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Pieter Tritton
El Infierno is the true story of Pieter Tritton, a British man sentenced to twelve years in Ecuador’s toughest prison for drug dealing and the horrors he sees there.

Tritton, along with his partner Nicky, walks into his hotel room, whereupon police storm in and arrest him in possession of a cocaine-impregnated tent, designed to fool customs and sniffer dogs.

They are both arrested and sent to Penal Garcia Moreno prison, which is where Tritton’s ordeal begins. Ecuadorian prisons aren’t anything like British or European prisons. Tritton had to buy a cell to live in, or he would have had to sleep on the concrete floor. The prison guards required payment for “food and accommodation” and the local mafia, whichever flavour happens to be on your wing, needed to have their palms greased as well, or he would’ve been tortured or killed.

Lawyers cost a great deal of money, which was no surprise, but in Ecuador, there doesn’t appear to be an official bar, so anyone can call themselves a lawyer. It’s therefore easy for a prisoner to be stung by unscrupulous “lawyers.” Judges were paid to expedite Tritton’s case or he would’ve been in prison for years waiting his case to come to court.

Tritton also paid for his partner Nicky’s legal defence and bills as well and I was left with the impression that without money, the average drug mule or common thief would be in real trouble and unlikely to survive in an Ecuadorian prison. Just as well he was wealthy!

In order to pass the time, Tritton decided to deal drugs after clearing it with the various bosses in the wing. Cocaine was his thing and he was able to peddle it as a superior option to the cheaper polvo, a low grade but cheap, local narcotic.

Nicky, who appeared to be blameless, was eventually released after serving six months in the prison, whilst Tritton continued his stretch.

After several years, he was transferred to La Peni because the authorities got a whiff of an attempted escape plan by him and a few fellow inmates.

La Peni makes Penal Garcia Moreno look like a holiday camp and guns and machetes are openly carried by the inmates, the guards are complicit with them and it is a ruthless experiment in Darwinism. People who cannot pay their “dues” are beaten, tortured or killed, without exception. To “protect his capital,” Tritton takes up drug-dealing in La Peni as well and rises to a position of power. Eventually he is moved to a supermax facility that had been built next to the old prison.

The supermax facility is Tritton’s final stop before going on to finish his sentence in the UK. Needless to say, after the harshness of Ecuador’s “finest” penal institutes, HMP Wandsworth is a walk in the park.

I am conflicted by this book and it has proved to be the most difficult I’ve yet had to review. On the one hand, it is written well and tells the reader a lot about the Ecuadorian prison system. The story is quite gripping and is pacey.

On the other hand, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the author. He is arrested for drug-smuggling and goes to prison, where the first thing he does is set himself up as a drug-dealer. When he’s transferred to La Peni, he does the same thing. Lessons learned? It would appear not.

There are also a lot of instances where he has (in fairness, with good reason) railed against the corrupt Ecuadorian justice system, yet he is the only one responsible for his imprisonment. This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or scapegoating a foreigner in a bar-room brawl, Pieter Tritton was bang to rights when the police arrested him.

There is an underlying theme of narcissism and self-righteousness in “El Infierno” that riles, like tin foil on a tooth filling.

From the book:

“I would have faced a minimum 20-year prison sentence, which would have meant serving at least ten years. There was no bloody way I was serving ten years anywhere! I planned to be out after no more than three years at the very most.”

The indignation that runs through the story irritated me, whether it was the UK police's stance on arresting him once he arrived in his home country, or that he only got ten per cent discount on his sentence, or that he couldn't bribe a judge enough to give him the six year sentence he desired. He was lucky he wasn’t arrested in Thailand where they take a more robust stance against drug-dealers.

The blurb accompanying the book says: “This is the insider account of what it’s like to live in a place worse than hell and come out a changed man on the other side.”

There’s nothing in the book to suggest that his experiences have changed him and from his writing, he seems unrepentant about his criminal ways.

It is a good book, with a flowing narrative that makes it very easy to read, but in any book, either fiction or non-fiction, you have to sympathise with the main character(s) or all is lost and unfortunately, I felt no empathy with the protagonist, who made decisions that landed him in a foreign jail with all the failings of a corrupt system. Without much in the way of post-prison redemption for Pieter Tritton, it’s hard to feel that he’s learned much at all, let alone become a changed man.

Therefore, with much deliberation, I feel that I can award no more than two stars.

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