I always figured that the prison system would be different around the world, but I never expected something like the San Pedro prison (in La Paz, Bolivia) to exist. It doesn't function as a prison as such, but more like a miniature society. Since all the inmates have to pay for their cells, they have to work on the inside: there are grocery sellers, hairdressers or something else. The guy on the photo below converted his cell into a shop, for instance:
The cells have to be purchased upon arrival, and a price (and contract) should be arranged with the previous owner. There are eight different areas in the prison, which are rated like a hotel (with the star system). And if you have the money, you can upgrade to one of the posh areas of the prison, and live like a king. For instance, in Los Pinos (one of the best areas of the prison), private cells come with private bathrooms, kitchens and cable TV.
Since the inmates have to provide for themselves, there is no prison canteen. Instead, there are dozens of restaurants inside the walls, but there are also a lot of people selling sandwiches and snacks for the quick bite.
But that's not all. There are also families living in with imprisoned fathers. Their children can go to schools on the outside, and sleep in the cells/houses of their father. Because Bolivia is rather poor (and has a crappy welfare system), the only way for families to sustain themselves is to live in the prison.
But it's not just that. Also the activities are a big different: the biggest courtyard of the prison has a football pitch. In this, teams from the eight "boroughs" of the prison play eachother regularly. It's not uncommon that a talented player from one team gets transferred to a "richer" team. It's just like a normal football transfer.
It's quite shocking to think that this prison is actually sponsored by the Coca Cola Company. They provide cash, tables, umbrellas and such, and in return they get the exclusive right to advertise and sell their products in the prison.
The weirdest thing about the prison, however, is that there are no guards. If trouble arises (which is usually the case at night), the police does not interfere. Prisoners are expected to resolve their own problems through section representatives elected democratically. So the prisoners make their own law. One of the laws is, for instance, that rapists and child molesters are not allowed in San Pedro. They get drowned in the prison pool...
The photo below shows one of the victors from a prison election:
Rusty Young wrote a book about this prison, called "Marching Powder". He lived in the prison for a couple of months, and he writes about his experiences there. He wasn't an inmate, though: he lived with a tourguide to experience the prison.