Victor Manuel Lozano spends his days like most two-year-olds. He goes to nursery school, draws, rides a tricycle. The difference is he does it in prison, living with his mum, a convicted murderer, and his dad, a drug trafficker.
Welcome to a prison Spanish officials say is the only the one in the world with cells for families. The spacious units dubbed "five-star cells" come replete with cribs and Disney characters on the walls. Outside there's even a prison playground for the kids.
The idea is for children to bond with their imprisoned parents while young enough not to fully grasp the reality of incarceration, and for inmates seeking rehabilitation to learn parenting skills.
No one thinks it is an ideal situation -- not the prison psychologist, nor the imprisoned parents themselves. But the arrangement beats the pain of separation.
"They take good care of us, and having my child and husband with me makes me very happy," said Carmen Garcia, 28, Victor Manuel's mother.
"But this is not the best place to bring up a child. In some ways they are imprisoned too," she said.
Garcia was sentenced to a minimum 10 years in prison for murdering her boyfriend. She met her husband Victor Lozano in prison. They got married behind bars and she gave birth to Victor Manuel.
For the toddler, prison is the only world he knows.
At dawn a guard wakes the family up for roll call. At night, after a day playing with other inmates' children in a yard, Victor Manuel is locked up again. Sometimes he stands outside the cell crying because he does not want to go back behind the bars.
"For him it's the saddest part of the day," Garcia said.
The prison in this town 40km south of Madrid has 36 cell units for families, although now only 16 are occupied, most with Latin Americans. The children can only stay until age three. After that they are taken away and put with relatives or with social services, and their parents go back to regular cells.
"It's tough to be in jail, but in this section you completely forget you are in a prison," said Ramona Montoya, 33, a lively Gypsy woman who is serving an 11-year sentence for drug trafficking.
Montoya and her husband Manuel, who was also convicted of drug trafficking, asked a judge to be able to serve their time in Aranjuez. They had read about the family cells on the Internet and wanted to raise their fourth child together.
Montoya takes her one-year-old daughter Marina to nursery school every morning while her husband works at the prison's supermarket. She attends sewing classes. At 9pm, the family is locked up for the day.
"This is heaven compared to other cells where I have been," Montoya said while showing off the place she calls home, Cell 113.
It is a room of 14m2, its walls crowded with pictures of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and family photos. There is a double bed, a crib full of toys, a small bathroom and windows facing outside prison.
"It's all child-oriented. It's clean, they give you the best milk for the child, the doctor comes twice a week and the rooms are beautiful," Montoya said.
"The only thing that reminds me I'm in jail is the roll call three times a day," she said.
That comfort, says prison psychologist Maria Yela, creates room for cheating. Many women with a child about to turn three try to get pregnant to be able to stay in the family cells, she said.
International experts on penal policy said they had heard of no other prison in the world with family cells. There are, however, many prisons around the world with nurseries and cells where children can stay with their mothers.
In Denmark there is a mixed sex jail where couples -- with and without children -- spend the day together in a special wing but then are locked up at night in separate cells, with the child spending the night with the mother.
"In the US, the idea of family cells would be very challenging because all of them are segregated," said Denise Johnson of the Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents in Los Angeles.
Not all inmates are eligible for the family cells, which were built in 1998. Pedophiles and other convicted sex offenders are ruled out. All candidates have to pass a two-month observation period to prove they are prepared to live together as couples and raise a child.
Some experts believe it is not appropriate for infants to spend their first years behind bars, in any circumstances.
"It is not an advance, prisons are the wrong place for children," said Frances Crook, director of the London-based Howards League for Penal Reform.
"There is a lot of evidence that show that they will be affected in the long term. They don't see animals, they don't see trees, they don't have the stimulation that is needed to grow as a healthy child," she said.
Spanish authorities say the family cells have been a success but acknowledge emotional problems may arise when the child is separated from parents. There are currently no plans for more prisons of the Aranjuez-type.
Yela, too, had her doubts about whether life in prison is healthy for kids, but she said the most important thing was for the family to be together.
"The bond has to be established between the child and their parents," she said.
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