When Australian Rusty Young reached Bolivia on his backpacking holiday, he wasn’t expecting to spend time inside a prison. Curiously, he wasn’t arrested, and he was free to come and go as he liked. This was the notorious San Pedro prison and Young’s reason for staying there was an English drug trafficker, Thomas McFadden.
The pair met when Young visited the jail for one of Thomas’s tours – where tourists were shown around the inside of the jail by inmates. Young was fascinated by Thomas’s story, and felt compelled to learn more and to help him. Thomas, in turn, had been wanting to write his story – Young could help that dream be fulfilled.
For three months Young stayed inside the prison, sharing Thomas’s cell, and documenting his story. The result is this book, Marching Story, which follows Thomas’s story from his arrest for trying to shift a large amount of cocaine out of the country, through his tumultuous adaptation to life inside a corrupt and violent prison system, through to his eventual release.
It is hard for a Westerner to comprehend that these are actual events – the stories of violence, of endemic corruption and blatant unfairness, are so incredible, they seem to be a well written novel. But this is nonfiction. San Pedro prison, where inmates are expected to buy their cells from real estate agents, to feed and clothe themselves and to have their innocent wives and children live with them in the prison, is real. Thomas and his prison mates are real. In fact the whole story is so frighteningly real that it is compelling reading. This is the story of one of the strangest places on earth, and one man’s struggle to survive in it.
Marching Powder, by Rusty Young
Pan Macmillan, 2003