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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Justice Anybody?

                                         Justice Anybody?

     The link at the end of this paragraph made me wonder just where we are headed as a nation with two million citizens in prison.  We may have some problems that need fixed especially as law enforcement seems to get more and more out of hand. I could name a dozen incidents that people know about. Rodney King, Ruby Ridge, Waco, and I am sure you can supply a few of your own.  The three above all ended in court with the government paying huge sums of money, which many people who did not follow up on stories may not know.  This lead paragraph was actually written after the story. A recent post on the Bluegrass Pundit's blog on July 30th reminded me of the last part of this story. Follow the link to read it.

                                     YOU THINK JAIL IS BAD?

     If you think jail is bad, in comparison to what? This is a short true story to make you see how bad, bad can be.  In the American correctional system you have it made at least in comparison to some other places in the world.  My last two years in the Army were spent in the Panama Canal Zone.  For those who do not know.   The Panama Canal crosses fifty mile long and ten mile wide strip of land that links the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.  America built the Canal, but during the Carter Administration we agreed to give control of the Canal to the Panamanian government.  That happened during the time frame when I was there in 77-78.

      Occasionally an American soldier would get busted in Panama and outside the Canal Zone.  The U.S. government had no authority or jurisdiction outside the Canal Zone.  It would take some major negotiations to get the soldier back and out of the Panamanian jail.  Panama was ruled by a dictator and his LaGuardia Nacional, or National Guard. The National Guard had soldiers assigned to almost every city block, especially in the bigger cities.  A good comparison to the National Guard would be the Nazi Gestapo under Hitler.  The La Guardia ruled and most of them could be bought for a price.  They got a piece of any action that generated revenue on their block.

    This is a story about a soldier.  I will call him Peabody. The name has been changed to protect the guilty. Everybody has met a Peabody at some point in their life.  Peabody was about 6 foot and probably a good 250 pounds when his problems started.  Peabody was down town when he got arrested for drug possession and thrown into a Panamanian Jail.  It took us a couple days to find out what had happened to Peabody.  Monday, Wednesday and Friday the American Military Police would make a visit to the Panamanian Jail to take food to the American Prisoners.  On their Monday run they were informed by the Panamanians that they had Peabody.  Also that he had been busted for possession.  After some negotiations it was agreed that Peabody would be released for the sum of $500 dollars.  This is where it starts getting complicated.  Our government would not bail out GI’s.  The soldier had to come up with his own bond money.

      What usually happened was that the Military Police informed the soldier’s home unit and the unit would take up a collection among his fellow soldiers.    Then the Military Police would take the money and negotiate with the National Guard as to the exact terms of the release.  Peabody’s problems really started at this point.  Peabody was a bully( a phony one it appears), a slob and a bit of an all around general asshole.  Nobody liked him because he was a trouble maker.  Usually the money would be raised by passing the hat and each person who contributed would be entered into a log, along with the amount they contributed.  When the person got out of jail he would have to pay the money back to those who bailed him out.  On payday he would stand in line and pay each soldier what he owed.  If he had nothing left at the end of his paycheck.  The next month he would do the same thing till he had paid back all the money he owed.

      When the hat came back around for Peabody it was empty.  All his trouble making and attitude had a price. This meant Peabody would have to sit in the Panamanian Prison till he earned enough pay to pay his fine out of his own money.   Well Peabody barely made $300 a month and with the timing of his arrest he would have to sit in jail for almost two whole months.  He swore he had $250 in his pocket when he got arrested, but the National Guard said all he had was $2 (bus fare) and his military ID.  It would be a very long two months for Peabody.

      In many prison systems around the world, and Panama was one of these systems, the state does not feed the prisoners.  It is the duty of the friends and family to provide for the needs of the prisoners.  Those prisoners who have no one to bring them food have a few options.  They can starve, they can beg from the prisoners who have food or they can take the food from anyone they can whip.  Unfortunately for Peabody, he was big, but he was not bad.  When the Military Police showed up on Monday, Wednesday and Friday they would take each GI two military C-Ration meals per day.  The other prisoners looked forward to it.  They gave Peabody enough of his rations to keep him alive so they would get more rations.  When he returned Peabody said the boxes the rations came in were almost as valuable to his fellow inmates as the meals.   The prison cells were right on the water front of the bay.  It had a slit trench that came in through the wall.  When the tide came in it flushed the toilet.  The beds were nothing more than raised concrete slabs.  The prisoners would use the cardboard to lay on and cover up with when it got cold.  It hardly ever got cold in Panama, but being around the water it could seem cold.

     When Peabody finally earned enough money to get himself out of prison another reality hit home.  Panama considers a drug charge a very serious offense.  So they could not just let a person who was in jail for drugs go free.  A compromise was made.  The National Guard would suddenly discover a pocket knife and turn it over to the Military Police.  The prisoner would then sign a confession that he had a knife in his possession when arrested.  A copy of the confession would be given to the National Guard and the drug charge would suddenly disappear.  However carrying a concealed weapon is an offense under the American military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice.  It was a dischargeable offense and within a couple months of getting out of jail the soldier would be sent home with a less than honorable discharge.   However he was out of the military and did not have to do any time in a military jail.  Peabody considered that a bargain by the time he got out of jail.

     Peabody’s time in the Panamanian jail transformed him.  He became a Yes, Sir and No, Sir soldier.  He was humble pie and gave no one any problems.  In fact he went around apologizing to a lot of people for being such an asshole before he went to jail. When he came back he probably weighted between 120 and 130 pounds.  His time in jail had been really hard on him and I am sure he will never forget it.  So when you are having a bad day, just be glad you are in an “American Jail”


                                            Instant Justice

        As bad as all the above sounds, being in jail in Panama might be a blessing.  At least you were still alive.  A friend of mine recounted the following story to me therefore I can’t swear it is accurate.  Having seen other incidences of “instant justice” while stationed there I believe it could be true.

      He was downtown shopping and started to enter a store.  Just as he grabbed the door handle the door flew at him knocking him to the pavement.  He saw a guy jump over him and take off running down the street with a package in his hand.  Suddenly the shop keeper appeared in the door way and started yelling.  He then heard someone in the opposite direction from the running man yelling stop in Spanish.. People started dropping to the pavement around him. He turned just in time to see the La Guardia draw his pistol and aim. The La Guardia fired one shot into the air followed almost instantly by two more.  He looked back toward the running man just in time to see him lurch forward face first into the pavement and his body going over his head and finally coming to rest on the pavement. The La Guardia moved toward the man who had been shot stepping over my friend. When he got to the man he kicked his arm and there was no response.  He put his pistol back in its holster bent and picked up the package.  He then returned it to the shop keeper and helped my friend up.  The La Guardia started to walk off and my friend asked if he wasn’t going to do something.  The La Guardia cool calm and collected turned to him and said. “I did. There was a crime which was a criminal problem and I took care of it.  It is no longer a legal problem.  It is now a sanitation problem.” and he walked off.

     This last part was bought back to mind by an article I recently read on the blog of the Bluegrass Pundit. July 30th which can be read by following the link in the opening paragraph. Made me wonder are we progressing as a nation or going backwards.

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