Punished for Being Poor

Bolivian law allows children under six to live with their mothers in prison. The San Sebastian prison in Cochabamba, Bolivia contains stores, food stands, and workshops.
Name: Nayeli*
Age: 28 years old
Crime: Transporting 3 kilograms of cocaine paste
Sentence: 8 years
Location: Cochabamba, Bolivia
Nayeli’s father was convicted for transporting drugs. When she was young, her family lived in prison for 7 years.

When her father was released, the family faced economic and domestic hardships.

At 15, Nayeli started working as a backup singer and dancer for a music group, earning $12 a show.
Nayeli became involved with a new partner who beat her, causing a miscarriage. She left him and started working at a taxi company, but she barely made enough money to eat. A little while later, she moved to Argentina with a new partner and had another child, but soon returned to Bolivia when they were unable to earn enough to survive.

Back in Bolivia, a friend offered Nayeli $1,000 to swallow capsules filled with cocaine and to travel to Chile.

Nayeli spent 6 months in prison.

Upon her release, Nayeli was in debt and had very little income. She decided to again transport drugs to support her son.

The father of Nayeli’s youngest son does not pay child support, so she supports him on her own by announcing visitors to the jail over the loudspeaker.

In a month she will be eligible to work outside of the prison during the day. After taking night classes she and 24 other inmates will obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Kathryn Ledebur is the Executive Director at the Andean Information Network (AIN), a non-governmental organization based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She has over 20 years of experience analyzing the impact of drug policy.
* Interviewee’s name has been changed


The Andean Information Network and WOLA

William Wroblewski

Interviewers and Editorial Assistance:
Kathryn Ledebur, Ana Carolina Gálvez, and Ariel Pueyo Encinas

Caroline Buhse

Special Thanks To:
The women of San Sebastian Prison
The administration at the San Sebastian Women’s Prison
The Bolivian Penitentiary System

This photo essay was produced with support from Open Society Foundations and the Libra Foundation.