From Bolivian prison cells to deaths and kidnappings in war-torn Colombia, Rusty Young has seen it all. The former lawyer and author of Marching Powder and new release Colombiano has an incredible story that highlights the startling contrast between the rule of law in Australia and developing nations.
The year was 2000 and Sydney youth Rusty Young was backpacking through the cocaine-addled city of La Paz in Bolivia. Fresh out of UNSW law school with the blithe naivety of a Mosman boy who had been deputy school captain of Scots College in 1992, Young freely admits he had “no idea what the real world was like”. That was until he took a tour of one of the world’s most dangerous and bizarre prisons, San Pedro.
“An English-speaking inmate ran tours of the prison and this tour had been listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook as the world’s most bizarre tourist attraction,” Young, now 42, recalls. “It certainly lived up to its name.”
The bizarre tourist attraction was less like a prison and more like a strange microcosm running on bribes, in which inmates were expected to earn a living and pay for their cells like real estate. Word had spread that convicted drug trafficker Thomas McFadden was earning his keep by taking travellers through the prison for an entrance fee. So Young left his passport at the gate and followed McFadden inside the prison’s dilapidating 15-metre concrete walls. Inside, Young saw a micro-city crawling with drugs, violence and corruption.