Marching Powder by Rusty Young

Marching Powder - A book that will shock you beyond belief but not for the usual reasons. This is not a book about guards torturing inmates - it's about a whole new world that exists inside San Pedro's prison in Bolivia. Think drugs, corruption, luxury cells and even overnight stays from the travelling back packers!

You really won't be able to believe this incredible story of the goings on inside a South American Prison called San Pedro in Bolivia.

Inside this prison it all goes on including making some of the best cocaine in South America. But that's really just the tip of the iceberg.

A great education and one that the boys will enjoy as well as the girls.


The story is about a convicted British drug smuggler called Thomas McMadden, who ends up being locked up in an infamous prison in Bolivia.

It is essentially the story of how he survives this unbelievable place. From his first horrific few days to him getting to grips with the prison and making it work.

Thomas starts up tours around the prison for the travellers passing through Bolivia. This is how he meets Rusty Young, an Australian traveller, who then bribes the guards to allow him to stay in the prison for 3 months to write about the goings on inside the prison.

What happens inside this prison will shock and amaze you - real estate agents selling cells, drug barons living in total luxury whilst the poor live in squalor, the making of high class drugs, kids living in the prison with their locked up parents, leaving each day to attend school,  and of course, the dark areas where you try to avoid in fear of your life.



This is probably the main theme of Marching Powder and the extent of the corruption inside the prison is quite frankly astounding.

There is nothing that can't be got or done with the inmates pretty much conducting life as normal inside the prison - there are inmates with restaurants and shops, others selling drugs, others making it. The way the cells are bought and sold is particularly incredible.


There is a lovely friendship that develops between Thomas McFadden and Rusty Young over the three months that the traveller stays with him in his cell.

He also has relationships with female travellers and conveys his emotions when they don't come back and visit as often as he would like.


What shocked you most about the stories in Marching Powder and the goings on inside the prison?

Did you like Thomas McFadden, after all, he is a convicted drug dealer?

Did his story of how he got convicted make you feel sorry for him or should he have known better?

How accurate do you think the account is of the prison? What evidence do you have to support your opinion?

Is it best for children to live in the prison with their parents? Why or why not?

Would you visit the prison if you were in Bolivia - why or why not?

These days Thomas McFadden is in Tanzania working in the tourism trade for a hotel - is he in the right job?


Our book club really liked Marching Powder and gave it 7/10. The story itself was different and like nothing else we had read before.

The writing style is, as you would expect, not a work of literary genius, but it is a page turner and the book also contains a few pictures to bring the prison to life.

The tours apparently stopped but have recently started up again at a cost of about $25 USD - which is HUGE money for Bolivia where a 3 course meal costs about $2. There are still lots of scams though with pretend tour guides taking the money and then running off.

The film being made by Brad Pitt's production company would surely put a stop to it all, with such a big spotlight shining on San Pedro prison? We shall have to wait and see.

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