Cell Stories
by Kadir van Lohuizen
I have worked in a number of prisons and I have taught a number of workshops in my career. But I have never combined the two – teaching a workshop in a prison. Until recently.
In a unique collaboration with Young in Prison and Nikon, who provided the Coolpix cameras, I gave a workshop to 11 boys in Mzuzu prison Malawi.Mzuzu prison is located in the city of Mzuzu, in the north of Malawi. The prison was built in the early 60’s by the British, to house 50 inmates. Today the prison houses 450 prisoners - 60 of which are juveniles. “The prison authorities allowed me to work in the prison for over a week. I was able shoot stills myself, but the most important part for me was that I taught a workshop in the basic skills of photography to eleven of the kids. I understand that many of them have been condemned to unbelievably long sentences for what some people would consider minor crimes.
"Although the prison is one of the most overcrowded I have seen, the atmosphere is still okay."
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.”

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