July 14, 2014
Samoa provided one of those comedic moments that are rare in the world of criminal law. I visited a prison seemingly built into the side of a mountain. Huge cauldrons (the kind that they cook tourists in on T.V.) were being stirred. The prisoners were in cells that resembled caves, while the weather was unbearably hot and humid.
I asked the prison commander about the almost inhuman conditions and he replied in a friendly manner, that the prison guards basically close the prison down over the weekend and everyone, including serious prisoners, go home to return the following Monday to continue their prison terms. I found that explanation to be a wonderful insight into another culture’s approach to incarceration. The Samoan Islands prison system reminded me of the song, “Hotel California” by the legendary country rock band, the “Eagles”. They sang,”you can check out anytime you like… but you can never leave”.
At that point in time, offenders charged with an offenses had little opportunity to escape nor much impetus to do so. They were fully part of their Samoan Family and Village Culture, and would find it almost impossible to leave their homes to seek sanctuary anywhere else.Their’s was a sense of belonging, as well as isolation from the rest of the world, that prevented the Samoan prisoner from leaving the Island.
P.S…..For years I enjoyed telling that story as an example of how different punishment can be in different cultures. That is until I read a recent story in the newspapers about how Samoa had been cited by FreedomWorks as a nation whose prisons violated the basic human rights of prisoners. To this day, I’m inclined to believe the Prison Warden’s narrative of the “Prison that shut down on Weekends”.