Thursday, April 18

Women who fill prisons in Argentina for drug offenses: a photographic essay | Argentina


PAola left home when she was 13 years old to escape abuse and violence. She lived on the streets for five years until she became pregnant. Her boyfriend left her when he found out. Without work or food, Paola agreed to sell drugs to a neighborhood boss.

He only had to deliver the drug when his boss’s clients appeared on a street corner. With the money she earned in the first few months, she was able to rent a room and live there with her newborn son. With a new partner and the basic needs of his family covered, he felt he could give up his job as a merchant.

Paola, 35, cooks fried cake for her relatives who come to visit her
Sonia, 38, puts on makeup in her cell, is detained accused of drug trafficking, still without a final sentence

  • Top, Paola, 35, cooks fried cake for relatives who come to visit. Above, 38-year-old Sonia puts on makeup in her cell. She is in custody, accused of drug trafficking, without a final sentence. Right, count of female prisoners in ward two of Unit 47. On the far right, 38-year-old Sharon waits inside her cell for officers to enter to count the prisoners.

A count of the number of prisoners.
Sharon, 38, waits inside her cell for officers to enter to count the prisoners

He had two more children and life seemed to be looking up. But her partner left and Paola returned to selling drugs to feed her three children. Again, the work seemed easy and the money began to flow: “What I earned in a month with drugs I earned in six months cleaning houses.”

A pattern is developing in Latin America: aggressive drug policies are filling the region’s prisons with women, many of whom are forced into the drug business because they have no other alternatives to support their families.

Yanet, 28, incarcerated for selling drugs, celebrates her birthday with her children during a visit
Giuliana, 20, jailed for selling marijuana, kisses her mother during a visit
Nahir, 19, plays with Estela, 30, whom he considers his older sister in prison

  • Above, 28-year-old Yanet, jailed for selling drugs, celebrates her birthday with her children during a visit. Top left, Giuliana, 20, jailed for selling marijuana, kisses her mother during a visit. Above right, 19-year-old Nahir plays with 30-year-old Estela, whom he considers his older sister in prison.

In Argentina, 43% of inmates are serving time for drug possession, according to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. It is by far the leading cause of incarceration of women in Argentina. For comparison, the second leading cause of incarceration, theft, accounts for only 9% of convictions.

Inmate diary pages
Inmate diary pages

  • Inmate diary pages. Top left, ‘This day is very special for me because I became the mother of a boy who is seven years old today.’ Top right, ‘I look forward to my freedom and to being with my family again, this time forever!’

It is difficult for women in poor neighborhoods to escape the drug trap. For many, drugs have been a permanent presence in their lives since their early years. Nahir, 19, in prison in Buenos Aires, takes care of his black hair and always keeps a long smile intact. He first tried cocaine when he was 15 years old. Having an addicted mother was almost natural. The powder was on the bed, and she and her boyfriend tried it casually.

María, 20, speaks with her cellmate Aldana, 20, who was separated by an argument with another inmate

  • María, 20, speaks with her cellmate Aldana, 20, who was separated by an argument with another inmate

Nahir got caught up on drugs. She became addicted and, having no money, started stealing to buy more. One day, the police chased her down the narrow alleys of a shantytown when she was going to buy drugs. She escaped and hid in an abandoned house and fell asleep for a whole day. One week he consumed 45 grams and stole 10,000 pesos. It could only end in two ways: a prison cell or a coffin. She got jail. “Thank goodness,” she says. “They caught me. I lost the most precious thing: freedom; but I stopped using it and I’m still alive.”

Nahir, 19, incarcerated for drug possession, is part of a group of inmates who opened the young adult ward in Unit 47.

  • Nahir, 19, incarcerated for drug possession, is part of a group of inmates who opened the young adult ward in Unit 47.

Selling drugs is a survival strategy for women in Latin America. They are the most visible face – and the most exposed – of drug trafficking in the region. They are also, in most cases, the product of their circumstances: violence, lack of education, poverty, asymmetric power relations and inequity.

Yamila, 22, sunbathes in the courtyard of her prison room

  • Above, Yamila, 22, sunbathes in the courtyard of her prison room. Right, the prisoners in the outer courtyard of their cells to which they have access from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The prisoners in the courtyard outside their cells.

Alejandro Corda, lawyer and investigator in criminal law on drugs, says: “We have a failed strategy, there is a criminal policy directed at small traffickers, it is a common practice that gives results by arresting as many as possible. These small traders are women, they are the weakest link in the chain, to catch them does not require research or development. But those women are not the leaders of drug trafficking. “

Nahir, 19, plays rugby in Unit 47
Inmates play rugby in Unit 47
Inmates play rugby in Unit 47

The incarceration of women for drug-related crimes in the region has increased dramatically in the past two decades, growing at a much higher rate than the incarceration of men, according to the Washington Office of Latin American Affairs.

The prisoners study and share a moment inside their cells
Prisoners watch television in their cell

  • Top left, the prisoners study and share a moment inside their cells. Top right, prisoners watch television in their cell. Below, Yamila, 22, talks to her relatives in jail. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been accepted that all prisoners have a mobile phone.

Yamila, 22, talks to her relatives in jail.  Since the start of the pandemic, it has been accepted that all prisoners have a cell phone.

Paola is now serving a four-year sentence in Unit 47 prison in Buenos Aires. She is one of 22,000 women convicted of drug-related crimes. Inside the jail, Paola is an exemplary student, attending the elementary level. She does her homework, asks her classmates for help when she doesn’t know something, cooks for the women in the neighborhood and helps her children with school over the phone. Paola doesn’t know what she’s going to do when they release her; He doesn’t want to go back to jail, but he recognizes that drug trafficking is an easy and tempting alternative.


www.theguardian.com

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