Mexico's new government has decided to close its century-old prison on the Maria Islands- a Pacific archipelago, eight hours by boat from the mainland. However, the issue came to light after some of the prisoners refused to bid a farewell to the tropical jail.
In February, the newly appointed President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador decided to close the prison, reasoning that the islands - known for their beauty and biodiversity - should not be a testament for "punishment, torture and repression."
Established in 1905, the prison will now be revamped into a Jose Revueltas cultural center, named after the Mexican writer and political activist who was imprisoned here, twice in the 1930s. Situated on Isla Maria Madre, the largest island in the archipelago, the prison has held around 64,000 inmates throughout its history. Last month, the last 584 of them were sent back to the mainland.
The inmates and guards on the islands -- the Islas Marias, as they are known in Spanish - stayed put even when the powerful Hurricane Willa swept over them in October 2018.
A prison guard Jose Becerra stated that sending the prisoners back to the mainland was a 'drastic change' as most of them are accustomed to reside in semi-captivity. He added how the change took them by surprise and that they are upset to leave the place.
In 2010, UNESCO declared the islands a biosphere reserve, the UN agency's designation for specially protected, biodiverse regions.
The prison consists of a series of cement houses where low-risk inmates lived, eight in a house, with cemented beds and door-less bathrooms. Outside, they had access to an open-air gym, a garden, a woodworking shop and music classes. It looks almost like a ghost town, with empty streets except for the occasional golf cart driven by the remaining guards who have yet to be transferred to the mainland. It still bears the scars of Hurricane Willa: uprooted palm trees, roofless buildings and barbed wire strewn about. Along with it stores memories of prison inmates who lived in this ‘paradise.’