs constant refilling with whatever they so choose to.

The system here is such a one that after years behind bars, most inmates; if they make it out alive are bound to come back. Had always thought prison to serve two purposes; Punishment for crimes and correction or rehabilitation, but in most cases it fulfils the former leaving the inmate the choice to work out their salvation and redemption in whatever way they can and many can’t and will never figure out a way out of these maze of life; it’s a vicious circle that is rarely broken to provide a way of escape; which many even after released remained locked in!

It’s Carnival in the city, literally everything within our walls come to a standstill. It’s got to be survival till it get normal on Wednesday next week; if they’ll be awake from the hangovers.


Survival has been on the prison food; but the meat or chicken can be scary, indulging in them will send you to the toilet all day. There’s a fascinating rice the inmates nicknamed “Arroz Misterios” (Mysterious Rice); it comes on the cart, from a distance one would think we’re dinning on Chinese fried rice, but on a closer look; we’re flippin eating half-cooked rice mixed with whatever they can lay their hands on. Like they say “A beggar has no choice”! We are left to pick and select; pick and select what want, re-cook the rice and eat. “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, that doesn’t apply to this rice, as many who feasted on it and went back home were quarantined for days while check were ran on them for what alien they must have brought within them to their home country.

Eggs, Eggs and More Eggs have become my only source of protein and something closer to meat or flesh. There’s no shortage of that here, being sick with high cholesterol; I’m always on the watch and lookout as to how many of them I eat. lately I’m beginning to wonder if eggs sent to the centre are out-of-date ones as I tend to find 5 or more spoiled and rotten eggs in each crate. Not thinking of drinking raw eggs anymore; Salmonella and infections!

Beef, Chicken and pork chops are rarely available and once they are; one is buying at cut-throat prices.

Had always thought, being a prisoner is the cheapest one could live, but not in Panama as each inmate fends for himself. All sickness is tended to through self-medication as waiting to be taken to the clinic is a dream.

A Panamanian young lad who had cardiac arrest; taken to the clinic in the heat of the afternoon. There were no staffs to attend to him; he died right there in the clinic, where he was supposed to get help. That’s another case of negligence.

Fruits and vegetables barely come in, even when they are allowed in, the prices are so scary. And neither are they allowed in during our fortnight visit.

Systematically, the authorities are depriving inmates daily needed calories to weaken us; but those with connections still bring in their stuffs and dine like Princes and queers!

Another stabbing incident in Pavilion2; among our village people. From report, it was among lovers turning green with envy and jealousy. A jealous lover stabbed a rival and sent him to the Land of No-Return! That’s one gone for Love!

Living and surviving in a prison system like this is like puzzles and riddles; one have to understand how to fit in and decipher the chaos.


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