09 January 2007



After a delightful and relatively peaceful 2 weeks of vacation in the U.S. I came back to Ecuador and all the drama that comes with living here. I had the (unfortunate) experience of going to the transit jail; don't worry, I was just visiting! The judiciary system here is abhorently corrupt and inhumane. First of all, if a drunk driver gets caught in most provinces, s/he usually just has to pay the arresting officers about $20 to walk (or drive) away and have the whole ordeal forgotten. In one province here, the perpetrator has to be behind bars from 30-180 days, at the discretion of a judge. However, if the family of the perpetrator has the $1,000 or so to give to the judge to spring the person from jail, s/he is free to go. The more time the person spends behind bars, the less his/her family has to pay the judge. But in the end, the judge always gets money and sometimes even a small gift too. My friend had been inside for 2 weeks when I came back and his family had to pay $100 plus a nice bottle of brandy. I can't decide if it's worse that the corruption goes all the way to the judge, with every subordinate getting a cut from the family as well, or if the fact that one can just pay off the arresting officer on the street to be let free. On the one hand, you're getting the driver off the road right away. But on the other hand, the person has to stay encarcerated for an undetermine amount of time until his/her family can pay off someone who is supposed to be the beacon of justice.

Another horrific thing about the condition of the jail is that the prisoners don't get fed. Family members or friends have to go to the jail sometimes twice a day to give food to the one locked up. If s/he doesn't know anybody in the area, s/he either depends on the sympathetic families of other prisoners or dies of hunger. I thought this was just an exaggeration, but it's true! Can you believe that the state doesn't pay to keep the prisoners alive? Of course, if you murder someone and are sentenced, you are put in a more formal penitentiary institution and are taken care of by the state. Family members who visit have to bring food and provide clothing and anything else for the ones behind bars. I just couldn't believe it!

I'm happy to announce that my friend got out after 16 days behind bars, having spent Christmas and New Year's in a cell. Now he's running around, working hard to pay back his family members and friends who paid for his "legal" expenses.

. . . and your friend will hopefully remember the pain and shame of being in jail over the holidays and not drive drunk again . . .

i like the idea that prisoners don't become wards of the state but still have to be taken care of by private citizens like their family. people need to feel responsibility for their actions (even if that's often an illusion) and not have an incentive (like free food) to hurt others.
maybe you need to adjust the 'beacons of justice' view of judges and come up with another paradigm . . . maybe something like 'private enforcer' of social good makes more sense in that environment. dropping our own cultural baggage helps us understand another culture better . . .
Well written article.
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