Borderland Beat posted by DD Republished from Sky News
Sky News has gained access to an illegal prison where hitmen for Mexico's drug gangs have been jailed by vigilantes who snatched them off the streets.
High in Mexico's Sierra Madre mountains our guides are leading us to this much rumored, but never before seen, prison.
In this part of Mexico, vigilante groups are fighting back against the drug cartels and their low-level gunmen who have terrorised small communities for decades.
The prison is their prize and a mark, they claim, of the success of their "revolution" against organised crime.
The inmates hang out of the barred windows of a converted municipal building, watched by shotgun-toting men dressed in matching green T-shirts and trousers.
There is no proper court of law up here. The prisoners have been snatched off the streets by vigilante gangs and locked up. It is a clean-up operation as unique as it is illegal.
The Mexican government writ doesn't run here. The law of the gun does.
The supervisor agrees to let us inside the "cells".
Inside we are introduced to a group of men in their early 20s. Among them is Leonardo. He is 22, although he seems much younger. He has been in the prison for a year, he says.
His youthful looks hide a horrendous history of violence for the Knights Templar drug cartel.
Leonardo has killed 19 people in the past three years.
He says he tried to run away from the cartel but was tracked down and "grassed up" to the community police.
"They planted three bags of Mota (marijuana) on me and that was my problem... they used a girl to plant the drugs, and that girl they have since killed," he tells me, his head bobbing and eyes shifting nervously from side to side.
"I don't want to talk about it in here. My integrity is in danger, my life is in danger," he adds.
Leonardo says he was under the control of the cartel and could do nothing to avoid their demands to carry out murders. He admits to the murders and being part of the gang.
"What's the point of lying to you? It is true they arrested me with evidence and all. When they caught me I had drugs, shotguns and other weapons."
While cartels would usually pay for hits, it seems Leonardo was exploited with shocking ruthlessness. He was told to kill or be killed himself. He did it for free.
Miguel, a sort of self-styled vigilante social worker who is trying to rehabilitate the inmates, says this is not uncommon.
"Many start this way," he says.
"Then they become contaminated and it becomes natural for them to do it (kill).
"We have investigated him. His life is a life of poverty. It's a very miserable life, very, very poor. Their way of paying him was the life of another in exchange for his life."
The inmates are not all cartel gang members, but they have been identified as anti-social troublemakers and criminals.
Certainly this prison is unsuitable for proper rehabilitation - or proper punishment for that matter. Mixing murderers with drunks could hardly be described as sensible care-for-the-community policing.
But the vigilantes are unrepentant. Locking these men up in cells with mats on the floor and almost no recreational or exercise time is a fitting return for the fear they have brought to their communities.
They want this message to get out.
Across Mexico people are beginning to ask questions of the government and are questioning its future.
But the conclusion one has to reach is that with the profits from drugs so high, the money distributed among the most powerful and influential and a financially poor population almost inured to such violence over so many years, that bringing about change is impossible - except perhaps by the vigilantes.
They have weapons. The cycle starts all over again.
DD. More videos of the prison at Link
Thanks to a tip from Chvis for story.