San Pedro Prison is the largest prison in Bolivia, housing more than 2,400 inmates, but that’s not what makes this prison special.
San Pedro Prison is guarded only from the outside and their only job is to make sure that no one escapes. This means that the prisoners are for the most part left to look after themselves.
Prisoners pay an entrance fee and then they must buy their cells either from the “prison mayor” or through one of the prison’s “freelance real-estate agents” when they enter the prison.
The prisoners established a functioning society with government system and they elect eight officials, one for each section inside the prison. Each section is represented by a small council to make decisions.
The children inside the prison are under constant danger, but rapists and child molesters are treated with a brutal zero-tolerance policy by the inmates and they usually end up drowned in the small swimming pool inside San Pedro Prison.
The conditions in the prison are different in every section. In the poorest sections, the conditions are terrible and inmates are crammed in 3 or 4 to single-room cells.
On the other hand in the luxurious La Posta sector politicians and drug lords live in luxury cells with private bathrooms, a kitchen, and cable television.
Living in La Posta costs between $1,000 and $1,500 and not many people can afford to live there.
San Pedro operates its own economy and inmates work as shopkeepers, food vendors, pastors, barbers, carpenters, shoe shiners and some of them even run cocaine laboratories and the purest cocaine in the country is made and sold inside the prison.
Some of the prisoners earn money through the alcohol trade and there is also a gambling trade and up to $20,000 in bets are placed per year on intersection football matches.
Since as early as the 1990s, tourists were able to pay their way into San Pedro Prison. Although prison tours are illegal, guards accept bribes and thousands of backpackers have entered the prison since the tours first started.
Since 2009, San Pedro has been strictly off limits to tourists but if you’ve got the money you can make things happen.