‘They want him, but we need him here’
“The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.” ~ Mark Caine
I have been on this piece for a very long while, but sheer laziness kept me from finishing it, not the lack of words or what to write. But laziness and sometimes not just being in the mood; those moments of mood swings, when you just want to lay back and watch life as it revolves around its axis and that life is our prison life, one that has brought a man of a different calibre into our midst, the man, Dr. Arthur Porter, a renowned urologists from Canada, embroiled in scandals, that has the Canadian sending out sentinels in search of him.
It’s amazing how and where the tide of life will take a man to; like a leaf that falls into a flowing river, its destination is unknown. Some men knew from the outset that they are destined for the slammer; others, out of circumstances end up with a stint in the slammer, some will go home bagging some bitter-sweet experience and lessons learned, the hard way. But, others will acquire new skills for their swift trades and becomes the artful dodgers of the underworld; with webs of contacts and new skills; the light-fingered ones, successful for a while with their new skills, but will soon become what they now call ‘re-offenders’, who will live to earn air-miles for prison time ;-), that raise a question, shouldn’t government be giving air-miles for frequent time-doers?
Prison might not be the best of places you want someone to stay (except you are the state prosecutor, the sentencing judge, the cops and finally the big brother; The Government)… And of course the victim if the person’s crime or charges was perpetrated against someone else.
Unfortunately, for those of us slammed in one of Latin American notorious prison; La Joya Carcel, Panama, there comes a time, when the need arises that you will want a certain inmate to stay because he and his services and skills are needed and in great demand; then you wish and pray that he remain a little longer. That was the case of our only qualified physiotherapist and masseur, who spent months inside for being a suspect. His case clearly shows how Panama’s judicial process flaws. The lad was always busy round the clock; massaging and strengthening bones and ached backs of inmates caused from sleeping on the concrete-slab-bed. His service was in high demand, sometimes he spends hours in a cell working on three or more inmates. Since his release, we are back to what many thought is the best alternative to solving our aches; popping painkillers and NSAID’s (apparently, recent research shows that, these painkillers aren’t friendly to our hearts, but not too many here knows about that, we’ve got bigger problems to worry about)
For hundreds of men locked up for whatever crimes they have committed or accused of committing as in most cases, these ones were blessed when a much-needed Doctor was brought in their midst. A doctor, not the quack ones we had in the past, fleecing us of our money, stealing over-the-counter drugs from the infirmary meant for their fellow inmates and selling them back to us in the population.
But with this new doctor; he is the real one when you talk of medical practice. On hearing of him on the panamanian quick-to-report crime media, and after running queries upon queries online on this one man that has raised storms in Canada, Panama and other countries. I’m confident that he is the man that will bring that little change to our health problems.
When we first saw the news on TV, not too many knew the calibre of a man he was. To most of us here, we are concern with the who is who of the underworld; many are familiar with all the bad-ass kingpins of the crime world, but someone like Dr. Porter, he had lived a different world from ours, well, until now.
Panama as we have come to know, is like the Bermuda triangle for The US, and Interpol; anybody wanted or flagged by interpol and mistakenly had a stopover in Panama is fished out and handed over. Uncle same is definitely using Panama to fish out all their wanted; which prompted Russia in a recent article to warn their citizens wanted by America about travelling to countries with extradition treaty with America, they could/will be seized/kidnapped and handed over to the yanks without any due judicial process. But the yanks would never have Panama hand over their own to any country as it was in the case of the former Italia CIA bureau chief (Mr. Lady) who had been sentenced in absentia in Italy for kidnapping a supposed-terror suspect without the knowledge of his host country (Italia)…. When Panama had him, while the Italian were preparing documents to come get their big fish, the yanks whisked him home to safety (Double-standard)
When the news came up, we weren’t expecting him to be brought here due to his person and his status in Canada, but then, one can never predict anything in Panama. We had thought he will be kept somewhere far from the stench of our misery. But then, those of us who follows news and activities within our host country, we’ve come to understand their workings; to break a man’s willpower, humiliates him; from the transitional hold-up, constantly in chains and fetters, and slammed up with the locals who are known to be abusive to foreign inmates. All these and more are to break one’s willpower and resolve, which at the long run could lead an innocent accused to accept charges he didn’t commit, all to get away from the momentarily torments.
The moment I saw the news, I scrambled online queries for all I could gather about the man himself; wow! A library full of information about this one doctor, it’ll be a big relief having him in our midst. A doctor embroiled in scandals; and one strange thing about scandals is how they tend to pile one on top of the other. But then, he is innocent till proven guilty by the Canadian court of law.
While Panama and Canada were wrangling on what to do with Doc, on hearing he is being transferred to La Joya, then we knew he will be sent to one of the three pavilions that accommodates foreign inmates. Thus, having him with us was like a game of lottery, but ours happened to be the chosen one.
Upon arrival, many took him for what most of us are or were; worthy of being locked up! But he was and is far from what most of us are or were (as many has found Christ and also found their redemption on the inside; hope it last, as I have seen bible-carrying inmates returned to the same hole within months of released; they are never rehabilitated or the government made an alternative from the life of crime for these men)
Once processed and brought in, he wasn’t taken to a cell, with an already-made bed, wash hand basin, reading table with a lamp and a chair; such luxury are what we only dream of or see in movies, ours are shadows of what we see or read of what prison should be; a place of punishment and rehabilitation. The pavilion is overcrowded, thus, on the inside, he is on his own; Makeshift bed, hammock, on the floor (in the multi-purpose hall; used for gym, church services, indoor football, basketball and also our casino royale hall). And finally, he has the option of building a small shank on top of the cell; but then with permission from inmates in the cell below. It’s a big dilemma which every new inmate faces on his first day in the pavilion.
Adapting to life on the inside is what every inmate who will in through that massive steel doors will definitely do, and that is the most difficult phase after leaving the transitional hold-up; one always leave there with the thought of going to a better place. But, there’s a bigger picture of torments that awaits every newbie that is hauled in here.
The stench of sweating men, inmates cramped together like they are in Hitler’s concentration camp, lack of sleep-space, shortage of water; these and more will unfold before the inmate who is still nervous and edgy as he’s yet to understand the moda operandi of the pavilion. Sooner or later, without being told, he will get to know and understand our unwritten codes of conduct which are unwritten golden rules that guides and keeps on the straight and narrow path; how I wished it does!
With Doc. in, we were able to arrange a space for him and a makeshift bed becomes his new bed, an eye-sore from what he has known to be bed before now; which is better than nothing. We couldn’t stand and see him scramble for floor space in the gym hall. The same hall sees a new transformation in the evening when all daily activities has ceased; mattresses, cartons, mats and whatsoever at hand are laid for the much-needed night rest. Many are aged men who will want to nap in the afternoon, but can’t do that, some naps sitting on tanks of water or on bare floor. For those of us with bunks, we suffer the same fate; noises from cellmate won’t allow one close his eyes for much-needed afternoon nap, and you can’t complain, as they all claim everyone has same rights.
Sooner as he settled in, his service was already in demand as many lined up with their never-ending problems. The funny thing among most inmates, we tend to ‘not’ think about other’s problems; as each has got enough problems to keep and give him sleepless nights, sends him to the bottles or caused relapse of habits which they want to cure, but fell back to more indulgences.
Being a doctor, he is full of one vital virtue which most inmates don’t have, but in abundance in every prison; Patience, this is needed to attack or avenge one’s enemy, needed for the never-ending judicial process. Doc definitely has that as he’s always listening to everybody that comes to him, despite not understanding the local language; Spanish! And after listening, he doles out advices to inmates on what to do. Personally, I’m a recipient of his service, as I’m always around to get information on my health and what to, what medication to take. I must confess, he does better than the prison doctors at the unstaffed clinic.
The norm in the prison with sick inmates; they are left to die before taken to the unstaffed clinic, if one comes back alive and with a date for follow-up visit. He should forget it as it will never happen; couple of weeks ago, the cop in charge of taking inmates to the clinic was here on a Saturday and demanded $15 for anyone who wants to go to the clinic. That is the worse gamble ever, one could get there and no doctors or the pharmacist is gone, there goes your $15 into the drain, same dough could feed an inmate for days. But then, an inmate with $15 will rather buy himself a bottle of moonshine or wraps of joint or lines of el Blanca to help with the pains and mood swings that comes with the torments of life on the inside.
The fortunate ones taken to the clinic, always return with medications to sell in the pavilion, my pharmacist-cellmate is their biggest client as he buys anything medicine and resell to others! Internet was the only source of queries for all the different drugs we get in here. Finally with Doc around, my mate is relaxed as Doc does what google was doing for us. Recently, he bought one that needs to be kept cool and it’s probably one sent to someone with #HIV; the lad didn’t know what to do, when Doc told him, it must be kept cool, meaning buying ice daily, my mate wouldn’t think of spending his money for friggin ice. As of the last time I checked, the syringes and vials of the drug, it is still there in his bunk. Prison business; you win some and lose most!
Since Doc came in here, I bet the doctors at the clinic will be over-the-moon as they rarely see inmates from our pavilion; many seems to get their diagnosis from Doc and get the necessary medications from our different pharmacists in the pavilion. Matter-of-factly his presence is of great importance to us and a huge relief, what he is doing now, is what the former director of the prison promised; a stand-by medical officer on the premises that will work round-the-clock to meet and attend to emergency. That promise and many others were made after the lad with HIV-AID died from negligence, the lad was sent back from the hospital to die; the doctors in the hospital knew he was dying, they literally sent him back and that was what happened to him; Dead as a door knob!
His presence in the pavilion has boosted the moral of the lads; just a few minutes chat with him tends to achieved positive effects on the lives of many.
Talking about emergency; a lad who was on a bender one night and got involved in a drunken brawl, had a mild heart-attack the next day. Apparently, this lad is a very quiet type; workouts alone and works in the kitchen, doesn’t seem to be nicking things like the others, he drinks occasionally, but when he drinks, flippin drink like an Irish; apparently, we have an Irish lad now in our midst.
When he collapsed and Doc was called up; he did what doctors should do, had him hook up on his oxygen machine, the lad was on it for about 3 or more days. Fully recovered and went about his daily routines, all because we have Doc here. If we had depended on our alarm system (banging of the doors) and finally gotten the cops in here, it would have been another story with a sad ending. We have seen, first-hand and heard such stories of negligences from panama’s prison authorities and mistreatment of prisoners; prisoners left to withered away and die.
An inmate who earns his living from making ropes of all types, sizes and breadth; turns our used ice-bags into ropes, which he uses for a whole lot of things. He makes hammocks and hangs them up on the ceiling of the pavilion like cobwebs, makes fences with same ropes, which marks the borderline and boundaries of one cell from another and other things; I will call him the spiderman of the pavilion ;-). But this spiderman missed a step and fell when he went to get ice, broke/sprained/dislocate/strained his ankle and whatever parts of his legs. The lad was wheeled out, taken to the clinic and had bandage wrapped around his swollen ankle. The doctor referred him to the main hospital in the city for x-ray and further treatment, but the cops refused to take him there; citing lack of transportation…. But we see enough police vehicles patrol our wire fence every 15mins round the clock.
Like others; his only resolve is taking medical advice from Doc, and help from his mates who are regularly massaging his legs with warm water. Whatever is done is done blindly as nobody knows what has happened inside his legs; it could have been a fracture, sprain or strain or even a dislocation, but without x-ray photos no one is sure. Such is our plight in the joint. We live in the dark and everything is done in the dark, even the sweetest taboos of prisoners 😉
Most countries would love to keep their prisoners alive to do their time, not Panama, as one dead is one less problem for the system. But thanks to Doc presence amongst us, our mortality’s rate will be greatly reduced and more chance of survival if we can get to him with the onset of any emergency in the pavilion. In the past, we had the thieving-trained nurse, who was always selling all the medical supplies from the infirmary; dude rarely touch any sick inmate, you are sick and in need of medication; he offer to sell what is freely ours, never gave anything freely; to him and many like him, it’s strictly business. We’re glad that he is gone, when he left, he sneaked out as he wasn’t in good terms with many here. Even on the outside, he is more evasive than he was on the inside, I’ve kept contact with him since he left, but rarely tell me where he is; probably scare of payback from people he had stepped on their toes. Where he comes from, most dispute are settled with pulling of triggers of plunging of knives; there’s nothing like civility, freakin archaic and barbaric societies.
It’s couple of months since Doc was hauled in here, on the state of our health and well-being, I must say he has contributed immensely to what we are now. His advices has made many realised and focus on what could be their problems or what could have brought about their early demises, in the past many will juggled with symptoms and walked to my cell to meet my pharmacist-cellmate, whose major preoccupation is to sell his merchandise. Tell him how you feel, he sells you his products, sometimes overhearing him dabbles what his products does, I always intervened, on some good days, he calls me to run a google search on some of his wares; to have an idea of what he’s buying from inmates who are in dire need of cash and are forced to sell off their clinic-issued medications or ones sent by families or Embassies.
One of the recent deaths, had walked in the night before he died and got some Aspirin; he was feeling strong, nagging headache, if Doc was here, I believe he would have taken his #BP and been able to diagnosed a better remedy for the dead man. Well, probably that was the man’s destiny and fate; despite waiting to be released. After his death, his son and fellow companions were released a week or two later. C’est la vive….. 😦
So far, so good, for now we are contented with Doc. in our midst, but for how long will he be here; The Canadians want him and he might as well be granted bail to remain outside and fight his case, whenever he is gone, his absence will be felt by many, specially those who are his patients with chronic ailments and those he makes rounds to their cells to check on them daily.
Since Doc. came, surprisingly we haven’t had any serious case to raise our clanging alarm system to alert the cops for a sick inmate who is in urgent need of medical attention. Most cases are attended to by Doc and the next day they are taken to clinic where medication are given if there is any or if those lazy-ass nurses are willing to attend to them.
#Christmas is around the corner, and it’s been a fast-paced journey as time seems to flies when one is busy with time. Doc. has been in for couple of months now. If he’s here for Christmas, then it will be his 1st with us and his first in the jungle; there always a first time for everything 😉
As a doctor, he knows the importance of exercises more than most inmates here. Wakes up very early for bout of cardio as he walked the field, and lately he’s adding weights and resistance training to his exercise regime, which I believe will help alongside his treatment.
So far, so good, Doc is doing what any doctor in this situation will do; helping those he can. He has recently moved from his cell to a more spacious built-up cell around the gym hall. He’s more comfortable up there than his previous cell which is like a five-star hotel’s kitchen; cooking, frying, baking and distilling round-the-clock. The Chinese who had a near-fatal brawl in his previous cell, moved into Doc’s old cell and these LiL mings are cooking and frying all day. While the Jamaicans are busy baking, frying dumpling and distilling our potent liquor for the buoyant and vibrant market in the centre.
Thus, he moving from that cell is a great relief for him.
The Americans made an impromptu sweep of all their wanted in last Thursday nocturnal visa. We don’t know what surprises Canada has rolled up on their sleeves for Doc, if they will take to the yanks way of doing things; by-passing all legal protocols when it comes to getting what they want. For now, Doc is definitely fighting his extradition. Whatever will be the outcome, we know, the time he spent with us here was probably the best for the lads as many benefited from his skills and services in one way or another.
Like everyone of us here; we play the number games, everything about a prisoner’s life is all about numbers and figures. One’s sentence comes in months, then comes the waiting and counting. Our days are lived in numbers, even in some prisons, a prisoner loses his name and takes up a number which he will be known until the day of his freedom; then will he ceased to be numbered.
Thus, his days are well-numbered, who knows when he will leave, but then, he will sure be missed for all his services. But for now, we will enjoy his services as he’s here with us.
Talking about numbers; whoever thought of attaching numbers to prisoners must have been a genius. Inmates are so attached to numbers, that our cells, walls, bedsides and newly cemented floors or walls are marked with numbers which holds meanings of importance to the creator. It could a birthday that took place while he was banged up, could be a date he lost an important person in his life (mostly gang members), could be numerical gang codes, or inmates keep tab with how much time left from their sentences. The favourite games amongst inmates here are Dominoes, paquet (Dice game), cards games and some of us while away our time with Sudoku, which is pretty fun. The other ways numbers are used amongst inmates are on the dark side; timing for a strike is very important and well-chosen and calculated; once gangs struck on their foes at the appropriate time they knew they will cross paths, and that was when the foes returned from visit and the attackers were allowed to walk out. Which was a wrong move by the cops; ended in 4 death inmates and visiting families saw enough slashing and blood that day!
Thus, Doc like everyone of us is in the numbers game; waiting and counting days as the roll by. Sooner than he thought, days becomes weeks, weeks becomes months and months eventually become years upon years. One is never tired of patiently waiting. At the end, like my cats, whom a fat reward of pure juicy rat meat awaits them after long hours of patiently waiting for one wrong turn by the unsuspecting rat.
If we are waiting for anything, doubt if it’s the rats that are chewing their way into everything they come across. But one thing I know everyone under the pavilion’s roof are waiting for now is #FREEDOM!
When we try to help others, when we concern ourselves with their lives and what we can do to provide assistance, we are showing ourselves our inner strength and our courage. It’s easy to walk past, and do nothing. It takes courage to face them and acknowledge their situation. It takes a great deal of inner strength to reach out and help them.
[Those who view everything as a result, neither a success or failure, tend to do a little better. Even what most would call a disaster can be a learning moment, and therefore, a success of some sort. Every successful result can be built on the ruins of one’s past failures, like they say; nearly every major city in Europe is built on the rubble and ruins of a prior city. Thus, the lesson; Learn, and build again. Not every failure is a failure if you learn from it and never repeat it again.]
“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” – Dale Carnegie