Published: December 14th 2008December 14th 2008
My favorite photo
Spot the odd one out.
"Only in Bolivia" This is a statement often heard in Bolivia and South America and for good reason too. What other country would let you bribe officials to let you into a prison for the day? This is exactly what we did on our first day there.
We had heard on the backpacker grapevine that you could do a day trip around the prison, nothing official, just pay enough to get in past the security and an inmate would show you around. You would also be accompanied by three bodyguards.
The prison itself is the strangest place I have ever been too. It's a community within itself. Inmates (1500) can pay for their family to live or visit them inside. There are shops, cafes, and even a sauna. Do not be fooled however; the inmates are some of the most dangerous men in Bolivia. Many of which are in there for murder, rape and drug trafficking. There are regular riots, stabbings and much more unsavoury goings on.
So the two Aussies, two Swedes and me turned up outside the prison, we were told to just hang around outside and someone would find us. This is exactly what happened.
This is me trying to look as 'Gangsta' as possible.
Within minutes a dodgy looking man approached and asked us if we wanted to come inside. These first few minutes were the scariest. As we approached the gates there were inmates just hanging off them and shouting things. All covered in tattoos, scars and gang clothing. We then paid our money had a little warning about the dangers and what to and what not to do whilst in there. The what not to do was pretty much nothing, if we wanted to take cameras in we would have to pay the police a further 15 bolivianos too.
So in we headed, I was brushing shoulders with the worst scum of Bolivia from the first second. Our guide was in for drug trafficking and clearly had an issue with drugs….He was high as a kite. He spoke English and was pretty informative considering the state he was in. We also had three bodyguards with us also. Our first port of call was the prisons medical ward, where inmates that had been in fights or had just had too much the night before were. The strange thing is they have to pay for their time in this section, like any medical
Then to the games room and gym. Here I did some weights with the inhabitants…Clearly I was the hardest in there and lifted the most! Whilst walking round there are children running about, they come and pull on your arm until you giver them sweets. Same goes for some of the inmate’s too just sweets do not go as far for them and you have to give them cigarettes. I was more than happy to go along with their requests too, through fear of my life.
Our guide then took us into some of the cells and we met the locals from them. Some, whilst in there, tried to live legitimately and made little crafty type of things to sell to the tourist, things like bracelets, photo frames and carvings. Funny to think of a mass murderer making a career change and now making bracelets for a living.
Others however did not live so honourably whilst in there. One factor that makes this jail so unbelievable is the fact that it is Bolivia’s biggest cocaine producer and it even has a factory within it. We were not aloud in this part and the windows were blacked out.
The first stage of production was outside and we witnessed this though. The prison is full of police and guards all of which know it exists and are clearly corrupt and profiting from this factory too.
By this time we had been in there for an hour or so and had started to relax a little. I was talking to inmates, having photos with them and even having a little banter with them, all in Spanish. Then it would dawn on you that this guy you had just shook hands with had actually killed another person with these hands. 30 years was the set amount for murder with no exceptions or early releases for good behaviour. It was sad because some of the guys were younger than me. I did meet one old man who had six months left of his 30 years and had plans to become a taxi driver once released.
Never at any point did I feel in any real danger. We had bodyguards and they told me that the inmates would never harm a tourist because we are such a good source of income for the inmates. We visited a few more sections or
Not sure if he was pegging his washing out or making a break for it.
wings to the prison including the rich one. I realise these guys do not have their freedom but they were living better than I have in some hostels in South America. They had their families there with them, cable television, hot water and much more. This has a cost though and they rent these cells, well you can’t call them sells, they’re more like apartments. If they can afford to pay the police off they can even construct an extension. Also $300 buys you a night out on the town, accompanied by a guard of course.
One section I did like was the one full of bent police, ex-politicians and corrupt business men. There were some brains in this section; they sat around playing chess and drafts, pondering their next move. I guess they had time on their hands.
Words cannot really describe this place nor do it justice. It’s the most corrupt, dangerous and unbelievable place I’ve been too. Although I had fun in there I was under no illusions to just how shocking it was. I feel for the children that grow up in there, what kind of upbringing are they going to have and future
for that matter.
Next day a bike ride down one of the worlds 10 most dangerous roads…I like Bolivia!
There are more photos below