Thursday, June 9, 2011

Margarita Island: Venezuela’s Party Prison
Posted by JacobSloan on June 9, 2011

Suppose prison was fun? Venezuela’s San Antonio prison houses 2,000 convicts, including many foreigners from around the globe, mostly convicted on drug charges. They can do anything they want, except leave — there are pool halls, dance parties, swimming, drugs, guns, gender mixing and unlimited visitors. Crazy, yes, but is it any worse than what we have here? The New York Times reports:

Bikini-clad female visitors frolic under the Caribbean sun in an outdoor pool. Marijuana smoke flavors the air. Reggaetón booms from a club filled with grinding couples.

Prisoners barbecue meat while sipping whisky poolside. In some cells, equipped with air-conditioning and DirecTV satellite dishes, inmates relax with wives or girlfriends. (Venezuela, like other Latin American countries, allows conjugal visits.) The children of some inmates swim in one of the prison’s four pools.

Luis Gutiérrez, the warden at San Antonio prison, refused to discuss the prison he nominally oversees. Renowned on Margarita Island as a relatively tranquil place where even visitors can go for sinful weekend partying, is in a class of its own. On weekends, the ambience inside, bursting with spouses, romantic partners and some who simply show up looking for diversion, almost resembles the island’s beach resorts.

Prisoners boast that they built these perks themselves, with their own money. They say escapes are rare (inmates, if they try, still face the threat of being shot by soldiers outside). And while San Antonio can hardly be considered safe — a grenade attack in the infirmary killed several men last year — inmates argue that compared with other jails, peace often prevails. “Our prison is a model institution,” said Iván Peñalver, 33, a convicted murderer who preaches at the prison’s evangelical Christian church.

“I find it hard to explain what life is like in here,” said Nadezhda Klinaeva, 32, a Russian serving a drug trafficking sentence in the women’s annex. “This is the strangest place I’ve ever been.”

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