San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Prisons

PHOTOS: A look at maximum security in Costa Rica's La Reforma Prison

See also: PHOTOS: Faces from La Reforma prison

LA REFORMA PRISON, Alajuela – Their reality is confined to a 4×4-meter cell of cement and iron, where only a few rays of sunlight enter each day and where sleep comes on concrete beds. Most are allowed one hour of outdoor sunlight daily, and 20 minutes of phone calls each week.

There are 124 inmates in cellblock E at Costa Rica’s La Reforma prison in San Rafael de Alajuela, north of the capital, housed in 32 individual cells and 12 collective ones with four prisoners in each.

The individual cells house the most dangerous or troublesome criminals, or those whose lives are at risk. Among them are leaders of rival gangs, such as infamous drug traffickers “El Indio” and “Pollo,” whose organized criminal networks have launched a violent turf war in the streets of San José’s southern and western neighborhoods, leaving a toll of 165 deaths in only nine months.

See: Costa Rica authorities smash local organized crime ring involved in drug trafficking, homicides

“I’m here because they linked me to the murder of El Indio’s brother. But I’m in preventive detention and I’m innocent,” claims one of the prisoners in an individual cell in La Reforma’s older maximum-security sector, where 43 other prisoners are held. Crumbling infrastructure here prompted prison officials to open the new maximum-security sector in 2009. Both currently are in use.

“Most of Pollo’s gang is in here,” said another inmate. “They separated us from the other people while we wait for trial.”

Among those being held in individual cells are Marcos Zamora, alias “El Indio,” one of his brothers, and Gilbert Bell, alias “Macho Coca,” an alleged drug lord from Limón who was recently arrested in a large police sweep near the Caribbean coast.

See: Costa Rica’s ‘Macho Coca’: A fishmonger accused of being a drug lord

These cells also hold accused hit men from Limón, where in addition to San José’s southern and western districts, drug-related violence has spiked in recent months.

Following are photos from a recent visit by The Tico Times to La Reforma’s maximum-security cellblocks:

 

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