Kirsty RTW '04/'05 travel blog


Just been in the prison in La Paz. Last year read the book called Marching Powder the story of a british guy who was locked up in the prison for years for drug running, and was written by Rusty Young who spent 4 months shadowing Thomas McFadden. Cannae believe 6 months later I made it in with Rachel and her noo boyfriend Pete from Brisbane! At the time the book was written it was legal for tourists to enter, but now it is illegal.

Got taxi to the San Pedro Carcel just before 9am, visiting hours. Rachel daringly took a pic outside which got a stern look from the armed guard outside. It doesnt look like a prison at all, a huge pink buiding, surrounded by a pretty plaza where locals were selling toy cars and buses.

So on asking the stern guard if we could get in to speak to Dexter Ramirez(name given to us by the British Embassy, only UK citizen inside),we were told to wait 5 mins till it was 9am. There was a queue of local women waiting outside to get in with local foods in hands, obviously goods for loved ones inside.

When the doors opened we went back over, there was lots of Bolivian faces looking thru the bars. Before that there was a metal detector and a few uniformed police men and women searching bags that were goin in.

This time an angry lookin guy told me no, we werent allowed in under any circumstance, I protested saying the embassy told us it was okay to visit oor pal Dext in the prison. Still no, prisoners from inside were shouting, asking me who it was we wanted to see, they then told us to go round to the side door, a policeman then told us to go with him, encouraged by a Peruvian woman(who had been shouting at the guard telling him yes we could get in), we trooped off round the corner. Then, we were asked to "cancelar", pay for the visit, 100bols each( about 6pounds), problems, Rachel and I had brought the minimum amount money with us 30 bols each, some already spent in taxi! But luckily for us Pete had 150bols so we agreed on 150 for all of us(later informed we got in pretty cheap!).

Then we were allowed past the 2 batoned and gunned up police guards on the side door. Into a small area where a female guard asked to check Rachels rucksack. The camera was taken out, and our passports were taken(as advised by Roger and Muriel, who had visited the prison in Quito). At this point Pete had been ushered away thru the door, and was worried what was goin on wit us!

But we got thru with our bag of goodies for Dexter(consisted of sweets, toothpaste and soap, last o the big spenders(but as Rachel pointed out, he was a criminal!).

And, we were met by Jonas Anderson, a Swede who had been in for 3 years. He told us Dexter was quiet and didnt like to meet anyone, had only been in 3 months, and was a bit messed up in the head. He was worried about him, what would happen if he was given the full sentence.

Jonas looked like the typical Swede, blond, blue eyes. He was 30 years old and was amazingly frank and honest about his life.

He took us thru a courtyard to his room, there was a couple of shops selling sweets,tissues, essentials....

Up a set of stairs we went and into his room(which cost him $1200(some rooms can cost $20000, which have sauna,jacuzzi inside). Unlike prisons in the EU, everything you got here you had to pay for, including your cell. He had 2 floors, the first floor had a table, chairs, microwave, various cooking things, and a small toilet off it. Up a rickty set of stairs was his bedroom , in it he had a bed, tall unit, chest of drawers which had a tv (cable 99 channels), a DVD player (and normally a playstation which Dexter had borrowed). There was lots of holy things in his room, pics of Jesus, rosary beads, crucifix....

So we sat ourselves downstairs and started the questioning.....

WHY? Drug running, like every other foreigner in there he said. He had been living a criminal life since the age of 13, and had been drug running in Europe for a few years before he got caught in La Paz. Had a pretty troubled family life in the past.

HOW? He had been working for someone in Sweden(hes from Gothenburg), and the guy supposed to do the Bolivia run had dropped out at the last hour, his mate begged him to do it, so he ran home grabbed a small rucksack and his passport and caught the plane to La Paz. He had paid off the Bolivian police, but at the airport there had been american police from the DEA(Drug Enforcement Agency) there that busted him. He had 3.5kilos on him. He could sell a kilo for US$50000 in Sweden, he could make $30000 in 3 hours work.

He had no Spanish, a trial in Spanish, signed papers in Spanish, no help from the embassy cos they not interested in drug runners, if he had murdered someone he said he would have had more help from them!

WHATS IT LIKE? When he first arrived, he said you gotta be tough, they all hate gringos on the inside, and make a point of publicly humiliating you, for example being made to dance in the middle of about 100 inmates. He said he suffered too, but because he was a pretty big aggressive guy it didnt take too long for them to leave him alone. He had another gringo helping him out to get into the way of things. Apparently there is a German guy Hans who is living there, and is addicted to crack and lives in the most dangerous bit where all the down n outs live, the guys with 30 years, who have no hope.

He spent 3 months in the poorer section until he managed to get money out of hiss contacts in Sweden(who at first didnt want to know), and managed to buy his cell which we were in.

He said when he first got in he was so agressive, would fight at the smallest look on the street, but thru the time he has spent, hae has mellowed out, found the bible(cliche I know!), meditates, reads (I Ching at the moment), and got himself off cocaine. He said he broke his mums heart, being high on speed for so long, ad now she is happy, as he is clean, got himself married to a Bolivian girl and has a baby girl stefany, 2 years old, who visit him every day. There are 18 guards for 1800 prisoners, so they really arent much help in case of emergencies!!!

MURDERS INSIDE-2 days ago, there had been 2 murders(Taggart, theres been a murrderr!), apparently to kill someone in the prison can be ordered for the small sum of 50bolivianos, so murders are a regular occurrence. They are carried out for various reasons, not paying drug debts,stealing off other inmates, rapists, peadophiles...He asked if we had heard of the swimming pool? Yup, I read the book, its horrendous, basically there are 4 guys who run the prison(they are so rich, but basically because they are so high profile they had to go to prison as the whole country knew they were guilty), and they stand at the 4 corners of the pool with huge cables. The guilty ones are flung in, and every time they come up for air they are beaten to death with the cables.

Jonas showed us an instrument that they also use to kill people, its like a tent peg with sharp ends! He assured us he only uses it to make holes in the walls in his room!

One guy was killed by puncturing the vein on his neck, he had a short walk to the medic, but by the time he got there he was just yellow, had lost al his blood.

INMATES- He sayd that a lot of them are just crazy, there is no mental help for them, and they are just walking timebombs. One guy was jealous of his wife and chopped up their kids and left them on the table for her to find them, another killed his wife using a drill..... The stories go on.

Guards beat up the inmates, chains tied to hands and feet behind their backs and beat up for hours. he says you can hear them screaming like babies thru the night.

He says its a pretty depressing place to be, so much time just to sit and think, noone comes knocking at his door any more, they leave him alone. But he says he deserves to be there, glad he done his time. It has changed him as a person. He says he used to be able to spend $3000 on a party, he now has a much more responsible attitude to money. Meeting him, he seems like a decent guy, middle class, cant imagine he was this monster he explains he used to be.

DRUGS- America controls all of the south american countries exp. Chile, Argentina, Brasil. Bolivia is the poorest country, and is just so so corrupt. He doesnt know what will happen with Americas War on Drugs, but enough to say that there is no point trying to smuggle srugs out of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, the americans are always watching and u def gonna get caught. Apparently some tourists ask him the best way to do it, mad!! His advise is dont do it, you gonna get caught, not worth it. The americans are tightening up the laws all the time and the minimum sentence is 8 years. He has 60 days left , till the 24th March, when he allowed out.

TIME TO GO-Then all of a sudden we had to go, he got nervous, said we beter get out before the police chief comes(he offered to take us round, but as it was illegal and could jepordise his sentence we declined(tho all the time hoping to see it, esp the swimming pool!)). We hurried out, past the gym, where we met Carlos, with a broken hand which he had hit someone awffy hard!, an amenable guy at first look, who I said to say to him- you need to careful out there, its dangerous, look after yourself, and mucho gusto- pleased to meet ya!

Then we were told to hide in a doorway in the courtyard, while Jonas spoke to the guards, came back got the money from Pete(as the officials cant be seen to be accepting money from us- corruption n all that!), then we were back into the wee doorway we entered. This time oor passports n camera werent where we left them, we were told to leave, one of us staying there to get the goodies. It was all a bit frantic, like they were really worried, I said Id stay as I speak Spanish, felt like real fugitives! Then the big door was shut, and I was left inside watching the porn on the tv that the guards had left on. This was the only point that I started to feel nervous. 10 mins past thou felt an hour. The wee guard was half heartedly looking for our stuff, and kept appearing n disappearing, and told me to say, if anyone asked, that I was waiting on the superintendent. and still the minutes past, adn still the porn went on in the background.... stomach started to churn slightly.....And then this young guy turned up, gave me our stuff, still intact, and the door was opened and I was let past the guards and told to get away from the door asap. I found frantic rachel and calm Pete waiting up the hill, and we were out, and in a txi. Still cannae believe we experienced what we did today.

Jonas has been approached by many Swedish publishers(in fact one writer coing to stay with him in the prison next month with the intent if writing his story) , thats if I dont get there first!!!!

Come here, do it, its one of the most amazing things Ive ever experienced!

And, dont traffic drugs...............

Contact info

If you find yourself in La Paz in the next 60 days and fancing makng a visit,

email address-

fone- 213-0406 or 213-0415

Entry Rating:     Why ratings?
Please Rate:  
Thank you for voting!
Share |