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Photo by Ricky Gunawan

A Day at Tangerang Youth Prison

We approached the gates of the prison at 11am on a Monday morning. Adi’s (not his real name) family greeted us with handshakes and solemn nods. We, representatives from LBH Masyarakat and Adi’s family, were informed by LBH Masyarakat’s lawyers that we would have to wait another two hours until we would be allowed into the prison: visiting times only happen after 1pm. The following two hours were filled with sipping jasmine tea at the warung adjacent to the prison, and consoling Adi’s mother as her sobs for her anguished son permeated the smoke-filled air.

Adi has been in prison since late November, held on remand for allegedly assisting in a sabu smuggling operation in West Jakarta. To the authorities, he is a criminal, found in possession of a small amount of sabu strapped to his motorbike, a “drug trafficker” exacerbating Indonesia’s “narcotics emergency”. But Adi is also a 22 year old, born into a life of poverty and disadvantage in a Chinese-Indonesian family who had to pull him out of school in 4th grade. He suffers from a severe speech impediment, mental health issues, and an undiagnosed mental disability. He can barely read or write. On the night of his arrest, he was ordered by his friend’s girlfriend, the leader of a local drug gang, to inject a small amount of drugs in himself, and then transport the rest to a buyer. His low level of education belied him, and, intimidated and afraid, he followed orders. Unbeknownst to him, his friend’s girlfriend informed the police of the operation, setting him up. Adi is a perfect example of those prone to being exploited by drug syndicates: poor, illiterate, desperate for social bonding. He has been detained ever since his arrest, in an already overcrowded detention center, unsure of when he will be reunited with his family at home.

After numerous security checks and a small taste of Indonesia’s broken prison bureaucracy, we were finally granted entry into the prison grounds. While LBH Masyarakat’s team waited for Adi inside the packed meeting hall, I was struck by our company- young men dressed in prison garments were embracing their wives and girlfriends. Friends were high-fiving one another as they sat to enjoy lunch. Detainees were embracing their young children. The evidence that the Indonesian government’s current “war on drugs” was destroying families and communities was right before us. And, despite its failures, the government continues to blindly wage this drug war, targeting the most vulnerable people.

After many minutes of waiting, Adi entered the meeting room. Through tears, he embraced his parents and shook our hands. He arduously discussed the conditions inside the prison: cramped and sweaty. They feed him rotten food and withhold his breakfast. He sleeps on a hard floor in a room with dozens of other detainees. He sits inside his room all day. As we are speaking with him, a prison official approaches us and informs Adi that his visiting time is up. The official slides his hand towards Adi’s parents and gives them a redolent look. Adi’s parents desperately look at each other, scrummaging around their bag for any money, longing for just a few more minutes with their son. The prison guard discreetly takes their money and walks off. The remaining period of the visit is filled with loud sobs from Adi and his family, long hugs, and many ‘thank-you’s’ to the LBH Masyarakat’s legal team who have been working tirelessly to arrange for Adi’s release.

It is very easy to feel sad for Adi in his situation, an innocent victim of Indonesia’s broken drug policy and flawed justice system. But as we walked out of the meeting room and back through security, I could not help feeling angry. Adi is just one person out of hundreds who are caught in this situation, held indefinitely in prison while they await trial. Bribery, dirty food, and unfit prison conditions colour his new life. As we leave the prison, I read the large sign adorning the entrance: “Siap Melayani Tanpa Pungli”, “Melindungi Hak Asasi Manusia”: “Ready to Serve without Levy”, “Protecting Human Rights”.

 

This piece is written by Olivia Jones, a Monash University student who volunteered in LBH Masyarakat from in early 2019, and edited by Ricky Gunawan.

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