“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” – John C. Maxwell
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs
[Two Years BehindBars; Looking for that ray of light at the end of the tunnel]…… Two years ago, I wrote that as a title to a blog entry, had my hopes and faith that someday, keeping a positive mind along the way, there’ll definitely be that ray of light and of hope at the end of this tunnel of uncertainty.
“We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once” – Calvin Coolidge.
Our journey through and within the walls of panama’s notorious prisons; #LaJoya and #LaJoyita is truly like one through a darkened tunnel full of uncertainties, not knowing what awaits one in the tunnel as it goes deeper and darker; such is life in prison, many walked in naïve, while others came back to continue from where they stopped upon released. How each will be upon released is based on how they had lived when doing time.
Over fifty two months ago, I began my journey, others tagged along as they met the same fate that brought me here. Some were before me, who has got stories to tell, together we are the stories of men locked up, isolated from the supposed real world. But on the inside, it’s a world beyond walls of concrete, lived on the edge with one’s back always against the wall, a world where one constantly watches over his shoulder, and a world where words are supposed to be thought over before utterances are made; but in many cases, some tend to forget these basic rules that has hold true to prisons worldwide.
They say, there is only one force that hold true to the underworld; the law of gravity…. “what goes up, must come down”. History has taught us in the likes of Alcapone, Pablo Escobar, The Gray Brothers of East London, the cowardly Dudus (the yardie rain maker of Kingston who handed himself to the Americans and was handed down a 23 years sentence), Zwarte Cobra of The Netherlands, and many king pins who had risen to the apex of their careers but that force of gravity seemed to have brought them grumbling down.
Emails, phone calls, letters and publications in the Dutch media caused some storms and got the attention of the Dutch public to our plights; the government refusal to have us repatriated back to The Netherlands.
After so many bureaucratic wrangling, involving lawyers, NGO’s and other organisations that cared to listen to our side of the story and finally, the country’s former ombudsman who got involved after we had emailed him, telling our stories as it’s been repeated over and over to all those who matters. He finally, wrote and asked the minister of justice, the reason for his refusal to have us back home. In his letter to the minister, he had asked for a response by 1st of February 2014.
Finally on the 5th of February, the minister responded with an overhaul of the #WOTS process (the process that sees all Dutch detainees outside The Netherlands been returned back home to either continue their time or set free). It’s a pity, the ombudsman who fiercely fought our case resigned and left for another job in Brussels (EU).
Whatever will become of this new change of law, that will see Dutch detainees in Latin American prison have their fair share of been repatriated as other EU nationals, he will be credited for his role in bringing about this change. We had exhausted all the legal means to get the minister, and none worked, until the former ombudsman stepped in and then came the change.
Though, it is yet to be signed in law (which takes a long while), but we know from the minister’s response that Dutch detainees in Panama, Venezuela and other Latin American countries won’t be left to rot and withered away. They like other Europeans who aren’t left behind by their governments would enjoy the benefits of serving out their sentence under humane conditions, access to medicare and proper rehabilitation process. And most importantly, close to our families and loved ones and also enjoy the benefits of visits, which we don’t get here.
At the end, we might not be beneficiaries to this good news, as most of us have almost serve out our sentences here. Moreover, a new repatriation process has to be initiated, which can take forever to get processed. In the future anyone that will be dumb enough to get locked up here might enjoy a faster process and get to go home and continue with their sentences.
Thus, the good news that we can now be repatriated to continue out time back home is the bacon of hope, the ray of light in this never-ending tunnel of uncertainty.
“People who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed, and the more they find a way to succeed. Similarly, when someone is failing, the tendency is to get on a downward spiral that can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” – Tony Robbins
MON, FEB 17, 2014
Lately, I tend to wake up at the same time every day to use the loo and end up going upstairs to get online. Some days I sleep early to wake and get upstairs. So far, so good, but competing with many routers hanging on the ceiling of the pavilion like little spaceships is something my phone can’t keep up. But the good thing with our sleep-loving-prisoners, while they are snoring away their time, the air is free for those of us who will braced the cold and sit out with phones in hands as we search for signal.
Had an earlier day in the gym which was scanty as most lads were out for our fortnightly visit. Like other visit days, there will be lots to eat, sell and drink (if proper liquor was smuggled in). A cell mate went out, though a foreigner, he’s married to a local lady and has lived all his life here in Panama. Whatever edible he has today will be shared, though I do pass some of the things they bring in.
Had an intensive #Back and #Biceps workout, trained with some mates who are full of zeal and energy on one day and gone with the wind of joints on other days. They are needed for some exercises that need a partner; bench press and squats.
The cop on duty allowed me out for a brief spin on the open, with the sun at its zenith, it was refreshing. Did some stretches and savoured the moment.
Back in and in need of fuel for my knackered muscles, the lads had rice and fried chicken sauce, made from what a mate got from visit. Wasn’t bad for a much-needed refuel. Still waiting for what I asked a released mate to get for me, hope he doesn’t play me a fast one, as many are known for such games.
Today, a special day for me, as my daughter turns 9 years old today. How many birthdays have I missed, so many to recall. Each year, I pray to be at the next one, but never made it to as they mark their earth day. I’m glad Schat is able to keep it together and keep the kids going and their performance at school and with their vocational studies. On her birthday, Schat became the devil advocate as she made my little girl sign a contract on her birthday that she will keep to her routines; piano practice, homework, help her siblings, help mummy with chores in the house, her swimming lessons and always be of good behaviour. Well, for a girl of nine years, she is getting to know that nothing good come easy. She will be getting a used blackberry as her birthday gift from Schat. At least I will get to chat with her once in a while. Won’t say I hope to be home by her next birthday, but if I’m home, then it’s good! Wishes ain’t horses, but not a crime to make one! #Hope!
TUE, FEB 18, 2014
Another early day upstairs to get online, met an inmate who had an all-night vigil to update his Samsung Galaxy S3 OS, lad stayed up and downloaded over 500MB of data with our poor signal.
Spent few hours before heading downstairs, tried sleeping but couldn’t as some Ass turned on the water pump around 5:30am and got my mate cleaning to switched on the light. Decided to take the day off from training so I can get some good sleep.
As it would be, the gym was closed for the day as the Colombians were having a sit-in hunger strike protest aimed at their government back in Colombia. When Colombians (apparently, they make about 90% of foreign prisoners in Panama) are repatriated back home, they are locked up for another lengthy period of time, despite Colombia having an overcrowded prison system. From those who had gone, messages getting us, is that they had to pay for a sleeping spot on the floor and gangs controls the prison system. Everyone want to do his time at home, but when where you is better than home, then you rather stay put. The Guatemalans prefer finishing their time here as their prison system is one of the worst in Latin America.
Thus, as a sign of protest, food were not allowed in for the Colombians. Others that wanted to eat could get their food, cells without Colombians got enough food. Though majority of them definitely dined well, despite the strike. In my cell, they all opted for the no-food, exception of three Colombians who can’t be without food. When food came on the cart, three portions are served to my cell.
After the strike, the lad took to their dice, cards, and other forms of game to keep them busy.
It’s relatively quiet in the pavilion, it seems we are at peace with each other, but despite the tranquillity and deep down in our hearts, there are sworn enemies who won’t cross paths, always on the look-out for each other’s next move; such is the life in prisons.
Just heard from one of my cellmates who would’ve been better off working in the media as he’s very good in relaying gossips and intels going around the pavilion. Through the lad, I’ve come to know the little skeletons in everyone’s closets 😉 young lad whose childhood has been robbed from him through violence, growing up in a place the rich kids wear bullet proof vest to school; #GangsWar #DrugWar.
He asked me, if I know that a former tattoo artist from Puerto Rico who was sent packing from our pavilion to pavilion 8 is dead….. He was involved in a fight with another inmate, pulled jagged edge knife and threatened the lad. After much meetings, his pals wanted him to stay, but the majorities vetoed he should be sent out. And he was a heavy dope-head; snorts anything white and always rolling joints. The lad died of Heart attack. If he was still here, probably Doc would’ve saved him. Too bad! that’s one problem solved for the authorities, one less worries…. May his soul #RIP!
WED, FEB 19, 2014
Another early day, upstairs at our signal spot, which was astounding as signal was at its best. Refreshed my news apps, got enough news to keep me busy when doing nothing.
A mate who had twenty cops sent after him, was picked up for his interview with the fiscal; spent almost a year waiting for this day and yet to have a court date. Left me wondering if a year was spent on investigation by the fiscal! Shows how efficient they are, I hope he slips through as he did before. The lad got banged up after his old pals ratted him out.
When he came back later at night, starving after spending all day without food; only the bread he ate before leaving. He was grilled and bombarded for three odd hours with gruelling questions which he believes came from the Fiscalia-drogas office. Whatever the outcome of his case, hope he learn from this experience.
Hit the gym for a quick #HIIT Chest and #Abs workout, was gruelling but love it, though in sciatica pain, I made a good workout. Later went out to stretch under the warming sun. Needed it!
Back in, had a bowl of oats + banana with peanut butter which I got from the Shylock grocer who’s probably going to build a glass house with the money is ripping off from us with his over-the-top prices. Charged me twice the price for a pot of 400g peanut butter.
While in the gym, the president of the pavilion wheeled in a wheelbarrow filled with bags of chicken parts; wings, drumsticks and whole chickens. Wasn’t meant for us, well, could be for us, if we are willing to pay. Those chicken definitely came from the kitchen
We did get chicken soup later in the day, but there was not a piece of chicken, instead we had shredded chicken parts and more chicken skin. Some do feast on the skin, while others just go for the soup.
Spend the rest of the day upstairs by the signal spot, stayed till 2am before descending down to my bunk for the much-needed sleep.
THU, FEB 20, 2014.
Early headcount; barely had enough sleep when I heard my mates scrambling off from their bunks. Then the PA system went off as well with a wake up call for our weekly headcount. Quickly changed into my gym clothing, rushed me a cup of tea, brush up and wash off he sleep from my face before heading out. The tap was running, so the mate cleaning had to stay back and be the last to leave the cell, after filling up few tanks.
Outside, cold and windy, the rays of the sun was breaking through the early morning clouds as inmates gathered in groups, some with cups of coffee in hands, chattering whatever they felt need to trash out. Others were busy engaging in one or another forms of exercises; walking, jogging, stretching, push-ups, pull-ups on the welded bar behind the pavilion. Started with a few brisk-walking and took some spins on the field, did some good stretches to ease my sciatica pains, and few abs on the grass. The count was successful as everyone was accounted for.
Back in, decided to go for an early workout as I was already sweating from the warm-up. The early gym-rats were already on our free weights, got a few and prepared a dumbbell for a kettlebell-like workout. After a #HIIT warm up, decided to hit #Shoulders. Three lads joined me, and we had a superb shoulders workout, which I mixed with abs and rope-jumps.
Hit the fields after doing weights as the new cops seems to be a nice fella. Outside, continued from where I stopped during the headcount; jogging and some stretches.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
Called it a day as I headed back in, the gym was very bare as most inmates went back to sleep just after the headcount; prisoners don’t play with their sleep, they friggin take it serious. And that something which the system here has caused and made, turning most into couch potatoes. Despite the need to be active under the limitation and restrictions of mobility, many are leading a full sedentary lifestyle. Someday in the future they will realised the need to have exercised and moved while here.
Made me a bowl of oatmeal + peanut butter + banana; becoming my postworkout meal. Not bad as it’s filling and nutritious also.
Took a short nap during the day, seems the hunger strike or food-rejection is still going on and I heard it will be on for another two weeks. My cell only gets three-portions, despite the so-called hunger strike, some are growing fatter and fatter as they tend to grab anything that look and taste like food. Food is all that matters here, that some inmates live to eat and not eat to live; amongst them is one of my cellmate who is always munching on whatever available. He’s growing larger with each new day, he won’t be the first nor the last to serve out their sentence on bowls of food.
Upstairs by the signal spot is jammed packed with inmates holding and pointing phones, tablets in search of signal. Some are busy adjusting ropes that routers are hung upon high up on our ceiling. Those with routers and external modem seems to be getting the best reception. The last time I checked, there were more than 20 routers, soon the cops will storm us to get the routers. Whenever they choose to come, we’re prepared.
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” – Abraham Lincoln
FRI, FEB 21, 2014
Another early day, water on the stove for a cup of coffee which I took upstairs with me. Signal during the early hours of the day is very strong, but as others switch on their phones and began browsing, everything goes down again.
Few hours and back to my cell, where I got ready for another early morning workout. Still scanty in the gym as I made my way outside. Warm and a bit windy, had a blast on the field, almost forgotten, today is the catholic mass which begins at 11am.
When I got in, it was too late, but managed to pull some arms workouts, got 3 sets of each. Packed up, but continued in the storage room. Couldn’t keep up as I felt light-headed, had to call it off.
Back in, showered, ate and tucked myself into bed. Checked my #BP before sleeping; 156/79! After the few hours nap, woke up feeling much better.
Went upstairs to get online, signal was better tonight, was able to download few MP3’s but friggin slow. Stayed up till late, which I will pay when the lads will wake me up for the general cleaning to move my reserve water tanks; though we have been having enough water lately, but can’t afford to take any chance by using them. Still gotta keep them, one never know when things will turn around for the worst……drought!
Finally left for my cell around 2am, not a good time. Walking through the dark passage with phone in my hand to light up my path (though, not everyone here will dare walk in the passage at such odd hour; many has gotten sworn enemies and even invisible ones). The passage was fill with aroma of sweet fragrance, a lady-like essence, didn’t take further steps from where I first perceived the sweet fragrance, then she emerged from darkness, her mini tight-fitting dress merging with the blackness of the night as she slide past me, bathed herself with her flowery fragrance and ready to ride the night; she is our night nurse, our lady of the night……the standing shemale! Got her buddy, probably a look-out positioned in a corner in the passage, while she goes about her tour of nightly duty. Know few patrons who probably makes use of her nightly service and I think many knows but we rather keep it our little open secret. Well, she did say hello….. Not the sort of feminine voice I’d expect from the wearer of such tight-fitting dress, but what came out was a hollow-deep voice which we are all used to now. Glad she wasn’t the thing I saw before hitting my bunk, later found our cheeky kittens that aren’t allowed in during the day, but they all sneaks in at night to rule, plunder and play while the lads are sleeping. They were two little kittens, their mum seemed to have abandoned them, picked them up, played with them, stroking their furs. When I dropped them, they actually followed me to my cell, funny furry things; at least better than some wankers here.
SAT, FEB 22, 2014
Slept around 3am, didn’t know when the lads got up and went about the general cleaning. The little lad didn’t wake me up, he removed all my stuffs and did the cleaning without me knowing. Glad he didn’t wake me, did thank him afterwards.
Was starving, had a cup of cinnamon tea that came on the breakfast cart and ate up the last of my lentils from last night; filling and nutritious. My mates went for cornflakes and chocolate. Someone dropped a box of whole wheat pasta on my bed, should be cooking it on Sunday with vegetables….. Just pasta and vegetables.
A mate came calling me out for workout, told him, not today, as I’m taking two days off to recuperate.
For lunch, cooked Ox-foot soup (bought by a mate) and lately, its the only thing coming in that is affordable (street price; $4, we pay $12 here), cooked it the Colombian way; #Sancocho, with green plantain, spices and seasoning and fresh vegetables and herbs (cilantron, parsley, spring onions). Wasn’t bad as we had it with white rice. Through my time here with some many cultures from different parts of the world, I have come to learn different and assorted types of cuisines. Have even learned from the Chinese here; but these ones here love frying and white rice.
Also in the course of my doing time here, I have also introduced some clean and healthy habits. When I first got here, the lads only drank cinnamon tea, I introduced some to green tea and other herbal tea. Then came muesli, which I asked Schat to buy for me, many jumped on the bandwagon, though few see it as strange food; a mate was said, it looks like horse feeds and tasteless. So far so good, it’s been a wonderful experience in the joint.
Took a power nap after my lunch and woke up when dinner was been served. Lunch came and gone; chicken nuggets and white rice. While dinner was pigtails in black eye brown beans. Let them passed, but my mates went for the pigtails, scooped some beans which I later ate in the evening.
Spent couple of hours upstairs, but couldn’t keep up as nature took toll of me. Got downstairs which was steaming hot from the heat of the distillation, the lads distilled two tanks of mash. Their clients need something to top up.
Surprisingly, the last of my Christmas wine is sold out. A lad who doesn’t mix well with alcohol, once drank and got so pissed, he had to be restrained as he was becoming aggressive; he was tied and left upstairs, where he had been drinking all day. Since that incident, he seems to have sober down, stick to his joints. Apparently, he is the cellmate of our shemale who had a physical brawl with her over some unpaid debts. In prison, debts are eventually collected through physical brawls if verbal confrontation fails.
Same lad, bought all of my leftover Christmas wine, and being aged, sold it as an aged wine should be sold; a price of a gallon for 1litre…..good bargain on my side.
Had another shower before hitting my concrete bed for the much-needed night rest.
“If you want to make a permanent change, stop focusing on the size of your problems and start focusing on the size of you!” – T. Harv Eker
SUN, FEB 23, 2014
Weekend is almost over, a new week around the corner. Much or nothing in stock for the lot of us.
Up from sleep to the wrangling of my cellmates and others who came to fetch water as it was running early today.
Sat up on my bed till the coast was clear, went through my morning rituals. A cup of cinnamon tea got my day started. Made vegetables salad of green pepper, cucumber, onions, dried parsley and oregano, added vinegar and that was my breakfast.
Another round of Ox-foot soup today, the only thing close to meat on sale in the pavilion. Cooked today’s with curry and a bit spicy. My mate boiled white rice.
After I woke up from my afternoon siesta, we had the soup which is by far better than our prison food. On the food cart for lunch was half-cooked white rice, and greasy mincemeat and for dinner fish cakes, lentils and rice, took some lentils for dinner; hope it ain’t salty.
My vegetable-grocer cellmate had all his fresh parsley bought by an old inmate who hawks and sells whatever is given to him; nicked, brought in or smuggled in. He’s the man to meet and he’s a chain-smoker. Asked him what he needs the parsley for; told me he makes tea with it and it helps calms him as he’s nervous. We’re all working on our second opinion to treat whatever ailments since we can’t get to the clinic for treatment.
Signal is very bad today, many are complaining of poor connection, yesterday whatsapp was down, I guess it was probably server problem, later worked at night, but fell today. 8:46:43 PM….. Upstairs by our signal post and it seems it’s going to be a very long night of waiting and searching for signal connection.
Hope it gets better later tonight, or else, I’ll have to wake up very early to try again.
The air is full of assortment of music; salsa, vallenato, ranchera and bolero (depending on the nationalities of the revellers), smokes from fags and joints and noises of inmates doing time the only way they know.
Lately my compatriot who seemed to have fallen apart is getting skinny and skinny with each new day. There’s rumours that dude is doping, well, each man has his cross to bear, but do hope he’s repatriated ASAP to Holland, there his problems will be taken care of.
Earlier today on the news, another Panamanian lawyer was sent to the other side by a lone assassin. He is not the first and won’t be the last to leave that way; lawyers in Panama are crafty white-collar criminals who sweet-talks helpless inmates into handing over large sums of money with promises of buying their way out or getting a low or minimal sentences for them. But their promises are empty, they so believe that being locked up, inmates can’t do a thing. But in most cases they are always wrong. Some inmates do pursue them for their money. And in most cases, ends with the lawyer being gun down.
For the rest of us, it’s a waiting game, one played with the utmost care; living each day at a time while watching our backs.
“Don’t let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning.” – Robert Kiyosaki