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