Welcome to a parallel reality where the guilty live in limbo, awaiting a judge’s verdict. Welcome to San Pedro prison, the largest and strangest prison in Bolivia.
You came here on a drug trafficking charge. Cocaine. The police caught you in the act and you have been sent, without regret, to la perrera (as jail is known in different Latin American countries), to San Pedro’s prison in La Paz.
High walls and a security checkpoint separate you and 1,500 other prisoners from the rest of society. Eight in ten of you are charged with illegal possession of narcotics and are awaiting the hammer's decision: innocent or guilty.
You live in one of the "quieter" courtyards of the eight that make up the incarcerated city. You still have to watch your back at night, since people will try and steal money from you to pay the rent of their own cells.
You need to find a job quickly. You can be a shoe shiner, electrician, plumber or football player. San Pedro has a football pitch, which is at the heart of the community. Championships are held annually and bets of up to $20,000 are placed. Inmates who live in the most expensive areas of this penitentiary recruit good players from other courts to play on their teams. By learning how to kick a ball you can make a life in this land of thieves and thugs.
San Pedro is not like any other prison. There are no guards or bars. Instead there are restaurants, hairdressers and billiards. For about $15,000, prisoners can purchase accommodation complete with a bathroom, television, Jacuzzi and a good view of the city. Alternatively, if they are on a budget, they can share a space with the rats for $10 a month.
But as in other prisons, the buying and selling of cocaine is a long, hard process (it is believed that in this prison the purest alkaloid in the whole of Bolivia is produced, which is partly why the prison used to attract tourists, or potential buyers, from around the world). Here violence is also a close friend. As reported by Bolivian authorities, each month, four people die in this prison either naturally or through a knifing "accident".
200 children live in the same quarters that were intended for their parents. Some attend the prison nursery, but most go to school beyond the prison’s walls. Outside, they are identified as being the offspring of criminals; inside they are in danger of being abused by convicts or becoming crooked or hopeless in the midst of corruption.
Within the walls of San Pedro, you must learn to live, sleep and breathe the stagnant air. The only way to survive is through playing by the rules. Do not look too hard, do not say too much; don’t complain or defend yourself. This is the only way to handle life while anxiously waiting for the judge to decide your fate.