And Finally

Cell phoning

What life is like inside China’s rowdiest prison

Prison w

They met on WeChat

Another week, and another prison story hits the local press. Regular readers will recall that a fortnight ago we reported on how jailed officials were reducing their sentences by filing patents. In some cases they weren’t actually doing much in the way of invention. The Beijing Youth Daily found that outside agencies could take care of the whole process – so long as the family of the crooked bureaucrats paid an appropriate fee.

For Beijing Youth Daily this smacked of systemic abuse. By contrast the latest revelation against the penal establishment centres on gross failings at a single prison in Heilongjiang. But as CCTV informed its viewers, Nehe Prison is no stranger to controversy. Its “chaotic management” has seen six prisoners commit suicide between 2008 and 2014; and in a past scandal it emerged that its guards made extra cash by selling wine to inmates (at a 500% mark-up).

Bizarrely the prison’s bosses also got into the press in 2006 when it was revealed they’d bought 200 computers and made prisoners play World of Warcraft. This wasn’t a rehabilitation strategy, mind you. The prison pocketed the profits made by the better players from selling online the virtual weapons they had earned.

But past tales of management misdemeanours pale in comparison to the latest scandal involving Wang Dong, an inmate jailed for kidnapping. With the cooperation of some guards he’d smuggled a smartphone into the prison and began to make friends with at least seven women on WeChat. All of the ladies lived near the jail and were seduced by Wang’s charm, as well as a fraudulent scheme he got them to invest in. He was clearly a bit of a smooth-talker as he got at least one woman to transfer Rmb80,000 ($12,800) of her savings to his account.

But as newspaper New Cultural View notes, the most serious case involved a married woman who actually visited Wang in prison. That relationship got more intimate – especially after Wang bribed a prison officer to let her come to his cell, where they had sex. But in her case it was not a willing liaison. Wang was blackmailing her (in some of their early video chats she’d rather incautiously posed nude for him and he threatened to put the images online).

Eventually her husband, a police officer, found out what was going on, and reported Wang to the authorities.

The upshot: a team of troubleshooters was sent to the jail and late last month it sacked a number of prison officers from their posts. (New Cultural View also said that senior figures at the rowdy prison were told to compensate the defrauded women with a payment of Rmb300,000.)

Aside from confiscating his smartphone, what further punishments await Wang are as yet unknown.

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