This is Penal de Ciudad Barrario prison, located in the San Salvador district in El Salvador. The prison exclusively houses members of perhaps the most notorious gang in the western hemisphere, the MS-13. The gang’s name stands for Mara Salvatrucha. What makes this prison unique — and extremely dangerous — is that there are no guards. They are too afraid to enter, and the MS-13 gang is the law and lawlessness of the entire facility.
Overcrowding is a serious problem in the prison. The inmates basically live on top of each other. The prison was originally built for a maximum capacity of 800 inmates. Currently, about 2,600 inhabit the prison. Photographer Adam Linton went to visit the prison in 2013 to report on the conditions.
“The men stand around aimless with nothing to do except kill what seem like an infinity of minutes, hours and days,” he said. Did he really mean to use the word "kill"?
3. The Prisoners Take Care Of Each Other...Somewhat
According to Hinton, the prisoners run everything. They have their own makeshift hospital and workshops where they make furniture and toys. The point is, the men in this prison have created their own society in these cramped prison walls and, like in normal society, everyone has a function. Within Penal de Ciudad Barrario, the MS-13 are bakers, carpenters, nurses, teachers and doctors.
4. MS-13 Is Prominent In The US, Not Just In South And Central America
The MS-13 originally started in Los Angeles, after El Salvadorian immigrants fled the civil war in the ‘80s. Unfortunately, what they took away from L.A. is gang culture. When the war ended in 1992, they moved back to El Salvador and brought MS-13 with them. But MS-13 certainly isn’t limited to El Salvador. There is still a big presence in L.A. and throughout California. They are also found all over the east coast of the United States.
MS-13 related crimes happen all the time. Just this summer, an 18-year-old teenager, Cristian Antonio Villagran-Morales, was stabbed 40 times by MS-13 gang members in Maryland.
5. MS-13 Has Rekindled A Violent Rivalry With The 18 Street Gang
El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world, and the MS-13 gang probably has something to do with it. In the photo above, the man has the number eighteen written across his forehead. He is a member of Barrio 18, a rival gang with Mexican ties but also have a L.A. origin. The temporary truce between the two gangs ended in 2014.
In August of this year, El Salvador experienced a crazy spike in homicides. Just in that month there were 911 murders. From January to August, there was a total of about 4,246 homicides. That’s 17.5 murders a day!
“MS-13 tattoos partially mean loyalty to the group or ‘family,’ but they mainly demonstrate the identification to a specific lifestyle, representing the culture of the street. Also in this scenario, tattoos were like a ‘baptism’ of the member into a group, representing the turning point of the appurtenance. Though it has changed in the past five years or so, the tattoos used to be a way of demonstrating lifelong commitment to the gang. The more prominent the tattoos, the less likely the person could leave the gang lifestyle, with facial tattoos being the ultimate representation of commitment,” a team of analysts explained to the Daily Caller.
But, these facial tattoos might be a thing of the past. Farah said that they no longer wanted to be easily identifiable. Also, the MS-13 members may have moved onto a new level of “sophistication.”
Every gang has its own sign. The Bloods writes out “blood” by curling up and twisting out their fingers. The Crips can do a simple “C” with their hands. The MS-13 have some combination of the hand signs in the above photo. They make “devil horns” with one hand, and may do another gesture with the other.
8. Some MS-13 Members Have Even Started Tattooing Their Eyeballs
Tattooing eyeballs has become a strange ritual of some inmates. Now it looks like MS-13 is following suit. Often times, they are tattooing their eyes red, but this procedure can cause horrible infections. Recently, a MS-13 17-year-old member ratted on his fellow gang members just so the police could take him to the hospital and restore his eyesight. There was nothing they could do. He is now blind for life.
9. There Was A Recent Massive MS-13 Arrest In New York City
Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a major MS-13 arrest in Suffolk County/Brentwood in Long Island, New York. Over 30 MS-13 gang members were arrested in the connection with six homicides; most of the victims were teenagers.
Want to become a member of MS-13? Prospective members must first kill an important member from a rival gang. Once that is completed, the MS-13 members vote on the candidate. If the candidate gets enough votes, he must subjugate himself to a brutal beating while the other members slowly count to 13. Sounds like a fun club.