By Laura Bevan

I recently watched the documentary World’s Most Dangerous Prison, following journalist Paul Connolly’s exploratory stay in Danli Prison Farm in Honduras.

There are currently no Britons in Honduras needing Prisoners Abroad’s help, but we support 53 in South & Central America (out of 998[1] worldwide), the greatest proportion of these being in Peru. There were many similarities between the prison depicted on the screen and those I had visited in Peru in 2015 and Venezuela in 2007 (which at that time held the majority of the Brits in South America).

The Honduras prison is hugely overcrowded, with more than 700 prisoners held in buildings designed for 280. Connolly highlights the under-resourcing of the prison and the fact there aren’t enough guards to look after the people inside. This is exactly the case in Venezuela and, to some extent, other countries in the area. Guards go in to sort out riots but for anything else it’s the gang leader you have to make friends with. We know this overcrowding, coupled with the 30-degree heat described, is very dangerous: disease spreads fast, and violence can cause injury. Prisoners Abroad’s Medical Fund is desperately needed in South America, whether for illness contracted in the prison or for long-term chronic conditions which otherwise simply go untreated and worsen.

Whilst the prison walls are painted a beautiful blue (they were pink in Peru) with carefully-planted flowers at the entrance, the tension in Honduras was obvious – you could see men armed with baseball bat-type batons – and this evoked for me the lines of men with guns I passed in prison in Venezuela; as you can imagine, it’s terrifying, and Connolly clearly agreed, with his comment that ‘any second, something could boil over’.

On top of the threat of violence and disease there just isn’t enough food. The government in Honduras is reported to spend the equivalent of 43p a day per person on prison food, and the inmates are driven to eat rats. I’d be amazed if the authorities even allocate that much in some countries, where we know people would starve if they didn’t have the monthly survival grants from Prisoners Abroad.

The conditions in Danli appear to be squalid, the ground littered with putrid, uncollected rubbish and human waste – there are dank, brown corners of floors and showers that look exactly like the prison I saw on Margarita Island (Venezuela). If you can’t afford the 135USD for a bedframe, and don’t have family to bring in a mattress, you have to sleep on the floor in amongst that filth. We know that’s the same for the British prisoners we support, who have to fight for their tiny corner.

If you don’t have money in Danli you have to fetch water for the ‘godfather’ from a dirty-looking trough – from the same mould as the one I saw in Venezuela – in the yard. We know that water can’t be clean, and have paid for water filters in Panama and Peru to try to preserve people’s health.

One man describes his reliance on a bible to keep him sane, and a minute library is shown briefly. Prisoners Abroad sends out hundreds of books and magazines each year to give people a little comfort that they haven’t been forgotten. We see a woman cry on film because the only place she can see her husband is in a prison – that’s the reality for the thousands of families we’ve supported over the years who don’t get to see their loved one at all because they are divided, not just by bars, but continents.

It makes me wonder what the ‘danger’ of the title actually means: is it the threat of illness or death from poor hygiene and healthcare, risk of malnutrition and starvation from not having enough to eat, or the idea of being completely isolated from real life? Whichever it is, it’s very hard to choose just one prison in the world to earn this title…

Being offered a lifeline can change everything. 

Prisoners Abroad translates human rights law into practical life-saving actions by providing prisoners access to vitamins and essential food, emergency medical care, freepost envelopes to keep in touch with home and books and magazines to help sustain mental health.