Written By Vishvesh Trivedi
My old friend Robin is all about adventure. Being a guy in his mid-twenties, he wants to explore every corner of this world. But if I’m being honest, his ideas are always too radical. A short while ago, he told me about his plan to explore different sorts of prisons across the globe. Just for the sake of it. What many might consider foolish, Robin explained as mere curiosity. The thrilling plan was to scavenge around jails in different countries to examine if similar crimes resulted in varying prison experiences. For the full experience, he chose three diverse destinations — Teezar Jail in India, Evil Antonio Prison in Venezuela, and finally, the White Dolphin Prison in Russia. The initial plan also included, as Robin liked to call it, Scandinavian Luxury Lounges a.k.a. prisons. However, he did not want to add to the cut-throat competition to get admitted to those prisons, and hence, dropped the plan.
As promised, Robin shared his action-packed adventure with me as soon as he came back.
Abiding by the current government’s policy, ‘India First’, Robin decided to begin his quest from the Teezar jail. Apart from frequent break-outs, inter-gang fights, and uncontrolled substance abuse, Teezar was one of the ‘most secure’ prisons in the country. At the jail county, Robin was hosted by three inmates — a rich-spoilt teen who ran over a pedestrian with his BMW, a local thug caught for money extortion, and a political heavyweight who shot a party co-worker during an election feud (none of these are a rarity in India).
On exploration, Robin found out that the so-called ‘world-class’ volleyball and badminton courts had broken nets or no nets at all. The food court was nothing shy of a ‘mini-Kumbh Mela’, flooded with a thousand inmates at a time. Nevertheless, the inmates were blessed with one sweet dish every alternate day and on that given day, it was Jalebis.
“This Jalebi is crispy as a pretzel,” said Robin, while breaking the jalebi.
“Haha, tastes like a pretzel too,” murmured Zaid, the teen.
The prison cells looked common for every prisoner, which startled him. Equality in India? Robin was amused. But later, to his relief, he overheard rumors of how the jail authorities kept body-doubles of those VIP inmates, while they escaped via tunnels and relaxed in a nearby 5-star hotel. Finally, he bid adieu to the jail township and was all set for his next adventure.
Next, Robin landed in Venezuela and it did not take him long to realize that this country was strangely unique. To begin with, the local taxi driver gave Robin a creepy stare when he asked to take him to Evil Antonio Prison. Upon reaching there, to Robin's surprise, the prison was far beyond his imagination. Robin wondered whether he had even come to the right place. People were dancing to the DJ in salsa pairs. Kids and adults alike were enjoying themselves in the pool. There was a live orchestra playing in one corner of the county, and they had a full-fledged bar at the center! It was as if he had crashed upon a local rave party. But to his surprise, it was indeed the prison he was looking for.
“$100 for a night?” Robin jokingly asked one of the guards.
To which the guard replied, “Nah, a homicide or a robbery would be enough.”
Moreover, he learned that each prisoner gets a separate room. Ironically, this had resulted in somewhat of a baby-boom in the prison county, and a re-headcount became a necessity every month to update the prison register. Moreover, Latinos and math don’t go hand-in-hand, so there was always friction among inmates over meals and other resources. However, the inmates can’t complain much, considering the luxurious life they're living in a prison, as absurd as it may be. It looked like their punishment had been postponed to the afterlife because this, in no regard, looked like a prison sentence! At dusk, my shell-shocked friend left for the hotel, but his mind still refused to believe what he had just witnessed. For now, the extremely high crime rates in the country made more sense than anything else.
For the final quest, Robin brokered a deal with a local mafia member in Venezuela to lend him a seat in a cargo ship used for drug trafficking to the Soviet Union. After arriving at the port, Robin boarded a train where he was accompanied by a single bottle of vodka for 16 hours. Eventually, Robin reached his ‘final’ destination — The White Dolphin Prison. He managed to get a fake ID from Sat Zeo, a popular western media outlet, and entered the prison premises as a media correspondent.
Did I just come to an Amazon Warehouse? Robin mused at first glance.
A large premise with organized corridors and spacious cells. Meh, this can’t be the worst prison on the planet, there is definitely more to it, Robin pondered. While the guards were away, he discovered an English-looking inmate, sitting on a table, having lunch. Robin slid a pack of cigarettes into the inmate’s pocket and sat right opposite to him.
“What you got to eat?”
“Soup and bread.”
“What else do you get?”
“When do you get out?”
“I don’t know when, but it’ll be in a coffin.”
As the talks progressed, Robin came to know of various torture practices and isolation techniques subjected to the prisoners. 20 hours of isolation and a mere 45 minutes of social interaction, the prison was indeed an Amazon Warehouse — both visually and contextually.
“What’s this?” Robin pointed at a black spot in the soup.
“Cockroach,” the inmate answered while picking it up.
“Aren’t you gonna throw it away?”
“Nah, it’s good protein,” the inmate replied, while crunching on the insect.
A dead cockroach is indeed full of protein, Robin thought in utter disgust.
By this time, Robin was as uncomfortable as a dog with socks. Luckily for him, the allowance time ended quickly and, unsurprisingly, he quickly moved off the premises.
A month later, here we are — Robin and I sitting in his living room, gulping down Gatorade and munching on aloo bhujiya while he caters his experience to me. As the conversation settles down, I notice Robin staring at me. A few seconds later, I look up and still find him gazing at me.
“Bro, you okay?” I blurt, out of discomfort.
“Rehabilitation or punishment? What do you think is more important when dealing with prisoners?” Robin shoots a strange question at me. Moments later, my eyes light up and I answer back:
“You know what’s more important…”
“Preparing yourself to face your boss tomorrow, and somehow come up with a convincing reason as to why you magically disappeared for over a month!”
“I’m guessing ‘experiencing prisons’ won’t cut it.”
We looked at each other for a while and burst into laughter.