Cell cubicles at San Quintin jail. Bello, Colombia April 24, 2001.


Bello, Colombia April 24, 2001

In the years when Pablo Escobar ran the drug business nearly a decade ago, Bello was one of the most violent neighborhoods in the greater metro area of Medellin. Bello is still plagued by vendettas and violence. But some hope that the peace achieved at San Quintin, its overcrowded municipal jail, can have positive repercussions on the streets.

In an initiative supported by the mayor's office in Bello, prisoners on the inside try to use their influence on the outside to deter street vengeance and to promote the efforts of community-based organizations. A program known as "Paz y Convivencia" (Living Together in Peace) was introduced at San Quintin in March 1999 with the transfer of a prisoner named Evelio who had worked as a peace activist at the much larger Bella Vista prison.

Evelio worked to establish a working roundtable of prison leaders similar to the structure he'd participated in at Bella Vista. One of the first things that the prisoners at San Quintin decided after they began to negotiate their conflicts with each other, was that they needed to improve relations with the guards. So the prisoners took up a collection to send the guards on vacation.

According to Evelio, the prison authorities agreed to the inmates’ request that they close the prison down for a weekend granting prisoners 72 hour home leave while the guards took their vacation. "I spent that weekend terrified that not everyone would come back," Evelio confides. "But on Monday morning all the inmates were here. We proved that we could act with discipline and be trusted to collaborate in the peaceful running of San Quintin."

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