Let's face it, we'll probably never get an Indonesian Shawshank Redemption. It's not because people don't break out of jail in Indonesia. They do. A lot. It's because these prison break plots lack a certain, shall we say, complexity that's needed to be adapted into a great movie. Late last month, prisoners threw spicy liquid at the guards and broke through their bars with some workout equipment. Earlier this year, inmates in a prison in rural Papua just climbed over the wall, which is, apparently, a pretty common way to escape.
But the latest jail break to hit Indonesia just might change all of that. It's the kind of complicated mystery that, as far as investigators know, also involves some forbidden love between a married woman and a "bad boy" inmate.
The story began way before wardens realized that they're missing one inmate last Saturday. It all started when Muhammad Said, an inmate at the Cipinang Penitentiary in East Jakarta, met a woman identified by local media as Ita, who was working as a cook in the prison. He was serving a 19-year-sentence for a drug offense and she was serving him lunch.
Prison authorities noticed that Ita and Said were getting a bit too close, so she was transferred into an administrative position in the prison three months ago. Everything was normal until last Saturday, when only 4,165 out of 4,166 prisoners showed up for the daily headcount. CCTV footage showed that Ita's car had entered the prison complex on Friday night, so authorities assumed she was somehow involved in Said's disappearance. They then theorized that Ita had managed to get Said out of his cell and drove out of the complex with him hiding in the trunk of her car.
"We suspect that they had been planning this escape since they got together," Oga Darmawan, the head of the prison, told local media.
How on earth did an inmate serving a lengthy sentence in what's supposedly the Indonesian capital's most-secure prison manage to dip without immediately alarming anyone, you ask?
Well, this is where the story takes a predictable turn, because, you see, the answer to that question is the same answer it always is—too many inmates, not enough guards.
The Ministry of Law and Human Rights said in 2017 that Indonesia only has half the prison wardens it actually needs. And all over the country, prison breaks are common, not because the prisons are too small, but because too many people are getting locked up.
Watch: What It's Like To Be A Kid In Prison
Why? Drug charges. Indonesia is in the middle of an ongoing war on drugs. It's the kind of thing where busts, even of incredibly small amounts, get breathless coverage in the local press. The country's drug laws are, in a word, harsh. And because offenders, whether they are recreational users, people with addictions, dealers, or traffickers, are all lumped together in the same jails, Indonesia's prisons are now more crowded than ever. (That's not even counting all the new "terrorists" in prison as well.)
This isn't a problem that's unique to Indonesia either. In Thailand, the prison population soared because of the country's drug laws. In 2016 Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya told Reuters that Thailand's draconian drug laws, which included lengthy prison terms for drug offenses, must change. In Cambodia, prisons are also overcrowded, which prompted the Interior Minister to suggest building luxurious prisons for the wealthy. At the same time, Cambodia is arresting more people than ever before through its own drug crackdown, and the majority of them are small-time users.
It seems like a lose-lose situation—the stricter the drug laws, the more people in jail and the harder it is for authorities to keep an eye on them. When Thailand finally legalizes medical marijuana, the country's prisons will definitely look a lot different. Experts are saying that some countries in Southeast Asia will likely to follow suit, although narcotics authorities in Indonesia are saying "we're not ready" for anything like that here.
Almost a week after he escaped, authorities still haven't been able to locate Said. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Ita, who is married with three children, was arrested on Saturday in her home, and, according to the police, she's admitted to helping her boyfriend become a free man once again. Who says love is dead?