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Panama Prison Break, Really All That Surprising?

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Written by Matt   
Tuesday, 21 April 2009 14:06
La Joyita PanamaSomeone passed me a story the other day about the escape of a large group of inmates from La Joyita prison in Panama, medical something like fifty of whom were at large in Panama City doing whatever it is you do after you escape prison. I'd like to think it was similar to the movies, help where some return home to hug their mothers, others carry out heinously pent-up acts of violence crafted over years of careful planning, and one or two special inmates retreat to a field of daisies and sunflowers searching for the meaning of life. In reality, most of Panama's escaped inmates went into hiding, using overturned baby pools and broken refrigerators to try and lay low for a while. That an escape of such large magnitude occurred in Panama surprises me about as much as the arrival of a Sunday, seeing as though the general competency level in Panama sits several notches above juvenile. From the man monitoring the airport's x-ray machine to the on-duty police officers chatting away on their cell phones to the security guards distracted instantaneously by a pair of big breasts: I cannot honestly say I have ever seen a less-trustworthy gang of workers before in my life.

"You hear about the prison break from La Joyita?" I asked my visiting friend Meredith who is always excited by the prospect of running into a fellon while on vacation.

"Yes, I already double locked our doors," she said. "But La Joyita, isn't that where we had lunch the other day on the beach?"

"You mean La Playita?" I asked.

After re-reading the article, I was reminded of a time my family lived in a preppy suburb of Newport Beach, California where neatly trimmed front lawns and fancy sports cars were simply a way of life. Looking back on it, the school I was attending at the time was something of a hippie institution, an alternative to the otherwise fabricated middle schools in Irvine. Situated on a farm, my teachers, who requested we call them by their first names Willie and John, liked wall tapestries and were excellent ultimate Frisbee players. But it was one day that a child molester called Chester escaped the local jail, and our recess was restricted to the small room in which we studied math and agriculture.
I honestly don't remember if Chester the Molester was ever apprehended, caught up on the fact that his name and title rhymed like my favorite showman Tarbash the Egyptian Magician. Besides, jail in Irvine couldn't have been all that bad. We had visited the compound on a fieldtrip for industrial architecture class (this was age nine - that's how bizarre my school was) when I remember looking at the clean prison cells with cable TV and automatic doors and thinking that, if nothing else panned out for me, Orange County Jail was not a bad last resort.

Prison conditions in Panama on the other hand are not unlike medieval times when small shards of fabric and metal coffee mugs were considered luxuries, when he who robbed turnips from the King's garden was lashed then stuck in a cell to rot slowly away on a dirt floor. Robin Hood is the best analogy I could give for jails like La Joyita: with hundreds of prisoners reaching their arms through the bars, and yelling at passing guards. It's no wonder they want to get out, and in this case last week, they actually did.

The prison escape harkens to a bigger, more serious notion: that in a Panama of grandiose expectations, the people behind the wheel are oftentimes unreliable. Who knows if a guard was sleeping or paid off, or merely at the mercy of the building's poor security. Tall buildings in Panama scare me the most, especially when the team doing the infrastructure is hollering, like a herd of chimpanzees, at a woman passing by. What's 50 escaped convicts when you've got an entire city on the brink?

Comments (2)Add Comment
written by La Mer , April 25, 2009
Matt, you say something that strikes me:
" a Panama of grandiose expectations, the people behind the wheel are oftentimes unreliable."
BUT WHY ?! One can't say "it's genetic". One can't just say "it's cultural" as if "culture" is a sealed subject, set in stone, never to change or evolve. Where does it all start? And how come it is not questioned enough from inside to produce change?
Answers must lie in history (the history of a country and the biography of each person who has reached a position of power). History (like identity) is made up of stories. Beyond numbers, it's a matter of interpretation and choice. I wonder what are the stories Panamanians keep passing along from generation to generation? Are these mostly stories of poverty and oppression? Stories of hunger and unfullfilled desires ? And success stories of overcoming these needs and desires? Of "them" versus "us" and then vice-versa?
I noticed your own stories are stories of "having just enough" to the point of and of being validated to the point of boredom and then fantasizing about change in an adventurous way. You come from a whole society that had it. From a mature society. You draw your energy from this source. Panama seems to be at the other end: immature and still drawing energy from a history defined by "not having enough", by lack, by huge desires.
You used the word "juvenile" at some point in your article. Is Panama still like a young teenager with great aspirations but still quite inept when it comes to balancing rights and responsibilities? Like a young teenager who still expects others to do what s/he should do...and who cannot (or do not know how to) assume full responsibility?
What does maturity mean? Is it something desirable and/or neccessary when it comes to an individual and further to an entire society? And can a society or system mature when so many members are still struggling to reach the first step in Maslw's pyramid of needs? And if you don't know what's above, you tend to think that you reached the top when in fact you are still on the first ladder in an horizintal progression: food and shelter, then more food and a better shelter, then luxurious food and shelter etc.
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written by La Mer , April 26, 2009
Maslow' hierarchy of needs is old stuff but many still use it as a reference today. See more here
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 April 2009 14:10