Bomana – Inside One Of The World’s Toughest Prisons

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Raphael Rowe served 12 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

In a Netflix documentary series released last year, Rowe now a TV presenter and journalist enters some of the world’s toughest prisons to experience the atrocious conditions inside.  Included in the series are prisons from the US, Brazil and Ukraine.

Believe it or not, Papua New Guinea’s Bomana Prison also makes the cut and there, somewhat surprisingly, an episode dedicated to it titled – Papua New Guinea: The Breakout Prison.

The conditions at Bomana are atrocious to say the least.  Rowe, in the series, spent a week at Bomana and the episode brings a direct and personal account of just how Bomana really is from an outsiders point of view, the prisoners and the administration.

Rowes’ experience in having spent a week in some of the world’s toughest prisons also brings out just how bad Bomana really is.  And it’s through this documentary that the viewer realizes just how despicable the place is, the extent of neglect by administrators and Government, the injustice remandees face while waiting trial, the hope (or lack of it) in terms of rehabilitation and somewhat surprisingly the little initiatives taken by prisoners themselves to undertake in what is most likely their “home” for the next decade or two or in the case of those on death row, their life.

We’ve put a list of quotes by Raphael Rowe to give you an insight of Bomana Prison.

On being stripped search before entry into prison

This is the most menacing strip search I have ever experienced

Getting slap down from the check-in guard isn’t just invasive, it’s downright intimidating

On heading to his cell

The first impression I get is that there is no concrete wall.

You can see the trees. It’s as if they’re teasing you with freedom.

On inmates who haven’t been convicted yet but locked in a holding cell

I’ve never seen anything like it. Conditions are truly shocking.

There’s nothing here. No bunks, no mattresses, just a meter of concrete for each prisoner.

I’m shocked that while the cells a segregated, those on remand mix freely with dangerous, convicted prisoners.

This is a hard prison sentence and these guys haven’t been convicted.

On getting outside of the cell

I don’t see them (guards) patrolling…and I notice they are not armed.  The guards may not be carrying weapons but I’m shocked to discover that some of the inmates are.

I mean it’s not unheard- of that you have real utensils and cutlery in prisons.   I didn’t expect to see a real knife though.

Inside the cellblock

I can’t believe that they’ve got 53 guys in this space.

I’ve been in prison for a long long time. But this is hard to deal with.

With so many men from different tribes crammed into this one hot, airless cell, it all seems surprisingly chilled.

These inmates are waiting for trial but in such tough conditions, you can’t help but feel for them.

After 15 hours in their dark cells

The prison guards hold a roll call every morning.  I’ve never seen anything like this in any prison.  Where they have all of the prisoners out at the same time.

There are a few guards. If the inmates wanted to, they could easily over power them and make their escape into the jungle.

On breakfast

Next is breakfast which consists of a cup of tea and a single biscuit

Cleaning the cell with other inmates

The prison is so poor they don’t even have the most basic cleaning equipment (broom)

The guys might be from different tribes or place, but in this place, they have to work together just to get by

Justice delayed

And you could have been found not guilty and you could go home. But you would have spent four years in prison already?

In Papua New Guinea, the courts are so clogged up that these guys can be left stuck in limbo for years. So much for “innocent until proven guilty”

Nothing to do

They are not allowed prison jobs and with virtually no program of activities or education, inmates here must take the initiative and fend for themselves.

In a bid to make their own entertainment, these guys have formed a drama group.

At the Maximum Security Cell for convicted prisoners

Unlike those in remand, convicted prisoners can have jobs. One of the very few available is to cook lunch

This is a basic prison. This is not electric or gas fires. You’re talking some old fire drums.

They have to do everything for themselves. I mean chop wood, collect wood.

These dangerous prisoners are allowed to wield potentially lethal axes.  With only a handful of unarmed guards in the compound, it just seems crazy.

The rice is the only cooked food the prison provides.

When I was inside prison, there’d have been a riot if the prison couldn’t afford to feed us. But these guys seem completely resigned to their desperate situation.

Once again, it seems that the inmates here, who may be enemies on the outside help each other out because it the way to survive Bomana’s harsh conditions.

Farm outside the prison

With the obvious shortage of food, I’m surprised that outside the compound fences the prison has its very own farm.

I am genuinely shocked.  This farm really should be providing food for the malnourished inmates all year round.

Brutal and scary

Machetes, axes and knives all in the hands of hungry prisoners overseen by a handful of guards.

You’d expect there to be more trouble outside, but as in the prisons world over, order is maintained by those with the toughest reputations.

Violent inmates are thrown into the prison’s isolation unit.

I’ve seen isolation units, but this is as bad as they get.  When you end up in the hole, you gain a certain status in the prison.

It’s those serving the toughest or longest sentence that command the most respect.

Guards perspective

The perimeter guards are given orders of shoot to kill

In a maximum security prison (20 guards to 600 prisoners) that’s so low.

In many escapes, guards corruption has been a major factor.

With guards paid $500 a month, they are unlikely to risk following escapees into the jungle.

Minimum Security Unit

This is where prisoners are meant to be prepared for reintegration.

Conditions in the MSU seem a world away from the rest of the prison. I’m excited to hear that there is a whole area nearby designed for rehabilitation.

(on the rehabilitation industrial area)  It seems such a shame. All the equipment here is rusty and broken…because the government have not put any funds into this area for many years.

This is so frustrating. Guards wouldn’t turn up, prisoners locked out and most of the equipment not working. The authorities here fail to fund any meaningful rehabilitation.

Parting take

Despite the lack of funding, and the desperate need to modernize this prison, there’s something odd about this place. It’s the first prison I’ve been to where prisoners take the initiative.  At Bomana, hardened, often violent criminals put aside their ethnic differences and gang loyalties to support each other,  as if they belonged to one tribe.

You watch this episode on Netflix.