Peru’s Elderly Inmates

Photos by Martin Mejia

Teresa de Jesus Tello never thought she would be incarcerated in a Peruvian prison at age 82.

The retired Peruvian teacher was arrested by anti-drug police at Lima’s Jorge Chavez airport at the end of 2014 when she allegedly tried to take a small suitcase filled with cocaine on a flight to Madrid, Spain.

She became one of 2,500 inmates over age 60 in the South American country’s prisons. Most of the elderly women behind bars are there for drug trafficking.

“I hope they have compassion for this poor woman who is living her last days,” Tello said on the patio of the block for senior citizens in Lima’s women’s prison in the Chorrillos district.

She has no complaints against prison authorities, who she said “give her decent food.” But she is terrified by the pace of Peru’s judicial process, which could give her a sentence of up to six years. “It advances like a turtle.”

She said only one of her seven children have come to visit her.

In Lima’s Lurigancho prison for men, 78-year-old laborer Roberto Osoria has spent five years behind bars for a rape conviction and has 13 years remaining in his sentence.

Osoria refused to talk about the crime, but he complained that he has to sleep on the floor and eat bad food. “I’m going blind,” he said, crying.

Peruvian authorities grant pardons or commute sentences only in cases where an inmate older than 65 has serious health problems. The decision is made by a judge.

There are dozens of workshops in Peru’s 49 prisons, which hold more than 71,000 inmates. But prisoners pass the time in different fashions.

Tello reads the Bible and sings, saying it helps her forget her solitude.

Osoria walks around the perimeter of the prison and says, “I only survive.”

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Text from the AP news story, AP PHOTOS: 2,500 elderly inmates live in Peru’s prisons


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