Norwegian Inmate Slowly Paddles to Freedom

LTB logo

Listen, I get it. A policy of throwing most offenders in high-security prisons is counterproductive and doesn’t benefit anybody but the people who run prisons. Especially where drug offenses are concerned. That’s my belief. And although we obviously need prisons, not every prison needs to be a supermax facility. That’s not what I’m saying. In fact, maybe it’s fine in general to have a prison, let’s say, on an island so that the prison itself could have fewer internal security measures. That might be great for the goal of rehabilitating people.

But if you’re going to do that, either pick an island pretty far from land or don’t give the inmates surfboards. Or both of those things. That’s all I’m suggesting.

As I’ve mentioned before, prison policy in Norway is notoriously enlightened, and I’ve just learned that it has at least one “prison” (Bastøy) where the rooms are unlocked, the windows have no bars, and the inmates are provided with activities like horseback riding, fishing, and tennis. They have a beach, a sauna, and a chef. This facility is indeed on an island, and at this point it probably sounds more like Sandals Oslo Fjord than a prison. And yet, those on Bastøy’s guest list—including at least some “serial killers, rapists and drug traffickers,” according to Reuters—do sometimes try to escape.

On August 5, or whatever it was in Norway on Wednesday, one did that. And he did it by paddling a surfboard to shore with a toy shovel.

“The escape was discovered this morning,” the warden told Reuters, “when we saw a window was open.” (Since the windows aren’t locked and don’t have bars, I assume the escape per se was not actually discovered until later.) But how could he possibly have gotten off the island? Don’t think they give every inmate a shiny new surfboard, or something, because they don’t. “We had an old surfboard standing in a shelter,” the warden continued, quickly adding that it is “so old that it is almost an antique.” (Still floats, though, it turns out.) “This is what he has stolen, and he took a toy shovel as well.” Because the surfboard and shovel were found together on the mainland, it seems fair to conclude that he used said toy shovel to paddle himself to shore.

“It sounds spectacular when it happens this way,” the warden said, although “spectacular” isn’t the word I would use for slowly paddling a mile and a half using a little teeny shovel. I mean, that’s basically just floating. “But if it hadn’t been a surfboard, it could have been something else. It’s not so hard to find a floating device of some sort on the island.” Is that helping? Yeah, it could just as easily have been an air mattress from the pool, or a beer cooler, or maybe one of those inflatable horsey things. There’s all kinds of easily floatable crap here on this prison island just three kilometers from the mainland. So the whole surfboard thing is really sort of a red herring, you see.

Still, escapes are rare, the warden insisted. And “we are concerned about security,” he was careful to note, “partly because we are on an island and want to prevent people getting killed as they attempt to escape.” Partly also because a serial killer might get loose on the mainland, probably, although Reuters seems to have left that part out.

The 23-year-old man who surfed to freedom this week was not a murderer, but he was a rapist (according to one report) or a “convicted sex offender” (according to another). Those can be entirely different things, if Norwegian law is anything like ours, but the point is he’s supposed to stay on the island, okay? And he’s in big trouble if they catch him, they said, because they won’t let him come back to Bastøy.

Oh, dear, that might leave him stranded somewhere like the hellhole currently housing Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in 2011 and subsequently complained that he had been locked away in the “worst detention facility in Norway,” with a “poorly decorated” cell, lukewarm coffee, and—though this one is hard to believe—no access to moisturizer. More recently, he demanded a PlayStation 3 on the grounds that limiting him to PS2 games was tantamount to “torture.”

Ordinarily I’d have some sympathy for that last claim, at least, but in his case I’m going to call it “unenhanced gaming techniques” and pretend it’s no big deal.