A recent NPR report took a look at the way a prison in the Venezuelan city of Barinas functions. According to the reporter, Steve Inskeep, “it's said the only part of a prison a guard controls is the gate, leaving convicts to fend for themselves inside, even running criminal networks from behind bars.” He met with a prominent inmate at the prison, Wilmer Lopez, to see if that was the case.
Lopez, a former army sergeant, went to prison in 2002 for stealing a car and murdering its driver with a 9mm handgun. He was sentenced to 20 years for the crime. By about 2008, Lopez had acquired a leadership position among the inmates. Nowadays, guards come twice a day to count the inmates, but the rest of the time Lopez is the authority figure within the prison’s walls.
He applies what he calls "our internal law" and makes inmates take responsibility for their actions, according to NPR. He runs things inside the prison with the help of a few aides and said prisoners and guards mutually respect each other.
"The guards live in the same reality we do," he said. "They want to go home to their families, and be alive tomorrow."
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Under Lopez’s rule, inmates have built rooms on the roofs of old buildings. Some wealthy prisoners even have their own private rooms with air conditioners and satellite dishes. There is a pool hall, a cockfighting ring and shrines to Catholic saints. It is unclear how all of this is paid for.
Originally built for about 400 inmates, the prison currently has about 1,450 prisoners. Lopez said the government could do more to help, but it sounds as if under his leadership, prisoners are helping themselves.
A video about the story is below: