I found this blog entry that someone else wrote online. I am going to paste excerpts of the entry here, because it pretty much describes my experience visiting the women’s prison.
“So, clutching our plastic bags full of tampons and soap off we trundled to the prison to bring solace to the poor souls repenting there.
Most of the women in the prison are there for drug offenses, in the case of the local women it is largely selling the drugs, in the case of the foreign women they are all there for trafficking, with an average sentence time of 8 years, regardless of quantity. Once in the prison however, unlike western goals (or so I understand), the women have to provide everything themselves. They have to pay rent for the very bed they sleep in as well as providing their own clothes, toiletries and everything else they need to live. They also prefer to buy and prepare their own food rather than eat that provided by the prison. The Ecuadorian women are therefore supported with all they need by their families who are able to visit frequently. The foreign girls however don’t have this option, that’s why the visits from SAE are so important to them, that’s why we needed to take so many tampons – you know how important that is girls, and we can all nip down to Boots.
We were searched by the guards and stamped to show that we weren’t prisoners and should be allowed to leave at the end of the afternoon, man I didn’t rub that thing off for four days just in case there was any confusion! The prison itself was packed, full of the female prisoners milling around with their families and other visitors. I felt hugely uncomfortable as we were stared at as obvious gringos, walking through the hall towards the room at the end of the wing where the foreign residents had gathered for some privacy. The prison gives its residents a relative amount of freedom I guess, they are aloud to roam anywhere in the prison during the day and are locked in their wings at 6pm and their rooms at 10pm. However, privacy is a luxury they definitely do not have. There are people everywhere, sitting around, talking, eating and yelling at kids. The noise is deafening the place is pretty dirty and the smell is pretty awful. This is particularly true of the rougher wing where those more violent inmates and those who cannot afford the rent are housed. Whilst this area of the prison is open and accessible to everyone it definitely had a more threatening feel to it, not somewhere I could spend eight years. The foreign girls however are “fortunate” to be in a slightly better area of the prison where conditions are less crowded and they are able to keep the areas cleaner and in better condition. That said most women sleep in groups of four in rooms no larger that a double bed with one bed stacked on top of each other. As well as the four women, more often than not the room is also shared with children.
This was definitely the most tragic and most depressing element of the visit, for those women with children who are sent to prison, without support from the outside to look after them, they are forced to bring their children into prison with them. This means these kids share the same single bunk bed as their mother (because of course no-one can afford more rent for a second bed), they don’t go to school because its expensive and very few women can afford to send them, and they grow up knowing only the confines of prison walls. The oldest children there are around nine or ten, but the tragic thing is the number, I think there are around 150 children currently living in the prison with various levels of permanency.
We spent about two hours in the prison with the girls in total, between pizza and pie they told us their stories and gave us a tour around. Despite the confines of the physical prison they do have a surprising amount of freedom. There were a number of food outlets selling pizza, chips, etc, all run by the prisoners to make some money to support themselves. There were also a number of small shops, a library and several sewing rooms where the women make and maintain their clothes. For those with no income our support from outsider this is a way for them to make some extra money to survive. There is also a sadly unused schoolroom.
There are 14 foreign national women in prison at the moment, all for trafficking. All will admit they did it and all are pretty damn repentant. Many stories are tragic, often involving blackmail and manipulative boyfriends, although all admitted they took responsibility for their actions and weren’t looking to play the innocent. Once particular girl was forced to traffic when people she thought were here friends took away her baby daughter and blackmailed her. Another had a very well paid job and luxury lifestyle on cruise ships but fell into a bag crowd, became an addict and her boyfriend groomed her for six months to become a set up bust so that a larger amount of drugs could be trafficked on the same flight. This same woman has a seven year old daughter at home and she spends most of her time wondering how she is going to explain an eight year absence. But it’s not all doom and gloom, this same woman was keen to tell us exactly how the experience has turned her life around. She has come off drugs and whilst not forcing it upon us she explained that she had found Christianity and that helped her to cope. She was also taking care of two small because their mother couldn’t (although the circumstances of this were a little hazy), no small feat when you have to scrape together the cash just to support yourself from day to day. Of course the women are depressed and angry and homesick from time to time, but most try to make the best of each day, laugh at themselves and their situations and just get through it as best they can. When we met them the women were all insanely upbeat and over the top, they were actually all a little odd, but I guess that’s what gets them through. I think Paul was particularly intimidated, a tall blond haired blue eyed man caused quite a stir, amongst the foreigners and Ecuadorians alike.
When we came to leave we left the women the toiletries and other gifts we had brought for them and we were also asked for some money, just to help them out a bit. They didn’t ask for much, only some change each, less than a dollar, but by the end of the visit we were all happy to give them more. Not because we thought they were all wrongly accused and innocent women and not particularly because they had told us all sob stories of their children at home; I think we all just wanted to help them because they were helping themselves. They were all remorseful and they were making the best of the worst situation. They were very different from the Ecuadorian residents; they didn’t bribe the guards and join in the drinking, parties and drug taking that the guards allowed for the Ecuadorian prisoners, although the guards did provide them illegally with cell phones, charges and credit etc. Mainly they just wanted to keep their heads down and get out. More importantly I guess, we wanted to help because we were so happy to be free, so happy to show our purple stamp and walk out of those doors into the sunshine and be able to go wherever the hell we wanted.”