Behind the walls of the juvenile detention centre of Cēsis, the prisoners are getting bored. Jérémie Jung leads photography workshops with 10 of them but is confronted with censorship by the prison administration.
N., 18 years old.
He is reserved and does not photograph much, only taking 15 or so photos. Maybe he does not feel like showing his environment or maybe he does not find anything there which is worth being shown. He does not tell me.
Like a lot of his fellow inmates, he is athletic. On the inside, he asks me to take his portrait, perched on a pull-up bar, behind the school building. On the outside, in Riga, he sends me to two places: a playground – a childhood memory, he explains to me – and a pitch for street sports.
I found birds there.
This building is inhabited by 19 prisoners in remand detention. In 2018, 39 young men were incarcerated in Latvia. The other 20, who had been sentenced, were kept in a separate building.
All were indicted when they were minors. They can be held in CAIN starting at age 14, and they can stay there until age 25. They are thus protected from the adult prison world, which is presented as being tougher.
"I do not know why these teenagers are incarcerated nor will I try to know the reason. I only know that some of them are serving lengthy sentences. I would like to believe that there are solutions other than custodial sentences. "
Pāri mūriem means “over the walls” in Latvian. This collection offers a glimpse of the daily life of 10 young men imprisoned in the country’s only juvenile detention centre. From behind the walls, they give us a feel for what it means to wait out the end of a sentence. Together, we go from their claustrophobic boredom to their desire for freedom.
It is January and it is snowing. In the double-door entry of the Latvian juvenile prison in Cēsis (“CAIN”, Cēsu Audzināšanas iestādes nepilngadīgajiem), I wait for my identity to be verified. Somewhat anxious about the experience to come, I watch the snowflakes fall on either side of the wall, depending on the direction of the wind. I cannot help but make simple yet uncertain parallels on the bit of randomness that leads someone from one side of these walls to the other.
I also wonder what drove me to the point of freely and willingly choosing to go to the other side.
My papers are in order. I am searched. I enter the territory of the prison administration, passing through a succession of doors, bars and barbed wire, and surveillance cameras, static and echoes of walkie-talkies. On the inside, this obsession with security is focused on a mere 39 youths, which surprises me, as the prison housed nearly 250 in the early 1990s. This comparison is striking.
Admittedly, the detention conditions have improved: in 2011 and 2012, the CAIN was renovated using funding from the European Union and Norway. Since then, the young inmates serve their sentences in two-person cells rather than the 25-bed dormitories of the past. They study in a school and work out in a newly renovated sports hall.
With a maximum capacity of 164 inmates, the penitentiary is in no danger of overpopulation. This discrepancy leaves me perplexed. I do not know why these teenagers are incarcerated nor will I try to know the reason. I only know that some of them are serving lengthy sentences. I would like to believe that there are solutions other than custodial sentences.
I wait for them in a small room. They enter. We introduce ourselves to each other. I do so in English, using a PowerPoint, and they do so in Latvian or Russian, using a firm handshake. They are between 16 and 21 years old. We understand each other thanks to Zane, the interpreter. A few weeks earlier, these 10 young people accepted my offer of collaborative photography workshops. I came equipped with a film camera and two rolls of film for each participant.
For a month, we met up each weekend to talk about photography.
During the week, they were my eyes on the inside of the prison and I was theirs on the outside, as I agreed to go photograph a place that is dear to each of them. Thanks to them, I travelled around Latvia to photograph views that these young men were no longer able to visit. Each view is accompanied by the portrait of a prisoner, shot in a place they chose in the prison.
Together, we sneak out.
We are called to order and the prison administration insinuates itself in our work. I was not expecting to face any censorship, as everything had been described and approved beforehand, but I am asked to develop the film behind bars so it might be examined by the staff. I am then ordered to remove any “sensitive material” on the negatives using a kitchen knife. Like so, all images which depict inmates who had not participated in the workshops, the prison staff and the perimeter wall are altered. It is not important that these elements were already blurry or the individuals had their backs turned – I must scratch.
— Jérémie Jung.
Translated by Maura Schmitt and edited by Victoria Tice
Jérémie Jung is a French photographer interested in the Baltic region and its cultural identities. His work has been published by media outlets such as National Geographic, Geo and The Washington Post. In France, he has displayed his work in museums such as the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and at the Arles photo festival Rencontres de la photographie.
He received the ANI-PixTrakk award in 2017 at the festival Visa pour l’Image.
Born in 1980, Jérémie Jung graduated from the Faculté des Arts Plastiques (Visual Arts department) in Strasbourg and trained as a photojournalist at EMI-CFD in Paris.
Jérémie Jung is represented by the agency Signatures.