“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” ~ Albert Einstein
Deal or No Deal; the choice is up to any one confronted with such thought. This is not the Endemol TV game show, where a contestant picks a red box, hoping the content might be larger than what the banker will offer to have the little red box back.
Behind Bars: Dealings, business or monkey business as a released mate calls it are risky and life-threatening ventures which could easily take one’s life along with one’s money.
Since my incarceration, I’ve had the opportunities to get into business with one or more inmates. Ranges, from cigarettes to whatever is imaginable; food, booze, clothes, controlled substances, and services as well (by services, I’m not talking about what our ladees inmates pals renders to their clients in the dead of the night while others are sleeping). By services, I meant; teaching English, fixing phones software (actually doing that, but without any charges, as no one is willing to pay; but can take about 30minutes of my precious prison time :-).
With so many people slammed up in such a tight space and with the meagre alimentation, poor or non-existent medical facilities and corruption abounds; comes the need for improvisation and innovations and above all; the will and desire to survive the ordeals.
They say, “necessity is the mother of all inventions”, out of the need for something, one has to make something. The government and prison authorities cares about throwing people in and the lock on the entrance door. Every other thing that happens on the inside is left for inmates to handle; which is appalling and pathetic as many amongst lacks knowledge of simple personal hygiene.
But the urge and need to survive on the inside is just one of man’s primal instinct that drives inmates in search of deals; survival through legit or illegitimate means… All boils down to survival.
Back in Renacer, I was approached by a Panamanian who escaped jail in the 80’s on homicide case, lived in America but won’t part ways with crime; deported to Panama, they found out he was a wanted man… Sent in to finished his time. Did some time in the most notorious prison in Colon and finally sent to renacer for rehabilitation; only to get his face slashed in two by the younger lads over $5 worth of cigarettes and that was the business he invited me to partnered with him; selling cigarettes and coke. I resented as I wasn’t interested. Out of shame, he finally escaped.. Without finishing his time!
Dealing inside prison is part of being and a live wire and source of survival for many inmates. But then like everything on the inside, it comes with a price. Within a split of second you can have all your investment down in the drain.. Or wake up one morning to find out that your biggest debtor who went upstairs in the guise of meeting is lawyer is actually gone on transfer to another pavilion, thus goes your money!
To make ends meet, inmates resolves in business transactions of all sorts. Everyone comes with an ingenious idea, then a copycat picks it up, then it spreads; everyone wants to survive. Some has been on the business and maintained a strong grip on their supply lines and clientele base.
Like every other business venture, it’s a win-loss situation; you deal in perishable goods like food and vegetables, you are forced to sell on credit. Non-perishables can hoard or store their goods; like my compatriots who runs a second-hand clothes boutique. He sourced his goods from inmates leaving or when new inmates are hauled in and in need of urgent money for phone calls, buy sleep space, and to purchase food. His supplies is always there. He barely sell on credit.
But those with perishable wares, are forced to trade on credit; as they walk around with a notebook and pen, scribbling down names of debtors. Crazy thing; they still sell to their debtors, freakin amazed, if someone can’t pay you when he owes you 10 bucks, will he pays when he has build up a 100 bucks credit?
Then comes the dodgy dealers; theirs is brutal as their clients are hooked on their products. Creditors are threatened with brutality and sometimes at knife-points! The dope dealers; serves the majority of inmates who are depends on their products to handle the stress of The Slammer. Many of their creditors ends up being transferred to another prison or pavilion as they had build up debts which they can’t pay.
Personally; I have ventured into the food business, partnered with my cellmate, we fried chicken (better than #KFC; thanks to google! Good southern chicken recipes)….looool:-)
But ended up with inmates owing me and with empty promises of payment. That behind me, I now carved out a niche for me; #Moonshine with a difference, thanks to my knowledge of using the internet. I was able to discovered thousands of recipes to make the perfect batches of brews; both distilled and wines/ciders from fermented fruits. The bootlegging business has been part of prison since men discovered/invented locking people up for crimes and depriving them of what makes them happy and functioning;-), well I’m okay with making my brew, others will rather go for the higher highs; shagging and getting shoved or dope.
I have been able to use different fruits and spices to make my liquor stand out from others. Since I’m not a regular brewer, I wouldn’t see it as my source of livelihood. But when I need to brew and materials available, I get me going. Selling is quite difficult as many prefer the cheap ones. When distilled, we can stored it for ages.. The only thing we fear; Search! They could be taken during one of the impromptu searches. Thus, we either drink or sell them out at give-away prices.
Lately, I haven’t been brewing as fruits aren’t allowed in, coupled with water and electricity problems. But the hardcore distillers are pretty busy with their cheap stuffs as their clientele spreads wider than our pavilion into the locals; who are 24/7 high or drunk; guess it helps with their daily stabbing and robbery within the complex. Pathetic, how prisoners who are meant to be locked up, are breaking out of their cells to go robbery inside the prison complex. I thought when I break out of my cell, I should be thinking of escaping, but not with the locals; the prison provides a safe-haven for them.
Moreover, due to opened lines somewhere, proper liquor from the streets has been coming in. Thus, inmates with dough will rather buy the real thing than buy a prison potent moonshine which could get them to the hospital as the case has been with many new drinkers; who indulges and abuse alcohol.
Since there’s no means of testing and knowing the percentage of alcohol in the liquor; they can be very potent and deadly. Many prefer to drink them pure and dry for a quicker high and intoxication. But then, the price to pay for such stupidity can be days in agonising pain of hangover; which I have witnessed.
More businesses are sprouting up to meet our daily needs; tables, stools and chairs are built from wooden crates used to bring in fruits and vegetables whenever they are allowed in. Pens are also made from those woods. Tailors, who will fix anything with needles; pillows, torn clothes, bedsheets and curtains to cover up one’s bunker (some bunks are well covered up, one is left to wonder if the owner is actually hiding a woman in there, well maybe one of our ladeeees)
There’s the shoemaker or shoe-repair lad; who was away after contracting #TB; came back after the all-clear from the doctor, but back to his former self; sniffing glue, staying up all night to do purchase and delivery. Now his former cellmate has been hospitalised with same sickness (which we just got to know that, it ain’t just tuberculosis; but the lad’s life is ticking away with every tick of the clock, his #HIV has developed into #AIDS) and all due to negligence from the authorities who has denied him medicare and treatment.
The shoe-repair lad does wonders with his needles (which doubles up as a fatal weapon; was used to stabbed an old inmate, who almost got paralysed). He stitches shoes and weightlifting belts, gives new life to anything leather that has seen his life-cycle ended but still have purpose in here. He helped me with my belts, but for every patch, I have to pay a fiver to his pharmacist who walks around with his blade threatening him.
Lately, and since our food is been cooked in the centre; inmates are now employed to work in the kitchen. The locals who started working, didn’t give the contractor time to put up his equipment, they nicked what they could. Guess it was contained.
Our lads representing us in the kitchen, are also not left out in the thriving-nicking business. Whatever that is coming in on the cart, will make its way in here in its raw form; fish, chicken, meat and anything they can deal on. Those with money will buy, but the majority barely have money for toiletries, thus, they can’t afford such luxury. Now it’s raising hairs as many are complaining. Sooner or later, it will go underground; they will be dealing with only trusted clients. But then, at a cost; we get little food, which won’t be enough for everyone.
“As long as there is the demand there will be someone who will supply it” ….. Goes with the real hardcore deals in here; Drugs and the highs….. So much in high demand and the trade is as dangerous as it is on the streets. Everyone has his clients, and the dealers are ready to pull knives to keep their clients, who mostly buy on credit. Crazy world.
At every point in time, someone is busy selling something in the centre, telephones and all its peripherals are always on display; a lad has finally set up his DIY stand, where he displays all you need to get things fixed; pipes, bowls (used to bring in food during visit), mosquito nets, plumbing glue, screwdrivers (another choice of weapon), earphones and chargers, memory cards, dvd’s and USB sticks. Just name it… The lad has anything you want.
A compatriot of mine prefers dealing with clothes, once you have clothes, bags and luggages (newcomers always go to him), shoes, belts and as far as underwears, he gives you a good bargain and display them on his stand. There are some whose families brings in clothes and other stuffs to be sold in here; thus, generating money from the inside for the outside; smart move!
Things that doesn’t sell in here; Books! Maybe Bibles will sell, as many are discovering their religious altered parts… The lads hate books and the loathe at the sight of books. Except page three girls; penthouse and playboy. That they will accept, but anything that has to do with sitting down to read, that’s punishment upon what the Panamanian had given them.
Among the locals; the only book one will find in their pavilion will be Bibles and more of it. There are just a handful of us in pavilion that make out time to read and sought after books. But the majority are contented with films and their smartphones; music, short porn video clips and home-made videos from their ladies on the streets or from the ladies in the female prison; such keep them functioning.
From all I have seen, if there will be any reform or rehabilitation; it will be a personal redemption, which rarely occurs. Many will always come back here and for same crime as they have and don’t know anything else to do. A vicious circle!
Business and Deals are our life-saving means inside here. At the apex is corruption; if it wasn’t for it, nothing would have crossed through all the security points into our pavilion. But then, we have to live with the fact, that, as the good and needed things are brought it. Other undesirables are also smuggled in; knives, guns, grenades, poisons and whatever could be used to harm others or protect one’s life (well, having a knife or any form of weapon is a kind of insurance or assurance that you are defended); I guess it’s our right to bear arms…. Maybe not the America’s way. But a prisoner’s way, since the government can’t protect us. We have the right to protect ourselves. That’s one of our unwritten laws/rules.
“Failure is not in falling down, it’s in not getting up again” – Unknown
A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials. – Chinese Proverbs