Junior Moya is a Peruvian living in Lima who recently had the opportunity to visit the infamous men’s prison located in the run down district of San Juan de Lurigancho. In three parts, he tells us of his experience. (Thanks Junior!)
Lunchtime. It’s time to get in line.
As my friends started catching up with John, I was still pretty taken aback to see so many men deprived of their freedom and doomed to do time in this living hell. John said the floor on the outdoors area had been fixed up and he was also very happy to have a bed to sleep on now. Many prisoners came by to get us to buy gelatine while others just came by to hand out religious-oriented flyers. John expressed he was pretty hopeful about being set free in May. He seemed like a really nice man who has surrendered his life to Christ and he’s using his new faith to reach others and give them hope. Hearing his testimony just shattered my heart in pieces. Being from the jungle, he made me a really nice bracelet out of thread and told us how to make masato, a typical drink form the jungle. Prisoners played games on the floor and there was also a small area where food is served for around 4 soles. One of the upper rooms of the building is home to those prisoners with temper issues and also home to marihuana, alcohol and other vices.
Two men came out carrying a huge pot filled with soup, and everyone started to get in line to get lunch. Everyone held a spoon and a container (from tapers to paint buckets) and moved ever so slowly in line to get some kind of green soup with a couple shreds of noodles and a banana that was not ripe yet. Apparently there was plenty of food to go around for seconds and maybe even thirds. We were getting hungry as well but we decided we would go to a restaurant they have where they serve “real” food. We walked past a barber’s shop and a library. The restaurant served Lomo Saltado, Chaufa, Pollo Broster and even seafood! Prices varied based on the kind of food and the amount of it. I was a little nervous about eating lunch in jail, but I have to admit it was actually good. John has made several friends in prison and he already knew people from when he was in jail before. We started getting to know each other better over lunch. He told us he didn’t understand why God had brought him back to such a dark place, but he also said he was willing to be obedient to Him regardless of the circumstances. At this point we all fell silent, a huge lump beginning to swell in my throat.
What is that girl doing here? Wait, that ain’t a girl!
We went back to John’s cell to use the bathroom and then we sat there for a little to watch TV. Some gruesome, dubbed, military-type American movie was on. Soldiers killing people and shooting others point-blank — how convenient! Some guys were napping on their beds and I was in shock when this one dude walked by one of the sound-asleep fellows, stopped, looked at the guy in deep sleep, took two of his fingers to his own lips and then put his fingers on the other guy’s lips! Not that I haven’t seen worse than that, but it was rather amusing and I can’t get that scene out of my mind. We went back downstairs to chat some more and this time the smell of marijuana in the hall was suffocating. They had laid down some pretty cool woven handicrafts of Machu Picchu and stuff on the floor. I also noticed some men were weaving inside their cells. John said the prisoners can sign up for carpentry classes, mechanic classes and things of that sort. It is good to know these men at least have a chance to do something productive.
Only male visitors are allowed to go into the cells, which means the girl I thought I saw wasn’t really a girl. There are tons of homosexuals and transvestites in jail, some of them who could really be mistaken for a woman. Each building has a taita, a big boss that pretty much rules the building. A taita has to have a partner to be a taita. Gay couples walk around holding hands or with an arm draped on a partner’s shoulder.
Money talks, baloney walks.
It goes without saying money rules in jail. Cops take bribes as cheap as one sol and larger bribes to visitors who want to get itmes such as guns, cellphones and the like inside. Anything can be found in jail. John has a cellphone and I’m sure knives and goodness knows what else gets in there by forking out some cash. We gave John some money we knew he would use wisely. Nothing is free in jail. If a prisoner wants to go outside or get something, money needs to be paid. John told us of a few prisoners that are good at making money in jail to give to their families!! He used to work as a chaman when he was in prison before. Many prisoners would trust him enough to read their palms and even do a couple of rituals where they were required to get naked. To John’s luck, all of his predictions became true and he was able to make quite some money. Creativity can take you a long ways in jail.
It was now 3:30pm and we needed to leave as it gets harder to get out of the facility after 4pm due to the amount of visitors. There were over 1000 visitors so we needed to leave. John escorted us as far out as he was allowed to go, and saying bye to someone I had only known for a couple of hours had never been so hard before. I had never been on the verge of tears so many times in a single day. Getting out was a little different and of course, more than one prisoner was willing to show us the way. When rejected, they would practice their English curse words on us. And now it’s time to face another ordeal….