A darkly comic, sometimes shocking account of life in the world's most bizarre prison
When Thomas McFadden was arrested trying to smuggle five kilos of cocaine out of Bolivia, he was flung into the infamous San Pedro prison - the strangest penitentiary system in the world. A bemused Englishman abroad, Thomas was astonished to discover that corrupt politicians and major-league drug smugglers lived in luxury apartments in one wing, while the poorer sections of the prison were too dangerous to enter after dark. Prisoners had to pay for everything: their cells, their food and their clothing, not to mention the many bribes required by the police. To survive in the San Pedro you needed an income - and so prisoners turned to the trade they knew best: manufacturing cocaine. Even the prison cat was addicted to crack.
Initially mistaken for a hated American, Thomas survived numerous attempts on his life as he tried to adjust. In Marching Powder he describes his journey from despised gringo to San Pedro's most notorious inmate. After spells of drug dealing, shopkeeping and even taking up the position of Mormon pastor, he hit upon the idea of giving guided tours of the prison. He became legendary on the South American backpacking circuit and, for the tourists passing through, meeting Thomas was an unforgettable experience. But behind the show he put on, Thomas was all too aware of a much darker reality, where brutality and death were common currency, and sometimes even the strongest didn't survive.
'All the staples of the prison memoir are here: sadistic guards and attempted break-out, the terrors of solitary confinement, the joys of freedom . . . The result is a truly gripping piece of testimony' Sunday Telegraph