Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Imagine being told you will be spending some time in prison. It's your first time. You are certainly no hardened criminal. Hey, everyone makes mistakes. But to your surprise, prison is nothing like those shows you've seen on Netflix in which being incarcerated looks about as hospitable as a cage full of rabid dogs. On your first day there, you are invited to do a bit of skiing. On your second day, you take a dancing class and later you watch how some of the other prisoners get paid for giving folks on the outside a massage. What really blows you away is what happens after you tell the warden you used to work as a chef in a restaurant. He then has you cooking up $100 wagyu steaks for the posh part of the public. Welcome to the weirdest prisons on Earth. 8. Eating out on the inside Let's imagine you've taken a trip to the city of Cartagena in Colombia. You do what most people do and you start looking online for places to eat. On TripAdvisor you find a restaurant called, “Interno”, and among a lot of five-star reviews you see one person has written this, “The food is superb, the space is lovely, and the meal is reasonably priced. You are in for one of the most unique dining experiences you can get.” Below that review, you see, “The meal was outstanding, and in my opinion very fairly priced. The ceviche was delicious, and the steak was amazing.” Ok, you think, I am definitely going to this place. Except, you didn't read some of the finer details, and when you get there your food is cooked and served by the female inmates of the San Diego District Jail. Yep, some of the women there have been taught how to cook up high-quality meals as part of a project to help them find work when they are released. One chef serving a six-year sentence for extortion, put the final touches to your beef dish, “posta cartagenera”. It was then brought to you by a US native whose stay in Colombia was prolonged after she was found in an airport with a suitcase full of cocaine. She hated prison at first, saying the conditions were just awful, but things changed when she got the chance to show her skills in the restaurant. One of the people responsible for the project didn't deny Colombian prisons are a living hell, but he feels such projects can at least give prisoners some hope. He said: “The prisons aren't good, and they don't treat them like human beings. I know they have made mistakes, but everyone deserves a second chance and deserves the dignity of being treated like a human being.” In fact, that place is just one of a few prisons around the world that are doing the same. In Italy, you can do some fine dining at a restaurant called, “InGalera.” That means “in prison” in Italian. One Google review states, “Everyone who works at the restaurant except the manager is an inmate. Their recidivism rate is only 17% compared to Italy's 70%!” Of course, not all of the 1,200 inmates get the chance to show off their culinary skills or serving acumen, but those that do are happy to do something other than look at four walls most of the day. The NGO that helped open the prison restaurant told the American news media who makes the grade, saying, “We select inmates who are serving long sentences for all kinds of crimes, including robbery and murder. The only ones who can't work here are Mafia affiliates.” The inmates not only learn how to become top chefs, but for their work, they can earn up to $1,500 a month. There's a similar thing in the UK at a restaurant called “The Clink” which is operated by inmates inside HMP High Down prison. Here's a TripAdvisor review: “I thought this might be so highly rated as it's quite a novelty factor to be able to eat inside prison walls. I was totally wrong as the food totally stands on its own as being some of the best I've experienced in London.” Ok, enough of food, let's talk about something arguably even stranger. 7. The quiet life Some of you might have heard that when you're sent to prison there are dangers every day. You have to either keep your head down, or you might have to join a gang or make friends fast. If you find yourself getting sent to Sark Prison in the UK you might have a bit of shock, because it's about the safest place in the world. Sark prison could possibly be the smallest prison in the world, with a maximum capacity of two. Yes, you heard that right. It was built back in 1856, and back then there wasn't much crime on the small island of Sark. Still, in 2020, a cop there said the island was “awash” with criminality. The prison itself looks like a concrete outhouse. The interior of the cells is grim, with one bed and no windows. While the island is only home to 500 or so people, many of them get into violent drunken fights and drive while wasted. There is also a fair bit of drug trafficking happening on Sark, so the prison is needed. If someone has committed a serious offense, they'll later be shipped off to a bigger prison off the island. This next place is possibly the most appealing prison in the entire world. 6. Summer camp Now we'll talk about Norway, a country that has transformed its recidivism rates in a very short period of time. Norway used to be home to tough prisons where inmates were treated not much better than cattle, but these days the country is famous for its take on humane punishment. They call it rehabilitation, a concept other countries could read a book or two on. Norway's Bastoey Island Prison is called the most eco-friendly prison in the world. The inmates are basically farmers, growing their own food and tending to animals. They live in attractive little cottages and dine on food made by skilled chefs. To think, this place used to be known as hell on Earth, a place where an insurrection led to the army being called in. These days inmates can go swimming, play tennis on new courts, ride horses and even go skiing in the winter. They are taught to value the environment and learn the essential skills for living off the land. Much of Europe right now has a reoffending rate of around 70 percent, and Norway was similar in the past. Since the country's efforts to rehabilitate prisoners were put in place, the rate is now around 20 percent. The rate at this prison is 16 percent. Go figure… Would you like to get up close to hardened criminals? What about one whose hands are around your neck? This can happen at the next prison for about six bucks. 5. A hands on experience When you think of Thailand and prison, what comes to mind is corrupt officers, regular beatings, inmates packed like sardines into filthy cells, and generally nothing positive at all. But then if you're ever in the cultural capital of Chiang Mai in the north, you might find yourself being given a full body massage by someone who once plunged a knife into someone's chest. That's because the women's prison there is home to a massage shop that caters to the public. The masseuses are all inmates and have all been trained by professionals. As with the vast majority of prisoners in Thailand, they are mostly in for drug charges, although a fair few are in for more serious crimes. Now those women have had over 300 hours of training and will give you a sublime massage for 200 baht ($6) This was part of a travel blogger's review: “She presses her stick into the tender skin between my toes and it is a pain so exquisite that I resort to deep abdominal breathing in order to bear it. Nan giggles quietly, and assures me that I will feel better later; it's almost impossible to think of her as a hardened criminal.” Now for a prison that became world-famous for entertainment. We imagine you've heard of this place. 4. Dance prisoner, dance Sticking with Asia, there's a prison in the Philippines where inmates are encouraged en-masse to learning dancing skills. In fact, a video they made dancing to Michael Jackson's “Thriller” has over 59 million views on YouTube. The prison is called the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center and the dancing team, a very big team sometimes consisting of 1,500 members in one routine, is called the CPDRC Dancing Inmates. You might wonder why they dance so much. The guy that started the program said he took inspiration from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” which portrays inmates finding some solace in Mozart's Figaro. He saw that, and thought, hmm, how can I bring some sense of comradeship, some sliver of happiness, to my inmates. He started them off doing marches to music but then figured out that they'd be much happier dancing to songs they liked. They started with the classic Pink Floyd song, “Another Brick in the Wall”, although we are not sure any irony was intended. They've since done loads of routines and earned tons of cash from donations and whatever they make from YouTube. It has been reported that prisoners can receive a little bit of the money, but human rights groups have said the prisoners are being exploited. Some say they are forced to dance, and so not quite as happy as the media has sometimes made out. You also have to remember that once they go back to their cells it's like getting a reentry stamp back to the abyss. The next prison is so unique you could hardly call it a prison. 3. Village life A couple of decades ago a prison in Bolivia called San Pedro Prison made the headlines because it was said to be a “tourist prison”. No kidding, you could actually pay to stay there and hang out with the inmates. An Australian writer talked about this in his book “Marching Powder.” That's a term for cocaine, which was why the guy was in the prison in the first place. But get this, some 3,000 people in that prison ran it themselves. It was a community, a place where there were markets and businesses. It gets even stranger when you hear that one way a prisoner could make a ton of cash was by selling cocaine to those tourists – and all this was allowed. These days it's still a kind of community prison. You can buy a cell in the posh part of the place for around 1,500 bucks and you will get a nice bedroom, a private shower room, a kitchen, a TV, and if you really have a lot of cash, you can get yourself a three-level cell. That might set you back $10,000 to $30,000. Wives and children can of course live in the prison with the inmates. Everyone is expected to pay for a cell, so if you get one of the “coffin” cells you might only have to pay a hundred bucks or so, and if you don't have the cash on entry you'll have to work to pay off the, er, mortgage. Ok, so if you don't have much cash, the cells are shared and kind of cramped, but that doesn't mean you can't walk around the markets or have yourself a game of pool. You can still visit the restaurants run by prisoners and you can still do many other activities. This place is basically like a village and while there are guards, they don't really enforce many rules. Since cash can be made, the wealthier inmates ensure no violence erupts. From what we can see, it doesn't. When that Australian writer was sent there, he was expecting a normal, dirty, claustrophobic, prison, and was surprised to see a working village. He told the BBC, “I thought what is this place? I even had to pay my own taxi fare to get there.” As another person put it, “They have developed rules, a political system and punishments, as well as a highly sophisticated economy.” Can you imagine a prison officer handing a convicted killer a gun and telling him to use it? Listen to this, it happens. 2. Please, take this gun There's a documentary about the first prison ever opened in Greenland, a place for the most dangerous people in the country. These killers and other dangerous inmates were once sent to Denmark to do their time, but now Greenland has its own high-tech place - Ny Anstalt prison. The inmates can hang out with officers, although one inmate interviewed was unhappy about the professionalism of that. He said back in Denmark, they had proper guards with proper training. Still, the reason for the friendliness is because the place was designed to be a “humane prison.” If you find yourself there, you will be given a nice room with modern fittings and you will have a shared, well-equipped kitchen where you and others can rustle up some tasty food. The prisoners basically get the run of the place and there are many things to do. In that documentary we mentioned, one guy is taken out seal hunting as a way of rehabilitating him. Convicted murderers might find themselves being handed a rifle and told to hunt animals. The good thing is, they haven't shot any officers yet. Some guys even get to go into town on day release for work, which has made some locals unhappy. Since everyone knows everyone else, that prisoner might be walking among the family of someone he's killed or at least hurt. Still, there are also cells for maximum security prisoners, so a prisoner will have to earn his little bit of freedom. The views from the cells are quite amazing. The architect of this magnificent place said, “You can't escape the prison because it's surrounded by a big wall, but you can look at the view and escape in your mind - and that's important.” As the prisoner will also at some point be released back into very small communities, the last thing Greenland needs is prisoners coming out worse than they went in. Ok, last one, and a prison you might just pay good money to stay in. Inside the Valley of Fog Yep, this place is situated in a place called the Valley of Fog. That's on one of the islands that comprise the Faroe Islands, an archipelago about 200 miles (360km) off the north-northwest of Scotland and quite a bit farther down from Iceland. When we say rugged, or isolated, the Faroes fit the bill perfectly. But of course, there's crime there; people steal, people fight, people take drugs, and occasionally people kill things other than sea life. For that reason, you have to have a prison. The prison is located on the largest and most populous island of Streymoy, not far from the town of Tórshavn. This island might be quiet, but there are still over 24,000 people that might at some point in life think about committing a crime. If they do, they'll be sent to the jail in that foggy valley, which in the local language is called Mjørkadalur. To say it's remote is an understatement, the place doesn't even have a zip code. Like no other prison in the world, it has a turf roof, so it looks like the kind of place you'd imagine has hobbits inside.