The Prisons We Slowly Build For Ourselves

Venezuelans, in an effort to keep robbers and criminals out of their homes and businesses, build custom-made prisons to fence themselves in.

Photos by Javier Liendo

When I was a kid, I lived with my family in a quiet slum near the road to El Junquito. My dad was a metalworker and he set up a workshop in our backyard, so my afternoons were often filled with the sound of his welding machine, his hammering, sawing and drilling, and the AM radio station buzzing with the voice of Jorge Negrete, Alfredo Sadel or YVKE Mundial’s iconic newscast.

I grew up watching him turn steel tubes into all sorts of contraptions. His specialty were grill doors, bar windows, parking-lot gates and fences, which he often transported and installed himself. He had all sorts of clients: houses, office buildings, schools, you name it. He was never short of orders, everyone was always in need of these things. They wanted to protect their property as best they could, so they raised sturdy concrete buildings with two or three metal doors, each with a different key. Some were surrounded by brick walls topped with razor-sharp broken bottles or pointy fences, and every window was covered with its own set of bars.

They speak of fear, of loneliness and distrust; of people who can’t rely on the protection of the State and must fend for themselves.

In films and on TV I’d see how people lived in other countries, in pre-made wooden houses with a single door and open windows. It never occurred to me that there was something strange or wrong about how we lived.

As years went by, the broken bottles were increasingly replaced by razor and barbed wire. Private areas originally open to the public were surrounded by grill walls and electric fences, and entire neighborhoods started to fill with security cameras, code locks and magnetic doors.

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Taking these pictures, I mused about the impact this has on us. Even though we’ve grown accustomed to these fortifications and think them necessary, they don’t inspire safety. We’ve raised custom-made prisons around us to defend ourselves from strangers and, doing so, we’ve made our streets and neighborhoods more unwelcoming for everyone.

Perhaps one day, the walls will come down, the fences will be dismantled and the metal doors will be left open without fear of crime and violence. Perhaps there will come a time when we can rely on our authorities once more and regain trust in our fellow citizens. For now, however, Venezuelans must keep watch and shut ourselves from the outside, in an attempt to live as normally and securely as possible in this hostile land we call home.