Louisiana Criminal Justice: Alternative journalism: place in alternative symbiosis

School Life

Dear Journal,

Today is Thursday, November 15th, 2019. It is about 90 degrees here in Bolivia and sunny. It is almost the end of the school year here, and I cannot wait for summer. This is because my mom has promised to take me on vacation if my grades are up to her standards. I need to get between 5-6s for all my classes, which is equivalent to the US system of As and Bs. I want to drop out and start working like many of my friends, but my mom insists education is important. My friends work on the streets, shining peoples shoes for 14 cents, or selling juice. Bolivia has the youngest child labor laws, meaning we can begin work starting at age 10, and hold contracted work beginning at age 12. I don’t mind school too much because it is usually the only time of day I get to leave the prison during weekdays, due to my fathers incarceration here.

Prison Block [PC: Wikimedia Commons]

Last week, we got 3 days off because the teachers went on strike for better wages. Middle school teachers make an average of  7390 BOD which is equivalent to 1070 USD. Teachers are poorly trained and classes often focus on memorizing rather than practical learning. My school day is short too, only 4 hours in the mornings because the older kids go in the afternoons, but it means I have to go to school on some Saturdays. But mom says it is already worth it because I can read and write while it is estimated that 70 percent of the rural population and 30 percent of the urban population are illiterate. Mom wants me to go to secondary school, and I do enjoy school, but it is not required. Of the eighty seven percent children attending primary schools in Bolivia, only about thirty five percent manage to reach high school. I wish I could go to private school and get a more organized and well rounded education, but it is too expensive as on average it costs between $70 and $150 dollars a month.

Can’t wait for summer Journal!

Dear Journal,

Today is November 15th, 2020. It is 75 degrees here in Phoenix and sunny but a little windy. I am not used to the American school system where it is about to be winter when at home it would almost be summer. The nice thing is we get an average of 2 weeks off for Christmas break.

Classroom [PC: Creative Commons]

I expected my school to be mostly white, but it has a minority enrollment of 71% with the majority Hispanic. My school, Kyrene De La Colina, serves 459 students in grades Pre Kindergarten-5th grade, but the student to teacher ratio is only 15:1. School is much longer here, but they serve us food, and I am eligible for free lunch and can get free textbooks due to my mom’s income of $43,000. I am still learning English so for now I have a free translator provided for me by the school district but I get to go to a special English class with some other kids. I no longer have to walk to school because there is a bus that picks me up very close to my house and takes me. I am making lots of friends because 30% of my school is Hispanic and the majority speak Spanish so it is easy to speak to them.

Until next time, Journal!

Job life

Dear Journal,

Today is Friday, November 16th, 2019. My mom, dad and I all live in the San Pedro Prison in Bolivia. My mother wants to move due to the average of 4 deaths every month from natural causes or attacks, but we cannot afford to live without the income of my father who makes an average of $70 a day. He works as a cocaine producer as well as a real estate agent. This may sound odd, but people in Bolivia have to work multiple jobs to sustain families. The average cocaine producer makes only $50-60 dollars a day. In reality, my mom does most of the real estate work but my Dad has to make the sales due to it being generally frowned upon for women to work. The prison is guarded by police officers, but they turn a blind eye to anything happening inside the prison because their main goal is to keep the prisoners inside. They don’t carefully control what the inmates do within the prison because they have no legal authority to punish or reward their behaviors due to the Bolivian government.

Flag of Bolivia [PC: Creative Commons]

Bolivian government authority is solely maintained throughout the inmate’s sentence, so they have no control over what happens to a person in their prisons. This means the guards are especially vulnerable to bribery and assist in the trafficking of drugs in and out of the prison. My mom also makes money by bringing items available outside the prison and selling it to people who need it or tourists. We get about 50 tours per day from people who bribe the guards and that is not counting the fee to enter the prison ($57 US dollars or 400 boliviano). The prison holds nearly 3000 inmates but it was only meant to hold 250 so we are a little cramped. We are what is known as middle class, so we have our own cell for the 3 of us with a bathroom and small kitchen, but not many big luxuries. My best friend’s Dad is really wealthy though and they live in “La Posta” which has a private bathroom, kitchen, and cable television. My mom says those cells cost around 1,500-1,800 Bolivianos, which is equivalent to about $260 USD. Next week, my dad is running for section committee member which means he is an elected official and gains a lot of respect for the prison. He must campaign plus have lived in the prison for more than six months, have an unmortgaged cell and have no outstanding debt. Let’s hope he gets elected, Journal!


Dear Journal,

Today is November 16th, 2020. My dad now lives in the Arizona State Prison Complex. We visit him every Sunday from 12-4pm during the allowed hours. He is no longer our primary caregiver though, because unlike Bolivia, he cannot bribe the guards to help him smuggle cocaine. This is due to the fact they work for private companies that pay well instead of the country and receive benefits that many are scared of losing. But, he is not completely out of the drug game; he just sells to the other inmates– whom roughly 40% are dependent on them. He is one of the few people there able to make cocaine because he was able to get a job in the kitchen. After he makes the cocaine, he is able to sell it to other prisoners by having their families put money into his commissary account.

Prison Life [PC: Media library]

He also has customers he is friends with and their families wire us money to my mother’s bank account in exchange for his drugs. He says he just has to be careful because if he gets caught, time will be added to his sentence. His least favorite part is the fact he has to share a 6×8 foot cell with only a toilet when in Bolivia he had a 2 bedroom cell with a kitchen, bathroom, and living room for us. He says it is not too bad though because he has access to medical, dental care, and even a mental health unit. Because my Dad can only provide so much, my mom has started working. She did online school for free to get her real estate license and it only took 6 weeks. She is making roughly 100k a year. She mostly deals with renters, but the buying market has increased almost 70% since July 2019. I do kind of miss hanging out in the prison with all my friends, and my dad’s room was so much bigger than our 2 bedroom apartment, but Mom says it’s safer to live here because the chance of being a victim of violent crime in Phoenix is 1 in 118.

Peace out, Journal!

This piece was edited by Evan Price as part of Professor Kelley Crawford’s Digital Civic Engagement course at Tulane University.


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