Unless you are watching an episode of Prison Break, you probably know prisons as highly monitored facilities for criminals to do their time, while the guards secure order. The Penas Ciudad Barrios in El Salvador however, is run a little differently.
The members of the prison are all gang members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang and have grown in number over the years. Fear of the gang has caused authorities to step aside and leave the members to run their own prison. The inmates have created their own society within the bars, complete with a hospital, a bakery and rehabilitation.
The men associated in the gang are recognized by the tattoos that cover their faces and bodies. The endless ink on their bodies symbolize stories of the crimes they honor. Their deeds vary from murders to weapon dealings.
Although the site was only meant to hold 800, there are now 2,500 prisoners who roam and rule on their own.
All the guards can do at this point is secure the perimeters and wait outside to ensure the prisoners don’t get out of their confinement.
In 2013, photographer, Adam Hinton was allowed to step inside the boundaries at his own risk to capture portraits of life within. What he saw was devastating. He said “men stand around aimless with nothing to do except kill what seem like an infinity of minutes, hours and days.”
He said most of the inmates were from the slums of El Salvador which gave them no real option other than to join the gang. Once arrested, every inmate is made to feel abandoned and overlooked by the authorities who simply dump them and turn a blind eye.
Click through the slideshow above to see the gang members in the Penas Ciudad Barrios.