Day in the Life: Prison Island CEO who loves life in the slammer

Ayman Abdelrhman invents hair-raising challenges that test the brains and brawn of ‘inmates’ behind bars at this UAE adventure experience

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A Day in the Life allows you to step into the shoes of a UAE resident to experience a typical 24 hours in their work and home life.

As the cell door shuts with a bang and the heavy bolt slams into place, Ayman Abdelrhman prepares for another day as the UAE’s most crafty jailer.

The Sudanese businessman has made a living out of locking up “inmates” – who pay him for the pleasure.

Day in the Life: Prison Island CEO

Day in the Life: Prison Island CEO

As the managing director of adventure experience Prison Island – Beat the Bars, Mr Abdelrhman, 42, spends his days dreaming up adrenalin-inducing challenges that unfold across 26 cells, each testing the brains and brawn of brave participants.

Inspired by hit TV shows Fort Boyard and The Crystal Maze, the series of challenges require quick thinking, sharp logic and teamwork – with Mr Abdelrhman personally testing out each cell.

Here, The National joins the father-of-two on a typical day in the slammer to see why life is better behind bars.

6.30am: Porridge and push-ups

Prison Island can be gruelling both mentally and physically, and to prepare for the day ahead, Mr Abdelrhman starts his morning with a hearty breakfast and gym session – though he typically swerves prison gruel.

“I have two kids so the family usually eat a nutritious breakfast together and then I’ll hit the gym,” he says.

“Prison Island is a franchise across three branches with more than 60 challenges and I’ve tried most of them.

“It’s a mixture of mental and physical challenges that test fitness, tactics and technique so it’s important to stay in shape.”

9am: Morning patrol

Mr Abdelrhman starts his duties with a quick inspection of the cells, which often leads to an impromptu game of Whac-A-Mole between staff.

“Every day I check that everything is in working order and often that means getting involved in a game myself,” he says.

“I have multiple favourites but I particularly like a fitness challenge, though nothing gets me more fired up than a game of Whac-A-Mole.

“Currently I have the second-highest score, and if no one else is around then I’ll use the opportunity to practise.

“We also get very competitive with Riot, which is a maze where you have to run around hitting flashing buttons as the strobe lights of security forces try to hunt you down.

“We’re always playing and that’s the favourite part of my working day.”

1pm: Inmate surveillance

Customer feedback and interaction are vital for Prison Island’s success and in the afternoon, Mr Abdelrhman mingles with the “inmates” to see how they are enjoying their yard time.

“One of my favourite things to do is interact with customers, taking their feedback and making sure none of the cells are too easy,” he says.

“Our biggest demographic is young adults, though we also see a lot of workplace teambuilding, school trips and family outings.

“No one ever gets locked in a room, though once the competitive spirit takes hold there’s no telling how long a group might be in there thrashing it out.”

4pm: New cells and strategy

The late afternoon is often dedicated to team meetings, discussing anything from marketing and strategy to coming up with new concepts for the types of prison cells.

“We’re always looking for new concepts to challenge our customers and keep them coming back for more,” says Mr Abdelrhman.

“Last year, we created a portable escape room that could be placed at various events, as well as Laser Island, which is one of my daughter’s favourite games.”

For Mr Abdelrhman, no idea is too big or too bold and the set for every cell is painstakingly designed and hand-painted.

“We’ve got a lot of exciting ideas up our sleeve and new concepts for the region, though they’re currently top secret,” he says. “We’re always trying to get ahead of the game.”

6pm: Detective work and lights out

Mr Abdelrhman’s final task of the day is “computer sleuthing”, which involves trawling the websites of his competitors to make sure he isn’t missing a trick.

“We make sure that we're ahead of the competition and scope out any new openings or offers that can compete with us,” he says. “It’s important to stay ahead of the curve and offer something our competitors are not.”

After lights out, he heads home to spend the evening with his family, enjoying the freedom of the great outdoors before preparing for another day under lock and key.

“I can’t imagine many people look forward to another day in prison,” he says. “But for me, there’s no place I’d rather be.”

Updated: November 10, 2023, 12:21 PM