The Gangs of El Salvador: Inside the Prison

The mental images of El Salvador that I have and regularly come to mind, after having lived there for 5 years, bares very little resemblance to anything I’ve seen or read about the place now. The country at this moment is in shambles. It’s at war but not in the traditional military sense. Gang presence is so powerful that notoriously violent members in jail are not only feared but essentially left to run their own detention facility.

In 2013, British photographer Adam Hinton was granted access to the prison called Penas Ciudad Barrios. The prison guards and the El Salvadorian army remain on the outside, ensuring the prisoners stay behind bars, but doing very little to interfere on the affairs of the other side.

Hinton has produced an elegant new book with 20 portraits of the heavily tattooed prison inmates and even a 23-minute short film where he managed to capture footage inside where very few people have ever been given authority by the gang members themselves. The gist of the entire project was to shed light on how they live and why they join the gangs. Since the completion of the project, Hinton has been advised not to come back because the situation has escalated so much that El Salvador has currently topped as one of countries with the highest per capita murder rate in the world.

I always dreamed about taking my wife and kids back one day to give them a provide tour of the town in which we lived for 5 years but of course all those plans are ever going to be are illusions.