A photographic essay of women in prison.
By Patricia Aridjis.
“What would you do if I mugged you?”- Natalia asked mischievously. -You wouldn’t- I answered. When Juan Carlos the inmate’s five-year old son over heard us he screamed, -“Don’t do it mom! don’t! or you’ll end up in jail!”- -“Jail does not exist”- she said after a brief silence -“Where is jail?”- I asked the boy who was inside his mother’s cell. -“Outside, where the policemen are”- he answered, pointing out to the window.
Talking with Natalia and Juan Carlos in the Women’s Prison in Tepepan, Mexico City, 2002.
The women’s prison has hundreds of sad stories, stories of forsaking, of ill treatment, of unconditional love. Stories told over and over, a litany of pain that cannot be forgotten.
To enter you have to walk through a long tunnel which leads to an almost completely feminine world, a world with no living colors, but beige and navy blue of the uniforms.
An invisible mark on the forearm is the difference for those who only go there for a few hours and the ones that have to stay there for years, or never come out. “I have been here seven years, four months and two weeks” Exact, endless counting. Time that passes slowly and suddenly has turned into years The Black hours.
Visitors are special; they are a breath of fresh air, freedom that comes from the outside.
Some children have been born inside and their eyes have not seen any other light than the one that passes though the bars, especially those that have no one to take care of them. If such is the case they remain under the custody of government institutions until the legal system says otherwise.
-Dulce, Why are you in for?
-How many years did they give you?
-Where did they get you?
-At the airport.
-How much did you have in you?
-What is your cause?
-My mom… Maria.
These are the words that Dulce, a four year-old girl memorized, she was born during her mother’is conviction.
Objects acquire a different value once they pass through the gate. Either because they are not allowed, such as scissors, perfumes in glass bottles, mirrors, or because they are outrageously expensive, like soap, deodorant or toilet paper. A phone card is like gold; the telephone is one of the few ways to keep in touch with the outside world. Family visits are another, but it is common that their partners or even their closest relatives abandon the inmates. Beds have to be earned. Each cell houses about 15 inmates and is no more than 9 square meters. There are people sleeping on the floor and under the beds. As they leave, the ones that have been there longer get the beds. Other way to obtain this privilege is to buy it from someone who has been there more time.
Love in the time of jail.
Love often comes from the nearest person, someone who understands, that is on the same situation, someone that won’t leave especially in there. Silvia and Claudia met in prison, they fell in love. They have loved each other night and day, whenever possible , beacuse intimacy is a very public thing in prison. Silivia did her time, soon after the relationship began. She clod not bear to be free without the person she considers to be the love of her life and planned a simulated burglary. She asked a friend to press charges so she could be in prison again an be together again with Claudia.
To do this photo essay I thought about being for long hours inside some women’s prisons in Mexico City. I considered that that was the only way to capture the feelings that go around the cells and corridors of these places. Loneliness, lesbianism as a way of satisfying affective needs; self punisment and suicide attempts are like gaping wounds in the wrists that cry for help. Drugs to escape reality, maternity, solidarity. Life is limited by watching towers, guards, gates and schedules. The black hours. My commitment found its exact words when I took an inmate’s picture in her cell. She asked me to be photographed because that was to be her only way out of there.