I came into the prison every day around 9am. The director made a classroom available where I could sit with my ‘students’. They get called in from the courtyard. They were wearing their white prison uniforms. One had scribbled on his shirt: ‘Dad no more trouble’.
They all received a Nikon COOLPIX. For ten of them it’s the first time they’ve touched a camera. The results on day one are to be expected: posing for each other, strange faces and macho behavior. I teach them the basics of composition, light and being ‘invisible’. I don’t go into aperture, shutter speed and other technicalities - that is not what this workshop is about.
Although the prison is one of the most overcrowded I have seen, the atmosphere is still okay, which is surprising considering the fact that no one can lay down to sleep; they sleep sitting between each other’s legs.
In the afternoons they would shoot inside the prison; their lives between four walls. I was amazed at how quickly they improved. In the mornings they looked at each other’s work and edit it.
So what does this bring to the kids? In the end they are in a prison – can using a camera for a week be anymore than a temporary novelty?
Yes. I believe so: they learn a skill which, for the ones that will be released in the near future, could be the springboard to something much bigger.
But more importantly in my mind is what it meant to the boys emotionally: the camera became like a mirror for them. It made them look at who they actually are and where they ended up. The workshop became much more than just about photography, it also allowed these boys to reflect on where they wanted to go with their lives.”