Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons season 4 premiere recap: Paraguay

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 02: Netflix logo is displayed during the 'Paris Games Week' on November 02, 2017 in Paris, France. Netflix is an American company offering streaming movies and TV series on the Internet. 'Paris Games Week' is an international trade fair for video games and runs from November 01 to November 5, 2017. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 02: Netflix logo is displayed during the 'Paris Games Week' on November 02, 2017 in Paris, France. Netflix is an American company offering streaming movies and TV series on the Internet. 'Paris Games Week' is an international trade fair for video games and runs from November 01 to November 5, 2017. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images) /

Netflix’s Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons season 4 premiere: Paraguay

In the season 3 finale of Netflix’ Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons, host Raphael Rowe looked at Norway’s Halden Prison, a humane prison with minimal violence and remarkable rehabilitative opportunities. The season 4 premiere, however, looks at Tacumbú prison in Paraguay, describing it as “The Most Dangerous Prison on Earth” in its extended title. Like many prisons, Asuncion’s Tacumbú is rife with drug gangs and poverty — reflecting conditions outside of its walls. Overcrowded and underfunded, the place is prone to rioting, with only 35 guards to 4,000 inmates.

After an embarrassing body search, Mr. Rowe shows us why there are riots in the prison, and it averages a death every 2 weeks. We are introduced to Julio Cesar, Tacumbú’s head of security, who comes across as numb to the wildness of the prison’s conditions (for more crazy details not touched upon in the episode, look here).   Rowe ends up in Pavillion D, which is known as being a more high-end section of the otherwise chaotic prison. Of course, there’s no sense he is 100% safe there, either.

Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons: A church-funded prison?

Interestingly, some of Tacumbú prison is actually open air, with prisoners apparently exposed to the elements. Meanwhile, we’re told at least one portion’s cells are funded by the Catholic Church. While this might be considered humane in some respects, it’s difficult to not see it in a controversial light. For example, the Church mandates church attendance in exchange for the cells, which certainly sounds like state-imposed religion.

Rowe introduces us to the man in charge of Pavillion D, named Edgar. He is in there for drug trafficking. We also meet Raphael’s cellmates, Diego and Justo, who make an already tiny cell look even more cramped. Diego tells us that, because conditions are so rough in prison,
people can be killed over jealousy regarding a softer mattress. Justo confesses that he’s behind bars for murder, including killing a security guard.

Hard work pays off

As rough (and highly questionable) as Tacumbú is, prisoners who work for 4 hours a day do earn money. For example, Justo makes drinking horns. Raphael Rowe heads off to do some kitchen work, which means he must leave the comfort of Pavillion D. This is when we see “Tinglado,” the open-air section of the prison, designated for inmates who don’t follow the rules, and where prisoners openly smoke crack (an activity that’s usually hidden, even in prisons).

Rowe introduces us to a loose-fitting entrepreneur named Esteban, who is busy rummaging through trash to sell food and other items. He says that people sometimes fight over items in the trash. In contrast to this chaotic enterprise, Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons also introduces Diego, head of Tacumbú’s kitchen. He says he gets 3 months off of his sentence for every year he works in the kitchen.

The kitchen and Guard life

When Rowe comments on knives he’s already seen among prisoners, Diego says he’s witnessed thousands of knife attacks. At least some of these tensions result from deteriorating conditions in the prison itself. Poorer prisoners can be seen using bottles (scavenged by people like Esteban) instead of plates. There are people trading hotdog or hamburger buns for dirty plastic bottles, sometimes to fund their drug addictions.

Meanwhile, Guards named Julio and Jose show us how inmates construct knives ou of weak prison bars. They also have little memorial shrines for Guards who have been killed. It’s also emphasized that Guards leave during riots, and inmates with leadership roles are supposed to stop them. The prison has had regular riots, murders, and even beheadings.

The entrepreneurial spirit and the brighter side of Tacumbú?

As bad as a place like this can be, Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons always tries to show the brighter side, too. On the one hand, prisoners running businesses can be seen as questionable. However, in a greater context, it’s actually a means of survival, especially with a prison that’s chronically underfunded. In other words, if you were to find yourself inside of Tacumbú, you might quickly find your entrepreneurial spirit, too.

The aforementioned Edgar runs his own laundry service, suggesting he makes more money in the prison than he would outside. In fact, there’s a whole section of the prison run like a market place, complete with a barbershop, restaurant, pool tables, and even a computer technician. Is it corruption that the Guards take a cut from business profits? Absolutely, but one assumes they are probably underpaid for their work as well.  Poverty inside and outside the prison makes the market practical.

Pablo and the Panther

Raphael Rowe then introduces us to Pablo, a tattoo artist who killed his father. In a humorous moment, a nervous Rowe is actually encouraged by Pablo to tattoo someone’s arm, which he does. We also meet Richard, nicknamed Panther, who was a pro boxer on the outside. He says, rather sadly, that his father only visited him once since he was imprisoned.

However, Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons actually gets a bit heartwarming here. Thanks to Prison Director Jorge Fernandez, “The Panther” fights in the South American Championship. Recognizing the Panther’s possible comeback as a symbol of hope for other prisoners,
it also reminds us that prisoners can stand for something bigger than themselves. In addition to the Panther actually winning, his father shows up to see the fight!

Final thoughts

Visitors’ day is also chaotic at Tacumbú, but we see some humanity yet again. Raphael Rowe delivers some of Edgar’s food to cells, and we see that Edgar’s wife, Teresa, helps him in the kitchen. So, ultimately, we see that even this prison has some moments of relative insanity within its walls. In fact, most of its problems seem to stem from what the outside world prioritizes, with deadly prisons being symptoms of a greater problem. That said, it’s a safe bet you wouldn’t want to be in this prison.

What are your thoughts on this episode of Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons? Let us know in the comments!

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