Panama Prisons: Where Death Plays Russian Roulette With Inmates.

No law should be more harmful than the behaviour it is trying to regulate (some laws are so draconian in nature that it outweighs the crime or behaviour it is trying to punish; such law comes from politician who believes it will work, but at the end; creating monsters out of petty criminals). 

“Wat is tijd? Meestal merken we iets van de tijd, als er iets verandert of veranderd is. Daarom is tijd vaak zo moeilijk bij te houden als je vastzit en elke dag hetzelfde is als gisteren en vermoedelijk hetzelfde als morgen. “Doing Time” heet vast zitten op zijn Amerikaans. “Tijd (Ver-) doen” Weining verandering meemaken” – Redactioneel van Gezant uit Nederland.

Sleepless nights brings those inevitable memories that one wished it will never come, though on some nights, beautiful memories of the past flows through one’s subconsciously, that one wishes they will stay forever or relived those beautiful memories once again. 

Our lives are our books, but just few ever stop to read through or take stock of what they have been writing. Every failure add to this list of one’s unwanted progression memories. And when this memories come, they come unbidden toying, playing russina roulette with one’s mind. That’s the moment one longs for one thing, that one thing so desired byy every incarcerated being: #Freedom! 

“Freedom is the very source of creativity for both individuals and society.” – Dalai Lama 

Saturday 16, August 2014

The week has been a rough one as we battled  our water problem, there hasn’t been water in the pavilion for days now. When the cells with bigger and powerful electric pumps successful tapped from the locals, wwe hustled for a tank or two; enouugh for the day’s use. Have started using my reserves, emptied some gallons upstairs, yet to refill them, used a tank out of four of my valuable reserves, but quickly refilled it. If it doesn’t rain over the weekend and no water, then, I will have to use more of my reserves. Pray it doesn’t come to that. Many are eating less, with the anticipation of shitting less 😉 

Like all Saturdays, few hit the gym, but wasn’t bothered as I have had my dose of workout through the week, need Saturday and Sunday to recuperate and get my body ready for next week’s workout. Many amongst us are eager to jump on the fitness bandwagon, but few amongst them ever stopped to learn the basics of fitness; many end up doing same routines every day, after a while they vanished like vapour, and the food they are eating hasn’t changed from what they have been eating before incarceration. Well, that’s they only thing they know; feed the hunger worms, with whatever available. Though the prison food is absolute rubbish, if one knows what he wants, he can always tweak and improvised and get the best from what’s available here; I always popped up from my bunk whenever the food cart passes to know what’s on the menu, yeah right! Menu? For breakfast, hardboiled eggs is ok (use them for sandwich fillers), for lunch; I go for salad despite finding maggots once inside, and I also go for whatever legumes comes with the menu. Rice is our stable food here, they can’t stop feeding us with half-cooked rice; a now-released Chinese found something for the rice, uses them for his powerful rice wine, which he later distil to make rice liquor (necessity is the mother of all invention), we need booze, someone gotta get a way of brewing or distilling it, to satisfy our insatiable fleshy or bodily desires. 

Monday is family visit, those with families around will be fortunate to have their spouses, members of their families and kids or grand kids around. For us, whose families are thousands of miles away from here, we can only do with our online visits, which we have been doing since slammed in here. 

Being a family visit, the pavilion is full of life as inmates anticipates meeting their kids, for some new inmates, it will be the first meeting. Wondering what they will tell their kids, there’s always a convincing story for those innocent kids, guess the olders ones, definitely know why daddy, granddad is banged up away. 

Some are arranging with our several bakers to prepare or bake something they will want to share with their loved ones, my mate who sells fried pastries: Empanada (cornmeal filled with chunks of meat and mashed potatoes) is also preparing for that, but his will be fried on Monday morning to keep it fresh. The most are grooming themselves and getting their visit uniforms of yellow T-shirts ready, majority favours Colombia’s national team jersey, apparently, the Colombians are the majority here. When they are out there, it’s a sea of yellows and reds (Red T-shirt is what visitors wears for every visit, excepts consuls, embassies and lawyers). 

We are used to our water crisis, and it doesn’t stop life from going on in the pavilion, it’s Saturday and weekend, thus, life goes on. There’s proper liquor in the pavilion, but majority favours our locally distils, which is by far cheaper than former. The price for half a litre of a proper rum here will fetch one, five litres of our distil, meaning more pissed and longlasting hangovers and also enough to share with others and get stupid! 

Things were going on fine and smooth for everyone, took a nap in the afternoon, woke up and continued chatting with Schat and my kids who are on holidays in Disneyland Paris, glad they are enjoying the best of their times. Anything that should take their minds off me will also help me, as being worried about me also disturbs me. Glad they are always busy and that keeps their minds also busy. Occasionally, schat does have her low moments, but thank God for our incessant communication via social media and instant messengers. Even my two older kids are online as well, but they are just too occupy with schoolwork to make out time for daddy. I’m strong because of them and they give me the inspiration to come out even stronger than when I first walked in through those doors. My inner man is seasoned through the invaluable experiences I have acquired within the time BehindBars, it will be hard for anything to break me, as I have learned to build a fantastic and unbreakable wall of defence with stones thrown at me; sarcasm 😉 

They say, it’s trials that we go through that makes us, but I believe we make, mould and shape ourselves into what we want to become during those times of trials. Those trials are the materials needed to shape us, but then, how do we use them for our benefits; turning punishment to correction! 

The day and our lives rolling as it has always been, businesses as usual are thriving; anything sellable and worth buying is been hawk around either by their owners or by our hawkers who will sell for a percentage or sell above the given price, thus making their own profits, sometimes these lads make more profits than the owners of the wares been sold 😉 

There’s been rumours of meetings that will be held with regards to the riot incident and our water crisis. Wondering, when that will be. Despite all who came to calm the situation, nothing has been done about our water problem and nothing will done about the overcrowding condition here also. 

So far, so good! But things took a different turn in the evening. A Caymanian inmate who has been here less than two years and started drinking from the first day he stepped in here after he discovered that there are liquids or liquors that can undo the reality of what he was seeing and about to live through fell from his high makeshift bed in the cell before mine. I have once written about them (the lads in the cell); the lads who will spent hours arguing about women menstrual cycle, and other trivia issues that men shouldn’t be wasting precious time that we barely have on. 

There are days and nights, I longed to stay awake and do something positive, either writing, reading or brainstorming and bringing those ideas into forms and live, turning those abstracts to matter where I can feel them. But then, one can’t cheat nature. 

Then when he finally retires to his bed, there’s another half a litre of same poten liquor besides him. Thus, he’s never out of his booze. The first time I knew he was taking this drink thing too serious, was when he stopped me on the passage to translate his conversation with one of his sellers to him. When I heard how much he owed the lad, who wasn’t ready to sell to him again if he doesn’t pay off his old bill, I was shocked beyond words. He was owing the lad a whooping $500 just for booze! I said to myself, with such amount, I will be dining like a mob boss locked up away; having his boys smuggled in best Italian ham, salami and the finest wines. Anyway, I will stock my food tank with enough lentils, bean, peanuts and cans of peanut butter, I do get them when I have some dough. 

I was standing outside under my router as I was receiving pictures and videos of my family Disneyland’s vacation, thus, I needed to stay closed to the router for better reception, then suddenly, around 9pm I heard a loud bang on the floor. On checking the cell, there was the cayman inmate lying in a pool of his blood that was coming from sa cut in his head. 

Dr. Porter, who had now become the pavilion resident doctor was called, he came running, leaving whatever he was doing, even without his shirt on. Armed with his stethoscope, which is the only medical equipment after his oxygen machine and the other thing he uses for his chemotherapy. 

He attended to the lad, who was so drunk, after checking him, he advised he be laid still on his mattress that has fallen with him. And also be given painkillers. One thing I remembered Doc saying, was “We should be worried about what’s going on in the inside, than what we see on the outside” and those words later came back to me on Monday. 

When Doc left, a cellmate of the lad came telling me and another cellmate of theirs who was with me with his phone to fix a problem, that his shoulder has swollen. I left with a tube of diclofenac gel (I have about three new tubes, which a local nicked from the clinic and sold to me, and that’s something the doctors at the clinic won’t issue to foreigners). I went in and in the process of finding out from the fallen inmate if he can move his shoulder, so I know if I can touch it or not, Johnny Gringo (El loco Gringo) decided to take it on me, shouted at me to leave the lad alone and get out of his cell. I have always maintained that friendship with him, despite all his problems with many inmates, but not tonight, I dished him his worth in words he will live to remember. We exchanged heated words, which sent me out in annoyance. 

The lad’s cellmates tried getting our pavilion’s president and his vice to call the cops or whoever they can, so they will come for the lad. Nobody did anything that night, the lad was left on the floor all night, with nobody knowing how serious his condition was.

A fall to a concrete floor like ours should have been treated immediately with urgency, like that of the Colombian lad who fell from a much higher attitude (top of the cell), rushed to the clinic and spent weeks and came back fully recovered. 

Throughout the night, his cellmates said, the cayman inmate woke up twice to use the loo, initially when he fell, he had wet his pants, but he later woke up and used the loo, then went back to sleep. 

On Sunday morning, the clanking sound of metals against our metal door rattled me from my short-lived sleep. Having gone to bed very late, I had to get up as I know it’s about the lad. Armed with my phone, what I saw was sickening, the condition of the lad has deteriorated so rapidly within few hours, he was having seizures after seizures, in total he had about nine seizures. Doc was called out, and on checking the lad he was alarmed. Without the needed machines and equipment, there’s little or nothing he can do for the lad. 

The cops finally came after hours of waiting, and the lad was taken out in his mattress, Doc accompanied him, but was later sent back, as the cops won’t allow any inmate to accompany them out. 

Hours later, we heard the lad is stable, which got us back to our lives and normal moods. Many were saying thank God, and when he recovers, hope he learn from this close encounter. But little did we know, like every other thing that we place our hopes on, this one also will vanish like vapour. 

Late at night, a nurse working in the hospital, who attended to the pavilion’s ex-president when he was admitted in the hospital after a local sent/paid by someone amongst us battered his face and mouth, lad spent almost a month in the hospital, came back and has been on liquid diet ever since, as he can’t open his mouth to chew anything. He’s doing better now, but still got his mouth all wired up six months since he came back. The problem will be to get him back to the hospital and remove those braces and wires, and that will be forever. 

The nurse called him to tell him, that the cayman inmate life has taken a wrong turn. She doubts if he will make it, as he’s on life support machine. She said, the lad had tumour in his bread. It’s likely clots from the bleeding he sustained when he bashed his head on the concrete floor of the cell. I doubt if anybody could have survived such a fall from that height, even if he is sober, though the lad had a little too much of liquor in his system. 

The mere fact that he had to build a makeshift bed to fit in as the cells are all full. The pavilion has thirty six cells, each with six concrete beds, making a total of 216 beds, but we are almost six hundred inmates cramped together; thus, every cell is forced to take more than inmates in that it can coped. As of now, my cell has eleven inmates, nine of us inside the cell, and two on top of the cells; one built a makeshift shack and the other sleeps in the open. Back in the cell, one is sleeping on hammock, two on makeshift beds, and the rest of us on concrete beds; with each man making his as much as comfortable as he can or afford. 

On my bed, I have a wooden skeleton of what should have been a decliner/bed, designed and built by a chinese inmate who did thirteen years for homicide. The bed has gone through many hands before getting to me, it’s a big relief as the concrete bed was very bad for my back. 

Once read of a team of American chiropractors coming to the prison to help inmates with back alignment, apart from cardiovascular diseases being the most ailments amongst inmates here, sore and bad back is another chronic sickness in the centre. And not many know what to do help relieve their sore back. The most rely on over-the-counter painkillers, and some go as far as getting steroids. Few realise that, with exercises one can get relief from aching back. But then, you still have to get back on the same concrete bed, thus, it’s a never-ending vicious circle. 

So, many in the pavilion without access to government beds in cells, once accepted into a cell are left to build or construct a makeshift bed wherever there’s space in the cell. And that was the fate of our Caymanian inmate, when he came in, he was accepted by the British lad and the Jamaicans in the cell as they all share something in common; Cayman Island is a foreign territory of Britain and is also a Caribbean country. Thus, he was very comfortable in the cell. And as the norm is here, everyone looks for his own; whenever a new inmate comes in, everyone tries to find out where he comes from, once that link has been established, the new inmate is taken in, if he’s unlucky and has nobody who knows or associates with him, then he’s left to look for a sleep space on the gym hall, which has become very congested. Some inmates with space on top of their cells can decide to sell a spot to a new inmate, who will then build his shack if he has money. And the money shared by the those in the cell, it’s business as usual.

The Cayman lad upon coming into cell A7, was fortunate to have a bed after some weeks sleeping on the floor. He moved into the bed which is welded very high up in the cell, higher than the television and every other bed in the cell. Like those of us sleeping on high bunks, we sleep, but very cautious of where we are sleeping on as a little wrong move can get one falling to the concrete floor. There’s been many falls in the past from the normal top bunks, but not from such height as that of the lad. His was far too high and dangerous, there was no protection bar to keep him from falling, and neither does any bed has it. 

We went through Sunday night on suspense as we were still hanging unto hope, something that we have in abundance here. Hanging and believing that in the morning, it will be well and that whatever the nurse has said was wrong. 

Monday morning, the English lad rang the British embassy (they are responsible for him here), which had someone despatched to see the situation. Same lad and a Jamaican from his cell kept on communication with his families back in Cayman Island. 

I decided to hit the gym, as I have been off all weekend, and many also were in the gym. Half way through, my English mate came calling to tell me what we dreaded most, but then it’s the truth and fact; The lad is dead! He died on the morning of Monday, the 18th of August, just four days before my fifth birthday BehindBars, not the sort of news one will expect on his birthday’s week, but then, this is prison and one where nothing is certain, our lives hangs on threads of hope and of uncertainties. That was it with my workout, couldn’t continue any more, had to call it off; others wouldn’t be bothered, kept on with their workout. The lad will be the sixth inmate to kick the bucket since my incarceration, and all died because of negligence, failures by the authorities to give them medical attention, many are sick, and the older ones with sicknesses that comes with old age, yet they are ignored, help only comes at the 11th hour, that’s if it comes at all, of which in most cases, it doesn’t come! 

From the moment his death broke out, his families and everyone who cared were informed, and back in Cayman Island, there’s been several news broadcast about his accidentally death. Which came as a surprise to many, as the lad was due to be repatriated back to Cayman sometimes later this year, to continue with his sentence close to his families and loved ones. But now, the family will be battling to get his body bag; and there goes my saying. ‘many will walk in alive and hearty, battered, or weary, but not all will walk out alive breathing, some will be taken out in body bags or sent home to die’ 

His death, came a days after we had a heavy riot against the police who came for an impromptu routine search, but decided to flushed us out with tear gases and rubber bullets, which almost killed many, the elderly inmates were severely affected; amongst those was Dr. Porter of Canada. Thanks God we all survived that episode, but, little did we know that death was lurking around the corner to snatch away one of us. And it came when were ill prepared; taking away one of us right from under our nose, and nothing we could do to save him. Someone has fallen from a higher height than where the Caymanian lad fell and survived, got us wondering why him! 

Whatever investigation the prison authorities will do will yield nothing, will never bring him back and will never bring changes to our conditions. Instead, our publicity will caused them to be harder on us. 

The situation in the pavilion is so bad, that they now refused foreign media from coming into the pavilion, not even our embassies are allowed inside the pavilion, for what they will find will be mind-blowing and it might lead to loads of petitions against Panama’s poor human rights record and mistreatment of prisoners. Anyway, we are prisoners and the scumbags of the society, so who cares if we die or live! 

Finally, I hope his death will be the driving force to bring about the changes we so desired and dreamed of. 

To the authorities, it’s one man gone, one problem less, one mouth less, but for us who knew him; it’s one friend gone, one who almost survived the ordeals of life BehindBars, to live and tell, but that won’t be of him; maybe his death will tell the stories of the ordeals men are meant to go through while incarcerated. Our voices will be his in telling the world of the deplorable and inhumane conditions of Panama’s most dangerous, overcrowded prison system; #LaJoya. 

Prisons, where people are hauled in without charges, held up for years without trials, and then released without apologies and compensation for those deprived and wasted years. 

Hopefully, The United States of America knows of the human rights record of its greatest ally in Latin America; how the state is becoming authoritarian like the ones they are fighting now! 

I have been retweeting several news articles culled from internet about the lad’s death. Today Mon, 25 Aug 2014, there’s one from his country #CaymanIsland, decided to add it to my blog post and publish both online. 


Decided to post this article about the caymanian inmate who died in our pavilion, with the hope there will be pressure on the Panamanian authorities to do something about the prison conditions in Panama. 

The lad died from negligence from the police who would never come when our alarm are raised, and most times late at night. 

As an inmate in the same pavilion where the lad died, I have been tweeting: @DoingTimeAbroad and blogging: about our deplorable and inhumane conditions in the pavilion. 

We could go for days and weeks without water, to the extent of relieving oneself in plastic bags and throwing them over the wire fences. Sleeping condition is at one’s own risk, inmates without beds find themselves scrambling for sleep spaces on cold floors, or hung high in hammocks made from empty plastic bags of ice cubes (improvisation). 

Those with money can build makeshift beds in cells when accepted, and such was the case of the late Caymanian inmate; his hunk was very high and higher than every other thing in the cell, doubt if anybody would have survived a fall from such height. And his death just proved that. 

I hope the Caymanian authorities with the British government will put pressure on Panama to better the conditions of its prisoners and improve our basic rights. 

Article culled from:


Caymanian Prisoner who died in Panamanian Prison. 

25 August, 2014

By: James Whittaker |

A Caymanian prisoner who died in a Panama jail cell had been in negotiations with officials in his homeland to be transferred out of the dangerous Central American prison.

Mark Bodden, who died from head injuries apparently sustained in a fall from his bunk in the overcrowded La Joya prison, was in regular contact with Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, according to his cellmates.

“He had great faith in this guy Franz Manderson. He had been speaking to him on Facebook and he was confident he would be returned to Cayman,” said Leo Morgan, a British inmate locked up alongside Mr. Bodden in the wing of the prison reserved for foreign nationals.

Ben Perschky, another Brit who shared a cell with the Caymanian prisoner, said he had borrowed his cellphone on several occasions to make contact with Cayman and believed he had got clearance to come home.

Mr. Bodden was in the second year of a 100-month sentence for drug offenses at the time of his death, according to his fellow prisoners. Mr. Manderson is currently off island, but Eric Bush, chief officer in the Ministry of Home Affairs, confirmed there had been contact between the Deputy Governor’s office and the prisoner.

He confirmed that officials were negotiating through British embassy representatives in Panama to have Mr. Bodden transferred home to serve the rest of his sentence at Northward Prison.

“We were in the process of considering the issues around Mr. Bodden’s request to be repatriated to see if that could be a possibility,” said Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bodden died before his request could be fulfilled. Now officials are assisting the family in efforts to have his body returned to Cayman and are pushing prison officials in Panama for a proper investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.

“I think the Cayman Islands Government’s responsibility is to ensure there is a full and fair investigation is carried out as to the cause of this death and from the findings of that ensure appropriate corrective action is taken,” Mr. Bush said.

He said an official request had been made for the findings of the Panamanian government investigation to be handed over to the Commissioner of Police in Cayman for review.

The Deputy Governor’s office is currently keeping tabs on 13 Cayman nationals serving time in prisons abroad, including in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Mexico, Jamaica and Trinidad.

Cayman Islands officials have some scope to aid prisoners overseas and have done so on previous occasions – facilitating the return of Kisha Letoya McLean from prison in Mexico to serve the rest of her sentence for drug trafficking in Cayman in 2012. She has since been released.

But the extent of the assistance that can be provided is somewhat limited and dependent on often time-consuming negotiations through the British embassy with foreign governments.

“While we care very much about the welfare of all our citizens, when someone is legally confined in another country, they fall within the relevant legislation and conventions of that country,” said Mr. Bush.

“They can make a request which is considered through the department of Public Prosecutions in consultation with Home Affairs as to whether we are able to house them and allow them to serve the rest of their sentence here. We have to come to a mutual agreement with the country [where they are being held] to allow them to do that. We have done it before.”

He said British embassy officials facilitate communication, but any decision to repatriate Cayman prisoners – usually only considered when Caymanians are locked up in potentially dangerous circumstances – are ultimately sanctioned by the governor.

Cellmates of Mr. Bodden have given firsthand accounts to the Cayman Compass and have sent pictures via cellphone that depict the harrowing scenes inside the La Joya prison were the Caymanian was held from 2012.

They say there are more than 500 prisoners living in a wing built for 180 inmates. They have to buy or build their own beds and sleep seven to a cell or piled up in cramped passageways.

Internet and cellphone access do not appear to be a problem, however, and Mr. Bodden had posted pictures on his Facebook page of daily life inside the prison, including shots of laundry hanging in the narrow corridors running through his cell block.

Mr. Morgan, a British drug dealer locked up for money laundering, sent the Compass grim images of the darker side of life on the cell block, where he says he has seen people shot, stabbed and killed in fights. Access to healthcare and clean water is also a serious problem, as well as abuse from guards. He says he has pressed for improved conditions in talks with embassy officials but without success.

According to several prisoners, there was a riot in the cell block earlier this month after prison officers opened fire with tear gas and shotguns during a routine search. Details of the riot were widely reported in Panamanian media as well as in Canada because of injuries sustained by inmate Dr. Arthur Porter, a high profile figure in that country.

Other prisoners have posted YouTube videos of the squalid and cramped conditions inside the prison.

A 2013 Human Rights report by the U.S. State Department on the Panamanian prison system suggests such problems are rife throughout the country.

“Prison conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Problems included overcrowding, use of police stations as detention facilities, a shortage of prison guards, and inadequate health care.”

It adds, “Problems included overcrowding, lack of medical services, lack of potable water, inadequate ventilation, lighting, and sewage treatment,” the report says.

The report says there are currently 15,124 inmates locked up in prisons built for half that many. It says La Joya prison, where Mr. Bodden was held, has one first-aid clinic, but it does not have the capacity to deal with serious medical issues. It also points to difficulties and delays in transporting prisoners to outside medical facilities – an issue which cellmates say may have contributed to Mr. Bodden’s death.

Sleep well Comrade! 

“Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.” – Patti Smith

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving


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