Former ETA Member Describes Dominican "Concentration Camp" Where Inmates "Cannot Tell Difference Between Inside and Outside"

Francisco. Encarcelados
A Spanish TV crew was completely unprepared when they became the first foreigners allowed exclusive access into La Victoria, the biggest prison in the Dominican Republic. The crew first met up with their tour guide Francisco, a 59 year-old diabetic and former ETA member with the "Los Cabras" commando who was sentenced to seven years in prison and had served two for trafficking kilos of cocaine, possibly to fund attacks against Spanish authorities.

Francisco began by telling his visitors that although his
Victory trophies
hypertension and diabetes limited him from playing sports, it did not prevent him from coaching, though it's not exactly clear what sport he coached in prison. Francisco was a dangerous separatist in Spain, and had previously kidnapped the warden of a prison in Burgos and also organized a prison escape in Santa Maria.

But in Dominican prison, Francisco's a "sports coach" with the trophy collection to prove it. Francisco was considered so dangerous by Spanish authorities that he was moved from prison-to-prison in order to prevent him from escaping or organizing a riot, adding weight to his word when he describes the prison as a "concentration camp" where, paradoxically, a prisoner could not tell the "difference between the inside and the outside."

For the next 8 hours, Francisco gives the outside world a glimpse into what he describes as a "neighborhood" of the Dominican capital, where the word "no" doesn't exist and where everyone has to either "win or tie."

To offer this tour, Francisco hired the services of a group of individuals, all conveniently dressed in matching NFL jerseys, to provide protection inside the prison; nearly all of the NFL security guys had been convicted of murder.

Prison barber
As Francisco and his NFL cohorts entered what they dubbed "the tunnel" -- a sweltering hallway that resembles a tropical, closed Moroccan market -- he warns the TV crew that people will try to sell them something at all cost, thinking their pockets are lined with money. The announcer describes temperatures surpassing 44 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit,) while barbers perform their trade with a Gillette, all the while a bustling crowd hustles around them.

Prison scavenger
As they proceed, they pass a man trying to sell them hats, t-shirts, and DVDs. They pass a fruit stand selling bananas and an assortment of other tropical fruits that would be a luxury in Europe and that cannot be found in any inner-city food desert in North America.

A man by the fruit stand yells at the TV camera: "This is hell! There are rich people here; we eat what the rich discard." The man proceeds to show the camera a bowl of half-rotten apple cores, his meal.

Fruit Stand

A prison pastor in a fancy shirt then tells the visitors that the guards allow this capitalist exchange of goods in order to help the prisoners reintegrate into society by learning the value of work. "If you're a prisoner here, you have to earn a living," he said.

Prisoner on cell phone with wife
The crew takes a few more steps and a skinny guy hustling paracetamol packets tells them that first the prison guards get paid, and then the large suppliers in the prison; creating a system where medical survival might depend on a prisoner's ability to have saved enough money to afford treatment, and where the guards and rich inmates profit financially from sick, poor prisoners.

Francisco receives 40 euros a month from the Spanish embassy, but it is not enough for him to afford his own cell, and he sometimes struggles to get all of his diabetes and hypertension medication. Nonetheless, he's still middle-class by prison standards, and his knowledge of weapons, explosives, and insurgency make him an important figure, enough to command a group.

As the TV crew moves around La Victoria prison, Francisco's men have their work cut out for them; some people don't like being filmed, and one guy gave the Spanish TV crew a killer look. One of Francisco's guys has to tell a prisoner to keep moving; it's clear that this tour could not have been carried out without the consent of a powerful group of prisoners.

As the TV crew continues its tour, it becomes apparent that
Fridges for the rich
everything is for sale inside the prison, including what is illegal outside and inside. Though it's forbidden for prisoners to have cell phones, many inmates were casually having conversations with loved ones on the outside.

The prisoners describe a system where everything is negotiated, with refrigerated food and juice available to rich inmates, but unavailable to those who don't have loved ones who can provide for them. In this brutal system, even a prison mattress cost money, and those who cannot afford a mattress form the prison undercaste, being referred to as "frogs" because they have to sleep on the floor, getting wet like the amphibian when it rains.

15 years sleeping on a floor
The bulk of the frogs in the prison are Haitians, who Francisco says are the victims of extreme discrimination, but some are even former European soccer stars, as is the case with his cellmate.

Guido, Francisco's cellmate, was a former second-division soccer player in Italy who fell on hard times after his career ran into trouble. He accepted a deal with a group of characters possibly affiliated with the mafia to smuggle 15 kilos in his luggage, but was caught at the airport by members of the Dominican drug directorate.

In for a kilo
His first year, the group sent money from Italy, but afterwards they fell into hard times and were no longer able to provide him with anything. When this episode of Encarcelados was shot, Guido had spent 8 years sleeping on the floor, telling the crew: "A mattress is too expensive, everything here is negotiated." 

As Francisco moved the crew along, Guido kept playing soccer with his Haitian friends. They then met up with another European frog: 34 year-old Jose, whose mother in Jaen, Spain is sick and doesn't know that he's in prison. The TV crew asked Jose if he could provide a peek into his cell, but he said the owner of the cell doesn't allow it.

Jose says his biggest fear is getting sick because medicine is too expensive. He alleges that 50 inmates have died  from cholera during his time in the prison and that the water is not potable.

Hardware store owner outside and inside
But cholera is not all Jose has to worry about. Not too far from him is a hardware store selling everything from paint to nails to the materials needed to build a weapon. Everything has an exact price in Dominican prison; a person hiring a hitman inside of the penitentiary will be charged an exact price for the knife used to carry out the job. Everything inside the prison runs with the same cordial and efficient brutality that the Dominican Republic's former dictator, Rafael Trujillo, would have admired.

The prison appears to be something out of science fiction, with a hardware store owner with enough tools to casually break out telling the story of how he was incarcerated for striking a mugger with a stick and leaving him invalid. Inside, he continues the same job he had on the outside, selling to the confederates of the person who robbed his store.

The crew continues on to a tattoo parlor, where a former military officer accused of murder, but who alleged a "misfire" in his defense, says that he sees the 15 years he has spent in the prison as a "war." He complained that the Dominican system doesn't work, that there's no possibility for most prisoners to reintegrate into society because they are simply dumped into a "jungle" where they are forced to survive, "without food."

The scene then moves to the cafeteria, where 2,000 inmates eat; the other, more privileged 6,000 eat in their cells. The scene is hectic, and a skinny inmate tells the camera: "You have to fight for your rations, they'll steal everything from you here."

Bought a prison-made oven for 3000 pesos (60 euros)
While poor, skinny inmates scramble for food in a cafeteria where everything is served from giant plastic buckets, those in the rich part of the prison enjoy laundry services, nice shade, and even have their own pizza ovens. Another Spaniard, jovial 57-year old former construction magnate Jose Ignacio, says the prison reminds him of Spain 50 years ago and that when his 5 year sentence is up, he wants to take the prison pizza business back home.

Jose Ignacio is an individual who enjoys his time in prison, apparently. His only worry is catching an illness.

During the prison tour, Jose Ignacio goes through two polo shirts, while prisoners in poorer parts of the facility walk around shirtless. 

Francisco lives in a prison that is a reflection of Dominican society, where the rich can murder the poor and continue living inside not too differently from outside, where power means privilege, and where the maximum prison sentence means that most inmates will be free again in 20 years. In that microcosm of Dominican life, the people run everything, and unelected officials profit from behind the scenes.

Images courtesy of: La Sexta