The Sunday Leader

It’s All About The Money, Honey!


There is as we pointed out last week – to borrow from a Cilla Black catchphrase – ‘a lorra lorra’ black money floating around in Serendipity. In fact there is certainly a lot more than a ‘lorra lorra’ money out here on this Wondrous isle.
A prison unlike an airport has more woe than anything else. Most of it is self-inflicted of course and many a liberal minded person is bound to say, ‘serve them right’. In essence if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. To borrow from a Lasantha catchphrase, ‘be that as it may’ prisoners and certainly those in remand – who are technically not prisoners at all, awaiting as they are, possible trial – also have rights.

In prison, anything and everything is possible. All you need is the money.

They have rights that are guaranteed them constitutionally, as much as it is people who have been fortunate enough to keep on the right side of the law. To be treated with dignity and respect within the ambiance of a prison system. However incongruous that may sound, it is possible for anyone within any kind of prison system – be it high-security, open prisons or even a mere detention camp, to be treated decently and to expect that they serve their incarceration – whether pre or post conviction – without let or hindrance. These are, some would suggest, the very cornerstones of a truly democratic state where everyone has rights, duties, responsibilities and equally importantly, a right to expect that their constitutional right to be treated with dignity and respect is upheld by his fellow men – including jailors and tuk-tuk drivers alike.
The concept of modern prison systems in terms of punishment is loss of freedom. Pointedly the punishment is loss of Freedom not loss of Humanity. Being a prisoner does not automatically mean you descend to the depths of depravity although one may descend to the depths of despair.
The prison system in Sri Lanka is of course woefully inadequate and requires a sound, prudent and comprehensive renaissance. That needs money. Of course, I hear a battle cry, “that is what everyone wants” but where do we get it from? Tongue in cheek and especially after seeing streams of pages of decisions made by the Legislature, I am tempted to offer this as an answer, “Exim Bank, China”.
Almost every Cabinet memorandum it seems these days, has the magic word, “China” somewhere: be it the funding, building, repairing, promoting, procuring and every other connotation of those words, at some point or other the magic word is ‘China’. But returning to the particular peculiarity of the prisons in Sri Lanka and the service delivery of ‘Class 1 Jailers’ and other classes of those very species, it may be prudent if the government not only borrowed money from China to help with the renaissance of prisons but also with manpower, specifically Chinese manpower to run these prisons. If the Chinamen deliver results anything like they did at Hambantota, the entire country is likely to be grateful.
A casual visit to the remand prison is enough of a nightmare impetus to never go there again. Arrive in time, give the prisoners’ name and stay calm. You have to stay calm. That is because you are likely to sit underneath a shed made up from corrugated steel sheets but with a TV tuned into CSN to keep you company. No sooner the time period arrives, the Jailers take between 30 and 45 minutes to find the prisoner. A total of 9,835 remand prisoners passed through the Colombo Prison in 2011. Of those 2,148 spent between 30 days and 180 days on remand. The wheels of justice churn rather slowly in Serendipity: the government analysts’ works on Heroin cases for example is said to be several months behind, placing a huge burden on the prisons’ service as some offences are not bailable and courts are powerless to do much.
In prison, anything and everything is possible. All you need is the money. Money of course is officially banned inside. The operative word is officially. Account numbers are given and monies are deposited. Jailers then bring the cash in having deducted a commission, which would have your official bankers salivating: 20% is the fee. In turn this money helps pay for water for washing, having your clothes washed – laundered is the more stylish word – use of mobile phones, having your hair cut, hot water for making a cuppa in fact anything that is available outside.
The Army did an admirable job recently but clearly they only found the spoils: the catalysts for the malaise that goes on within the prison is clearly the jailers: perhaps they are not so well paid.
The availability of hard drugs including heroin is widespread – selling for as much as four times the market price. Everything as they say is available, all you need is the money, honey!  Rooms – read cells – in the remand prison fetch a premium. It’s not quite Hilton Colombo but does allow a modicum of sanity amongst the thousands that are held there. The alternative is to sleep on the corridors where one is likely to be trampled and trod upon and where the only thing safe is the clothes you happen to be wearing.
The waiting area for remand prisoners who get their food delivered from homes and nearby hotels is an exercise in insanity. It’s ‘one flew over the cuccoo’s nest’ all over. People shout over each other to get themselves heard. If you have the money and the honey you could have a private audience. The going rate is Rs 5,000 provided of course you are not a lawyer. Then it’s free. Amazingly in Vavuniya the recent raid on the prison there unearthed a satellite telephone. The cost per minute to use that phone is in excess of Rs 600 per minute.
Prisoners taken to Court are kept hanging on well after Court times, languishing in their bus whilst jailers indulge in a typical Sri Lankan act: breaking a bottle or two. Paid for of course by a hapless prisoner’s anxious family and friends. Prisoners are shepherded into court with almost zero planning for their meals and whatever their crime they do need to be fed.
Without that they may as well banish them to some atoll on the Indian Ocean to breed all over again. Private meetings in a Courthouse and meals whilst you wait for the Jailers to finish indulging can be arranged – for the honey once again.
All in all, the moral is perhaps this: Sri Lanka has its own ways of winning wars. The war on drugs and corruption in the Prisons System has clearly caught the eagle eyes of those with appropriate responsibility. The service delivery may not be entirely acceptable. Therefore choose someplace else or if you simply insist on getting remanded then have a pot of that black money available – you will definitely need it – it’s not cheap within the Prison System, not one bit. (

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