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La Visita: Prisons and Survival in Guatemala

  • Anthony W. Fontes (a1) and Kevin L. O'Neill (a2)

Abstract

Based largely on research completed in the North American context, scholars of prisons detail the multiple ways in which carceral practices extend beyond prison walls to transform a wide variety of spaces, ultimately assessing how carceral imaginaries inhabit the most intimate aspects of everyday life. In Latin America, this division between the inside and the outside of prison breaks down even further when read from the perspective of survival. Drawing on ethnographic research across Guatemala's penitentiary system, this article explores how the deep interdependencies that develop between male prisoners and female visitors sustain not just these prisoners and their visitors but also the prison system itself.

A partir en gran medida de investigaciones realizadas en el contexto norteamericano, los académicos que estudian las prisiones detallan las múltiples formas en las que las prácticas carcelarias se extienden más allá de las paredes de la prisión para transformar una gran variedad de espacios, evaluando al fin cómo los imaginarios carcelarios habitan los aspectos más íntimos de la vida cotidiana. En América Latina, esta división entre el adentro y el afuera de la prisión se resquebraja aún más cuando se examina desde la perspectiva de la supervivencia. A partir de una investigación etnográfica del sistema penitenciario guatemalteco, este ensayo explora cómo las profundas interdependencias que se desarrollan entre prisioneros masculinos y visitas femeninas dan sustento no sólo a estos prisioneros y sus visitantes sino a la misma prisión.

Estudiosos do sistema prisional, baseados em grande parte em pesquisa conduzida no contexto Norte-Americano, detalham as diversas maneiras com que práticas carcerárias se estendem para além dos muros das prisões e transformam uma ampla variedade de espaços, por fim analisando como imaginários carcerários existem nos mais íntimos aspectos da vida cotidiana. Na América Latina, esta divisão do dentro e do fora dos muros da prisão se esmiuçam ainda mais quando vistos sob a perspectiva da sobrevivência. Com base em pesquisa etnográfica dos sistema penitenciário da Guatemala, esse ensaio explora o quanto as interdependências que se desenvolvem entre os homens prisioneiros e mulheres visitantes sustentam não somente tais prisioneiros e visitantes como também o próprio sistema penitenciário.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: awfontesiv@gmail.com

References

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1 See, for example, Wacquant, Loïc, ‘Deadly Symbiosis: When Ghetto and Prison Meet and Mesh’, Punishment & Society, 3: 1 (2001), pp. 95133; Moran, Dominique, ‘Between Outside and Inside? Prison Visiting Rooms as Liminal Carceral Spaces’, GeoJournal, 78: 2 (2013), pp. 339–51; Comfort, Megan, Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Mauer, Marc and Chesney-Lind, Meda (eds.), Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment (New York: The New Press, 2002).

2 By affect we mean the emotional work that goes into managing the feelings of others. Studies of immaterial labour have focused on the kinds of emotional work that sex workers, waitresses and airline hostesses pursue in their respective jobs. They must handle their client to make sure that the customer always feels right, and this often involves managing their own feelings to create a particular emotional state in another person. Call centre workers, waitresses and airline hostesses, for example, must hold their tongues, so to speak, to maintain a good rapport. See Hardt, Michael, ‘Affective Labor’, boundary 2, 26: 2 (1999), pp. 89100; Leidner, Robin, Fast Food, Fast Talk: Service Work and the Routinization of Everyday Life (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993); Chapkis, Wendy, Live Sex Acts: Women Performing Erotic Labor (London: Routledge, 1996); Paules, Greta Foff, Dishing it Out: Power and Resistance Among Waitresses in a New Jersey Restaurant (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1991).

3 Important ethnographies organised around the life of one person include Ruth Behar, Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza's Story, 10th anniv. ed. (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2003); João Biehl, Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005); Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, rev. ed. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001); Vincent Crapanzano, Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan (Chicago, IL: Univeristy of Chicago Press, 1985); Robert Desjarlais, Sensory Biographies: Lives and Deaths among Nepal's Yolmo Buddhists (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003); Angela Garcia, The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Disposession along the Rio Grande (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2010).

4 Anthony Fontes, Kevin O'Neill and Corina Giacomello, ‘El impacto de las políticas de drogas en los cárceles de Guatemala’ (The Impact of Drug Policy in Guatemalan Prisons), Open Society Foundations and the Social Science Research Council, in cooperation with the Guatemalan Presidential Drug Policy Commission (June 2015).

5 Behar, Translated Woman; Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993); Philippe Bourgois, In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). See also Elana Zilberg, Spaces of Detention: The Making of a Transnational Gang Crisis Between Los Angeles and San Salvador (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); Jason De Leon, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2015).

6 See Ellen Moodie, El Salvador in the Aftermath of Peace: Crime, Uncertainty, and the Transition to Democracy (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), p. 171.

7 Angela Garcia, ‘The Blue Years: An Ethnography of a Prison Archive’, Cultural Anthropology, 31: 4 (2016), pp. 571–94.

8 Centro de Investigaciones Económicas Nacionales (CIEN), ‘El sistema penitenciario guatemalteco – un diagnóstico’ (Guatemala: Centro de Investigaciones Económicas Nacionales, 2011).

9 See Anthony W. Fontes, Mortal Doubt: Transnational Gangs and Social Order in Guatemala City (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2018).

10 The exact urban homicide rate is disputed. National estimates hover around 80/100,000 and, depending on where the borders of the capital are drawn, the city's homicide rate ranges from 100/100,000 to 190/100,000. The above estimate is cited from interviews with Peter Marchetti, lead researcher with AVANSCO in Guatemala, 15 July 2010.

11 Erving Goffman, Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (New York: Routledge, 2017); Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2012), p. 298. See also Philippe Combessie, ‘Marking the Carceral Boundary. Penal Stigma in the Long Shadow of the Prison’, Ethnography, 3: 4 (2002), pp. 535–55.

12 Wacquant, ‘Deadly Symbiosis: When Ghetto and Prison Meet and Mesh’, p. 97.

13 Comfort, Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison, p. 15.

14 Moran, ‘Between Outside and Inside? Prison Visiting Rooms as Liminal Carceral Spaces’; Nicole R. Fleetwood, ‘Posing in Prison: Family Photographs, Emotional Labor, and Carceral Intimacy’, Public Culture, 27: 3 (2015), pp. 487–511; Mauer and Chesney-Lind (eds.), Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment.

15 Loïc Wacquant, ‘The Militarization of Urban Marginality: Lessons from the Brazilian Metropolis’, International Political Sociology, 2 (2008), pp. 56–64; Jeffrey Ian Ross (ed.), The Globalization of Supermax Prisons (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2013); Chris Garces, Tomas Martin and Sacha Darke, ‘Informal Prison Dynamics in Africa and Latin America’, Criminal Justice Matters, 91: 1 (2013), pp. 26–7.

16 Sacha Darke, ‘Managing without Guards in a Brazilian Police Lockup’, Focaal, 68 (2014), pp. 55–67; Benjamin Lessing, ‘Inside Out: The Challenge of Prison-Based Criminal Organizations’ (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2016), available at www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/fp_20160927_prison_based_organizations.pdf (last access 11 July 2018); Graham Denyer-Willis, ‘Deadly Symbiosis? The PCC, the State and the Institutionalization of Violence in São Paulo’, in Gareth A. Jones and Dennis Rodgers (eds.), Youth Violence in Latin America: Gangs and Juvenile Justice in Perspective (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2009), pp. 167–82; José Miguel Cruz, ‘Central American maras: From Youth Street Gangs to Transnational Protection Rackets’, Global Crime, 11: 4 (2010), pp. 379–98.

17 These notable exceptions include Jon Horne Carter's work in Honduran prisons, where he identifies not only how some prisoners are able to project their influence beyond prison walls, but also how prison economies are deeply enmeshed with actors and communities on the outside. See Jon Horne Carter, ‘Neoliberal Penology and Criminal Finance in Honduras’, Prison Service Journal, 229 (Jan. 2017), pp. 10–14. See also Hollis Moore, ‘Imprisonment and (Un)Relatedness in Northeast Brazil’, unpubl. PhD diss., University of Toronto, 2017; Kristen Drybread, ‘Documents of Indiscipline and Indifference: The Violence of Bureaucracy in a Brazilian Juvenile Prison’, American Ethnologist, 43: 3 (2016), pp. 411–23.

18 Corina Giacomello, Género, drogas y prisión: experiencias de mujeres privadas de su libertad en México (Mexico City: Tirant lo Blanch, 2013); see also Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), International Drug Policy Consortium, Dejusticia, and Inter-American Commission of Women of the Organization of American States (OAS), ‘Women, Drug Policies, and Incarceration: a Guide for Policy Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean’ (Washington, DC: OAS, 2016), available at www.oas.org/en/cim/docs/womendrugsincarceration-en.pdf (last access 11 July 2018); Elizabeth Almeda, Corregir y castigar: el ayer y hoy de las cárceles de mujeres (Barcelona: Ediciones Bellaterra, 2002); Alejandro Corda, Encarcelamiento por delitos relacionado con estupefacientes en Argentina (Buenos Aires: Intercambios Asociación Civil, University of Buenos Aires, 2011); Carmen Antony, ‘Mujeres invisibles: las cárceles femeninas en América Latina’, Nueva Sociedad, 208 (March–April 2007), pp. 73–85, 180; Jennifer Fleetwood, Drug Mules: Women in the International Cocaine Trade (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); Rosalva Aída Hernández Castillo (coord.), ‘Bajo la sombra del Guamúchil. Historias de vida de mujeres indígenas y campesinas en prisión’ (Mexico City: CIESAS, IWGIA, Ore-media, 2010); Andreina Isabel Torres Angarita, ‘Drogas y criminalidad femenina en Ecuador: el amor como un factor explicativo en la experiencia de las mulas’ (Quito: FLACSO Ecuador, 2007).

19 Roy Walmsley, ‘World Female Imprisonment List’ (London: Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London, Oct. 2015), pp. 2 and 13, cited in WOLA et al., ‘Women, Drug Policies, and Incarceration: A Guide for Policy Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean’.

20 In recent years, Guatemala ranks 11th among the world's most unequal countries (CIA World Factbook, ‘Country Comparison: Distribution of Family Income Gini Index’, available at www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html, last access 11 July 2018) and is consistently among the top five most murderous countries in the world (measured by homicides/100,000). Inequality in Guatemala is also multidimensional. Alongside severe socio-economic inequality, Guatemala has extremely high rates of gender inequality, with a ranking of 125 out of 188 countries in terms of gender equality (United Nations Development Programme, ‘Human Development Reports: Table 5: Gender Inequality Index’, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/composite/GII, last access 11 July 2018).

21 See Danish Trade Union Council for International Development Cooperation, ‘Guatemala: Labour Market Profile 2014’ (Copenhagen: Danish Trade Union Council for International Development Cooperation, n.d.), p. 14, available at https://od.dk/sites/default/files/undervisning/arbejdsmarkedsprofil_0.pdf (last access 11 July 2018).

22 Sofía's involvement in an extortion racket links her to another understudied but important phenomenon involving women and illicit markets. Analysts and scholars have observed a marked increase in female involvement in extortion rackets, one of Central America's most common and most feared criminal activities. Though male gang members and prisoners are the most widely blamed for the violence associated with extortion rackets, more and more women are involved in collecting and distributing extortion tithes, as well as in the surveillance and communication involved in creating and maintaining successful extortion rackets. See Fontes, ‘Extorted Life: Protection Rackets in Guatemala City’, Public Culture, 28: 3 (2016), pp. 593–616 and Cruz, ‘Central American maras: From Youth Street Gangs to Transnational Protection Rackets’.

23 For an understanding of affective capitalism, see Analiese Richard and Daromir Rudnyckyj, ‘Economies of Affect’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 15: 1 (March 2009), pp. 57–77.

24 For a sense of Guatemala's declining state resources, see a new generation of scholarship on Guatemala that includes Edward F. Fischer and Peter Benson, Broccoli and Desire: Global Connections and Maya Struggles in Postwar Guatemala (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006); Kedron Thomas, Regulating Style: Intellectual Property Law and the Business of Fashion in Guatemala (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2016).

25 Victoria Sanford, Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

26 Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico (CEH), ‘Guatemala memoria del silencio: conclusiones y recomendaciones’ (Guatemala: Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, June 1999).

27 CIEN, ‘El sistema penitenciario guatemalteco’, p. 37.

28 ODHA, ‘Guatemala, nunca más: Report of the Project for the Recuperation of Historical Memory (REMHI)’, vols. 1–4 (Guatemala: Archbishop's Office of Human Rights, 1998); Jean Franco, ‘Killing Priests, Nuns, Women, Children’, in Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois (eds.), Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), pp. 196–99; Beatriz Manz, Paradise in Ashes: A Guatemalan Journey of Courage, Terror, and Hope (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004).

29 Cynthia J. Arnason, Eric L. Olson, Steven S. Dudley et al., ‘Organized Crime in Central America: The Northern Triangle’ (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2011); Steven S. Dudley, ‘Transnational Crime in Mexico and Central America: Its Evolution and Role in International Migration’ (Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, Nov. 2012).

30 CIEN, ‘El sistema penitenciario guatemalteco’.

31 International Centre for Prison Studies, ‘Highest to Lowest: Prison Population Rate’ (n.d.), available at www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison_population_rate?field_region_taxonomy_tid=18 (last access 11 July 2018); OAS, ‘Situación actual del sistema carcelario guatemalteco’ (Washington, DC: Organization of American States, n.d.).

32 CIEN, ‘Postura 20: entendiendo el fenómeno de extorsiones en Guatemala’ (2014), available at https://es.scribd.com/doc/247016209/Entendiendo-el-Fenomeno-de-Extorsiones-en-Guatemala (last access 11 July 2018).

33 Guatemalan Ministry of the Interior, ‘Request for Information #546’ (1 June 2015).

34 See CIEN, ‘El sistema penitenciario guatemalteco’; CIEN, ‘Postura 6: un mejor futuro para los adolescentes privados de libertad’ (2012), available at https://es.scribd.com/doc/147267680/Postura-6-Un-mejor-futuro-para-los-adolescentes-privados-de-libertad (last access 11 July 2018).

35 In the last ten years, the Guatemalan government has made numerous attempts to block cell phone signals in prison facilities. In 2015, for example, the government contracted cell phone companies to construct signal-blocking towers located on the perimeter of several medium- and maximum-security prisons. While they initially functioned in at least some facilities, recent reports from inmates and prison directors indicate that rain and wind have limited their reach and made cell phone communication between inmates and the outside world possible once again.

36 These numbers are from a response given by the Guatemalan Ministry of Government to a solicitation for information requested on 1 June 2015.

37 For work on call centres in Central America, see Kevin Lewis O'Neill, ‘The Soul of Security: Christianity, Corporatism, and Control in Postwar Guatemala’, Social Text, 30: 2 (2012), pp. 21–42.

38 For general information on the rise of cell phone use in Guatemala, see Central America Data, ‘Guatemala: Mobile Phone Market Figures’ (2014), available at www.centralamericadata.com/en/article/home/Guatemala_Mobile_Phone_Market_Figures (last access 11 July 2018).

39 The Economist, ‘Airtime is Money’, The Economist, 19 Jan. 2013, available at www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21569744-use-pre-paid-mobile-phone-minutes-currency-airtime-money (last access 11 July 2018); Vivian Giang, ‘Inmate Talks To Us Over an Illegal Cell Phone About Working the Jailhouse Black Market’, Business Insider, 2 July 2012, available at www.businessinsider.com/prisoner-shares-with-us-a-glimpse-of-the-hustle-behind-bars-2012-6 (last access 11 July 2018).

40 For one of the most insightful analyses available, see Chris Garces, ‘Denuding Surveillance at the Carceral Boundary’, South Atlantic Quarterly, 113: 3 (2014), pp. 447–73.

41 See, for example, Judith Butler, ‘Passing, Queering: Nella Larsen's Psychoanalytic Challenge’, in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (New York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 161–180 and Valerie Smith, ‘Reading the Intersection of Race and Gender in Narratives of Passing’, diacritics 24: 2/3 (1994), pp. 43–57.

42 The literature on machismo is substantial. See generally Gutmann, Matthew C., The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City, 10th anniv. ed. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006); Lancaster, Roger N., Life is Hard: Machismo, Danger, and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1992); de la Cruz, Sor Juana Inés, ‘On Men's Hypocrisy’, in Joseph, Gilbert and Henderson, Timothy (eds.), The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002).

43 For perspectives on Latin masculinities, see Vigoya, Mara Viveros, ‘Contemporary Latin American Perspectives on Masculinity’, Men and Masculinities, 3: 3 (2001), pp. 237–60.

44 Fontes, Mortal Doubt: Transnational Gangs and Social Order in Guatemala City.

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La Visita: Prisons and Survival in Guatemala

  • Anthony W. Fontes (a1) and Kevin L. O'Neill (a2)

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