The City Within a City
Inside the prison where guards are too scared to enter
Located only meters away from the tranquil Plaza San Pedro, lies one of the word’s most notorious and corrupt institutions, San Pedro Prison. San Pedro Prison is one of the biggest in Bolivia and the common destination for people convicted of breaking the countries drug laws. It is found in the heart of the country’s administrative capital, La Paz.
Imagine a tough and dangerous men’s prison full of violence, drugs and corruption that is also home to families of women and children. A place where cells, some with cable television, kitchens and private bathrooms, are bought and sold, complete with title deeds, and the real estate market has bubbles, just like on the outside. A place where backpackers pay to go on tours, guided by inmates. A place where the police rarely venture, except to collect bribes. A place with its own strict set of rules and regulations, where prisoners elect their own leaders, who enforce the law in the only way they know how, violently. A society that lives and dies by the cocaine economy. A vibrant collection of small businesses flourishes – photographic studios, restaurants, messenger services, market stalls, copying shops, shoeshine boys, and grocery stores.
Originally built to accommodate 600 prisoners, San Pedro holds over 3000 inmates and their families at any one time. Entire families live in San Pedro men’s prison, as it’s often cheaper and safer on the inside.