In Bolivia, around 15.000 children live with their parents in prison. Andrea is one of them. Read about my meeting with this 7 years old girl, and my visit to her home; San Sebastián jail.
My first visit to the prison
When entering to San Sebastián Jail in Cochabamba, the first thing that will shock you is that the prison is very overcrowded. The jail was built with a capacity of 300 people, but have over 700 inmates. People sleep under chairs and tables due to scarcity of space. All of the prisoners share one single toilet!
Another shocking thing is that the prisoners are free to walk around as they want inside the jail. Some work making furniture. Others sell different goods. This to earn money to pay their monthly rent for a cell. The cells are not barred cages, but small rooms the prisoner can leave whenever he wishes. He is the one holding the key to the room. Not the prison guards.
If they are lucky, the inmates receive one meal per day. Sometimes, they get only one meal per week. The prisoners therefore depend on having someone from the outside providing them with food or money. Some are also stealing for fill up their hungry stomach.
The first time I entry to this jail, I was very scared. Not because I thought the prisoners would do me something. But because I had over 1000 USD in cash with me. Stupid, huh!? I had raised these money and was going to send it to our foundation working in the slums in Uganda. This day my plan was not to go to the prison, but to Western Union to send these money. But the plan changed, due to a request of help from a NGO working in the jail. I was sure that someone would “bump” into us stealing these money. A normal thought when you are surrounded by criminals, and as well have been robbed several times on the street in Bolivia. But it went well, luckily!
My visit with Andrea
Going a bit more back in time, I volunteered at a day care center for the children growing up in the jail. Here I met an amazing girl of 7 years old, named Andrea. Andrea’s dad was sentenced for cocaine smuggling. Her mom Paola, like many of the other mothers at San Sebastián Jail, found it financially impossible to care of her daughter and son when her husband was sentenced to several years in prison. So she moved to the prison with her children. Today Paola and her children pass in out of the prison gates every day. The kids go to school and the day care center, and Paola work in the market selling food she have cooked.
When asking Andrea how it is to live in the jail, she answer that it is fun! Because she has all the other children there to play with. It was a surprise to me that she answered that. However, for her this reality is normal. This is the only home she knows about.
That being said, living in prison is not always safe and fun. Last year a girl revealed that she was raped by multiple male family members in San Pedro prison in La Paz. A few months later a child died in his father’s arms in Santa Cruz’s Palmasola prison, when a fight between inmates turned into a deadly explosion.
The Bolivian government mean that the children will have it best if living with their parents, despite the circumstances. The parents fear that if the children live with extended-family members there will be a bigger chance of abuse. So what is best for these children? I have my thoughts. But what do you think?
(The name of the girl in this blog-post is not Andrea. Her mom’s name is neither Paola.The names are fiction, due to a wish of being anonymous. )