Friday, February 22, 2008

One Of These Prisons Is Not Like The Other

As long as I'm mocking other countries and the way that they're run, I'm just going to keep going with it and allow it to spill over into their penal systems. Now, I know you're thinking that a lot of posts recently have already been about penal systems. But really, the Gary Coleman ones and the guys in Sweden were about a different kind of penal system. This time I'm talking about jails. VERY different. But I do see how it could be confusing.

Welcome to Bolivia! Here is their jail/prison, located in the heart of beautiful San Pedro:






As I'm describing how things go over there in Bolivian jail, you might notice a few differences between their system and that of the US. For starters, you'll notice that the US penal system does not have courtyard kiosks like those in the Bolvian jail that are pictured above. Other differences are equally subtle, so you're really going to have to pay attention.

Every prisoner at San Pedro Prison (hereafter known as the SPP) has a job. That's good. Why should they be allowed to sleep all day when the rest of us mostly law-abiding individuals have to get up and work? Fine. It's also good that they have a job because the prisoners at the SPP have to pay rent. Hmmm. Interesting. I'm OK with that, too. However, this is where my acceptance of their penal system stops.

A large number of the prisoners in the SPP have spouses /partners and children living with them. Um, so...wait. What? Now, it's not really sounding like North Korea where three generations can go to prison for the wrongdoings of one. It's sounding more like, "Honey, pack up the kids. We're movin' to prison!" And that doesn't sound all that good either. It really sounds like, "WTF?"

As a way of making sure that prison life isn't lost on those not in it, the prison is open to tourists and backpackers (Again, wtf?). Oh, come on! There are rules for the tourists and backpackers! You don't think it would just be some crazy free for all, do you? They have to have a tour guide with them at all times. Without a tour guide, something like that wouldn't be safe! Geez. Oh, did I mention the tour guide is a prisoner? No? It is. It's a prisoner. Yes. The one who keeps the backpackers safe is a prisoner himself. Because it's only fitting that someone who has been sentenced to prison and is currently IN the prison be in charge of the safety and well being of tourists sporting packs on their backs from outside of the prison.

While I don't know what the "rent" is that they must pay for their cells, I do know that the system is apparently open to many, many different ways to raise funds for said rent. That's why they allow the tourists (packs or not) to stay the night in a cell. For a small fee. Oh, sure, that makes perfect sense. Maybe they were tired after the tour! Maybe there are a lot of stairs at the SPP! Some packers are easily winded and need time to rest! Sure! It makes sense AND it's economically responsible. What could go wrong? Don't answer that.

Speaking of the economic system within the SPP, they also have a sort of trade export thing going on as well. What do they export? From the prison in San Pablo? Why, cocaine. That's right. Cocaine. Exported. As in "coming out from". The prison. That is correct. That's why a lot of the tourists (with or without packs) are there. To buy coke. The word on the street is that it is some of the purest and cheapest coke in all the land! Good quality, good pricing, apparently good advertising (probably word of mouth, maybe some flyers). They are definitely up on their basic economic principles, I'll tell you that. If you've got a product that's good enough to make people want to pack a bag and walk into a prison to buy it, you're doing pretty good for yourself. Oh, but if you're a country where this is not only possible, but actually occurs, yeah, that's not so good.

Where are the police, you ask? Come on! OF course there are police in Bolivia! Did you think it was some sort of anarchist state/country dealio? It's not. There are police. Oh, wait, IN the prison? Hmmm...that's hard to say. They are allowed to go in there, that's been established. But it's recommended that they only do so if they're collecting a bribe. You know, from someone who has saved up all of their pesos from the cocaine exporting business that they run out of their cell with their wife and children by their side.

I know I said pay attention earlier or you were going to miss the subtle differences between how they run their prisons in Bolivia and how they run the prisons in the US. I hope you managed to note a few of the differences. They are fascinating. And frightening.

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