Bolivian Prison

Sliding into the Soap Dish of the US War on Drugs

They call it La Jobónera, the "soap dish." I thought the nickname had been born because at first glance, the place looks like a wash-by-hand laundromat. Clotheslines run criss-cross through the open patio, giving shade like a tree as it drips dry above a place that feels more like hopelessly passing time than life. There is a constant scrubbing noise. Water is always running somewhere. Braids are tied back and sleeves are rolled up. But no, I was wrong. The "soap dish" has nothing to do with spending hours a day soaking and scrubbing soapy clothes. It gets its name because both getting in and getting out is slippery. Welcome to the San Sebastian prison. La Jabónera is not just any prison. It is a confined residence for women, most of them supposed narco-traffickers, and their children. A jail that does not provide food to its prisoners. A jail filled with 112 women, many of who do not know how long they will reside there, and are guilty until proven innocent.