May 19 – Hey dad, I’m in jail!
Rarely does one plan on or anticipate going to a penitentiary in Latin America, but we had no choice once we heard about the San Pedro Prison. The complex sits a few blocks off the main drag. We passed it on our walk home last night. What makes this prison different from the average jailhouse is that it charges its prisoners rent. This creates some very enterprising endeavors on the parts of the incarcerated, the most obvious of which is the prison tours available to anyone with ten bucks.
With a handful of other gringos we gave the guards at the prison gate our passports and walked into the prison courtyard. None of us were frisked, but all of us were asked to make a donation. For fear of getting left inside we all obliged. Our guide gathered us up, took a head count, asked for some more money, then disappeared. He returned a few minutes later with a slur and a cotton swab pinched over the open hole in the crook of his left arm. His name was Louis.
Louis was doin’ seven years on drug charges. He was almost out when he got an extended sentence for stabbing and killing the prison doctor for not administering a life-saving shot to another prisoner who did not have the required $5 for the shot. When asked what he will do when he gets out, Louis assured us he would return to New York City and reclaim his position in the drug-dealing hierarchy.
The tour brought us to most of the levels of the prison, leaving out the top floor which was built by the jail’s Numero Uno, a druglord serving 20 years for attempting to smuggle over 4 tons of cocaine out of the country. His ‘cell’ was an entire floor added to the top of the pre-existing prison and included first class accommodations, a restaurant, a jacuzzi, and a giftshop. Some of the ‘middle-class’ cells were multi-floored apartments with family rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. They were in stark contrast to the lower class cells which were unventilated, windowless, lightless, smelly cement boxes. But below even those quarters were the jail’s homeless who slept wherever they passed out.
Convict’s families are now allowed to live in the prison after a surge of orphans took over the streets. The jail’s visitor-frisking policy (or lack thereof) was to insure the income of contraband (namely drugs) some of which systematically makes it’s way back to the guards who can sell it just like the prisoners. Louis said if we come back and should smuggle in some ‘things’ he’ll give us more than just a discount.
If a prisoner saves his or her money they can buy day or night passes which are often used so the prisoner can scour the surrounding neighborhood homes for televisions and other valuable items to be enjoyed or sold.
As we walked around we could see numerous potential weapons that Louis said are "sometimes used, sometimes not." We stumbled over large rocks, easily detachable wrought-iron stakes, and even regular cutlery used at the inmate’s fruit stands. The government dopes the food to make the prisoners more docile, so in return there were multitudinous prisoner-run food vendors. Only the poorest prisoners ate the prison food. I guess as long as the sedation was self-inflicted it was okay, but once the government started getting them high with soup that was just going too far.
Rarely are there escapes from this facility. It’s cheap rent, you can buy passes to visit the outside world, and it seems fairly easy to start and keep a steady income inside. In fact, it appeared to me that laws were easier to break and/or use to your advantage inside the jail.
We saw a woman slinging hand jobs to various inmates. One of her clients neglected to pull his pants up when they were done. Two other guys were drug past us after what must have been a very serious beat down. The lifeless guy left a trail of blood in his wake.
Rape did not occur in the prison. Furthermore, prisoners were warned when a convicted rapist was coming. On their first night, the rapist is urinated and defecated on, then strapped down and made to accept hot peppers up their ass. Most of the rapists either die or commit suicide on the first night.
In addition to running tours, Louis also maintained a nightclub of sorts. One night a week he converts one of his cells into a dance hall and fills it with music and hookers and drugs. A true philanthropist, Louis explained that he was "filling the needs of the needy."
Before we left, he offered us a party-pack consisting of one night in a cell, four prostitutes and all the drugs we could ingest. We dubbed this the Matty Luv Experience but instead of accepting the offer we opted to spare our money for something a little less self-indulgent, like the Mercado Brujes.
The Mercado Brujes (Witches Market) was hard to find, but mainly because we were looking for dark clouds and women in pointed black hats. We only realized we were there when we were suddenly face-to-face with a strung-up, dried llama fetus. I was looking forward to this for a while but once I found myself among animal carcasses (killed solely for tourists to buy and take home), and ‘spooky,’ label-less potion bottles, and kitschy dioramas promising wealth to anyone dumb enough to believe in brightly colored paper and plastic, I was ready to leave. Kinda like when you hear about a fight in high school and you’re all excited about the violence and aggression and general bad vibes until you actually see two people beating each other in the face, then a minute later you’ve got this feeling in your stomach and you wished you hadn’t seen it after all.
Conversely, Devon bought a diorama, Karoline bought some potion, and Robert bought a two-foot long, rigor mortised, nappy, black llama fetus.
WHN? in Sudamerica - May 2002
0 – Please wake me for meals.
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