LA PAZ – Visitors’ day has come again at Bolivia’s Qalauma center of social rehabilitation, while outside, family members waiting to enter imagine how the dreams of their imprisoned sons and daughter, brothers and sisters have turned into nightmares.
But Qalauma, an Aymara Indian word meaning “the drop that carves the stone,” is the first institution for teenagers and young people in Bolivia that has a specific rehab program to help them recover their dreams and begin to see some hope in their future.
Since it was opened in 2011, Qalauma, some 19 miles (30 kilometers) from La Paz, has pledged to honor its inmates’ rights and treat them with dignity, and in doing so has worked with more than 700 youths.
At present, 85 percent of the 159 youths of both sexes being held in preventive detention have no idea when they will be sentenced nor how much time they will have to spend behind the walls separating them from their freedom.
On a visit by EFE to the prison, the center’s leading educator Javier Enriquez said the main objective is to move young people from adult prisons, known in Bolivia for overcrowding, insecurity and violence.
Qalauma is, according to Enriquez, the only correctional facility that takes seriously the need for restorative justice to get young people back into society, a mission that it accomplishes with the production of self-sustaining workshops on the prison grounds.
The center began as an initiative of the Public Defender’s Office in the diocese of the city of El Alto, next to La Paz, and was backed by ProgettoMondo Mlal, an Italian NGO, when the Bolivian government did not give any special attention of that social group.
Ariel (fictitious name), 24, is a young man who was moved to Qalauma from San Pedro Prison in La Paz where there are two worlds: one by day and a more dangerous one by night.
“There was nothing to do in San Pedro – everything is up to you. The cops are at the door and the inmates manage the jail. If you live, you live; if you die they take you away in a box. Nobody can complain about anything,” Ariel said.
In 2015 he was sentenced to 25 years with no chance of a pardon, for a crime of which he considered himself innocent, but about which he would not comment.
Before being sentenced he spent five years in preventive detention. “My dreams were to get out, to see my family and study. Unfortunately many years have gone by and every dream I had has vanished over time,” he said.
However, Ariel is currently one of those in charge of the Qalauma library and now, besides the passion he has developed for books, he is also a fan of robotics.
The 136 males who live in Qalauma spend part of their time at school and in the carpentry, bakery, confectionery, gastronomy, tailoring, silk-screen and art workshops
Despite the idea of mixed work with which the project began, the 23 young women in the center live in another area where, they told EFE, the lack of workshops allows them no more variety than taking over the confectionery facility once a week.