National Geographic : 2010 May
"propaganda" in favor of the cult of La Santa Muerte. At the Center for Enforcement of the Legal Consequences of Crime, on the other hand, the director of the prison lets me talk without preconditions to some of the prisoners about their faith. Escorted by the prison guards past a series of checkpoints and corridors, I am startled to end up in a long open-air corridor whose le wall has been decorated with cheer- ful cartoon images of Snow White, Tweety Bird, SpongeBob SquarePants, and the like. These were painted at the prisoners' request, a guard explains, so that children might feel less ter- ri ed when they came to spend the holidays with their fathers. Facing the cartoon wall is a high wire fence and behind it, a collection of hangarlike buildings surrounded by grass and even a few trees. is is where Antonio, the accused kidnap- per, writes corridos, or outlaw songs, a couple of which have even been recorded. And where El Niño, the convicted murderer, sticks pins into black velvet and winds brightly colored threads being a famous movie star from Sinaloa and Mariscal a local politician. e Malverde shrine is a makeshi cinder- block temple directly in front of the Sinaloa state government o ce complex, and its green walls are covered, inside and out, with testimonials le by the faithful. e plaster bust is enshrined in a glass case and surrounded by dozens of ower bouquets, mostly plastic. Many accom- panying photographs and engraved plaques feature the image of a marijuana plant or a "goat horn": an AK-47 ri e. No one seriously disputes Malverde's status as a narco-saint---in Sinaloa it is stated as fact that whenever a major tra cker wants to pray, the entire street is closed down so he can worship in peace. But as a warden of the Culiacán prison pointed out, Malverde is now so popular among Sinaloans in every walk of life that he is really more of an identity symbol. IN MEXICO CITY the director of penitentiaries re- fuses admission to reporters unwilling to sign a statement promising that they will not write Outside a Mexico City church that holds monthly festivals, or romerías, honoring St. Jude, young people (left) huff solvents. After an ambush at a shopping mall in Ciudad Juárez, a driver (above) and two passengers joined more than 2,600 murder victims last year in a city where drug-related killings have become terrifyingly commonplace.