Rusty Young was backpacking in South America when he heard about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro prison. Intrigued, the twenty-something Australian law graduate travelled to La Paz and joined one of Thomas’s illegal tours. What followed took both men by surprise: they formed a strong and instant friendship and then became partners in an attempt to record Thomas’s experiences in the jail. Marching Powder is a shocking, darkly comic account of the life in San Pedro. In this bizarre prison, inmates are expected to buy their cells from real estate agents. Others run shops and restaurants, and hundreds of women and children live with imprisoned family members. It is a place where corrupt politicians and drug lords live in luxury apartments while the poorest prisoners are subjected to squalor and deprivation. Violence and crime are never far away, and sections of San Pedro that echo with the sound of children by day house some of Bolivia’s busiest cocaine laboratories by night. Sometimes shocking, sometimes funny, Marching Powder is an always riveting story of survival.
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Rusty Young currently lives in Colombia, where he teaches English.
Thomas McFadden was released from San Pedro and now lives in England.From Publishers Weekly:
This memoir of a British drug dealer's nearly five years inside a Bolivian prison provides a unique window on a bizarre and corrupt world. McFadden, a young black man from Liverpool arrested for smuggling cocaine, finds himself forced to pay for his accommodations in La Paz's San Pedro Prison, the first of many oddities in a place where some inmates keep pets and rich criminals can sustain a lavish lifestyle. The charismatic McFadden soon learns how to survive, and even thrive, in an atmosphere where crooked prison officials turn up at his private cell to snort lines of coke. By chance, he stumbles on an additional source of income when he begins giving tours of the prison to foreign tourists, a trade that leads to the mention in a Lonely Planet guidebook that attracts the attention of his coauthor, Young, who was backpacking in South America at the time. McFadden's unapologetic self-serving story will attract little pity as he freely admits to countless cocaine sales for which he was never held accountable. Once the authors chronicle the novel aspects of life in San Pedro, from which McFadden was released in 2000, the narrative loses momentum. The book would have benefited from some judicious editing and some objective perspective on the veracity of McFadden's story.
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