The Miami Herald
December 17, 1998

             In Bolivia, children often live with their fathers in prison

             MIKE CEASER
             Special to The Herald

             LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Delsy goes to school each morning, studies six hours and then
             goes home to play with her friends -- in prison, where she lives among murderers,
             rapists, drug dealers and thieves.

             Delsy, 8, is one of hundreds of children who share their fathers' cells in San Pedro
             Prison in La Paz, the Bolivian capital. Prison officials plan to remove the children
             from all Bolivian prisons by the end of the year, but the children and fathers don't
             like the idea.

             ``I like it here,'' said Delsy, who has lived in the prison a year and said she's had
             no problems. ``I have friends, there are lots of fruits and my dad's here.''

             ``It's a custom that was permitted and no authority wanted to put a stop to it,'' said
             Penitentiary System Director Jose Orias. ``The previous administrations wanted to
             ingratiate themselves to the prisoners rather than enforce the law.''

             Guadalupe Botitano, a social worker at San Pedro Prison, said the number of
             children living in the facility rises to almost 400 at Christmas time.

             ``During vacation, they all come to visit an uncle or a brother,'' she said.

             At the beginning of the year about 2,200 children lived in Bolivia's 17 prisons,
             according to Orias. But he said the government's Prisons Without Childhood
             program has pushed that number under 1,000 and that the rest will leave by the
             year's end.

             ``[Inside] they are forming future criminals,'' he said. ``And one of the most
             important means of bringing drugs and alcohol into the prisons is through the entry
             of children and women.''

             The only exceptions will be children under six who live with their mothers in
             women's prisons. Because many children have no place to go -- both parents may
             be imprisoned -- the prison administration is seeking orphanages to house them.
             Orias says he expects resistance when the final expulsion arrives.

             The children are one of many exceptional aspects of the 130-year-old San Pedro
             Prison, a massive adobe building in the heart of La Paz, built for 250 inmates and
             now home to 1,300. Prisoners are not assigned quarters. Instead, they rent or buy
             through an unofficial market in cells -- which range from bare two-by-three-yard
             rooms to multistory apartments. The poorest inmates sleep in hallways of the

             Many inmates supplement the 50 cents a day the government spends on their food
             by working in the carpentry shop, as tour guides or by setting up stores or
             restaurants. The prison is also a center of counterfeiting and is a source for cheap
             drugs, which is apparently one reason for tourists' interest.

             The children give San Pedro the appearance of an ordinary, if extremely crowded,
             La Paz neighborhood. They run laughing through the alleys, play soccer and dive
             into the small pool.

             But appearances are deceiving, says social worker Botitano. During the last New
             Year's celebration, a girl was raped and murdered by an inmate, she said, and
             there are fights, drunkenness and killings. Botitano said the environment shapes
             those growing up inside.

             ``They're children who have conflicts in their school years,'' she said. ``There's lots
             of aggressiveness in these children.''

             She worries about the children's perspective on reality.

             ``[The prison] is their house, their home,'' she said. ``There's a confrontation with
             society, a confusion about what's good and what's bad that might cause some of
             them to return here [as criminals].''

             However, at the Republic of Cuba Elementary School, about 50 yards from the
             prison, Principal Maria Bonilla said the students from the prison are well behaved.
             But she said they are ashamed of their residence.

             ``They invent an address,'' she said. ``We know they come from [San Pedro], but
             if we identified them they'd feel different.''

             Victor Hugo Carzori, 10, who has lived in San Pedro for a year, hides his home
             from his school friends. He said many ugly things happen in the prison.

             ``There are thieves, rapists, murderers,'' he said. ``In the mornings they're high on
             drugs, at night sometimes they steal and the young men fight.''

             Yet Victor Hugo said he likes San Pedro.

             ``We have everything here, free lunches, free bread,'' he said. ``We play soccer,
             jump into the pool.''

             Still, he doesn't want to return as an adult.

             ``Entering jail means losing years,'' he said. ``Being shut in is bad.''

             Delsy's father, Teofilio Cassio, also agreed the prison is dangerous, ``but I care for
             [my daughters] well,'' he said.

             Cassio, 38, is serving a three-year, two-month sentence on charges, which he
             denies, of having cocaine-making equipment on his farm in the tropics. During his
             first year in prison his 6-month-old son died back home, so Cassio brought his
             wife and three daughters, 10, 8 and 5, to live with him. Sharing his prison cell, he
             said, is the only affordable way to have his family close by.

             ``In the city rents are very expensive,'' he explained.

             The family pays about $4 per night in bribes to live in San Pedro, where Cassio
             has a tiny restaurant and his wife operates a vegetable stand.

             ``We have enough to eat, but we can't save,'' he said.

             Cassio doesn't want his children taken away.

             ``When I'm alone, I get sad,'' he said. ``But when I'm at my family's side, I feel