This weekend BBC News published a fascinating photo essay on San Pedro prison, the biggest in Bolivia’s main city La Paz. Once called “the world’s most bizarre tourist attraction,” the prison is notorious for its lack of guards or police interference inside its walls. San Pedro’s roughly 1,500 inmates, the majority of which are imprisoned on drug charges, elect their own leaders, make their own laws, must pay rent for their cells, and can even live with their families. It’s basically like a city to itself, and, much like in Bolivia’s society at large, there are sharp, jarring class divisions – poor prisoners must share hovels, while the wealthier inmates can afford rooms resembling studio apartments (complete with small kitchens, televisions, and private bathrooms).
Up until 2003, tourist tours of the prison were permitted and common, though gaining entry has become increasingly difficult – an attempt to prevent people from coming to buy cocaine, which was produced in large laboratories inside the compound and “is said to be the purest in Bolivia,” according to the BBC News report.
The prison is so unusual that it has been the subject of several books, including Marching Powder, which is based on the real experiences of a British drug dealer who was incarcerated there. Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment production company has the rights to the book, and a film adaptation is said to be in the works starring Don Cheadle.
Check out a couple of the photos below, and the rest at BBC News: