Archive for December, 2012

Living Behindbars; Dead in the Jungle.

Posted in Behind Bars in Panama on December 11, 2012 by doingtimeabroad

Door vele achtergelaten maar blijf strijden.

Hope is not pretending that troubles don’t exist. It is the hope that they won’t last forever.

“You may not be responsible for being down. But you are responsible for getting up.” -Jesse Jackson

Gradually I’m becoming nocturnal like my feline friends; the cats becomes very active at night, they play, hunt and mates at night and they can be an adoring pain-in-ass; climbing and exploring one’s body. I rather have them around me, than have some boring inmates.

It’s been a long while since my last blog, my time is spent hustling for things I shouldn’t be bothered about; Food and water. Well, in Jail, those basics should be taken care of by the prison authorities, but not in Panama. Failure to fend for oneself will lead to hunger and eventually sickness; seen Johnny Gringo (an American Vietnam Veteran, he’s a walking skeleton; self-mutilation with blades and cigarettes, and has been on bouts of hunger strikes. And his embassy won’t come to his aid.)

Since, the government barely think of us, we work for our survival by all means and at all cost. Sometimes, inmates trampled on each other for their survival; we become greedy, the system turned many to hoarding things that they don’t really need. When one of my cellmates left, he had stashed of expired medications that he had never open. Many stocked and piled up medications believing they will get sick some day; and they always get sick, sometimes their stash of medications will be of no help. And since there’s no chance of being taken to the unstaffed clinic when one falls sick, many resolved to stashing.

My last appointment for my medication was on the 1st of May 2012, can’t believe it is 03:09:24 on SUN 9 DEC 2012 and there hasn’t been any call up for that appointment; such is our plight, at least they need us alive to serve out our punishment and do our time, dead men don’t do time! Well, in Panama, they don’t give a sh!t, one dead inmate is one mouth less.

The last man who died after 1hour, 30 minutes of knocking, banging and waiting for the cops to open the door would have survived if they system had a quick response team or any contingency plan in place. After his death, memo were sticked on the wall to give us patio; like always, after an inmate dies, we are promised heaven and earth, but they are all empty promises. From what was on the memo; the patio will strictly be for the old and sick….there we go again, who isn’t sick among us? A pavilion build for 216 inmates but with more than 500 inmates, I think we all need the patio. But then, line of communication from the top to the cop stationed at our pavilion is always distorted; everyone always have a different interpretation of what he hears. At the end, we have not gotten any patio. Asi es la vida.

Quite a lot is happening inside the system and amongst us; the old inmates are leaving in numbers and new inmates are hauled in on daily basis; these ones are very edgy and ready to break those unwritten rules that has guided us for a pretty long time. There’s spiralling of violence amongst us is rising with the rising of the sun, things that used to be taken lightly had to go down with punches or brandishing of choices of weapons. The situation has led many European countries to speed up the repatriation processes for their incarcerated citizens with exception of us; The Hague! political wrangling is keeping us behind the bars of Panama jail, despite the Panama authorities haven’t approved our repatriation. At the end, we are on our own!

With every new day, the situation in the pavilion is getting harder, the government is busy building what they called “The Mega Prison”; one that will accommodate 5000 inmates, but then, it will triple that number; the prison system in Panama is like an abyss; it’s never filled or the authorities lacks knowledge of its capacity. I pray we won’t be around upon completion.

The many afflictions facing us increases with each day, with promises of changes comes nothing; water which is #1 necessity comes sporadically, if not for the frequent and heavy rainfall, it will be a sorry state. With incarceration comes the desire to survive; a good look at the roof of the pavilion; one will notice pipes and buckets or cut-out gallons to collect the rain water when it rains; improvise, adapt and overcome, those three words are all we need to overcome our water problem. But then, comes the summer/dry season, when the heavens won’t be smiling or crying, then we are back to square one.

With the water problems comes electricity problem, it’s appalling that a prison can be thrown into total darkness for hours and at night and there’s no back-up source of energy; sitting upstairs at my sentry spot, I could see the cops running helter-skelter around the perimeter and behind the fence. The pavilion wasn’t build to accomodate the more than 500 inmates, thus, we’ve overwhelmed the electric output meant for the pavilion; every cell has more than 10 electrical appliances; Fans, stoves, televisions, radios and boom-boxes, and coffe makers, sandwich makers, blenders, lcd’s and plasma TV’s, water boilers, grills and over (for those living on the luxurious side). And finally our communication gadgets; smartphones and old-school phones, tablets, laptops and made-in-China phones with 4 sim cards slots + television + radio with none working; pheeeeeeeew China.

Since the last death; the man was in my cell the night before he kicked the bucket. He had purchased all the blood pressure medications and aspirin from my pharmaceutical cell mate who largely depends on my providing information on the functions of each of his products. Whenever a potential clients walks in; I’m called up to listen to his symptoms, then I’ll ask questions and suggest which medication is better; it’s a crazy world in here. But thanks the heavens for several medical encyclopaedias, journals, reference books on diseases (most are in Dutch) and the father of all; The Internet! wedmd.com, Mayo Clinic and many others government sites have been of great use and benefits as I get information on a wide range of queries. Sometimes my information does no good as many out of fears are abusing even prescribed drugs; especially antibiotics! They just pop them in when they feel like, since the system is not doing anything to help us; self-medication is the only way forward and if we’re to survive.

We finally had our anticipated search; the locals had seen cops after cops stormed their pavilions and there’s always something found after each search; Stashes of firearms and rounds of ammunitions, knives and whatever could be used to cause bodily harm. But it was our turn to host the mundiale (as we christened the big search); left my sentry and signal spot from the top of the cells and barely covered myself in sleep when the catcalls began. Then we all knew our D-Day has come. We were given 10-20 minutes of grace to finished with our hiding (flippin playing hide and seek with cops); all striped search, squats for any concealed substance to drop (that they would have politely asked for those lads on the receiving end as they frequently get stuffed).

Hours was spent ransacking the cells and whatever was deemed illegal were taken, many brewers lost tanks of fermenting moonshines, phones, tablets, knives and enough chargers were taken. Many cells were trashed beyond recognition; as no stone was left unturned. Some Dumb criminals still remained dumb as they left their phone switched ON with funny ringtones. They definitely lost their phones and those that stashed phones with them. After the search, our lost were counted while the cops left with their loots. My phones and other stuffs survived, but lost my earphone (and it was a normal earphone; allowed), but the lad whom I lent it to, gave it to another who was careless and the cops took it from and dude didn’t protest. Glad it went good for my fellow cell mates; but then with a price as we paid to avoid deep search. It’s business as usual in a corrupt system.

We pray and hope that this search will be the last for this year. When it comes, it comes with stress. And I bet, they also had it tough; the population has spiralled out of control with structures on every little available space like a shanty town. Little does the authorities know that this place is a ticking-time bomb; past incidents in many Latin American countries should serve as warning of what happens when prison population spiralls out of control; the fire in Honduras, the riot and escape in Mexico and many others and the recent escaped and failed escape attemps right here in Panama at the Female prison and here in La Joya. All these should act as warning but nobody gives a sh!t.

Fast Forward: 02:33:59 on TUE 11 DEC 2012:
Monday was our visit day, and the weekend was like a carnival zone; inmates became revellers and the mood was high from Friday evening through 5am on Monday morning when I left my sentry and signal reception post to my bed (the last set were still snort and cooking their cracks and they took over my cats domain). One of my mates staarted drinking from Friday and ended on Sunday evening, another in my cell, whom under the influence of alcohol will tell his life couldn’t keep his mouth shut all through Sunday/Monday morning; heard him calling our shemale who asked him if he needs a condom. Well, he was helped to his bunk. When I got in, he was dead asleep. Thank goodness, there wasn’t any incident.

The incident came in on Monday, and in the form of a deadly hangover; one of my cell mates, binged on the pure distilled liquor all through on Sunday night, but on Monday he was so sick and cold; that alarm had to be raised; took his Blood pressure, seems fine. When the cops came for him and later found out why the dude is sick, they brought him back. We have made soup for him. By Tuesday, he should be fine. He drank out of depression and frustration; Missus back home is misbehaving. Hardknock Life!

News came in on Monday that the crazy inmate has been refused treatment; and he will be sent back to the pavilion or they will keep him together with the Jamaican inmate who is living with the HIV/AIDS infected local inmates. The Jamaican condition look worst than when he was taken away from here. He was moved out on the same day as my compatriot. But his condition is deteriorating rapidly. Then there’s the Gringo (an American Veteran); he believes he’s the son of God, if he’s not taken away, he might be the next to kick the bucket as he refuses food.

So many things are going wrong within the walls of the pavilion: many can’t stand the pressure from the conditions; no sleep space, many are having a very rare form of skin infections, the rate of hypertension is increasing with our population and the mother of it all; poor hygienic condition. We’re literally breathing second hand air from each other and each other’s body odour as there’s no space between us. One is forced into a lying position in most part of the day as there is no room for movement.

Like Charles Darwin rightly said; “It’s the survival of the fittest”, but in Jail; it could be the survival of the highly connected and the well-armed.

Our fight to get our repatriation back home continues, our fates hangs on the Dutch judicial system.

The man who has done his best has done everything. ~ Charles M. Schwab

“Every moment wasted looking back, keeps us from moving forward.” ~ Hillary Rodham Clinton

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes.

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