Prison; Where choices are made.

“Who knows what you could accomplish in life if you made more of the right choices along the way?” – Dr. Shad Helmstetter (#Choices)

Life’s decisions and choices made eventually shapes our lives; our failures and successes are results of choices taken during decision making moments. Then, even in moment of failures, it is decisions taken and choices made that can bring a standing ovation from what one can accomplish after a great fail.

For a prisoner whose hope is in the future, and who couldn’t live on his past glories or failures, decision-making and choices made while on the inside, will be a ground-breaking factor to determine what he will make of what life will lay out before him upon his re-entry into the society; thus, the urgent need for rehabilitation and preparation to wean him off his old habits and life of crime while on the inside. Such rehabilitation will be highly received by inmates who are willing to trade their vices for a life worth living.

Prison; an institution set up to punish and correct, seemed to be doing only the former as a large number of released inmates end up coming back after a brief stay on the outside; probably there’s something on the inside they love which couldn’t be found on the outside. Doubt if there’s any here that I find appealing.

From my ongoing learning and acquiring of experience from my time in the slammer; I’m beginning to understand the dynamics that can cause a shift or change in the life of an inmate and one that can also send his life on a parallel course to what is just and right.

“It is only when you exercise your right to choose that. you can also exercise your right to change.” – Dr. Shad Helmstetter

Crime committed and eventually slammed in, not much of choices are left for you, but decision-making is what you can control. The same system that had you slammed, will/should determine the choices and pathways an inmate could take and his decisions will be based on those choices laid out before him; to be reformed or not to be reformed!

Many of my co-inmates were born and breed in a world where survival is based on crime; like a recent article on The Mail, a British retiring judge suggested that babies should be taken away from criminals as he has defended and prosecuted generations of criminals; crime seems to run in the blood and families. In his more than 40 years on the BAR, he has dealt with grandfathers, fathers and children of different families. Such are the plight of many of my co-inmates, somehow he is right, but then, a baby has no knowledge of good or evil, but that same baby will eventually grow up to know crime; either through his parents or from peers.

Many of my co-inmates came into such world; many held their first gun aged 10 or less; ain’t talking about water gun, but head-bursting guns. Some took their first aim at human flesh at such a tender age…. Now hacking rivals, enemies head off ain’t no big deal, it’s part of their lives. The were born into it, they breathed and lived that life; to take that life away from them will be an intensive work; rehabilitation! They want to have a purpose in life and a sense of belonging which gangs is providing and the society couldn’t provide.

In with them, I’m part of them, sooner than I thought, I have bonded with many of them after years on the inside. What the media portray of these lads ain’t what they are; many are seeking for ways they can get out of the vicious circle, but the very system that had them slammed failed to provide a means of escape from that life. Thus, after a spell in the joint and self-redemption; mostly true religious involvement, back on the streets with nothing to do, then comes the relapse and the cold-turkey sets in, everything spiralled back to where it all began; The vicious circle of crime.

“One does not have to be evil to commit a crime. You just have to be able to lie to yourself”… And then the crime.. thought of Bernie Madoff; a respectable Jewish father, but will be burning 150yrs behind bars. He was evil or violent like those Mexican chaps chopping people’s head off for missing drugs.

What’s robbery, anyway? Simply a matter of moving money around. An accounting problem. Bankers do it all the time. Our so-called Bankers who are stealing millions and most, if not all are respectable members of the society; no criminal records, yet many are walking freely. Such is crime in a nutshell! But one who knows nobody winds up in the joint for moving money or whatever he had moved; Robbery!

Our walls; the very walls of the centre are part of our lives, survival partly depend on one’s bonding with the walls and also a medium of communication; twitter, Facebook! Back against the wall gives you a good view of your surrounding as you stand on guard against any would-be assailant. Gang codes and boasts, bible verses, and witless epitaphs are all scribbled on our walls. The walls themselves tell our stories, agonies of fallen men and men who are failed by the system. Not until you are behind bars, you will never understand the importance of walls! A new inmate hauled in, can read the writings on the walls and figure out who rules and who is in control.

Like some ancient tribe people still living by ancient social rules, violence, as opposed to dialogue, is the most common means of problem solving, such is the way of life behind bars; most inmates tend to forget that patience is the most abundant virtue amongst prisoners, but many don’t think of it when it comes to dispute. They prefer instant action, which eventually lead to chains of reactions.

FRI 14 JUN 2013:

Sometimes the mind is willing, but the body is temporarily down; been locked up, left with same routines, one easily gives up. I have seen men walked in and swore heaven and earth on what they will do while on the inside. Some will jump on the religious bandwagon, others will try to restrain themselves from their indulgences, but sooner than they thought…. Relapse and they fall back to what they were meant to be. It takes one’s gut, hatred and love to live true to one’s resolutions while in the belly of the beast. Almost four years inside, I have seen men fallen and never rise again, once you fell on the streets, and meant to be redeemed on the inside; but the inside is a breeding field and a school to learn vices ain’t thought in any school known by man.

Reading of re-offending rates in America and other Western countries, one is left to wonder why prisons are build in the first place. Maybe for those doing life and on death row, but for an inmate booked in for petty theft; the authorities just sent him to a school of higher learning. Where he will be faced with life greatest choices; to change or be changed!

Then comes the impact of long term lock up; psychologically devastation which many will never recover from; even years after released.

Most discussions on one’s first day are usually based on why you are here, then you are shown your errors and why you failed and fell. 1st lesson; you’ve known what happened. Then comes life choices laid out before you like a buffet table, to accept what happened and learn from the experience, prepare yourself for future attempts if you make it out alive; like the quote; “One lesson learnt from my mistake, I can repeat them again without failure”.

Alternately, firmly decide for a turn around; the latter which is always difficult. But the choice is yours!

On the inside, life is not laid on a platter of buffet, where choices are so numerous that one doesn’t know what to choose. We’ve got little or no choice to what is laid before us, the one choice one will make on his entry; the choice to survive, by defending and guarding his life even at the cost of the very life he is meant to guard.

That was me when I bled and my BP shot above roof top; downed on me, that what had happened to many could happen to me; #Stroke! But then, the cops don’t give a sh!t, as one gone is one less problem. Glad I scaled through that episode, not many did or will; by grace we live. Even the highly connected aren’t exempted, when the ripper comes calling; one survival is based on sheer luck!

22:16:07 on FRI 14 JUN 2013!

Finally perfected on my homemade wine; a friend won Welch’s 100% grape juice from our weekly lottery, in which I won two containers of powder gatorade (my daughter’s birth date). Did a good job and made a close-to-perfect red wine, came out dry, not sweet like most moonshine. Had some Europeans tried it (my connoisseurs), close to the real thing. A cup with my dinner wasn’t bad. Birthday bash as many are marking their birthdays today; thus drinking and music, but our curfew is in place, no music after 9pm…. Hope the lads respect that.

“Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.” – Tehyi Hsieh

One will wonder why prisons are always refer to as “The Belly of the Beast”….. It has no bounds, an endless abyss; ready to take and consume anything; mostly the accused, as Panama doesn’t need trials before hauling in people into their overcrowded prisons. Its got no respect for personalities, the elites, academics, powerful, and even those that societies couldn’t tamed. Prison is a crossroad for many who had never thought they will drink and mingled with the scumbags of societies. Life is laid and lived on two parallel roads, prisons and jails are where travellers on these roads crosses paths, meeting on an equal platform.

The choices we make by accident. are just as important as the choices we make by design.” – Dr. Shad Helmstetter

00:39:43, on SUN 16 JUN 2013!

It’s officially #FathersDay today; while many fathers will be getting some warm thank you cards, wondering what father like me slammed up somewhere in the belly of the beast will get. Glad, that I still commend love and affection from my bubbly kids, many here had their loved ones turned their backs on them the moment they failed and fell; nothing to look forward to, their future is nothing different from their past and present. And neither is the system ready to change that state of equilibrium; these ones will continually live in this vicious circle till the same viciousness claims their lives.

Our centre seems to be attracting all manners of individuals; we’ve had the good, the bad and the ugly and we are getting more people on daily basis. When our Doctor mate came in, not too many knew who and what he is, many relied on Panama lying media for news. But after a few click and google search; then did I realised that we have someone of importance in our midst. Despite his medical conditions, he’s gradually adapting to our way of life on the inside. And it wasn’t long before inmates started lining up for advices; lamenting their 1001 medical needs.

After a good observations and listening to those that came calling; he told me, to meet our urgent medical needs, we will need about seven types of medications (these will help solved some of our urgent medical needs). He advised me to make an inventory of who has/stocked which drugs. But then, the stockists are our pharmacist who paid to have their wares in and resell for profit; like my cell mate, he’s not ready to dole out his hard-to-come in drugs for free. And many will rather buy a roll of joint or a line of angel dust than pay something cheaper for medication; they want it for free!

Another high profile new member in the belly of the beast; is a popular musician from Colombia; wouldn’t know why he is here, but he came in at the right time, as the lads are preparing him for an indoor concert to commemorate father’s day later today. My pharmacist cell mate is a big fan as he is always listening to his music. Teased him, that he doesn’t have ask me to download his songs again, since the musician is here, he can always have him sing live for him. How happy can one convict be; locked up with your favourite musician :-), all he needs now is moonshine and a steaming pot of soup for the hunger that comes after drinking. Looooooool

From info coming in, it seems next week will bring more people; hope the pavilion is ready to receive and accommodate them.

According to Barry Schwartz, an American psychologist and professor at Swarthmore College. Schwartz countered that an abundance of choice is a bad thing.

He argues that having this much choice has three effects:

1 – Your decisions require more effort

2 – Mistakes in choice are more likely

3 – The psychological consequences of making a mistake are more severe.

(culled from an online article)

The above excerpt from an article I read on decision making and how choices can shape one’s life and affects his or her destiny. For an inmate, convicted and locked up; one thing that constantly runs through his mind is #Escape! But taking that decision hangs on the realities of where one is locked up; the choice of being shot dead by the gun-wielding soldiers who are too fat to run and being snitched on our singing inmates who will do anything for favours from cops.

Years behind bars and out, then back in within months, there could be a break in that circle, if the authorities has programmes in place to help inmates make the right choices that will weaned them off their past; though the past hangs around them like smoke. But with the right and effective programmes made available and proper enforcement; the crime circle of repeated offending could be broken.

For now, it’s self-redemption; an inmate is left to decide what he wants. Despite the tranquillity in the pavilion; many are fully ready for the day it will come. Stashed knives and other weapons are laying in wait for days when they will be needed, others decided and chose to have their cells locked up before hitting their bunks, my cell is open 24/7 as I don’t harbour any enemy for now.

Decision to keep distance is one choice I made since my day one has paid me off and I’m happy with it. There are so many things one will love to do, but dealing with people from different cultures is very hard as they reacts differently under stress and most time, a lovely game of cards or dice could have inmates pulling knives.

Our ordeals goes on and on…. Life in the belly of the beast is like a stare into abyss; the more you stare into an abyss, it stares back intensely at you!

Finally, Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers incarcerated for one reason or the other; you will make your kids more proud if you owned up to what you did, brace it and come out stronger. We have little or no choices other than one to come out alive! But what we can savage to heal our broken heart; we will decide and choose. #FreeWillBeing!

“How would your life be different if…You stopped allowing other people to dilute or poison your day with their words or opinions? Let today be the day…You stand strong in the truth of your beauty and journey through your day without attachment to the validation of others” – Steve Maraboli (Life, the Truth, and Being Free)

“But until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.” – Stephen R. Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change)

“In the end that was the choice you made, and it doesn’t matter how hard it was to make it. It matters that you did.” – Cassandra Clare (City of Glass)

Choose Wisely!!!


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