Sat, 11 Nov 2000

Former inmates talk about Cipinang jail

By Joko E.H. Anwar

JAKARTA (JP): Amid doubts and speculations about the police's failure so far to locate the nation's most wanted fugitive, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, shocking stories about the life in Cipinang Prison could be a factor that makes the 38-year-old son of former president Soeharto still refuse to surrender himself.

Senior journalist Arswendo Atmowiloto, who was imprisoned at the East Jakarta penitentiary, during the authoritarian era of Tommy's father, recounted his experience as an inmate in the all- male prison in his book, Counting the Days, which include violence and sex among inmates.

Contacted separately by The Jakarta Post on Wednesday and Thursday, several former inmates of the penitentiary shared their ideas on how Tommy, who has been sentenced to 18 months in jail for corruption, could deal with the possible awful nightmares he might face at the penitentiary.

Former convict turned Muslim preacher Anton Medan said that Tommy would not be safe in the penitentiary since there would be two groups of inmates who would try to hurt him.

"The first group are small-time crooks who probably envy Tommy since he is also considered to be a big-time criminal who stole from the little people," Anton said.

Anton said that such people would not hesitate to hurt Tommy since they had nothing to lose.

These prisoners, Anton said, occupied small cells in the prison each of which usually accommodated more than 20 inmates.

Anton failed to elaborate on the size of the cells.

"The second group will be those who are being imprisoned as political victims of Tommy's father," Anton who spent 13 years of his life in the prison said.

Anton said that inmates had many opportunities to hurt others even those who stayed in separate blocks from theirs.

"If Tommy wants to be really safe, he should go to Nusakambangan," he said, referring to the country's only island prison in the southern part of Central Java.

"There are nine jails there, one of which he can fix and furnish with furniture and appliances," Anton said.

"He can even pay people to be his security guards," Anton said adding that it would be impossible for Tommy to hire security guards to protect him at the Cipinang penitentiary since it would create too much attention.

Anton said that Tommy might generate envy if he used his money to get the best "service" the penitentiary could offer.

He added that it was widely known that inmates could pay the guards if they wanted to stay in special cells, which offer much more comfort.

Separately, politician Sri Bintang Pamungkas who was imprisoned at the penitentiary in 1997 for 13 months for defaming former president Soeharto, said that Tommy would be safe in the penitentiary.

"Every block in the penitentiary has its own guards so it will be hard for inmates from one block to get into another block," Bintang said.

Another former inmate, Are Foto, 50, who spent more than 30 years in the prison also echoed Bintang's statement.

"It's impossible for an inmate to go to another block because the prison guards will beat him up," Are said.

Bintang said that if Tommy could adjust himself to prison life, he would be safe.

"Tommy has nothing to worry about. If he can adapt his attitude to the prison's environment, other inmates won't bother him," Bintang said.

Bintang said that when he entered prison in the beginning there were several inmates who tried to harass him.

"One of them, a notorious one, asked for money and when I refused, he shouted like mad," Bintang said. "But later, they were okay after I mixed with them. We even exchanged food which we cooked ourselves."

Bintang said that penitentiary guards were the ones Tommy should be nice to so they would give him protection, and that was going to be easy since Tommy had a lot of money, he added.

Bintang said that inmates could buy anything in the penitentiary including protection from guards and even shabu- shabu (crystal methamphetamin) which was usually smuggled in by the guards themselves.

Are also echoed Bintang's statement.

"You can pay to have a comfortable cell with a comfortable bed, television set, VCR, and one of those new electronic appliances such as a VCD player, you name it," Are said.

"So Tommy should just come forward and get it over with."