Fuga de Santa Martha Acatitla, by Ricardo Carbajal. Mexico City: Editorial Diana, 1998.
There is nothing romantic about Ricardo Carbajal's portrait of Mexican prison life. At Santa Martha Acatitla there is no honor among thieves or camaraderie; alliances are always risky. The inmates are usually high and the guards are corrupt. Brutality is a way of life. Even friendly salutations reek with crudeness.
And yet, these are men, not animals. Someone has written a poem on a cell wall. Someone else hands a new inmate a marijuana cigarette by way of welcome. When the Samurai, a twenty-four-year-old prisoner in jail for killing a policeman, receives a visit from his mother and sister, his eyes well up and a lump fills his throat. The Samurai has his story, too. After his wife suffered several miscarriages, he submitted to a vasectomy. Six months later, she got pregnant and ran off with her lover. Humiliated and enraged, the Samurai swears he will kill her. His mother scrapes together the money to pay for an attorney, but in this lawless netherworld, no one has scruples; the counselor takes the money and runs.
When a stoned thug attacks the Samurai, the new prisoner brings him down on the spot. This second murder earns the Samurai a transfer to Z-O, the section for incorrigibles. No bathrooms. Reduced rations. Limited access to water. It is here that inmates lose their last vestiges of humanity. Almost immediately, the Samurai is recruited for the drug gang that operates within the prison. Gang members count on the protection of corrupt guards and El Capo (The Boss), a Colombian kingpin who lives in a luxurious cell where he enjoys a television and other gadgets, fine wines, and beautiful women. Gang life requires absolute loyalty; traitors are subjected to horrifying tortures. The Samurai accepts the rules, and his living conditions improve immediately.
El Capo counts on the help of two allies: El Gringo, a North American lawyer and military veteran who was arrested for arms trafficking, and Don Fede, imprisoned for a monumental swindle. Each has his own hired goons--assassins who do their dirty work inside and outside the prison walls. For a moderate fee Tellez Giron, the prison director, overlooks the three-some's weekly orgies, where food, drugs, and women abound. And yet, in spite of their life of privilege, these men long for freedom. Drawing on El Capo's logistical brilliance, El Gringo's military expertise, and Don Fede's experience in...