* Above: 'We want better treatment from the authorities,' by AP via OB Rag.
The Baja California state penitentiary in Tijuana is a square block of concrete that looms over the dusty flats of La Mesa. Among locals it is known as "La Peni." We used to go there when we were little to visit cousins and uncles who were locked up. Back then family-time at La Peni was basically a carnival. Because inmates are given next to nothing by the authorities, many made a living inside by setting up food stands and games and rides for little kids. La Peni has always been every man, and every family, for themselves.
Since Sunday, chaos and death has blanketed La Peni and the surrounding streets as male and female inmates rioted, leaving at least 19 dead, and immeasurable outrage and agony among relatives waiting to hear word on their loved ones inside. Numbers on the deaths have varied because for most of the week the scene has been a cauldron of absolute mayhem.
My mother, who has been inside La Peni as recently as a couple months ago, writes to me:
It is literally Hell. Women detained for three months for stealing diapers from a store. Water from the tap, if at all. Rotten food. Twenty people in a cell for six, the rest on the floor. How were they not going to finally pile up? Anyone who protests such injustice, they rip their head open with blows.
As the Union-Tribune notes, conditions at La Peni are truly horrendous, the most glaring disgrace being the facility's overcrowding. The paper says the first riot may have been sparked by the death of an inmate at the hands of guards. Women rioted on Wednesday. University of San Diego's David A. Shirk lays guilt for the tragedy squarely on the government: "It's the ugly stepchild of President Calderon's criminal justice reforms. There's been little attention in Mexico to penal system reform."
The U-T also published the names of Peni inmates transferred out after the disturbances and the names of those injured. "Who's going to answer for those 19 dead?" Mom writes. "The hundreds of injured they say are inside? No food or water for five days? The infrastructure destroyed. No guards. What impotence, not able to do a thing."