Evangelical Inmates at Yare Prison in Venezuela

June, 2015

Luis Duno-Gottberg

Associate Professor, Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies

Dr. Duno-Gottberg travelled to Venezuela in the summer of 2014. Over the course of six weeks, he made multiple visits to Yare Penitentiary, located in San Francisco de Yare.

The initial project aimed to study the ways in which an audiovisual project produced inside the prison helped to contain violence, however, further research showed that other practices were even more important. This finding led to a closer study of the organizational structure of the evangelical church in Yare, and its relationship with other agents of significant power inside the prison.

On August 20th 2012, a clash between two prison gangs left 25 dead and 43 wounded inside the Yare I prison comples, one of the most notorious prisons in Venezuela. Behind this riot is the story of the transformation of religious structures inside Yare, including their relationship to other forces that govern the prison from within. Dr. Duno-Gottberg theorizes that in Yare, a social order has emerged from the lack of administration of justice on behalf of the State, which in turn has created an autonomous order where evangelicals function as a branch of a secular (inmate) power that delegates certain forms of punishment to the "church".

Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork and elements from sociological and political theory, my researchoffers an account of the significant changes in prison religious life in the last dacade, suggesting the existence of a complex political rationale regulatinf violence. This inquiry is based on extensive interviews with pastor-inmates and other evangelical figures inside and outside of prison, who have granted me unprecedented access in order to map the social structures and practices pertaining to the spiritual life of inmates, while simultaneously revealing power structures in a precarious penal system. As such, my work describes the emerging social structures of a prison where a "State-outside-the-State" emerges to rationalize social structures administering force and violence.