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Articles Home - Jail: Life behind bars
The hierarchy
Poor prisoners are called "ranas" or frogs. They sleep on the floor with mice and vermin around them. They have no private rooms or baths and they must use latrine-type holes in the jail patio and openly evacuate. These prisoners all shower together and fight for the last drop of water, while the goleta owners enjoy private baths. Every morning at about 9am there is a "conteo" or prisoner count where they are asked to walk out of the cells into the hallway to be counted. "Special" prisoners, those who have clout or money, can remain in bed and be counted by the "llavero." Some prisoners even have their own keys to their cell. These prisoners can walk around the hallway after curfew with their own keys and do favors for other prisoners, like passing cell phones for rent and buy food.

Riots take place at least twice a year. Personal vendettas are solved then. Many prisoners take advantage of riots and wound or kill their enemies. Prisoners burn mattresses and plastic. Jails guards bombard them with tear gas whether or not you are involved. Juveniles are beaten often just to keep them in line. The juveniles are the most dangerous prisoners because they have little to fear. The maximum jail term for a youth is 2 years. Few spend the maximum there, even for murder. Solitary cells are only for rebellious people. Few get there, but when they do it is like hell. If you kill somebody in jail you get 20 years additional automatic. Yet, during blackouts prisoners are killed easily. Blankets are thrown over the victim and stabbed and the killer is never found. Blackouts force prisoners to stand against the wall to protect their backs. If you "are in" for abusing, killing or maiming children or your mother, most likely it is like a death sentence. Prisoners hate these types of criminals and will make them pay for their crimes. A prisoner who chopped his mother into pieces paid the same way within a week in jail.

Escape from jail can also be bought. 95% of escapees paid their way out thru the "llaveros" who hold the keys and even with the warden's approval. However, once you are out, you are on your own. They will hunt you down like a dog and shoot you on sight. If they catch you alive, expect torture, broken legs and even permanent injuries.

Drugs and weapons
The drug agency has personnel inside jails. They bring in and sell, thru prisoners 90% of the drugs inside. Crack is the favorite drug (piedra). Ecstasy is now becoming very common because of the ease to handle. Real and home-made weapons are easily obtained. Metal pipes are introduced and sold inside to make weapons. Metal forks and even toothbrushes are turned into deadly knives. Unbelievably, "acido del diablo" a toxic corrosive chemical is sold in jails to attack other prisoners. Those sprayed with this acid will be disfigured for life. Nothing has been found to repair the damage.

Food and clothing
Only the very poor eat and drink prison food. Most food is brought in by families. Jail food is extremely bad and unhealthy. Rice is mixed with "alumbre", fattening starches and other products to artificially fatten prisoners. Rice is "apastado"(clumpy) so heavily as to be almost solid. "Cocoa" or chocolate drink in the morning is often spitted on on by the cooks, who do not like cooking detail. Meat is almost non-existent in jail food. Prisoners wear the latest street fashions during visits with expensive sneakers, chains and stuff. Only the very poor have raggedy clothes. Families treat their prisoners well in Dominican Republic and they have no choice since the government provides nothing else.

Transfers within the same jail are harder than getting transferred out and very costly, because it becomes a business proposition. The only reason to request a transfer is to get a better cell or Goleta, or to avoid contact with an enemy who is about to be transferred from another jail. This is a privilege that the warden knows has a top value. So be prepared to pay big bucks. Jail transfers are another way to collect "taxes" from prisoners. The warden sends his goons to collect the names for transfers to nasty jails, like "15 de Azua" or Monte Plata". To avoid having your name in a transfer list you must pay your way out ($250). The warden also collects for his "favorite charity". You must pay up. At times charitable organizations and even politicians give out free mattresses to poor prisoners, which are in turn sold. There are pawn shops and you can pawn almost anything.

Getting sick
If you get sick chances are your illness will get worse. Medical assistance is almost non-existent and you must pay dearly to get a hospital or clinic pass. The wardens do not like hospital passes because of the high ratio of escapes. If you need an injection you must buy the prescription, the syringe, the cotton and the propyl-alcohol. All drugs and medicine must be bought by prisoners. At best you will get an aspirin for major pain.

While prison authorities allow many perks, prisoners must never show off or brag about the perks. Spot raids are done by the colonel and the chief of police to show they have control. But this is just to show they are doing something. Prisoners bury their cell phones, weapons and other "prohibited" items in bags in the jail shops. They also make windows from one "goleta" to another and when the inspector comes they pass the item thru the next door window, and vice versa.

But as bad as the prisons in the Dominican Republic can be many fugitives would rather serve time in the Dominican Republic because of the ease afforded to them. With the greasing of a few palms a 20 year sentence can be a walk in the park. But if you are a poor soul a 20 year sentence will feel like an eternity. In many cases US criminals can make their way to the Dominican Republic and will fight extradition knowing that they will end up doing hard time in the US. Even getting a pardon is on sale in the Dominican Republic, for the right price.
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