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Free Thinking : The world

From New Delhi, writer Rana Dasgupta

Can A Prison Be A City?

  • Rana Dasgupta
  • 9 Sep 06, 02:07 PM

Further to the earlier post comparing cities and internment camps, here is an extraordinary photo-essay about San Pedro prison in La Paz.

Jail

San Pedro prison, the biggest in Bolivia's main city, La Paz, is home to about 1,500 inmates. Once you pass the thick walls and the security gates, any resemblance to a normal jail disappears: there are children playing, market stalls, restaurants, hairdressers and even a hotel. It looks more like the streets of El Alto, Bolivia's poorest neighbourhood that sprawls on the outskirts of La Paz, than a prison.

Text and photographs: Rafael Estefania, BBC Mundo. Thanks to David Garcia for forwarding this.

Comments

  1. At 03:38 PM on 09 Sep 2006, Richard O'shea wrote:

    I suppose if the pictures of this environment say anything it is that Humans are interdependent. It says nothing about the society that they are apart from -save the usuall, society exploits the weak. Police don't go in there and the rule of the land is physical power followed by fiscal power, the fiscal power generally being gained with force.

    So it is a microcosm of the greater world, but with not as much polish as they would find on the outside. If fiscal power is fair then answer me this, how long would it take you to beat GW Bush to death with your bare hands? Not long, and all that money he has just faded away in an instance of brutality. No, I remain unconvinced. Cities aren't good for the weak -weak only in the sense that they have no fiscal strength- they are consumed by them, and forgotten by the stronger occupents, who set about deluding themselves that their hard earned taxes will go to 'these people' and lift them up into a higher plane of existence.

    The perpetuation of this myth is vulgar and belittles anyone who espouses it.

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  2. At 04:04 PM on 09 Sep 2006, Roberto Carlos Alvarez-Galloso,CPUR wrote:

    The taxes paide by occupants in a city do not go to the less fortunate, they go to the authorities who enrich themselves of these monies. At least, that is how I see it in America.

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  3. At 06:22 PM on 09 Sep 2006, Fitz wrote:

    I think we're getting a conscencus here?

    Cities are about business, making capital, getting rich. They are not about enriching the souls of people at all.

    They have become a business necessity. The easy way to amass business and wealth is to centralise it for convenience.

    This of course has always been the remit of cities - but in the past we maanged to weave in our creativity into them.

    Now we fool ourselves that we are still being creative with concrete and steel and glass - our poverty of creativity is showing.

    There was a great cotton mill owner years ago in England who built an entire town and church and his own mansion and then eventually went broke.

    The town exists still and is well sort after property as does the church, but his mansion..........

    Gone in the blink of an eye. And it it's place nature, forests and undergrowth. Much more beautiful than man's feeble effort to build big buildings!

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  4. At 01:16 AM on 10 Sep 2006, Richard O'shea wrote:

    The Prison as a City idea may not correlate as closely as we think. Yes there were some common elements: economy, democracy, education and protection. But I think they are just that, common: the things you need anywhere.

    The fundamental difference was the type of power structure that operates there, very base, very brutal. Yes, the baseness of Humanity can be found in the freedom of a modern city, but not concentrated, not antagonistic, seldom in your face! The pictures were certainly decorated with some of the paraphernalia of modernity but again when examined they turned out to be bare necessities. Nope, that place sucks, how do we get it shut down?

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  5. At 11:57 AM on 10 Sep 2006, fitz wrote:

    Richard - we can't get it shut down - remember we don't run the world anymore!

    but you could ask uncle George B to -help -keep it in the family sort of!

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  6. At 07:43 AM on 14 Sep 2006, christina wrote:

    a city can be a prison depending on how we view it. since i am fairly well off the city at times is not a prison because i can spend the way i want. the only limitation that i face regarding my liberty is the freedom to roam when, where and how i please, because of the so called dreaded terrorist attacks predicted. i think it mostly depends on how much of freedom i grant myself to enjoy life in a city.

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  7. At 12:13 PM on 14 Sep 2006, fitz wrote:

    good point Christina - but I think the crux of the discussion revolves around whether we live in cities or not - living in cities and just visiting them is two totally different concepts -as I can attest too!

    yes cities can be exciting for a day - but everday ? - a totally different view point.

    Are you talking about living in them or visiting them - try to be precise- it does make a difference to the poster!

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  8. At 05:04 PM on 21 Sep 2006, Liz wrote:

    Can't get over how much it remids me of the London debtors prisons as depicted in Dickens' novels, particularly Pickwick Papers. Mini worlds where money buys you a nice cell and better food, and poverty as ever leaves you to fend for yourself in the more dangerous areas. The debtors prisons were (eventually) abolished as a disgrace...

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