On the border of Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, communities are caught in the middle of warring drug cartels, many of which end up in the Laredo Penitentiary. But for other cartels the prison is a secret institution for regional power. In this photo essay by journalist Charles Bowden and Penny De Los Santos, we see a world where cartels not only run the prisons from behind bars, but they incarcerate a huge number of women sex slaves who share prison cells with their baby young.
Bowden writes, “Incarceration, like law, is a bit different in Mexico. Conjugal visits are permitted; small children younger than six can be locked up with their moms; and men and women peddle goods and themselves within the walls in order to survive. Mexican prisons often do not provide grub. I’ve stood in line with family members who toted a week’s supply of food on visiting day, seen women reel out of cells in disarray after their weekly intercourse sessions with their men.”
“The women may come in clean, but they don’t stay that way. In Nuevo Laredo, they’re high by 10 a.m., then they spruce up and go off to the men’s area to make some money. By afternoon they return, their necks laced with hickeys. Convicts run the prison, and the guards do as they are told by the dominant inmates. People get killed. And all this goes on with toddlers underfoot.”
”In Nuevo Laredo’s El Penal II, the cells currently hold 71 women. Some get pregnant while inside. At any one time, there are 4 to 10 kids living behind bars. For many, their options are limited: Go to prison with mom, or go to an orphanage. Once the children reach age six, they are tossed out.”
[View more images and read the full article in Born Into Cellblocks by Charles Bowden in the May/June 2006 Issue of Mother Jones Magazine.]