By Mariana Bazo
The Lurigancho prison in Lima is one of the most overcrowded, violent and unruly jails in Latin America. More than 8,500 prisoners live within its walled perimeter with so much freedom that they have created their own city which reproduces the urban society on the outside, including its most unjust and grotesque aspects. The passageways and open areas are filled with vendors, food stands, soccer fields, industrial zones, rehabilitation centers, barber shops and even pet animals.
It is a tyranny with its own laws imposed by the president and bosses of each sector. Its unique social and economic strata, with classes of poor and rich, are all governed by the power of money and force.
Luri, their affectionate-sounding nickname for Lurigancho, is like a reproduction of Lima with all the entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and resourcefulness of its inhabitants as they look for work in incredible places.
During a rare solo tour with a police escort, I walked very quickly along the market street, past a prisoner deboning chicken with a hatchet. Others were selling fresh vegetables, some were repairing padlocks. I stopped where one prisoner was copying a key and I asked him what it was for. He answered, “The key to freedom, señorita.”
A barber was giving haircuts for one sol, or $0.39, and someone was selling pirated DVDs. I asked the seller if that wasn’t illegal, and he laughed, “The best selling DVD is ‘The Prisoner,’ with Mel Gibson.” (The Prisoner is the title given to the Spanish version of “Get the Gringo.”)