Women filling prisons in Argentina for drug offenses – a photographic essay | Argentina
Paola left her home when she was 13 to escape abuse and violence. She lived on the streets for five years until she got pregnant. Her boyfriend left her when he found out. Without work or food, Paola agreed to sell drugs to a leader in the neighborhood.
She only had to deliver the drugs when her boss’ clients appeared on a street corner. With the money she earned in the first few months, she was able to rent a room and live there with her newborn baby. With a new partner and the basic needs of her family covered, she felt she could give up her job as a trader.
She had two more children and life seemed to be working out. But her partner left and Paola started selling drugs again to feed her three children. Again, the job seemed easy and the money started to flow: âWhat I earned in a month with drugs, I earned in six months by cleaning houses.
A pattern is developing in Latin America: Aggressive drug policies fill the region’s prisons with women, many of whom are forced into the drug trade because they have no other alternatives to support themselves. of their family.
In Argentina, 43% of inmates are serving a sentence for drug possession, according to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. It is, by far, the main cause of imprisonment for women in Argentina. By way of comparison, the second cause of imprisonment – theft – accounts for only 9% of convictions.
Getting out of the drug trap is difficult for women in poor neighborhoods. For many, drugs have been a lifelong presence in their lives from their early years. Nahir, 19, in prison in Buenos Aires, takes care of his dark hair and always keeps a long smile intact. She first tried cocaine when she was 15. Having a mother addicted to drugs was almost a natural thing to do. The powder was there on the bed, and she and her boyfriend casually tried it.
Nahir became entangled with drugs. She became addicted and, having no money, began to steal in order to buy more. One day, the police chased her through the narrow alleys of a slum when she was going to buy drugs. She escaped and hid in an abandoned house and fell asleep for an entire day. One week, she consumed 45 grams and stole 10,000 pesos. It could only end in two ways: a prison cell or a coffin. She was imprisoned. “Thank goodness,” she said. âI was taken. I lost the most precious thing: freedom; but I stopped using it and I’m still alive.
Selling drugs is a survival strategy for women in Latin America. They are the most visible – and the most exposed – face of drug trafficking in the region. They are also, in most cases, the product of their situation: violence, lack of education, poverty, asymmetric power relations and inequity.
Alejandro Corda, lawyer and criminal law researcher on drugs, declares: “We have a failed strategy, there is a criminal policy targeting petty traffickers, it is a usual practice which gives results by arresting as many as possible. . These petty traffickers are women, they are the weakest link in the chain, catching them does not require research or development. But these women are not the leaders in the drug trade.
The incarceration of women for drug-related offenses in the region has increased dramatically over the past two decades, and has increased at a much higher rate than the imprisonment of men, according to the Washington Office for Latin American Affairs.
Paola is currently serving a four-year sentence in Unit 47 prison in Buenos Aires. She is one of 22,000 women convicted of drug-related offenses. Inside the prison, Paola is an exemplary pupil, studying at primary school level. She does her homework, asks her companions for help when she doesn’t know something, cooks for the women in the ward, and helps her children at school over the phone. Paola doesn’t know what to do when she is released; she does not want to go back to prison but recognizes that drug trafficking is an easy and attractive alternative.