Seven years ago, the Sandinista government closed Nicaraguan state penitentiaries to human rights observers who used to pay periodic visits to check on prison conditions and investigate the deaths of inmates.

Since then, what goes on behind prison walls in Nicaragua is the stuff of rumors, unsubstantiated horror stories, and unreliable government media reports.

But thanks to a secretly managed Facebook page and dozens of inmate contributors who snap pics on smuggled cellphones, Nicaraguans are getting a rare glimpse inside the notoriously tough La Modelo maximum security pen.

A boxing match inside La Modelo prison, shot by an inmate

The Facebook community SPN "La Modelo" Nicaragua features dozens of cell block selfies and grainy flip phone photos, some of which are quite artistic.

Some of the content is intended to denounce abuse and mistreatment, while other posts just chronicle daily life inside the clink, and the inmates' relationships that are forged there.

Inmate Jairo Urbina sews his mouth closed to protest what he claims is a violation of his rights in jail

The page is run by a mysterious administrator whose identity remains a secret. In a sporadic DM conversation that spanned several days at strange hours, the unknown admin told me she was the sister of an inmate, and not a prisoner herself.

An inmate gets a prison tat

She said the photos from inside the prison are sent to her via WhatsApp or Facebook DM, and she uploads them to the page.


"I got the idea of starting the page after I went to visit my brother, who had just arrived there, and I saw the bad treatment from the prison guards, how the mistreat the families of prisoners," she said.

"I decided to make this page with the goal of showing people how the prisoners live and what it's like to be locked up," she said. "Because we're all humans, and we can have a second chance."

Waiting for a second chance

The page was created in 2013, but was the best kept secret on Nicaraguan social media until the mystery admin started a paid Facebook promotional campaign. The page quickly rose from obscurity to 8,700 followers, mostly in Nicaragua.

"Now I get so many messages I can't respond to them all," she says.

The admin says the government and prison authorities are "obviously annoyed by this page because they don't want anyone to know the reality inside."

As a result, she says, she keeps her true identity and that of her imprisoned brother a top secret. "The truth is, nobody knows who I am and nobody needs to know," she said, adding that that account is linked to fake Facebook profiles to further mask her true identity. "This is like a secret that only I know."

Nicaraguan human rights leaders say it's appropriate that a secretive government gets a taste of its own medicine.


"This is an alternative way of denouncing abuse inside jail," says Gonzalo Carrion, legal director for the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights. "It's not justifiable, but it's understandable."

Carrion says the Facebook page and the illegal cellphones are a way of prisoners pushing back against a government that has closed other spaces to them.

"This government is allergic to human rights," Carrion charged. "And in the jails there's no human-rights oversight at all; it's totally closed off."

The mystery admin, however, says she hopes the page is also a deterrent for youth on the outside.


"I want people to know how the prisoners live and think twice before [commiting a crime]," she says.