San Pedro Sula Prison, Cortes, Honduras September 1995

This assignment was commissioned by Arie Hoekman from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to provide photographic documentation of the chronic overcrowding and crumbling infrastructure of the prison. The photographs were to be used to illustrate reports written by the UNFPA to inform and generate additional funding to help improve the desperate conditions at the prison, deliver better medical facilities and education programs.

Built in 1950 the prison was originally intended to accommodate 800 prisoners, however by 1995 the prison housed more than 2000 male and female inmates. The prison is termed as a ‘self governing prison’, which means the inmates effectively control the prison. The prison guards only control the entry and exit gates and patrol the perimeter walls, their job is simply the stop prisoners escaping and are not concerned with what happens inside the prison.

In order to gain access to the prison I had not only to get permission from the prison authorities but also from the prisoners themselves. The prisoners who liaise with the prison authorities and control the inmates are known as ‘coordinators’. Coordinators are provided with wooden batons by the prison authorities, have their own keys, supervise the distribution of food and enforce discipline.

Both the prison authorities and coordinators were happy for me to photograph at the prison as any improvement to the degrading conditions, overcrowding, inadequate nutrition and poor sanitation would be welcomed.

This work was facilitated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and supported by The World Health Organisation and Panos Pictures.

P 01 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 01] Visitors at the gatehouse wait to enter the prison.

P 02 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 02] Perimeter guard armed with a machete.

P 03 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 03] The exercise yard, it’s also known as the ‘patio’.

P 04 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 04] These lines in the exercise yard are for drying clothes, there are large concrete sinks around the perimeter for washing clothes.

P 05 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 05] Gambling in the exercise yard.

P 06 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 06] Prison guards unload their rifles as they change shifts. They are armed with rifles, hand guns, batons and machetes. They need permission to enter certain areas of the prison that are controlled by coordinators.

P 07 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 07] Senior prison guard shows off his rings.

P 08 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 08] Senior prison guard and prisoner. He is telling me how well the prisoners are looked after.

P 09 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 09] The prisoner (left) has been segregated for disruptive behaviour.

P 10 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 10] Inside the perimeter wall these two men are among the some of the most confrontational and violent prisoners in the prison. The man on the right is making threatening hand gestures towards us indicating his affiliation to the MS-13 gang. Mara Salvatruncha, known as MS-13, is a criminal organisation originating from Los Angeles, known for its extreme violence.

P 11 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 11] Prisoners preparing rice in the prison kitchen. All the cooking is done on an open fire. Working in the kitchen is a sought after job, usually requiring good connections with the coordinators and prison authorities.

P 12 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 12] To the amusement of the coordinator escorting us, he said these two prisoners who work in the kitchen, were both convicted of murdering their wives.

P 13 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 13] Prisoner enveloped by smoke from the kitchen fire.

P 14 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 14] Hundreds of cooked tortillas from the kitchen are ready to be served.

P 15 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 15] A coordinator holds back prisoners with his baton as they queue for food. The man kneeling has passed his bowl through a hole in the wall into the kitchen where prepared food will be served into it. Meals are served twice a day, meat is provided once a week.

P 16 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 16] A prisoner passes his plastic bowl through a hole in the wall into the kitchen serving area where food will be served into it.

P 17 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 17] Prisoner receives his meal of rice, frijoles molidos (mashed and fried beans) and tortillas from the hole in the wall.

P 18 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 18] Prisoner eats his evening meal in the exercise yard.

P 19 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 19] Female prisoner eats her meal. She is eating frijoles molidos, rice and tortillas.

P 20 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 20] Mother and child in their cell.

P 21 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 21] Women prisoners become embarrassed having their photograph taken.

P 22 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 22] Prisoners in the exercise yard at night.

P 23 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 23] This prisoner climbs up a fence and says he is innocent of the charges made against him and asks if I can help him.

P 24 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 24] Privileged inmates playing pool at night. The room is illuminated by a single lightbulb.

P 25 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 25] Playing pool at night.

P 26 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 26] Coordinators each carrying their batons socialise and discuss issues relating to running the prison each evening.

P 27 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 27] One of the hot, humid, airless and severely overcrowded mens dormitories. #1

P 28 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 28] #2

P 29 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 29] #3

P 30 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 28] #4

P 31 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 31] With no bunks or mattresses available, prisoners sleep on the overcrowded dormitory floor.

P 32 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 32] Women and children prepare for bed in their dormitory.

P 33 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 33] The washing and toilet facilities are located in a stinking, airless, lightless room. This man has water poured over him by a subordinate prisoner.

P 34 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 34] Woman visits her husband in the prison hospital. He is dying from AIDS related TB.

P 35 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 35] Wealthy prisoners can pay for their own private cells from the prison authorities. These prisoners are often convicted corrupt government officials or mid ranking drug dealers. This prisoner has decorated his cell to his own taste, has a colour TV, music player and fridge. He pays for his own food which is prepared for him outside the prison. He can also receive overnight visits from his wife, girlfriend or sex workers.

P 36 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 36] Small businesses such as tailoring are permitted to be run by prisoners, they can also sell food, sweets, drinks and clothing to the prisoners and visitors.

P 37 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 37] Prisoner poses by a chain link wire fence.

All images are Strictly Copyright © Bill Stephenson. All Rights Reserved.

P 01 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 01] Visitors at the gatehouse wait to enter the prison.

P 02 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 02] Perimeter guard armed with a machete.

P 03 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 03] The exercise yard, it’s also known as the ‘patio’.

P 04 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 04] These lines in the exercise yard are for drying clothes, there are large concrete sinks around the perimeter for washing clothes.

P 05 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 05] Gambling in the exercise yard.

P 06 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 06] Prison guards unload their rifles as they change shifts. They are armed with rifles, hand guns, batons and machetes. They need permission to enter certain areas of the prison that are controlled by coordinators.

P 07 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 07] Senior prison guard shows off his rings.

P 08 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 08] Senior prison guard and prisoner. He is telling me how well the prisoners are looked after.

P 09 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 09] The prisoner (left) has been segregated for disruptive behaviour.

P 10 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 10] Inside the perimeter wall these two men are among the some of the most confrontational and violent prisoners in the prison. The man on the right is making threatening hand gestures towards us indicating his affiliation to the MS-13 gang. Mara Salvatruncha, known as MS-13, is a criminal organisation originating from Los Angeles, known for its extreme violence.

P 11 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 11] Prisoners preparing rice in the prison kitchen. All the cooking is done on an open fire. Working in the kitchen is a sought after job, usually requiring good connections with the coordinators and prison authorities.

P 12 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 12] To the amusement of the coordinator escorting us, he said these two prisoners who work in the kitchen, were both convicted of murdering their wives.

P 13 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 13] Prisoner enveloped by smoke from the kitchen fire.

P 14 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 14] Hundreds of cooked tortillas from the kitchen are ready to be served.

P 15 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 15] A coordinator holds back prisoners with his baton as they queue for food. The man kneeling has passed his bowl through a hole in the wall into the kitchen where prepared food will be served into it. Meals are served twice a day, meat is provided once a week.

P 16 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 16] A prisoner passes his plastic bowl through a hole in the wall into the kitchen serving area where food will be served into it.

P 17 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 17] Prisoner receives his meal of rice, frijoles molidos (mashed and fried beans) and tortillas from the hole in the wall.

P 18 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 18] Prisoner eats his evening meal in the exercise yard.

P 19 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 19] Female prisoner eats her meal. She is eating frijoles molidos, rice and tortillas.

P 20 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 20] Mother and child in their cell.

P 21 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 21] Women prisoners become embarrassed having their photograph taken.

P 22 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 22] Prisoners in the exercise yard at night.

P 23 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 23] This prisoner climbs up a fence and says he is innocent of the charges made against him and asks if I can help him.

P 24 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 24] Privileged inmates playing pool at night. The room is illuminated by a single lightbulb.

P 25 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 25] Playing pool at night.

P 26 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 26] Coordinators each carrying their batons socialise and discuss issues relating to running the prison each evening.

P 27 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 27] One of the hot, humid, airless and severely overcrowded mens dormitories. #1

P 28 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 28] #2

P 29 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 29] #3

P 30 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 28] #4

P 31 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 31] With no bunks or mattresses available, prisoners sleep on the overcrowded dormitory floor.

P 32 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 32] Women and children prepare for bed in their dormitory.

P 33 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 33] The washing and toilet facilities are located in a stinking, airless, lightless room. This man has water poured over him by a subordinate prisoner.

P 34 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 34] Woman visits her husband in the prison hospital. He is dying from AIDS related TB.

P 35 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 35] Wealthy prisoners can pay for their own private cells from the prison authorities. These prisoners are often convicted corrupt government officials or mid ranking drug dealers. This prisoner has decorated his cell to his own taste, has a colour TV, music player and fridge. He pays for his own food which is prepared for him outside the prison. He can also receive overnight visits from his wife, girlfriend or sex workers.

P 36 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 36] Small businesses such as tailoring are permitted to be run by prisoners, they can also sell food, sweets, drinks and clothing to the prisoners and visitors.

P 37 San Pedro Sula Prison Cortes Honduras September 1995

[P 37] Prisoner poses by a chain link wire fence.

All images are Strictly Copyright © Bill Stephenson. All Rights Reserved.