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A Mexican Prison Seen From the Inside

September 20, 2002

"Infamous Prison City Torn Down" (Sept. 16) highlights the plush conditions (just bulldozed away) of the craftiest racketeers. As a volunteer chaplain at La Mesa State Penitentiary in Tijuana for the past two years, I found the place truly Dickensian. Most of the jerry-built quarters were crowded and plain. Prisoners had to pay for medicine and were served unspeakable food. Their ability to endure amazed me.

Former prisoners volunteered to help others through drug rehabilitation programs. There was an active Catholic chapel, with retreats and frequent services, and dozens of evangelical inmate/ministers with many adherents, referred to as "Los Hermanos." A Beverly Hills native, known now as Madre Antonia, has lived with these inmates and encouraged and assisted them for 25 years. It is truly a story of light and shadow.

The Rev. James Torrens

Los Angeles

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