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  • Writer's picturePanama Human Rights

La Joya Prison 3

Updated: Nov 3, 2019

Shown above: Beds precariously perched on top of cells below, overlooking the gymnasium area. In the evenings, this area was turned into a sleeping area to accommodate 100 inmates. These were the less fortunate ones who did not have enough money to buy a bed—cell bunks cost $300 - $1,000.

The picture above was taken from Ambassador Arthur Porter’s living quarters, located in the attic space of Building 6. This area holds more than 300 plus people; it has no lights or toilets. The floor is suspended over the cells below; the ropes seen are makeshift hammocks suspended from the roof joists. Many people have fallen from this height into the cells below. The La Joya medical reports show multiple injuries to inmates were caused by falls. Two months prior to Mark’s death, an inmate fell from this height (pictured below) to the floor below, then ended up in intensive care at Santo Tomas hospital for eight weeks with serious head injuries. The tin/zinc roof shown is un-insulated, making Building 6 unbearably hot and extremely hard to live in, especially with the searing Panamanian heat, causing many to have anxiety issues. Mark had many issues with stress; overcrowding, extreme heat, and lack of water which made him vulnerable and led to his lack of good judgement.


A - Ladder entering the attic space where 300 inmates lived

B - Looking down into the cells from the attic space

C - Narrow ladder that violates fire marshall’s regulations

International Prisoners forced to construct make-shift beds using discarded timber and rice sacks

Building 6 has a daily logbook that has to be completed by the daily duty officer, looking at this book will show the unnecessary amounts of accidents building 6 had on a regular basis due to lack of safety and negligence, this book will expose the officers name who opened the door the morning of Mark’s death, this officer is the person charged with the care of Mark Bodden and should have come to Mark's aide on the evening of his fall rather than 12 hours later, if building 6 had breached the front door, the on-duty officer would be obliged to attend building 6, as it was under his watch. The La Joya Penitentiary post one police officer per building, this officer works one week on and one week off, the responsibility of that building was down to that one officer for the whole building, there were no multiple police officers looking after building six.

The commando's daily logbook is extremely important, it is very detailed, breaking the day's events into minutes, the events of Marks death would be registered in this logbook. Each building in La Joya has its own separate logbook that is handed over to the next commando when their week's shift has ended.

Starving internationals of water at building 6

Top left and top right image clearly show all the washbasins have been removed leaving inmates with no means to wash their themselves or their clothes. The top right image shows open pipes that have not been terminated showing clearly that water did not enter the building resulting in inmates struggling for survival by catching rainwater.

To prove and show clearly that there is no water provided into this building look closely at the water feeds to each sink, they have not been terminated at the ends of all of these 12 sinks, just cut off at the end and openly exposed showing no water. When you have 520 people with no sink to use it is extremely hard for someone to have an acceptable quality of life especially when your water supply is limited as well.

Even if we did have the sinks reinstalled it would not solve the problem, we are only allowed out 2 hours every week to get air and exercise, this can be born out as the British Ambassador and ‘Jose Martinez’ consul had a meeting with Ronaldo Lopez the Director of the La Joya prison regarding outside exercise in relation to our health and welfare issues.

Due to the toilets in Pavillion 6 not having the facility to flush and without an alternative means provided the prisoners dug ditches outside to retain water for flushing purposes. Prisoners would then endure the humiliating process of having to fill their bucket prior to entering the toilet. However, due to the heat in Panama and 150 people using this water, the ditches would dry quickly and the prisoners would often be faced with the daunting and degrading prospect of not being able to flush the toilet; regularly leading to altercations between inmates. It must also be noted that these buckets were not provided by the authority. They came at a cost of $8.00, which to many fell outside the bracket of affordability. In addition, access to the outside was not readily accessible. It was only on the premise that the commando decided to allow you, which was decided arbitrarily.

The magnitude of the violation is further enhanced when taking into consideration the handbook of the obligations of the penitentiary in the Ministero de Gobierno 1903 pamphlet, article 3, which denotes a prison must supply water on an on-demand basis.

The top image shows an inmate filling his bucket for toileting purposes and the bottom image identifies the recurring predicament for many inmates of a dried ditch.

The depicted man in both images below is seen cleaning the toilets with cleaning supplies paid for and supplied by, already poverty-ridden prisoners as the authorities rejected requests for supplies. The man seen is also paid by prisoners 25 cents per person per week to clean the washroom facilities for the deportation area twice per day to the standard which is feasibly possible with the limited cleaning products and equipment available. A degrading job as it is, the prisoner was actively seeking this position as he had no family to support him financially in the prison and was therefore in extreme poverty. Without this humiliating occupation, he would have no form of income to supply himself with toilet roll, toothbrush, clothes or bedding; basic human amenities. However, this job will not be sufficient to finance an attorney. The toilet was not only used by the 150 prisoners living in the adjacent gymnasium but during the day when other prisoners would attend the gymnasium to socialise up to 250 prisoners would be using this one toilet per day.  

The image depicts the man collecting his weekly fee from the prisoners for providing his toilet cleaning service. A humiliating activity for the cleaner but an equally humiliating and degrading prospect for the men who had insufficient funds to cover the 25 cent cost, some of which are Canadian. Something which should not be possible in today’s society post-Panama signing the human rights convention.

This one toilet and washbasin accommodates the 150 people within the gymnasium. As can be seen, by the exposed pipe below the toilet and sink are not plumbed in. This one toilet and washbasin was initially intended for two police officers when the gymnasium was used as a deportation room and when the prisoners had cells. As disgusting as this toilet facility was, when the water was switched off by the Panamanian prisoners from Building 1, which regularly happened, the inmates were even reduced to excreting waste in plastic bags as can be seen in the document B9, quoting Mike Starling’s letter, ‘send me some plastic bags so I can shit in them where I’m at there’s no toilet. Please.’

HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES OF A SEVERE MAGNITUDE. The communal toilet was a violation of human rights in that without any form of plumbing the toilet smelt strongly of faeces and urine and without an extractor fan to reduce the potency of the smell, combined with the Panamanian heat the violation was further accentuated. Due to inadequate space, four people have been reduced to living on the roof of this bathroom, one of which is Ambassador Arthur Porter.

Due to the termination of the water supply, the yellow bucket detailed in the above-left image was utilised for the purpose of urination and to subsequently flush faeces. Inherent with such purpose, besides degradation is the exposure to infection and disease of which I was subject to. Additionally, for the less fortunate prisoners who could not afford tissue, they would have to lift the bucket with no form of cover to protect their skin. The tissue which can be seen in the above images was provided by me, not by any form of authority. Consequently, many prisoners would use alternatives to substitute the tissue such as newspapers. The highly unhygienic pile of toilet tissue overflowing the bucket in the above right image, given the disproportionate number of people per toilet would reach such a size each day by lunchtime, with the bucket itself being full within approximately thirty minutes to one hour.

The majority of people when using the toilet, to avoid making direct skin contact with the basin, stand on the rim and squat. Furthermore, as noted above many were unable to afford toilet tissue resulting in faeces on the floor and around the rim of the toilet. Prisoners were ill-equipped to deal with the mess, regularly causing me to vomit. Although others were capable of standing and squatting, I have Osteoarthritis and so was unable to do so myself so I was forced to sit directly on the contaminated toilet which leads to my serious infections                 

The fluorescent light bulb that was hot-wired into the washroom facility was not replaced by the Panamanian authorities. It was the prisoner's responsibility to purchase them and at an inflated price, as it was a prohibited glass product costing $7.00 (retail value $2.00).

The tiles in this bathroom pose an equal human rights offence. Many of the prisoners would masturbate openly in the bathroom and the tiles evidenced this with semen on the walls. Mucus was also evidenced on the tiles given the apparent Panamanian custom to press one nostril whilst blowing out of the other. The regularity of such a custom would also be enhanced by the lack of toilet tissue. Defensora de pueblo (public ombudsman) did come in once and took some photos, but never heard or saw from them again.

This impoverished inmate was paid by the prisoners to clean out the communal toilet and shower area twice a day in the meeting hall area where some 150 people called home, this inmate had to buy basic necessities such as soap and toilet paper as Panama did not supply any janitorial or cleaning supplies; it was totally down to inmates.

The inmate is asking for 50 cents for his week’s work to all who live in this area, many inmates were angry that they had to pay for something that should have been supplied free by the state. The inmate is holding his note pad with his list of customers & then marks off who has and who has not paid; many people in the gymnasium were extremely poor and could not afford to even pay the 50 cents.

This type of degrading and humiliation treatment forced on inmates shows how Panama can degrade people by not providing this simple service.

The picture you see is Live lava swimming in this trench with hundreds and thousands of flies, this is where we have to wash our dishes, brush our teeth and urinate, this trench is only 20 feet away from where my bed is situated. I have paid many times for prisoners to clear this trench out, at a cost of over $200. This is a serious health issue because all the commercial catering runs from our building that is also washed here and could cause a serious outbreak of typhoid if not maintained or monitored.

There is no drainage underground which causes many prisoners to have health issues. Our building is the only one that does not have a proper outside drainage system for the 150 people who live in the gymnasium.

These white plastic 5 gallon paint buckets are used to serve up our rice and so-called soup,they are washed outside by the lava ridden trench then kept out in the sun  all day with flies leaving all there dropping inside, then the buckets are taken up to the kitchens to be refilled without even being sanitised along the way. These six troff buckets are to feed 520 prisoners. Even the rice is cooked using river water from the tanker trucks.

The image below is confirmation Panama did not supply us with one sink for us to wash our food bowls or even to wash our hands. Everyone is using water containers to wash their plates as the hose pipe you can see has no water. To further the health concerns here, the hose, when not in use is left in the mud as there is no alternative and so when the one and the only hose is used all inmates are at great exposure to diseases such as meningitis. No food standard authority has ever come to check the standards operated within.

The above right image was taken at the end of my bed.  The garbage was deposited there on a daily basis, posing a serious health issue increasing the likelihood of infections which I had already been subjected to on numerous occasions. The issue could be reduced if we were provided with basic cleaning equipment such as garbage bags or a broom. We were not afforded with these basic requirements and were consequently forced to pick up all litter with our hands as can be seen in the video clips. Such litter attracted rats, maggots and feral cats which would jump through the bars of the doors at night to pick on the discarded garbage and whilst in the prison would defecate on and around my bed which was on the floor further increasing the likelihood of catching diseases.

In the image (left) shows the extent to which the water we drink and the water which is used to clean rice is contaminated.

After the water had evaporated, there was enough dirt to clearly inscribe my name. It is then to be expected that infection and disease were prevalent within the prison.

The image above (left) is the food cart which was used to distribute the food. The food in these carts was made and served by the prisoners regardless of the Derechos, Ministerio de Gobierno stating that it will be provided by professional authorities. Additionally, in June 2014 one of the cart's axle broke, meaning the food could not be properly distributed.

The penitentiary system refused to fix the cart and left the prisoners to cover the $300 cost. This can be confirmed by prisoners such as Nikki, the inmate Vice President of the building.

Panama did not supply us with any sinks in the deportation area where we lived, all our washing including food bowels had to be out of a plastic bucket, all the sinks were destroyed by the police 2 years prior. Bread roll and 1 slice of cheese for breakfast. Whatever happened to the millions the UN gave you to stop these human right abuses?

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