Oops. My tourist visa expired and I am still in Bolivia.
Well, one more country whose prisons I will experience first-hand. In the case of Bolivia, the prison system is particularly interesting.
Many prisons in Bolivia are only staffed on the outside of the perimeter. Inside, the inmates organize everything themselves. It’s like a small self-governed town, only rarely visited by guards or police.
There is a vibrant market economy because you have to rent or buy your cell. If you don’t have or don’t make the money, you sleep on the floor.
But making money is not a problem because there are plenty of jobs. You can also open a business, anything from a restaurant to a carpentry shop to an internet café. I might finally have no other choice but to earn my living as an English or German teacher. Unless people will pay me to tell stories.
The other interesting aspect of Bolivian prisons is that your family can live with you. The wives and children of many inmates join them in prison, allowing them to stay together as a family in hard times. Obviously, the wife and the children are free to leave whenever they want. They go to work and school and return at night.
Sadly Luckily, I don’t have any family or children. But here come the good news: Friends can visit as well, and you can even bring books and food.
According to this price list for Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz, you can stay overnight for a small fee. For someone from abroad, the monthly rent is not too steep either. And you’ll get Spanish lessons for free.
San Pedro prison in La Paz allegedly even has one or two hotels. Some tourists visit the prison for a tour, others visit to buy drugs because that prison has the best cocaine laboratory in the country.
If you are trying to make up excuses for not visiting me in prison, you have no chance. It’s really easy and it ain’t dangerous. Watch this clip about the former US-American inmate Jacob Ostreicher, for example. Both a TV crew and his wife can visit him and bring him food and – more importantly – books.
In all seriousness now,
- these prisons are still dangerous places. There is murder, rape and torture.
- these are just more drastic examples of what is true everywhere in the world: Prisons are a breeding ground for more crime and universities where petty criminals learn the hardcore stuff.
- I completely disapprove of the lack of state oversight, but I like the idea of regular family contact, as I think it helps with resocialization. In other countries, a prisoner can behave as fine as he wants, once he is released his wife might have left him and he falls back into a big hole, just when he would need all the support he can get.
- if any of my Bolivian readers has friends or relatives in prison and can organize a visit for me, I am very interested!
- if you don’t hear from me for a couple of weeks, you know where to start looking.