Everything was nearly perfect on Jeanpier Arenas' wedding day: his bride looked ravishing in her white dress, there was a full mariachi band, dozens of guests, a huge wedding cake, a pet bull-dog, two 18-karat gold rings, and a wild party that went late into the night. The only detail that was slightly amiss was the venue itself: a Venezuelan maximum security prison.

But, then again, it was the only place available. That's because Arenas, a top Venezuelan prison gang leader who's doing hard time on sexual assault charges, currently resides there. But being an inmate didn't stop him and his bride from having their storybook wedding, and then paying two local newspapers to publish their photos on their "society" pages with a story that gave a cheerful account of what transpired behind the prison's walls.


"This is a gesture of love, peace, union and harmony that Barinas, Venezuela and the world should know about," reads the paid-for story published in the daily La Prensa. "With this gesture of love and brotherhood, Mr Jeanpier Arenas…shows the state, the country and the world, that genuine change is possible."

Prison gang leader Jeanpier Arenas poses for a picture with his bride Angelica Morales


For many Venezuelans though, the lavish prison wedding is a sign of something else.

"The government has lost control of penitentiaries in this country," said Ronna Risquez, a reporter for local news site Runrunes. "Nowadays, a person who committed a crime can obtain access to luxuries and privileges that regular people can only dream of."

Risquez obtained several of the original wedding pictures this week from a confidential source, and republished them on her site, where they have sparked angry discussions on the lawlessness that seems to pervade Venezuela's prisons. She kindly shared some of those wedding pictures with us.


Guests at the wedding were treated to fine french pastries
Source: Runrunes
The bride and groom danced to mariachi music
A salsa band also managed to make its way into the prison to play for the newly weds


Morales poses with her pet bulldog

And this isn't even Venezuela's most luxurious jail. Two years ago, the inmates at San Antonio prison in Eastern Venezuela, became world famous for opening an air-conditioned night club that included strippers and "last generation" sound and lights.

A salsa band plays at the San Antonio prison


The Tocoron prison in the central state of Aragua, has matched that with its own nightclub. The "Tokio"

Tocoron's inmates have also built a cock fighting ring, a swimming pool, a petting zoo for kids and a gambling house, where prisoners can follow local horse races.


The horse betting center at Tocoron.

Venezuela's prisons minister has backed some of these recreational activities, arguing that they help to stop violence in the country's overcrowded prisons. Dozens of prisoners die in Venezuela each year during gang fights and deadly mutinies.

But critics say the government has lost control of the prison system, which is now being run by gang leaders such as the newly-wed Arenas.


"Where did the money for his wedding come from?" Risquez asked. "And how did he manage to turn the prison into a big ballroom? Someone had to authorize that."

Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.