Latacunga is one of the three maximum security prisons in the country. But like other prisons it has many vulnerabilities. File: PlanV
Prison is a school of crime. This is what an ex-convict, who was in the Latacunga and Turi prisons and who reached high leadership positions in those places, says. "You have to tell it like it is: in prison, the prisoner rules," says this source, who spoke to PlanV on condition of anonymity. He recounted the dynamics of the operation of these two maximum security prisons in the country and that shed light on the prison crisis that last week left 27 dead, 19 of them only in Latacunga.
He was in prison for five years and was part of mediation processes during that time. From his experience, he assures that, in the country's prisons, neither the police, nor the penitentiary guides nor the officials are in charge. "I played the role of a public official. The prisoner himself puts together the folders, makes the reports," he says in reference to the procedures for pre-release. He explains it this way: "In the cellblock there is a person in charge, they call him caporal, commander, uncle, boss. He is the person in charge of the drugs, the gang and the heavy weapons. He is the one who decides.
To describe this power, he recalls the time that alias Rasquiña or JL spent in prison. He recalls that when the former leader of the Choneros -- assassinated last December -- was in Turi prison there was a hunger strike. One of the permanent complaints of the inmates has been about the food and the quality of it. Rasquiña - who has been in all the maximum security prisons in the country - was in charge of that prison, says the source. He gave the order to his fellow inmates to go on strike for 15 days. His objective was to get the prison authorities to allow them to bring in food from outside the prison. The colonel in charge told him that he would not comply with his request. So, says this former inmate, he asked for his cell phone to be brought to him. On his device were photographs of the officer's wife and children. Faced with the threat, the police chief authorized the entry of the food.
The inmates, he assures, are in charge of locking up their own fellow inmates. In Latacunga, they start locking up prisoners at 18:00. "The main prisoner goes with the padlocks, behind him goes prisoner number two, apparently locking them up, and behind him there is a third one who asks 'how many are here', 'there are five', they answer. They finish the count, go to the guide and tell him 'there are so many'".
"There is no maximum security", the source maintains and gives an example. "Practically with a comb, I could open the lock and it would fly". The police themselves have recognized how vulnerable the prisons are. According to an intelligence report published by PlanV last March, there are at least 82 vulnerabilities in four of the country's prisons. The weak points are in sentry boxes, entrances, terraces, security filters and even electric fences. Technologies are obsolete or damaged.
The same goes for communications. "If you go into a cell, that looks like a cyber cafe", the source refers to describe the wide access prisoners have to technology. "They have five, 10 phones". In the search carried out this Saturday, after last week's violent events, the police seized 51 cell phones, 37 cell phone accessories, 11 electronic devices, 7 laptops, 4 monitors, 3 keyboards, 9 calculators, 6 regulators, 21 speakers, 6 microphones, 1 megaphone and even a 42-inch TV and dental implements.
Impresionante. Aquí se ve como reos suben a Torre 3 de cárcel para disparar con fusiles a policías que intentaban entrar a pacificar. Reos tienen fusiles y sus municiones atravesaron cuerpos de uniformados armados con gas y toletes. Carne de matadero fueron. Esta es la verdad. pic.twitter.com/3hOPEE9INa— Jonnathan Carrera (@jcarreraandrade) July 22, 2021
"Impressive. Here you can see how inmates go up to Tower 3 of the prison to shoot with rifles at police officers who were trying to enter to pacify. Inmates have rifles and their ammunition pierced the bodies of uniformed officers armed with gas and batons. This is the truth" Jonnathan Carrera.
But not just anyone can have a phone. Those who wish to have a telephone inside a prison must pay a monthly fee of $50. Of that amount, $25 will go to the commander and $25 to the head guide. If the prisoner does not pay this fee, the cell phone is taken away.
When people go to visit a prison, they are left without signal because there are inhibitors. But why is there a signal inside a jail? He says he has done his own research to answer this question. He believes that the jammers are directed to the outside of the facilities. So, inside there is connectivity, but only with good technology cell phones. He explains that a phone that normally costs $200 in prison costs as much as $1,000. "The $800 that is left over is split 50/50 between guide and police officers. The lieutenant in charge turns off the metal detector machine" for the entry of these devices. But, according to him, this is not the only thing that enters with the complicity of the uniformed officers.
Latacunga is one of the three maximum security prisons in the country. But like other prisons it has many vulnerabilities. Photos and video captures: Ecuador Police
THOSE WHO WISH TO HAVE A TELEPHONE INSIDE A PRISON MUST PAY A MONTHLY FEE OF $50. OF THAT AMOUNT, $25 WILL GO TO THE COMMANDER AND $25 TO THE CHIEF WARDEN. IF THE PRISONER DOES NOT PAY THIS FEE, THE CELL PHONE IS TAKEN AWAY.
The entry of drugs in uniforms
A kilo of cocaine can be worth $25,000 inside the prison. He claims that Isaías, a commander who was in charge of the Latacunga prison and was killed after leaving prison, used to place the drug orders. "Who do you think was bringing him in? High command (of the police). We are talking about lieutenants, captains, colonels". The source recounts the following scene that he claims to have witnessed: "There was a police captain. Isaías told him 'hand it over'. He (the officer) unbuttoned his shirt, took off the armor he had (in his vest), took off his vest, turned around and gave him (the drugs). The source said that this is how he became aware of how drugs were brought into the prison. "A kilo of drugs in the tablet (of the armor) that goes in the front part and in the back part goes another compressed kilo".
"The person who enters the armament can be in the commissary cart, in the food. But everything enters by order of the Police". He assures that even a paper clip is detected by the scanner, so the entry of these prohibited objects is not possible without the complicity of the uniformed officers and the prison guides. PlanV asked the police for a version of these statements, but no response had been received by the time this edition went to press.
The source assures that, for each kilo of cocaine, around 1,600 doses are distributed. No one can sell drugs without permission from the high command of the prisoners in the prison. When JL was alive, he gave the permits and established the commissions.
Likewise, the caporales or ward leaders themselves know in advance about the searches, informed by the prison directors themselves. He assures that the weapons that have been handed over publicly with the presence of the police do not reflect the real arsenal that is inside the prison. "There are machine guns, pistols, grenades. These machetes and knives are bluffs". After last February's massacre, Turi prison inmates voluntarily handed over hundreds of knives and handmade weapons, and few pistols. Similarly, after last week's incidents, last Saturday, July 24, the police seized 431 sharp weapons and 100 weapons that they called "blunt", but there were no photos of these weapons.
In the Turi prison, the prisoners voluntarily handed over hundreds of handmade weapons after the 23F massacre. But for the ex-prison leader, interviewed by PlanV, these deliveries do not reveal the real arsenal that exists inside the prisons.
Durante MEGAOPERATIVO, nuestras unidades especializadas levantan indicios encontrados en el interior del centro carcelario.— Policía Ecuador (@PoliciaEcuador) July 24, 2021
Trabajo coordinado con @FFAAECUADOR y @SNAI_Ec #ControlPenitenciario
"During MEGAOPERATIVE, our specialized units collect evidence found inside the prison". National Police
According to the ex-convict's testimony, the voluntary surrender of weapons "has always been a show. These high commanders are the ones who ask for the surrender of small arms and even buy machetes and knives, and even some pistols. The prisons are full of guns and we had access to the work area, where there are drills, saws, implements with which you could break that metal and make a knife", explains the ex-convict. "The prisoner must always watch his back".
Crimes in and out of prison
For this former prison leader, it is very difficult to establish the intellectual author, for example, of a murder ordered from prison. "This is a pyramid, one in 100 of the ringleaders go down. The president may not commit or give orders to commit a crime. But those who give the order are the people around him, and that's how crime is", says the source.
In prison, silence is the norm. He affirms that the leaders who have fallen have fallen because at some point they broke their word. "In prison there is a phrase that says: 'Those who break before death pay for it'. The prisoner, adds, "is deaf, blind and mute. Under that code, even the perpetrators don't know who pays for a crime. "You just say 'I want this person's head.' They hand over the money for per diem and expenses, so to speak. And before the crime is committed, they give 60 percent and after the crime, the rest. And that's it", describes the source on how they operate inside the prisons.
For him, it is difficult to trace or register calls because the lines are registered under other names. To avoid that, he says, all that is needed is to maintain the cellular signal inhibitors. "For example, in the prisons they have 50 of which 10 work or the rest are disconnected".
But in case the investigations find a ringleader, the strategy is to divert the blame to someone else."They pay a person to take on the crime. They give the family about $10,000 to $20,000 and he takes the heat". And he says "yes, I was the one who gave the order. This happens because the state wants a culprit. And they give it to him or hand it to him on a silver platter".
The increase in hired killings has been linked to the prison crisis. Between January and June, the national press has reported dozens of victims of hired assassination-type crimes. Although officially the Police bases recognize three of these crimes as hired killings. "There is a direct relationship between the prison crisis and violence in the country", says Diego Pontón, an expert on security issues. For him, it is important to analyze the figures of violent deaths and these reflect a significant increase. In 2020 there were 1,281 murders and homicides; while so far in 2021, there are already 967 deaths. That is to say, only in the first semester of this year, 75% of the violent deaths registered in 2020 have already been surpassed.
For Pontón, prisons have become 'guilt crushing machines'. He refers to the fact that if the prisoners give the orders, in the end they are already in prison or the strategy of passing the blame to someone else works. In Ecuador, sentences can accumulate up to 40 years. So, for someone who has a sanction for a serious crime, it becomes a good business. He recalls that the police have denounced that the orders for crimes, especially those of greater connotation, come from the prisons. "The country's hitman business is being mediatized by the prisons". The worst message is that most of them go unpunished.
But the same goes for crimes committed inside prisons. The former prison leader affirms that he saw how relatives of a murdered minor allegedly paid for the same thing to happen to her victimizer in the Turi prison. He recalls hearing that the negotiation came to $30,000. "What did that $30,000 involve? The first day to tie him up, the second day to send him to be raped, the third day to massacre him, the fourth day to electrocute him and the fifth day for the person to wake up hanging. But in the news it says: 'the man committed suicide due to depression'.
The people who carry out those orders videotape the victims to demand the outstanding payment. No money circulates in prison; all payments are made through bank accounts.
He affirms that crimes such as drug trafficking, arms trafficking, kidnapping, money laundering, etc. are handled from these centers. "I saw how everything is organized from the inside out".
How to stop prisons from being schools of crime? He says that prison gave him time to think about how to solve the prison crisis. The prisoner only sleeps, eats, does his business and writes on his phone. For this reason, he suggests that factories should be created so that prisoners can manufacture their own shoes and implements, even in agriculture. There are bakeries in the prisons, but only two or five people can work when there are 500 inmates in a single cellblock. The vegetable gardens in the prisons are small and only the elderly work there. "If a person's mind is busy, he won't think nonsense". Instead of hiring cleaning companies, they should incorporate prisoners to these jobs, is another proposal he makes.
Translated by Manuel Novik