Built for 250 inmates, Peru's Santa Monica prison is now well over its capacity with over 1,000 inmates. About 200 inmates are foreigners. Spaniards and Dutch represent the majority of the foreign population. But other nations around the world also have inmates at Santa Monica. All foreign inmates at Santa Monica were caught at the airport, trying to smuggle cocaine out of the country. In Peru these prisoners are know as “Burriers,” a term that combines the words donkey and currier. Alongside the Burriers are inmates who have committed crimes typical to any society—robbery, aggravated assault, kidnapping and murder.
The lack of uniforms gives inmates a bit of humanity and the prison communal area could be mistaken for any public space. Both suggest an appearance of normal society; but underneath it all, Santa Monica is very much a prison. Judicial process is slow and people can be incarcerated without formally being charged or brought before the court. It is a place where authorities dictate the schedule. And due to overcrowding, each cell houses 6-12 women. For foreign inmates, without family resources or support from their embassies, the ability to survive comes from the kindness of other inmates. Some inmates turn to each other for emotional and physical intimacy and for some, this intimacy is also a commodity to be bought and sold.