Tuesday, 20 Apr 2021

Inside world’s toughest prisons ‘worse than death’ with chains and fatal riots

Guantanamo Bay, described as "hell on Earth" by some former inmates, has a reputation as the worst prison in the world.

But the Cuba detention centre, built in the wake of the 9/11 terror attack, has some stiff competition from other penitentiaries around the world.

These facilities see inmates shackled to leg irons and forced to live in incredibly unsanitary conditions.

That's on top of the threat of uncontrolled violence from guards or other prisoners, malnutrition from poor or no food, and the looming punishment of solitary confinement in a tiny cell for months on end.

Here are five prisons that could give Gitmo a run for its money.

Metropolitan Correctional Centre, New York City

This Manhattan prison has been home to some very famous inmates over the years, including John Gotti, Bernie Madoff and El Chapo.

It's also where billionaire predator Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his cell under mysterious circumstances in 2019.

Prisoners are kept isolated inside the 12-storey high rise, with the only time they're allowed outside their cells to exercise in an indoor cage. The 9-South wing is the solitary confinement facility and it is claimed suffers from leaky plumbing and rat and cockroach infestations.

  • Inside 'hell on earth' Guantanamo Bay where torture includes 'eye gouging' and rectal exams

The Los Angeles Times reports the MCC is often referred to as the "Guantanamo of New York", while one former prisoner who's spent time in both facilities claims Gitmo was "more pleasant".

David Patton, one of El Chapo's lawyers, once said of the MCC: "If you wanted to intentionally design a place to drive people mad, you'd be hard pressed to do better.

"The fluorescent lights are always on… The only sound is the occasional clanking of metal when doors are opened and closed."

Black Dolphin prison, Russia

Russia's oldest prison is located near the border with Kazakhstan and has been operating in various forms since the 1700s.

It's considered "escape-proof", housing approximately 700 of the nation's most ruthless criminals from serial killers to paedophiles to terrorists.

Inmates are kept behind three sets of bars under 24-hour supervision that includes guard checks every 15 minutes and constant CCTV surveillance.

On the rare occasion they are moved outside their cells, the prisoners are forced to walk while bent double and sometimes blindfolded so that they never learn the layout of the prison, it is claimed.

Inmate Nikolai Astankov told National Geographic: "If you constantly think about what is here, what is waiting for you, that you won't ever get free, that you are left here alone, you simply won't make it."

Inmates have been known to self-mutilate in protest at their living conditions, which have been likened to a Nazi concentration camp.

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Florence Admax, Colorado

Known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies", Florence AdMax (or "Supermax")houses notorious terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber.

"The Supermax is life after death," one former warden told CNN.

"It's long term. In my opinion, it's far much worse than death."

  • At least 67 dead in blood-soaked prison riots after power dispute between gangs

There are more than 400 inmates in Supermax but they have no contact with one another, instead spending 23 hours a day inside 7 by 12 foot cells and sleeping on a concrete slab. Walls prevent prisoners from seeing each other or interacting at all.

They have a single window but it's purposefully designed so that prisoners cannot see anything beyond the prison building.

"The architecture of the building is the control," a former warden told CNN.

"You're designing it so the inmates can't see the sky. Intentionally. You're putting up wires so helicopters can't land."

Inmates must wear movement-restricting leg irons, handcuffs and stomach chains when taken outside their cells and are monitored by guards at all times.

A recreation hour is allowed in an outdoor cage slightly larger than the prison cells, which provides only a view of the sky above.

  • Female prison guard on how she deals with drug-mad lags who are sexually frustrated

Maracaibo National Prison ('Sabaneta'), Venezuela

This notorious prison has been closed since 2013, but the horror stories of what went on inside will live on.

Sabaneta was build to occupy 700 inmates, but by 2013 it housed 3,700 people — an estimated 192 of whom were the children of prisoners.

Like many Venezuelan prisons, the inmates ran the facility themselves although there was one "pran" who acted as the designated leader. Photos inside Sabaneta are rare but it's understood the mixed-gender population had children and raised their families behind bars.

The facility was plagued by riots, including a particularly deadly incident in 1994 which saw inmates set the place on fire. There are reports that more than 150 people died in the chaos after security guards attempted to regain control.

The incident drew international attention to the poor conditions in Venezuela jails, but it wasn't until another deadly riot in 2013 that killed 13 inmates that Sabaneta was finally shut down for good.

There are plans to turn the building into a museum to educate people about corrupt prison systems.

Bang Kwang Prison, Thailand

Home to a great many foreign prisoners, Bang Kwang is the site of Thailand's death row, infamous due to the Asian nation's notoriously harsh drug laws that frequently see Westerners jailed or condemned to death.

All inmates are required to wear leg irons for the first three months of their sentences, and until 2013 all death row inmates had to have the barbaric devices permanently welded on.

Bang Kwang has a fearsome reputation among Thais who call it "Big Tiger" because of how it "prowled and ate", one former inmate claims. Some expat prisoners sarcastically refer to the prison as the "Bangkok Hilton".

In 2012 Hampshire man Jonathan Wheeler finally returned to the UK after serving an 18-year sentence in Bang Kwang for smuggling heroin. He spent his time inside sharing a cell with 17 other men and sleeping on the cockroach-riddled floor.

He said good food, water and medical treatment were only available if you could pay with cash received from visitors.

Mr Wheeler also spent several months in solitary confinement, at one point rubbing himself with toothpaste so he could escape to the hospital wing for a few days.

Eventually he learned to cope with the torment through meditation, saying: "It's all about the power of the mind. It's about not thinking about anything, you go within yourself."

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