Young, Rusty 1975(?)-

views updated

Young, Rusty 1975(?)-

PERSONAL: Born c. 1975. Education: University of New South Wales, received degree.

ADDRESSES: Home—Australia. Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Griffin, 175 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Attorney; has also worked as a translator and English teacher in Bogota, Colombia.

WRITINGS:

(With Thomas McFadden) Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail, photographs by Niels Van Iperven, Pan Macmillan (London, England), 2003, St. Martin's Griffin (New York, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Australian attorney Rusty Young was vacationing in Bolivia when his life took an unexpected turn. He decided to visit San Pedro Prison, an unusual institution that permits foreigners to enter and even provides guided tours. Young soon struck up a friendship with his guide, Thomas McFadden, an English citizen who had been arrested for cocaine possession and dealing. Young became keenly interested in McFadden's story, and McFadden, in turn, wanted to share his story with others. For the next three months, Young stayed with the prisoner to research his experiences, something that was permitted by the prison authorities, although the corrupt officials there did not know Young's real purpose. Together, Young and McFadden document the unusual life within the walls of San Pedro Prison in Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail.

Located in one of the poorest countries in Latin America, San Pedro Prison operates on a very unique system in which prisoners must pay for their cells, families are allowed to stay with inmates, and shops, restaurants, and other businesses are run by inmates to pay for their lodging. Poorer inmates live in crowded, unsanitary cells shared with other prisoners, while wealthier convicts enjoy quarters that more closely resemble hotel suites. Children and spouses live with the inmates and are allowed to leave whenever they wish to attend school or run errands. San Pedro Prison thus more closely resembles a small town than an incarceration facility, and although drug dealing and occasional stabbings and other crimes do occur—often ignored or even perpetrated by the corrupt guards—Young relates that he felt very much at home and quite safe while he was there. He made friends, in addition to McFadden, and was sad when he eventually had to leave. In addition to describing this interesting setting, the authors tell McFadden's story of how he was arrested, came to San Pedro, and gradually worked his way up the social ladder, becoming a shopkeeper, restaurant operator, tour guide, and even a Mormon priest.

Although life at San Pedro Prison might seem less grim than at other such facilities, Geographical reviewer Chris Martin noted that "the freedoms of life in San Pedro are more than outweighed by its institutional brutality and the task of daily survival." Booklist contributor David Pitt concluded that Marching Powder is "travel literature of a very special and captivating kind."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 15, 2004, David Pitt, review of Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail, p. 1585.

Geographical, November, 2003, Chris Martin, review of Marching Powder, p. 97.

Publishers Weekly, May 3, 2004, review of Marching Powder, p. 187.

ONLINE

AussieReviews.com, http://www.aussiereviews.com/ (December 20, 2004), Sally Murphy, review of Marching Powder.

Marching Powder Web site, http://www.marchingpowder.com/ (December 31, 2004), extensive description of life in San Pedro Prison.

Sydney Morning Herald Online, http://www.smh.com/ (July 5, 2003), Keith Austin, "Behind Bizarre Bars with a Modern Bard."