I thought this was quite a unique storyline.
I never thought of the guys in jail.
I had to post the complete article because the Los Angeles Times is a sign-in site.
Some Inmates Reject Tsunami-Won Liberty
Some escapees are back at a Sri Lankan prison destroyed by waves and are helping rebuild it
By Mark Magnier
January 02, 2005
For the 413 inmates of the prison here, Dec. 26 dawned like any other day. Many were let out of their cells at 6 a.m. for exercise and spent the next several hours milling about the common area. Those housed in cellblocks A and H -- convicted of murder, rape, making bombs, possessing illegal weapons and other serious crimes -- remained in their cells, in keeping with procedures.
From the prisoners' perspective, something miraculous then happened. A wall of water slammed into the building, knocking down one of the 15-foot walls and setting all the inmates free.
"It was as though nature made bail for everyone," said jailer Indika Lasath Kumara, 20, a 6-foot-2 former high school basketball star, who was just wrapping up his 48-hour shift when the deadly tsunami hit.
Something almost as amazing has happened since then. Eighty-three of those who escaped have returned to the prison, knocked on the front door and asked to be returned to their cells. The first inmates came back on the 26th and more have been trickling in since.
Because the prison is no longer secure and both prison buses were damaged by the storm, officials asked the returnees to take the public bus down the road to another jail, and most complied.
None of the returnees are serious criminals; all have relatively short sentences remaining and would rather serve them out and clear their names than face a life on the run, said the head warden, Chandrasiri Karunasekara, 42.
Most of those who have returned used the time away to check on their families and deal with funeral arrangements, guards say.
The government hasn't given up hope that more will meander back and is offering an amnesty period until next Sunday. But the government isn't going to wait forever, guards said, adding that the identities of all those still missing have been passed on to the head office in Colombo, the capital. Still, there is no exact count of how many were killed by the water and how many are just on the lam.
Meanwhile, reconstruction of the facility has begun.
For starters, a fence has been erected where the wall was knocked down. Twenty-eight prisoners have been transferred back to Matara Prison to help with maintenance and reconstruction. As Karunasekara spoke, 16 inmates dressed in white shorts and undershirts rounded a corner and headed back through the main gate after doing work.
With its tall, thick walls and wrought-iron gates, the prison has a colonial feel; it was built 75 years ago by the British. Prisons of one sort or another have been on the site since the 1700s, shortly after the Dutch arrived.
Neighbors in the densely packed community of small lanes and two-story houses immediately abutting the facility, on a peninsula between the Nilwala River and the sea, say they don't fear the convicts.
"The prisoners all helped us, so we're not afraid," said Manori Kulasooriya, 37, a teacher who lives a few doors down. "They helped the whole neighborhood, carried babies through the flood and helped people get on roofs."
A.G. Karunadasa, a 77-year-old living a few doors east of the prison, agreed.
"The way the water came in, the people in jail were affected first," he said, his 28-year-old daughter beside him. "Even as they ran away, however, they stopped to help us."
Guards added that some prisoners, before fleeing, saved the lives of three female jailers who were close to drowning.
Kumara, the guard, had just finished showering and was in his underwear when he heard cries around 9:20 a.m. that water was coming. He went to investigate and was quickly engulfed by a 12-foot wave. Eight inmates who were sweeping the lane outside the prison as part of work duty were crushed to death by the water.
A couple of guards were under a mango tree directly behind the jail. They climbed onto a prison bus parked along the river, and Kumara joined them. The vehicle bobbed around in the swirling water. From their vantage point, they noticed a colleague had fallen into the current. Kumara said he lashed himself to a telephone wire, jumped into the water and reached his colleague. They were both pulled back to safety.
On Sunday, two buses lay inoperable behind the prison, one against the wall with pieces of a guard uniform still visible on the roof, the other wedged beside a small generator building.
At the main entrance, several bales of shiny new barbed wire sat on the floor. Nearby, old sagging foam mattresses were draped over two giant wooden chests. All records in the prison were destroyed by the flood, but jailers were able to recover the more than 50 weapons in the armory.
Kumara said that as he stood atop the bus on the day of the tsunami, he watched hundreds of people float by, screaming for help. The scene was so horrific, he said, that he has trouble sleeping and still doesn't have much appetite.
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