Home > Testimonials > The experience of Mary in Lima women’s prison

Mary is a North American citizen who lives in Peru with her husband. In this testimony she tells us about her involvement with a women’s prison in Lima. Thank you, Mary!!!

I came to Peru 9 years ago with my husband with a Mission from Minnesota.

My involvement with women prisoners started about 5 years ago. I basically work behind the scenes, collecting donations for the girls, doing some of the shopping, collecting the money that parents send and bringing it in. I tape e-mails that families send and take them to the prisoners. My colleagues and I go to the prison on Wednesdays and Thursdays. On Thursdays we read the Bible with the prisoners. We have another lady named Sally who works with music, while Jenny takes care of all the paper work to get permissions to enter the prison and bring stuff in.

The prison we go to is located in Chorillos, it’s called Santa Monica. There are actually 2 prisons one beside the other; one is for terrorists, and the other for common criminals. We go to the latter, where most of the prisoners are foreigners, and 99% of them are there because of drugs.
They are usually picked at the airport. More than 80% of times they are fingered by the suppliers so as to divert the attention of custom police and let bigger amount of drugs slip out of the country.

There are presently 70 foreigners in Santa Monica: they are from Germany, England, Singapore, South Africa, Belgium, Tanzania, Vietnam, Holland, Thailand, the Us, and last week a Canadian arrived. The two largest groups are Dutch and South African. The average age of the prisoners is 25 to 30. Most come from broken homes, broken marriages, broken relationships. Many carry drugs for years before being imprisoned. Many are mothers of children that are taken care of by relatives back in their countries.
Some are users, some start when they get in. Dutch and German receive financial help from their government while many of the other girls there have absolutely nothing. They have no friends, no government support, they have absolutely nothing.

To give you some examples: Francesca, a Dutch, has been in and out of prison 7 times in different countries. She has nothing, no contacts, no relatives. Diana is Check and got somehow involved with a Nigerian man: she has no financial help, speaks very little English and no Spanish at all. 75% of the women in Santa Monica are connected with Nigerian men or Nigerian groups of drug dealers. A girl from Singapore also has no contact with the family, and her mental ability to complete documents or to speak is very low; she has a 15 years sentence. Again, she has no money, no friends, no help.

Sentencing depends on the amount of cocaine they carry. Less than 10 kilos corresponds to a 6 to 8 years sentence. Prisoners usually serve a third in Santa Monica and are then supposed to serve the remaining outside of prison but without leaving Peru. The girls who carry more than 10 kilos get 8 to 15 years. The majority of them, when they get released, cross the border to Ecuador unofficially, get to Quito and leave. It is not difficult to understand why they do so. The system is terrible: you get out of prison after three years and you are supposed to remain here three more years. You are not given your passport, or your carnet. You have no support, no home, no work. You are not legally supposed to work here. You have no contacts in Peru, no place to live. The system is really broke. When girls get out of prison they are supposed to give and address and say in what they will be working. They usually lie. What happens is that they generally meet someone during visiting days and they pay this person to get an address. So when they go out they give a false statement but that’s enough for the government: they know it is all a farce, but it’s sufficient to make them go.

Myself and my group go there once a week, we bring them Christian friendship, we do Bible studies, sing, offer friendship and consoling. We bring in soda and crackers, or a cake, something simple. We offer a lot of practical help. The prison does not supply anything. If you have no relatives here, you have absolutely nothing. Part of my job is to collect donations and bring them in. We bring them soap, toothpaste, toiletry, shampoo, clothes, blankets, magazines… They have nothing to read. They need blankets because it gets freezing cold during winter. As soon as a new prisoner arrives we immediately give her spoons, forks, and a plate, otherwise they have to wait for someone to finish eating in order to use her plate. We have an e-mail service. Families send us e-mails that we print, bring to them, they handwrite a message or letter that we scan and send back to the families.

Everyone is welcome to visit: you just have to follow a couple of simple rules to get in. You have to wear a long skirt, to be distinguished by the prisoners that wear trousers. You cannot wear black, that’s the color for guards. You cannot enter with high heels, cell phones, sunglasses, money; you actually need a special permission to bring money in.

Guards are usually very corrupt. They would take whatever possible from visitors. You can’t make friends with those guards because in seven months they are moved to another prison. Some of them can really give you a hard time with pre-checks.
Mary
Lima, Peru
May 2006