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Open Prison


I worked in Ecuador for a time. I lived in the hotel Quito, which was opposite the British Embassy and next door to El Pub, which was owned by two eccentric Brits, Bryan & Peter. I also remember a retired English general who was staying in the same hotel.

He was representing a British weapons company and was well known for frequently falling off the pub bars stools. I went to the Wildcatter once or twice (March story:  When Lady Luck smiles...) but the best action was all at El Pub.

My tour of duty was 14 days on in the Oriente oilfields and then 5 days off in Quito. My company was contracted to Texaco. Sometimes I would fly to the camp, in Largo Agrio which took about 45 minutes and sometimes I would drive, which took anything from 8 to 12 hours, over the mountainous Andes and down into the Amazon jungle.

On one occasion when I was driving, I was stopped at a police post near the village of El Chaco. A pole was across the road and the policeman refused to raise it accusing me of some impossible traffic infraction. I tried offering money but he refused, ordering me to drive my car into a space at the side of the police station. He took my car keys and with his hand on his gun holster ordered me inside.

Inside the police station  was a small office with a table, two chairs, a telephone and a metal door, which I assumed was to the cells. Despite my threats and protests he opened the door and ordered  me inside closing and locking the door after me.

Imagine my surprise when, on entering, I found a man sleeping on the mud floor and a couple of pigs foraging around. It was only then that I realized that the cell had no rear wall and was open onto the jungle behind. If I had had my keys I could have walked out gone around the corner and driven off. Instead I walked out of the back of the building and re-entered the front office for further, irate discussions with the police officer.

In the end we came to an agreement, which was what it was originally intended. The conclusion was that I should drive him to El Chaco and buy  (with my money) two sacks of cement which he would use to finish the back wall of the cell.

I asked him why he hadn’t taken my money when first offered and he explained that it would not have helped because he did not have a vehicle to transport the cement. By arresting and putting me in the cell, he had demonstrated the problem - no wall. By releasing me on condition I helped him pick up the cement, he had shown leniency, and my paying for the cement was the fine for a crime I had not committed.

I passed unmolested through the barrier many times afterwards. I never saw the police officer again and I never saw the wall completed but what I did notice was a fine, new wooden house a 100 yards away from the police station with a cement front wall.

Keith Holloway. Retired, Watford

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