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Baskets at the Pochutla Prison

by Richard Malmed
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A Oaxaquena friend gave us a little plastic basket she said that her sister got it in Pochutla. When we were in Oaxaca, the plastic basket section of the zócalo (square) had an air of prisoners families. They were selling similar baskets. Pochutla is where the prison is so we developed the hypothesis that she was visiting someone in prison and brought the baskets out.
Mexican prisons are fend for yourself and it is quite common to see the women and children of the inmates selling crafts that were made inside. They are most visible in Puerto Escondido selling necklaces on the beech. About 13 years ago we went to the Pochutla Prison for a look around, it made quite an impression.
We decided to go to the prison and try to find the bags which we would offer for sale in a friends store (Puerto Escondido) if we found them. . We bought all of their baskets that day, 18 and promised to come back in two weeks.
We also distributed two packs of cigarettes. How foolish of us to have brought no matches. Next time we will bring matches.
Sold a good amount of baskets in the store and being people of our word we returned . Our main man from before was in the hole. We knew that because one passes the hole on the way in and out. I did bring matches, on the way out flipped him 1/2 pack cigs and pack of matches. I was patted down this time as I entered, ny wife was not. After the pat down they just let you in. The prisoners are behind bars but you pass things like the hole un supervised. The yard is like a crowded city of make shift shacks. There is a common ground but they let prisoners families all of the way in.
Turns out that the family member from original hypothesis that is incarcerated is a brother ( he didn't do it ). We decided to returned with the family and stop at the beech on the way home. The following Sunday we drove into their mountain campo picked up la familia and headed down the two hour road on the basket epic. It was one of those days that had potential of making the national news in the US. Oaxaca Mexico: THIRTY DIE IN SINGLE CAR ACCIDENT
Baskets from the Pochutla prison
That day bought still more baskets and placed an order for them to do some specials which we would pick up the next Sunday.
One week bags at prison were few. They had run out of the plastic. A few weeks later we paid our friend's sister to take the bus to prison and pick up more baskets. She found out where the plastic comes from. Next year we will go after the plastic bring it to the prison and sell or trade them for more bags.
We have developed quite a view of the inner structure of the rural agricultural poor. I hate to use the word poor as with the exception of money and electricity they have a quality of life beyond that which I have known. The money part is always sobering. As much as I think I understand it I am always surprised. The person who travels to Pachutla to bring her brother $10.00 that her 9 other siblings chip in on in order for him to survive works 6 days a week for $35.00. She does this every week. The trip to prison is about 2 hours in the back of truck for 9 pesos or 1 1/2 hours on a bus (third class bus) but it has seats and is much better. Our friend would not consider taking the bus as the bus is 12 pesos. 3 pesos is 27 cents or 52 cents round trip. This to her is extravagant. We of course paid for the bus as she is working for us.
Upon leaving Puerto Escondido this year the store continues to sell that baskets. Every few weeks a member of my friend's family gets paid a days wage plus transportation to procure baskets while performing their regular family duty of supporting their prisoner.

Richard Malmed

Black Coral at the Pochutla Prison

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