Thursday, September 16, 2004

Looking South

Bolivia is on my mind this afternoon. First of all, Baylen at D'Alliance has posted over 200 photos of his trip to the coca growing regions there a few weeks ago. Free for the viewing but please don't steal the images.

Then thanks to Sharon Secor, there's this story on life in a Bolivian prison. I've heard of prisoners bribing the guards for better conditions before - even in this country and it's not uncommon in other countries for families to provide the basic necessities for their relatives inside, but this is first I've heard of whole families joining the inmates in their cells and calling it home. Apparently the social conditions are so abysmal and abject poverty is so widespread in Bolivia that some parents feel their children are better off in jail than out. Further with no social services to deal with children of incarcerated parents, the kids would otherwise be living on the street.

Bolivia's social disparities on the outside are duplicated within the walls of the prison. With 1,450 inmates living in a space designed for 400, prisoners must buy their cells. Some cannot even afford a miserable cubicle and live in dank hallways. At the other end of the spectrum are those who can afford to maintain a family residence outside in addition to their prison digs. This inmate's place sounds better than my own apartment.

"It could be worse," admitted one inmate with a grin as he showed off his apartment, furnished with a cushy living room set, a stereo and cable TV. Boasting a living room, dining area, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, the 800-square-foot flat would have rented for $2,000 a month in Manhattan.

About 120 children live with their incarcerated fathers inside San Pedro along with hundred's of wives. Children stay for free. Wives can visit for free all day twice a week, but to sleep over, they must pay the equivalent of $2.60 - more than the daily wage for most Bolivians. For me the sad part is, with the current gulag growing daily in the United States, these inmates sound almost better off than our own 2.4 million prisoners.


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