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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.

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Before 1991, when Latvia was part of the USSR, approximately 300 inmates were held in this juvenile detention centre located in the small town of Cēsis, 80 km northwest of the capital, Riga. Today, 39 prisoners do their time here, without any change in the area in use. At the request of the administration, I had to scratch out with a knife this part of the wall, though this view is from outside of the prison and does not represent a security risk. – © Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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This building is reserved for the 20 prisoners whose sentences have been handed down. They only occupy one floor. The second, empty, is sometimes used to place an inmate in isolation. A separate building houses prisoners in remand detention. – © E. / Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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In the dining hall, the prisoners are separated into two groups: those serving their sentences eat in one room, those in remand detention in the other. With the permission of a guard who escorted me at all times, I went to the dining hall to photograph it. A group of youth came in and sat down at the tables, each with his own designated spot. They took advantage of my presence to quickly explain to me that their meals were never good. I took two photos and another guard raced to stop me. I understand that each guard enforces the rules a bit as he interprets them. The administration will have the last word: it orders me to scratch out the identities of each inmate. – © Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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The cells are occupied by one or two inmates. Another – unoccupied at the time – is reserved for disabled prisoners. The 20 prisoners whose sentences had been handed down occupy this floor. This corridor is often a place for entertainment, as the doors are open during the day. Some prisoners meet up to play video games, for example. At the request of the administration, I had to alter the film to hide the prisoner because he was not participating in the photography workshop, even though his back was turned and he was blurry. – © Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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I.,16 years old. He is curious to know who I am, where I come from and why I am here. He also asks me if it’s exciting for me to come to prison. Ilja thinks that his sentence fits his crime. He must stay there for a few years, and he explains to me that the more his sentence progresses, the more time passes quickly. The first months were the hardest. Behind bars, he found faith and shows me with pride his Orthodox Bible and his collection of diplomas. The more of them he has, the more chances he has of shortening his sentence. On the outside, he asks me to go photograph the area surrounding the city of Sigulda. There is a national park there. He wants to show me that his country is beautiful. I found this house there, whose construction seems to have been put on pause by the cold of winter. – © Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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The prisoners have a small fenced-in courtyard which enables them to cool off when they are given permission to do so. – © I.K. / Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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In 2012, the European Regional Development Fund made it possible to open a sports hall. For the prisoners, sport is the most popular activity. Matches opposing guards and prisoners are frequently organised. Here, these three players did not participate in the photography workshop. At the request of the administration, I scratched out their faces, although two of them have their backs turned and are not recognisable. – © E. / Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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I had asked each participant of the workshop to take photos of what spoke to them and their daily lives. I was very surprised by the coolness of some of their pictures. Each had innocently conveyed a part of his personality. O., 20 years old, took a selfie with his cellmate in front of their cell. These cells never hold more than two people and are equipped with a shower. At the request of the administration, I had to scratch out the face of O.’s cellmate, as he had not taken part in the photography workshops. – © O. / Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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When the prisoners do not have organised activities, they spend their time in their cells, the corridor and this common room, where they can watch television or play different games. Some also use the space to carry out artistic endeavours. At the request of the administration, I had to scratch out one of the inmates, who had not participated in the photo workshop. – © I. T. / Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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In a common room, A. takes a photo of himself in a mirror. He crafted the flowers from paper with his own two hands before using them to decorate the mirror. – © A. / Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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The prisoners have a small fenced-in courtyard which enables them to cool off when they have permission to do so. While developing the negatives in one of the sanitary facilities of the prison, I was very surprised to discover the coolness and the creativity of the teenagers. The participants had been instructed to tell their stories and were free to take photos of whatever they wanted or could. Here, I. asked one of his fellow inmates to take a photo of him. – © I. T. / Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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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.
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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.
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The prisoners move around between the different buildings: a school, a sports hall, a church (pictured), a dining hall and their cells. The multidenominational church is the penitentiary’s oldest structure, and incidentally, many inmates find faith behind bars. Some even get baptised, choosing a fellow inmate as their godfather. At the request of the administration, I had to remove a part of the exterior perimeter wall, although it was already blurry. – © E. / Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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In response to my question “What do you do during school holidays?”, one inmate said, “Most of the time, we get bored.” Although some try to escape from their daily lives, the prison environment seems to continue to be psychologically brutal. I often questioned what impact imprisonment, coupled with the offence committed, must have on the developing personalities of these young men. – © R. / Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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After serving a long sentence, some worry about their release. To prepare for it, they are assisted by an adviser for one year. – © O. / Jérémie Jung / Signatures
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"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. "

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Jérémie Jung

photographe

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.

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