No Milk

Posted on Oct 29 1999

Shawn Appleby, Jeronimo Ada and Melvin Basa are no cupcake criminals.

Appleby, 19, is serving a 40-year jail term for killing a Korean businessman while robbing his store in 1996. He also has a string of other crimes, including theft, resisting arrest, assault with a dangerous weapon and criminal mischief.

Ada and Basa are on trial for 37 counts of various charges, including kidnapping, assault and battery, robbery and illegal possession of weapons, in connection with a riot in Koblerville last July.

The three stirred an island-wide alert when they escaped from the Division of Corrections Oct. 10, frightening just about everybody, including the judges who put them in jail, and threatening the jobs of prison officials.

When they were caught, it seemed the three thought they had to make up for the widespread anxiety they caused and cooked up a funny story: they escaped in disgust because they were not being served milk and they’re bothered by mosquitoes disturbing the serenity of their sleep.

But that’s not the funny story. Thing is, officials took them seriously.

Officials are looking into their complaints, which inmates sent to Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio by fax. They’re complaining of limited access to telephones, lousy food, which is actually provided by a caterer, and bad jail management. They summed it all up by saying that all these amounted to a violation of their constitutional rights. Who was it who said that felons lose their political rights after conviction?

Saipan residents have reason to worry when convicted killers are able to walk out of prisons casually, like going out of a house for a walk in the park. That’s the real problem. When you can’t keep troublemakers at bay, you’ll have trouble everywhere.

The problem with Saipan’s prisons obviously are not the iron bars, which are hard to cut or the cemented jail ground which are hard to dig. The problem obviously are the guards, who don’t guard well, and officials, who employ lousy guards. You can build an Alcatraz and still have jailbreaks every hour if you have guards who mind their card games more than the cell gates, sleep in jail and not in their house or who forget that they have to keep prison gates shut.

These should be the main focus of prison reforms. And mind you, these are not complicated concerns –– just change incompetent prison personnel, charged those that need to be charged and let’s go on with our lives.

In some other places, prison problems are a lot more daunting. We always hear of prison horrors and atrocities in Third World countries, indeed, including larger countries in Asia. Even former deputy prime ministers get a black eye or are poisoned sometimes when they land in jail. We hear of drugs, crimes, sodomy and constant deaths in many gutter prisons.

In the Philippines, many jails in the capital are flooded when it rains and inmates have to cling to prison bars like monkeys at the top of their cells for several days until the waters recede. They sleep and eat and do everything in that position for one simple reason: they have no choice. Jails in Manila are so congested prisoners sleep on top of each other; the place is so cramp you breathe the breath of another inmate and the heat and stench is next to the intensity of hell. Last time I heard, the government appropriates 30 pesos (dlrs?) for the food of each prisoner for a day. That’s 10 pesos per meal, if prisoners have the stomach to eat them.

Philippine jails in the time of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos were something else, in terms of notoriety. Political prisoners then were given electric shocks, made to lie on ice for hours then doused with hot water, or forced to drink or eat urine and human waste in urinals until their tummies bloat, and when that happened, torturers jumped on their stomachs forcing the waste out of their mouths and their ears, often laced with their blood.

The last thing in the minds of these people is a nice, warm glass of milk.

Of course these are prison horrors that should, and had been condemned. Convicted criminals lose their political rights not their human rights.

But when prisoners ask for perks that are not being enjoyed even by respectable people who lead lawful lives outside of Saipan’s prison, then authorities have to draw the line. Just look at the menu of the prison food that are served to inmates and one would easily get an idea of the kind of lives they live inside. Why not take off a little bit of the beef and buy screens to ward off mosquitoes?

There is a joke that when prisoners escape in Saipan, the thing to do is do nothing. They’ll return in a few days after missing the food and perks of prison. Officials should think twice the next time prisoners complain about the milk. They, maybe, are being taken for a ride. Beside, when the three escapees were rearrested in a house in Kagman III three weeks ago, they weren’t drinking milk.

They were gurgling beer.

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