It seems that these women smuggled drugs out of desperation. Nearly all the women we spoke to had left their parental home at a very young age; some of them moved to boarding schools, while others moved in with their boyfriends. For instance, Nicky left her home at a very early age; at fifteen she ran away and moved in with her older and violent boyfriend.
She was led into a world of drugs, which her boyfriend was already acquainted with. From that moment on, she dealt drugs from her scooter, and refused to obey the law. It appears that she lived on the edge when she was still outside of prison, satisfied with earning money through drug dealing and her search for adventure. Moreover, it seems that Nicky did not conform to the rules in prison either. She withdrew from taller manual work , and resorted to drug use. This seems to confirm that coping strategies are indeed influenced by former life experiences as Nicky again did not obey to any rules, though her coping in prison may not have been a rational choice but her only option to survive.
There are more examples of women who appear to use coping strategies determined by former life experiences. For instance, Karin, who seemed to be an aspiring and well-educated woman before her imprisonment.
Behind prison walls she became the spokesperson of many fellow inmates, and helped them to fill out their forms. Not only did she do this to help those who were in need, Karin also assisted other women to make herself feel useful. This reinforced her self-esteem, which helped her to survive the difficult time in a Peruvian prison. Eva was a quiet, but also depressed woman prior to her detention, who struggled to keep her head up during her detention. In prison she preferred to withdraw to her cell.
The ways in which these women handle their detention abroad, and the coping strategies they adopt, mainly seem to be determined by their course of life. The circumstances in Peruvian prisons seem to be tougher than circumstances in detention facilities in their home country. According to the interviewees, corruption is for example an unfortunate part of daily life in the Santa Monica and Huaraz penitentiaries.
Prison guards earn such a small amount of money that it makes it easy for prisoners to bribe them. But the guards would not keep the money. A major part of the corrupt income is said to be handed over to the local prison director, who in turn divides the money among the staff. Corruption, so it seems, is a means used by prison personnel to gain extra income.
Among the detainees there is not a lot of physical violence, and according to the women interviewed, the prison guards do not use any force on them either.
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The exclusively female guards are not allowed to touch prisoners and there are a remarkably small number of prison guards present within the prison compound. Approximately 12 female guards watch a group of roughly women. Delegadas , who are representatives of the detainees, keep order. These delegadas make the rules on a piso [ward] and are, for instance, responsible for the shared finances of cleaning goods. Due to a shortage of prison staff, the Peruvian prisons are actually run by prisoners.
According to Peruvian law, this is prohibited: convicts are not allowed to be in a dominant position over other convicts. However, the shortage in personnel is solved this way. To prevent a breakout, the prison walls are guarded by heavily armed men. Rules, set by the prison regime, seem to be arbitrary. One warder allows certain things while another forbids the same, and rules can change overnight.
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This causes a lot of frustration among the imprisoned women. Besides the difficulties named above, there are certain things that many of the Dutch women in Peruvian prisons find tough. Though the imprisoned Dutch women each experience their prison time in their own way, there are some common aspects, like the ones named above, that most of the women find hard. The mentality of their Peruvian fellow inmates is strange to them.
Dutch women find them impudent and unhygienic and they are annoyed by their manner of talking, which is more like screaming. Also, the Dutch detainees we interviewed reported that they detest all the gossiping that would happen because of jealousy. Some women see the Peruvians as the initiators of gossip, others seem to think that Dutch women gossip as well.
It is unclear though, whether the Dutch women had a sufficient knowledge of the Spanish language to perceive gossiping. According to our informants, stealing among Peruvian women would occur regularly. Also, hygiene is inadequate. And sometimes there is no running water.
The other day there was no water for two whole days! But I just pay 20 cents so I can use the toilet upstairs at the sickbay.
The lack of privacy is considered to be the toughest thing about their stay in Santa Monica prison. The cacophonic sounds, caused by the presence of thousands of women, make the mulas realize that they are never alone. Michelle proudly recalls memories of the curtains she had made to give her some privacy in her upper bunk bed. Only after I got into that cell room, after a year, I had my curtain.
As well as the penitentiaries in Lima being overcrowded, medical care within the facilities is said to be seriously lacking. Some of the women have seen fellow inmates die and feel that this was unnecessary. Everything costs money. The geographical distance between Peru and the Netherlands is large and it is hard on the women that because of the long and expensive journey they receive very few visitors. The long distance between them and their families is perceived to be very hard: for example, to know that family on the other side of the world are not doing well is seen as extremely tough.
Also, the limited contact moments are difficult for them. Telephones can only be reached after a very long queue. Letters and postal packages are brought in once a month by the Dutch embassy or volunteers, and every Thursday, during Bible class, a maximum of three e-mails are allowed to be sent.
Documentaries that can be seen on television often show the excessive violence that exists in South American prisons. But the women we spoke to compare Peruvian female prisons with boarding schools instead. The threatening image they had of South American prisons did not come true. How do these women survive their sentence in a foreign prison?
What coping strategies do they use and do these strategies correspond to the strategies that were found in existing literature? During our field study we found the following coping strategies: conversion to religion, bonding through play families, bonding through romantic relationships, join in activities, help fellow inmates, refrain from thinking, and put the own identity on hold. It seems that the coping strategies that are used by Dutch women to survive their detention in Peru, are determined by their experiences in life and by the prison context.
For example, six out of ten Dutch women use their faith in God to stay strong. Religion is a coping strategy that is also named in existing literature. Two women were already religious when they were incarcerated import , but the other four women got to know God while in prison deprivation. Every Thursday afternoon Mary comes by.
Most Dutch women participate in these classes. They explain that their faith in God helps them to keep going, even if they are in prison far away from their families. We found that Dutch women that are imprisoned in Peru, cope with their imprisonment by mutually bonding with their fellow inmates and forming family ties. A fellow inmate then becomes a sister, a mother or a niece and with them they share their joys and sorrows.