yesterday we went to the san pedro prison - a working functioning prison here in la paz that allows tourists to come in and talk to the prisoners and get a tour. it was incredibly interesting to see. it was more like a gated community than a prison. prisoners when they enter have to BUY their cells from prisoners who are leaving. it felt more like a holding tank than anything b/ here in bolivia u r guilty until proven innocent, so there are apparently a bunch of innocents in there just awaiting their trials. 80% of the prisoners in there are for drug trafficking, but of course you have some murderers and rapists who i took pictures with :)
prisoners are allowed to have their families there, so there were tons of children and women walking around. it really was a surreal experience. worth the 2.5 hrs of tour lead by our portuguese tour guide, Luis Felipe, and the $30 it cost. i spoke with our bodyguards who walked us around and saw their cells. there was a haircut place in there, a kitchen, tons of cafeterias, a pool hall, a tiny swimming pool (where people were used to be found dead in the morning), foosball everywhere, a small soccer court where they have leagues and championships, etc. one guy who has been there for 30 years was free to go but did not want to leave. we saw cells that cost anywhere from $200 US dollars to over $1000 US dollars. there were tvs everywhere with guys watching, and since there are almost always tours running, we didn´t seem to attract much attention except when we took pictures with the prisoners and gave them cigarettes as a thank you and gave sweets to the little children running around. you could see beautiful views of La Paz from different viewpoints of the prison - more expensive cells had better views, obviously. It became famous when Thomas McFadden wrote a book entitled Marching Powder - detailing his experience starting up the guided tours ten years ago. I guess if anyone had to be in any jail, this would be the one with the freedom it allows.