From drugs to pet iguanas: Snapshots from a Nicaraguan prison
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Photos taken by inmates and posted on Facebook offer a rare look into life for prisoners at a jail in Nicaragua. The photos are testament to the deplorable conditions that the prisoners live in and the violence that reigns in the facility.
Since 2008, the Nicaraguan government has made it increasingly difficult for human rights advocates to gain access to the La Modelo prison, located in the western town of Tipitapa. The Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights has decried this on several occasions.
One of the wings of the prison. Photo: SPN La Modelo Nicaragua Facebook page
Only a few stories published by the local press give a small, rare glimpses into what happens behind the walls of La Modelo prison. Recently, local journalists reported on a telephone smuggling network within the prison, as well as a rape case and an inmate who died after being beaten.
The prison also made the news when an American citizen, Jason Puracal, was imprisoned there for alleged drug trafficking, though there was no real evidence to his crimes. When he was finally freed, Puracal denounced the conditions within the prison, especially the omnipresent violence and the tensions between inmates, many of whom belong to gangs and some of whom are drug traffickers and murderers.
But now, there is a way to get a look into daily life in the prison thanks to a Facebook page called SPN La Modelo, which shares photos taken by inmates on smuggled mobile phones. The administrator of this page, who is not a prisoner, wanted to remain anonymous.
“The goal: to denounce the human rights infractions in this prison”
My brother is a prisoner in La Modelo. When I visited him for the first time, I was shocked by the terrible conditions he was living in. I got the idea to build this page to denounce human rights infractions in this prison.
According to the caption on this photo posted on the SPN La Modelo Nicaragua Facebook page, this inmate sewed his lips shut to protest conditions in the prison.
I want people on the outside to realize what a terrible place this prison is. If it makes them think a little more before committing a crime, that would be a good thing.
Inmates send me photos and written accounts of what goes on in the prison via WhatsApp and Facebook. I then publish them on the page. For the inmates, it is their only way to denounce what happens within the prison walls.
"Sometimes, the prison guards themselves sell telephones to inmates"
Officially, phones are banned inside the prison and prisoners are not allowed to take pictures. But there’s a sort of black market going on in there and the prison administration is really corrupt.
A pet iguana. Photo:SPN La Modelo Nicaragua Facebook page
Sometimes, the prison guards themselves smuggle in phones to sell to prisoners. That’s how the inmates started communicating with their families, sending them photos and explaining to them what really goes on inside the prison. But there is also a lot of drug trafficking, as you can see in the photos.
The room where inmates bathe, according to the SPN La Modelo Nicaragua page.
"Some of the inmates are in alarmingly bad health"
The living conditions within the jail are terrible. The cells are overcrowded and prisoners sleep on hammocks [Editor’s note: A report published by International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS) in 2014 showed that there were 10,569 inmates in La Modelo even thought the official capacity is set at 4,742].
Prisoners sleep in hammocks. Photo: La Modelo Nicaragua Facebook page.
They eat the same thing everyday — rice and beans. There is no consistent healthcare and the prison is really unsanitary. The messages I receive show that some of the inmates are in alarmingly bad health.
These inmates are crowded into a single cell. Photo: SPN La Modelo Nicaragua Facebook page.
Some of the prison guards are very violent. Many inmates send me photos of injuries that they say were given to them by the guards. The most hated guard is named Gomez Gomez.
The inmates take photos of their scars to prove they were hit by the prison guards. Photo: SPN La Modelo Nicaragua Facebook page.
The inmates told me that Gomez Gomez once beat a prisoner to death. He beat the young man brutally, and then left him alone. The young man spent a week writhing from pain before they took him to the hospital. By then, it was too late. His fellow inmates sent me photos of his dead body.
For the time being, prison authorities have not responded to FRANCE 24’s requests for an interview.