Archive for the ‘prison’ Category

1. Appreciating Simple Things in Life. I took a lot of things for granted. The basic concept of freedom for example. Just being able to have a walk in the park with my dog, sitting down at a cafe with some good friends, travel, taking a taxi. Even taking a dump in a nice, clean toilet. All these seemingly unimportant things suddenly became such a big deal when I was in jail.

2. Art of Negotiation. Being inside a Jakarta prison is a masterclass in negotiation. In the beginning, I was ruled by fear and was so desperate to find a way out. Everyone around me seemed to have a plan to get me out of jail at the soonest possible time. And of course I believed them. I paid a large sum of money to entertain high ranking police officers, lawyers, even the mafia. I soon realize that most of them are just big talkers. And everyone just wants to get a piece of the action (money). It soon came down to identifying who are the real movers and shakers and dealing with them directly instead of going through a host of middlemen. Engaging a lawyer is meaningless in Indonesia. The money to engage a lawyer is better spent paying off the prosecutors as well as the judges. And to negotiate well with them, one cannot exhibit any fear. I managed to strike a good deal because I was prepared at that point to just accept whatever punishment they wanted to give to me.

3. Making Real Friends. In prison, especially in Indonesia, everyone will want to be your friend if you have money. They will beg, cheat, lie, even steal from you when you are not careful. Some will pretend to be your friend but very soon, their motives and objectives become quite clear. It’s not easy to make real friends inside prison. I was thankful to be able to make a few good ones who till this day, has still remained close. These are people who will help even when they can gain nothing from it. They will protect you even when their own lives are at stake. These are people who will stop you from slipping down the slope of sin when everyone else is encouraging you. These are the people who will speak the truth to you. And I thank God for them.

4. Appreciating relationships. The hardest part to endure in a prison is really the loneliness. I learn to appreciate my girlfriend so much more during this time. The trips she made to the prison. The food she cooked for me. The fact that she had to keep being positive and smiling whenever she visited. I truly appreciated her strength and her love. I think it’s something I would never have seen had I not gone through prison.

5. Appreciating Sex. Not having sex for a whole eight months is almost unbearable for me. Even though with money, one can actually ‘order’ a prostitute from outside the prison walls to have a quickie inside the prison compound, I chose not to do it. I think prison makes me appreciate relationships and intimacy even more.

6. Understanding the world of injustice and corruption. It is very sad to see Indonesians being sent to jail because of the corrupt system. I consider myself lucky that I have some money to pay off the corrupt officials but most of the Indonesians are poor and they will never have such a chance. Do they deserve to go to prison? Some perhaps. But the majority of them are really thrown inside as mere numbers. In Indonesia, the police have a target to hit every month for drug offenders especially. The police bonus depends largely on whether they have met the target per month. I have a cellmate who was working as a waiter in a Karaoke Lounge in Jakarta. One night, a group of men booked one of the rooms and asked if he could bring them some ecstacy pills. He then went to ask his manager who then got him some to be delivered to the room. When the waiter delivered the pills, the group of men announced that they were actually policemen and arrested him on the spot. Not only that, they ‘confiscated the pills’ for their own consumption and they also took all the money on him (money collected from the customers that night). Such a story is commonplace inside the prison. And that guy would be spending at least 4-5 years in jail if he is not able to pay off the police, prosecutors or the judges.

7. Appreciating hygiene. A lot of these Indonesians have very little concept of proper hygiene. They spit all over the floors and most of them are coughing continuously throughout the day and night. Diseases spread quickly in the cells.

8. Money is King. You can do almost anything if you have the money in jail. You can add air-conditioning to your cell. You can arrange for a prostitute to visit. You can repaint the cell walls. You can even renovate and make the cell bigger. Hell you can even buy a day of freedom to go outside the prison (watched closely by prison officers of course). the system is so corrupt that most drug dealers continue to deal drugs behind the prison walls and it is in fact regarded as safer since the dealers are already in jail and they can easily pay off the prison officers to continue their business. A lot of people actually visit the dealers in prison to buy drugs from them. Laptops, TVs, DVD Players, Play stations are all allowed as long as you pay money for those items.

9. Big Powerful Druglords are Human too. I shared a cell with a guy called Tong who committed the biggest case of ecstacy smuggling in Asia. They were caught with almost 200,000 ecstacy pills. But he is truly one of the nicest guys around. He had a childlike wonder to learn about computers and would bug me every day to teach him. He would bring me around the different cells to introduce me to his friends. When I told him the cell was a bit too small for four people, he engaged a contractor to renovate and extend our cell. On numerous occasions, he helped me without asking for anything in return. He told me he wanted to start life afresh if he had a chance to leave prison. I really wish for him to have a chance to turn his life around. Thank you Tong for always having a ready smile and a helping hand.

10. Being more determined about Life. Before I was sent to prison, I was deliberating what I truly wanted to do with my life. I was earning pretty decent money but I guess I wasn’t truly satisfied. I spent a lot of time doing self-destructive things like drinking, drugs, parties, etc. Being in prison made me realize the importance of our lives. We only live once and we should not waste it. Live the best way we can every single day. Many people will not even have such a chance.

I found out from Alexi that we could actually rent a phone from the prison officers for a fee of 20,000 ruppiah (about $2) per hour. I immediately asked him to make arrangement for me to get a phone. It’s a miracle that I could actually remember Dian’s number off the top of my head. I badly needed to talk to her.

Alexi got me the phone in less than 15 minutes. I called Dian and was so happy to hear her voice. It was amazing how a simple phone call could mean so much inside a prison cell. Dian  sounded extremely worried and was in tears. I had to calm her down. She told me that she spent the entire night and day traveling to different police stations to look for me. She even went to my hotel but was informed by the staff that I had been taken away by the police.

I told her to prepare some daily necessities and to bring them to me. Simple things like towels, clean T shirts, shaver which I usually took for granted were truly necessities for survival in here. I also needed money and asked her to bring me some. I never understood the full concept of money until now. It could be a matter of life and death in a Jakarta prison.

Dian told me she had an uncle working in Polda who could help me. She had already spoken to him and he was positive that he could help. I was overjoyed when I heard that. I almost wanted to hug Alexi who was sitting beside me munching on some potato chips. Dian promised that she would visit me tomorrow and would bring me all the stuff that I needed.

After I hung up the phone, the rest of the prisoners begged me to lend them the phone so that they could call their families. It was then that I realized that the 20,000 ruppiah to rent the phone (about $2) means a lot to many of them, who do not even have this kind of money to spare.

I was more than happy to share the phone and Alexi was the first to call his wife. He spoke with her  for about five minutes and I could tell he was getting pretty emotional. After the call, he went to sit alone in the corner and didn’t speak for quite some time. Andry later told me that his mother in law had just passed away because of a heart attack. Alexi had specfically told his wife not to let his mother in law know that he was in jail because she had a weak heart. However, because the wife was pregnant, her mother kept pressurizing her for answers everyday. She finally cracked and told her the truth.

Upon hearing the news, the mother in law got a heart attack and passed away at the hospital.

Alexi broke into tears and smashed his fists repeatedly against the graffiti-filled cell walls. We pulled him away and I felt my eyes getting moist. I put my arm around him and told him to relax. But how could I feel his pain? How could anyone relax in this condition? His wife was pregnant, and his mother in law just died because of him. He was staring at at least another three years in jail, and would miss the birth of his child.

We sat him down and he said that the wife was coming to see him tomorrow. But he was afraid to see her because he was worried that he would lose control and take it out on his wife. He also said that the wife was under pressure from her family to divorce him. He asked me for advice. I told him to think about his future. After he got out of jail, does he intend to continue dealing drugs or does he want to change his life by finding a proper job? If he’s not prepared to give up on dealing drugs, then it’s better that he divorce his wife right away.

He nodded in silence. I stared at the prison walls which were filled with scribbles and graffiti. One phrase stood out from the mess. It said “PRAY TO GOD!” I manged a weak smile. Is God still listening to our prayers? I have no answer.

Aman’s Story

Posted: December 19, 2010 in Life, prison

The next morning, Aman came to visit me again. He had a toothy smile, and he reminded me of an uncle who worked in a Chinese Traditional Medicine store. Something about him just made me want to trust him. He also seemed to command the respect of the guys in the cell. Perhaps he’s some gangster boss?

We spoke for quite a long time. He told me about how he got caught by the police. He used to party a lot in clubs and karaokes. At first, it was for business as he was doing sales and he had to entertan many clients. Gradually, he got addicted to the lifestyle. He got to know one guy called Lim who was a friend of his good friend. Lim started joining them regularly. Most times, he would supply the drugs while Aman would bring the girls. The parties were wild. This went on for months.

One day, Lim called him to tell that his regular drug supplier was not in town and he asked if Aman could help him to get some. Aman tried to reject him with the excuse that he was busy on the day. But Lim persisted and begged him. He said it would be the only time. Aman relented. Lim ordered a total of 200 ecstacy pills.

Aman called up a friend and went to collect from him. He then proceeded to meet Lim in his car. Once inside the car, Aman was arrested. And he found out that Lim was actually a police officer! The same dude who was supplying drugs to them for months was in fact a cop!

The most amazing thing was that while in the police car on the way back to the police station, Lim and several of the police officers actually kept 50 ecstacy pills for themselves and they even started tripping in the police car!

I was extremely disgusted by Aman’s story. Those fucking police are worse than dogs! My hatred for them grew another ten folds. Aman could only let out a wry smile. He told me that he was probably staring at about ten years in jail. All because of a stupid decision. In comparison to him, I suddenly felt fortunate.

Aman invited me to join him in his cell. He then explained that we could all change cells but each time we changed would cost 50,000 ruppiah but for their cell, which is a VIP cell (gates open 24 hours), the shift would cost 100,000 ruppiah. The money would be paid to the police dogs (who else). He told me that their cell was much cleaner and they even had a guy who helped them to clean the room and to wash the clothes. It almost sounded like a hotel. He told me that he could only facilitate the shifting of the cell on Monday as the prison commander was not around in the weekends. He then left to play table tennis.

As the day wore on, I got increasingly depressed. The heat was getting unbearable and the stench was making me nauseous. I wanted to take a dump but I just couldn’t bring myself to squat on the disgusting toilet. How the hell was I suppose to clean my ass? Do they use toilet paper?

Almost 80 percent of the prisoners in the cell were coughing badly. Could they be suffering from Tuberculosis? And to make matters worse, they were spitting all over the floors with no regard for any hygiene. I had tons of questions floating through my mind. There were too many questions and too few answers. But both Andry and I agreed that the immediate issue was how to get out of the cell and where to move to. Fast.

After shower, we gathered around to play cards and I showed them some magic card tricks. Very soon, almost all the prisoners were gathered around me, being entertained and laughing as if we were all at a cafe. For a moment, we forgot our sorrows and fears and were lost in the surreal world of magic.

I found out that most of the guys in the cell were caught for drug-related offenses. Andry told me that he was actually betrayed by his best friend, someone he had known for almost 20 years. That friend had asked him to get 3 packets of Shabu (Meth) for him. At first he was reluctant, but finally agreed to help. When he brought the Shabu to his friend, he was arrested. That friend is actually a ‘cepu’ (someone who is working for the police). He just couldn’t believe that his best friend of 20 years would actually betray him like that. Till now, he still doesn’t know why the best friend did it.

Andry’s story is a recurring theme in the prison. The police in Jakarta sometimes have a quota to hit every month. It’s much like a sales target. They need to arrest a certain number of drug-dealers or abusers to hit the target so that they can quality for their ‘commission’. Some of these incompetent dogs who can’t hit their targets will actually set up traps to boost their ‘sales’. I could well have been one of the numbers they required to hit their monthly sales target. I was deeply disgusted.

Soon, the prisoners went to sleep, sprawled on the wooden floor like salted fishes laid out to dry. There was hardly enough room for all to sleep. It was almost body to body packed. I couldn’t sleep and sat beside the small window, using some newspaper as a fan of sorts. It was very stuffy and unbearably hot.

Andry couldn’t sleep as well so he came to sit beside me. Andry told me he had another friend in a VIP cell. He was the guy that sold him the ‘Shabu’. The guy’s name was Teo and he was in a VIP cell with newly painted walls, a very clean toilet, and its door was opened 24 hours, like a 7-11. I laughed at the metaphor. Teo got the VIP treatment because his father is a general and his uncle, a very prominent businessman, is also staying in the same cell. This piece of information got me a bit worried. Now if even a General’s son is stuck in here, then what chances do I have?

I asked Andry about what he believes is the best course of action. He said that hiring a prominent lawyer might be a good option. I told him about Saprudin. Andry told me not to waste any time with him as he is working for the police. All they want is extract more money from me. He emphasized,”Don’t trust any one associated with the police.”

We talked until morning. The familiar  singing of the Qur’an signaled that it was five in the morning. I noticed some of the prisoners actually woke up quite early for their prayers. One of them was even crying. Perhaps this was the time when religion and God mattered the most. I tried to look to the skies for some divine inspiration. I stared out of the window but all I saw was a huge cockroach darting across the corridor.


Alexi and Andry sat me down to give me a brief about some unspoken rules in prison. Andry told me that if I had wanted to buy anything such as cigarettes, food or drinks, I can pass the money to Alexi and he can help me. I was eager to please and took out 100,000 ruppiah (about 15 SGD) and placed it on the floor. Alexi grabbed it and smiled from ear to ear. Money makes the world go round. Much more so when we are in prison.

Andry then showed me the prison food which came in some kind of dirty looking plastic container. It consisted of two spoonful of rice, a few pieces of vegetables and something that resembled rotten tofu. The look of it was revolting enough. In the Jakarta prison, the food is meant to taste horrible so that you have no choice but to purchase food from the prison guards. The food business was regarded as the main business for them. they sell cigarettes at a rate of 15,o00 ruppiah (50 percent more than market price), coffee and soft drinks at 5,000 ruppiah per packet and food ranges from 10,000 to 40,000 ruppiah.

Soon, it was dinner time but I had absolutely zero appetite. Soon, I noticed many other prisoners gathered outside our cell. They seemed to be gawking at me. Apparently, a foreigner in this Polda Prison was a rare commodity. There were only two other foreigners in the jail. One was a German and the other a Nigerian. I asked Andry how is it that these prisoners can walk around freely. He explained that one can basically pay 50,000 ruppiah to open any cell door for 6 hours. I was actually quite impressed with how those police dogs can conjure up plans like that to make extra money.

One of the prisoners gathered around outside gave me a packet of rice. He introduced himself as Aman. I thanked him and I noticed that the rest of the prisoners stared at the packet of rice like vultures staring at their prey. I soon realize that food bought from outside is a rare commodity. Most of the prisoners didn’t have much money and were constantly hungry. I told the rest of the prisoners to share my rice. Food was the last thing on my mind right now. I had to get out. Fast.

After dinner, the prisoners kept urging me to shower. I was hesitant for a couple of reasons. First, the toilet was extremely dirty. There was a toilet bowl  which you can only ‘flush’ by pouring water into it. And the water supply is actually not constant. It only comes once every few hours. So water is also a rare commodity. On top of that, the prisoners love to spit into the toilet’s floor. So you can basically imagine a floor that is stained with spittoon. Absolutely disgusting!

The second reason  was the more serious one. I was actually worried that ‘showering’ was a way the rest of the prisoners could check me out and perhaps rape me! That’s what happens in prison movies like American History X. The rapes always happen during shower.

I tried to prolong my shower to as late as possible. But it was getting increasingly hot and unbearable. So I decided once and for all to get it over with. If anyone tries to rape me, I will fight my way out. Alexi offered me a towel which had a very bad smell. But I guess beggars can’t be choosers. Someone else handed me a T Shirt and even a brand new toothbrush. I was quite suspicious of their generosity. I removed my clothes and started to shower. I never felt so vulnerable.

Halfway through, Angel, the christian came over and stood in front of the toilet. There is only a small wall about half a meter tall, which acted as some sort of a cover. Angel was pretty muscular and was about half a head taller than me. Surely not him, I screamed in my head.

He then reached out and handed me a bottle of shampoo and facial foam. I froze for a moment before taking them from him. “Thanks!” I mumbled. I was being too paranoid. I finished showering and felt much better. Perhaps the rape stories in jail were just myths. Or perhaps they were waiting for another day to pounce. I didn’t know and frankly, didn’t really care. All I cared about was how to get out of this hell hole as soon as possible.

Before going to jail, everyone has to go through a medical examination to make sure you are fit for jail. So I was no exception. Saprudin accompanied me to the examination room, which consists of a few very ancient looking medical apparatus. I thought the place reminded me of a scene from ‘The Hostel’.

An old man with a short crop of white hair lumbered into the room. He casually grabbed one of the ‘lab coats’ hanging on the side of the room. I wonder if they ever washes those. The white color has morphed into some kind of dirty yellow. He proceeded to examine me using those filthy looking apparatus. Never in my life have I wished that I would be so terribly sick, perhaps suffering from an incurable disease. ANYTHING to get me out of jail!

He took my blood pressure and I was hoping that mine had shot through the roof and that they would release me straight away. Or at least send me to a hospital. He whispered something to Saprudin. Saprudin translated,”He asked you to drink more water.” Fuck! I am going to jail and all he can say is ‘Drink more water’? That’s the type of comment you say to an acquaintance with a slight fever. Not to a Singaporean going into a Jakarta prison!

After five minutes, he was done with the checks. Saprudin told me that I was in good health. I tried to protest to say that I have had very bad asthma and dust allergy since young, but he smiled and said “Don’t worry.” I felt like giving him two tight slaps.

He then led me to the prison officer and told me he would see me again on Monday.

I pulled him to one side and asked,”How long do I have to stay here?”

“20 days.” His tone was visibly colder. “I will try to get you out as soon as possible but you must trust me. Oh, and I need you to sign a paper to authorize me to be your lawyer.”

“How much is your fee?” I enquired.

“Oh that maybe expensive you know.”

“How much?” I asked again.

“Oh. Maybe about ten thousand US Dollars.”

“But how would I know you really can help me?”

“You must trust me ok.” He tried to sound more sincere but something about him made me feel uneasy. I told him I would think about it first. He nodded and told me not to worry. “Just treat it like holiday.” I swear if I hear another snide remark fro him I would pop him in the face. He bid me goodbye and I was all alone with the prison officer.

The prison officer was a woman. She tried to talk to me in Bahasa Indonesia but I could hardly make out what she was trying to say. I shook my head.

“Me. Singaporean. Bahasa Indonesia tidak boleh.” I said.

“Oh. Kasian (pitiful). Must learn.” She replied. This was the first person who showed me some degree of sympathy. I was touched. “Must survive ok.” She tried to give me an encouraging smile. I nodded.

She then told me to remove my shoes and socks (there goes my favorite Nikes). Another prison officer started to cut up my jeans. Apparently, we were not supposed to wear any long pants in the prison, so they were going to cut up the Jeans to make it into a pair of Bermudas (there goes my favorite Levi’s).

When it’s done, they signaled for one of the prisoners (trustee) to bring me to my cell. This is it! Barefoot, Jeans cut up like some mad man, and with a desperate look on my face, I was heading to my cell. I could barely breathe. As I walked the stairs to my cell, I thought about the prison movies that I have watched. Suddenly, I remembered this movie starring Edward Norton called “American History X”.

I remembered the cruel scene when Edward Norton was fucked in the ass in prison by a group of big sized dudes. Oh my God! Was I going to suffer the same fate?

The walk up seemed like an eternity. This was the police lock up and it was a 4 storey building. I had reached the top and the trustee showed me to a cell. The stench emitting from the cell was nauseating. The cell was dark and very crowded. There was at least ten men in the cell which measure about 3 meters by 6 meters. The trustee unlocked the door and I was shoved inside.

I took a seat in the middle of the cell and tried to look friendly. I smiled and said “Hi.” A few of the prisoners smiled and greeted me. Quite a number of them just lie around the cell, looking like hardcore drug addicts. The guy sitting beside me introduced himself as Andre. He looks like a slimmer version of Fred Flintstone. He seemed to be the only guy in the cell who can speak English.

“Don’t worry. We are all like a big family in here. We take care of each other.” I thought he sounded like the spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Development. I was suspicious of him but he does look like a decent dude. He introduced me to some of the guys in the cell.  There was a super thin guy called “Jimi Hendrix”. A Muslin guy is praying religiously in the corner. His name was Didi. There was a Christian called “Angel”. These guys are creative with their names aren’t they? I thought.

The leader of the cell is a small-sized, mousy looking guy called Alexi. He had a fake smile and had a disgusting habit of spitting everywhere in the cell.

The reality was beginning to sink in. I was going to be stuck in this 3 X 6 cell with a bunch of strangers for God knows how long. I shivered at that thought and whispered a silent prayer. I hope God has not deserted me yet.

The corrupt cops and police lawyer

Posted: December 13, 2010 in Life, prison

The police inspector arrived only in the morning about 9am. His name was Haryono. He was a fit looking man in his forties and when he put on his glasses, he actually resembles a benign-looking grandpa. I was convinced that this guy wasn’t going to put me in jail for one stupid ecstasy pill. One of the policemen asked if I needed a lawyer. I asked if he could speak proper English as I needed someone who can speak English to help me negotiate with the cops.The police officer told me the lawyer can speak good English.

He arrived about an hour later. The first impression I got of him was that he resembled those loserish lawyers that work for the mafia in gangster movies. He had a strange-looking mustache which gave him a very scruffy look and he had a habit of using his handkerchief to rub his nose every couple of minutes. Everything about him screamed lackey! The only saving grace was that he did speak English pretty fluently.

He told me that my case was only a small matter. I told him to get me out of this situation and I was willing to pay to get out. He told me that his fees was not cheap but when I pressed him for a figure, he told me that he would let me know later after finding out more of the details of the situation.

I proceeded to explain to him the situation. He told me that it was a small matter and he had handled many cases like this and all his clients were free and did not need to go to jail. I just needed to pay some money to the police and everything should be fine. I was elated when I heard that and I had to refrain myself from planting a wet one on him.

The next couple of hours were spent doing the usual police administration that you may have seen in the movies. This includes taking of photos holding a white board with numbers, taking of statement (which took damn long because of the translation and the slow typist who was this old man. I thought he looked like he was 90 years old). The final process was the taking of finger prints. All your fingers and thumbs had to be printed on the statement. It was all pretty officious and stupid if you ask me.

Finally, when everything was done, Haryono came to speak to me via the translator (Saprudin, the lawyer). He asked me to pack my stuff and get ready to go to jail. JAIL! My legs felt weak and I had to grab onto Saprudin to steady myself. Didn’t he just mention that I wouldn’t need to go to jail? He explained that this was the normal procedure and I had to stay there till Monday when the Singapore Embassy would be opened. NORMAL PROCEDURE! Fuck! Their normal procedure means sending someone to jail? In Singapore, normal procedure simply means you have to maybe wait a week for administrative processes.

My world started spinning. I felt like crying but had to act tough. Saprudin kept assuring me that everything would be fine. That’s easy for you to say, dickhead. You’re not the one going to jail. He also told me that I can’t bring anything inside, and told me to hand him all my money and my diamond ring so that he could keep them for me. I was too stunned to think properly so I just passed him everything. Not that I had a choice anyway.

I asked him what if I could smoke inside the jail. He said no problem but I had to buy the cigarettes. He then gave me 20,000 ruppiah (about SGD$3 dollars) to buy cigarette. Wait a minute! Didn’t he just said I can’t bring any money inside? I knew straight away that he was trying to pull a fast one on me. I asked him to give me more money and he very unwillingly gave me another 300,000 ruppiah. Fucker!

I changed into a comfortable T-shirt, and they shoved me into the police van. They were laughing and chatting merrily, as if they were going for an office excursion.Doesn’t any of these fuckers have any sense of sympathy or even empathy? I closed my eyes and tried to get ready for what lied ahead. This was definitely going to be an experience of a lifetime.