Who is to speak for the sense of touch?
Each month, the photographer Bertrand Gaudillère creates an image or chooses one from his archives. Prison Insider sends it to a dozen participants, prisoners around the world.They are in Argentina, in the United States of America, in France, in Switzerland, in Guatemala, in Ukraine, in Colombia, in Lebanon, in Italy, in Japan, and in Belgium.
Bertrand talks to the participants
They are dancers, and my mission is to take photographs of their performance…I follow their movements, up until the moment when their bodies freeze. Motionless, their bodies touch. It is not an embrace. The bodies outlined on the ground make it look like they are lifeless, but then we can see a hand reaching for another, this rush of life...It is said that the sense of touch is vital for the survival of mankind, as well as that of animals…
Prison Insider invites you to freely express what you feel, when in prison, you look at this image about the sense of touch.
United States of America, Schuylkill (Pennsylvania)
Someone seeks to destroy Justice
To my beloved, fair maiden of Justice. Our love encapsulates my entire existence.
Our dance is the freedom of life.
Our embrace the touch of Origin.
We are the anthropomorphism of The Oness.
Art imitates our movements. Autonomously directed by your chalk of freedom. I often wonder...but realized that this art is merely our shadow. Then our dance ceases. I fall frozen in an abyss of despair.
I suddenly realize that someone is after my life. That someone seeks to destroy Justice. That someone duplicated my maiden's image. It is a mockery of her. In antipathy of her fairness. They have cloned Revenge in her likeness. No longer a fair maiden.
I weep, because I have lied and stolen with the expectation that Justice would save me from myself.
This new image of Justice is foreboding. She cannot dance, so she haunts me indefinitely. I reach out for my beloved. Where is she? I could not go on if she lay still as I. Then it happens. I feel her touch. Oh how I long to dance with her once more! For I need to be saved.
I need to feel love. I need...Justice.
I compensate for the lack of contact with the people I love but who cannot be with me through contact with materials. In my cell, I sculpt little soap figurines.
It’s a beautiful photo of a pair of dancers!
When you look at the photograph, you could imagine that they are vertical, with the woman holding onto a wall with her left hand and holding the man’s head so that he doesn’t fall.
A woman can sometimes be a guardian for a man, helping him not to fall or to pick himself back up again and providing vital physical and psychological support in his life or in hard times. What meaning does life have without a woman by your side? For me, a solid couple is the cement in the construction of life.
In prison, greeting each other with handshakes and hugs is a sign of solidarity between inmates, and an important day-to-day ritual. Ignoring somebody is an offense; it just isn’t done, except in cases where the inmate is somebody you cannot mix with.
Apart from this ritual daily greeting, there is no physical contact, apart from occasional fights.
For me personally, I compensate for the lack of contact with the people I love but who cannot be with me through contact with materials. In my cell, I sculpt little soap figurines, shaping them and stroking them, which relaxes and calms me.
Deprivation of liberty is more than just being cut off from your fellow citizens and shut up in a place. It causes a lot of other pain and problems, but that isn’t the subject of our photograph.
Touching of the hands as you pass
Each other, acknowledging you’re not alone,
Gives one a glimmer of hope, we so
Badly need, but are not allowed to hear.
Such loneliness, surrounded by many,
Yet touched by none.
Deprived of affection, I stretch out my
Hand to you today, please hug me,
I’m slowly dying without human contact…
United States of America, Lake Placid
Prison takes the whole of one and rips from it, shattering what was meant to be a family structured
I was asked what do I see...
What I see is a man, a woman, the order of life, the completion of humanity. I see yesterday, today and tomorrow. The "One" attempting to make the other whole. The balance of life being corrupted by something murderous. A saddened truth. I see the assassination of "all".
Tomorrow murdered by both distance and time. This is prison.
For prison takes the whole of one and rips from it, shattering what was meant to be a family structured. Leaving she empty, reaching for he.
He reaches in return from the abyss, but struggles because he has already lost the emotional intelligence required to sustain forever. Holding him hostage is circumstance. Can you see she? The full extension of her right arm? The mid-reach of his left? The signs.
The symbol is that he struggles more to touch, to feel. She understanding her strength is in what she nurtures, he recognizing his weakness is nature. The time, the distance possibly preventing she from ever "feeling" the beauty of life blossoming within her womb, while he remains trapped in the belly of the beast. What I see is reality. Disasters beauty. I see both refusing to surrender and so they reach. They never stop reaching, because one never needs "touch" in order to "feel".
Is it not the same sun that touches your skin as the one that touches mine?
How many kilometres are we from each other?
Insurmountable distances keep me submerged in oceans of nostalgia. You seem to have surrendered. I have not. I will not. I intend to keep that invisible thread that connects me to you and allows me to touch you, as if you were here, close to me ... Is it not the same sun that touches your skin as the one that touches mine? Your sun and my sun. Your moon and my moon. Every time I look at it, I wonder if you will be looking as well ... if you will still remember me, if you will have that taste in your mouth that only my kisses leave, bathed by the sea.
Everything dies and is born everyday including you and I, that with dawn we become something new.
In another lesson learned, a laceration on the skin, that if it has not killed you, has made you stronger. And I must be very strong because of the scars on my skin.
This is our show: miss us even if we deny it, to hide us so no one can see us ... in this love that never reached its premiere. You will leave and I will stay in case you decide to return, because nobody stirs up my feelings like you do. Our story did not have a good ending, because it was not the end. I will take you with me with the distant feeling that still bristles my skin.
After an hour, I changed into more comfortable clothes; I put on some flip-flops and shorts.
When I think of the sense of touch in prison, a physical experience comes to mind that happened to me last year in an entry ward of Unit 37: I arrived at 6:00 a.m., was taken to Ward 8 known as “the deposit,” and then to a cell where there were three other men. When I arrived, two of them invited me to drink maté, but they looked suspicious. There was betrayal in their eyes, and their physical mishandlings made me stay “alert.” There was some chit-chat. They asked me where I was from, if I had been in jail before, etc. After an hour, I changed into more comfortable clothes; I put on some flip-flops and shorts. But under the shorts, I was hiding a bar with a tip of approximately 20 centimeters… They had no idea.
My instinct told me that something wasn’t right when suddenly, one of them threw himself at me to intimidate me and said, “Call the guard, and I’ll tear your belly out with a knife…”
I pretended to be scared. I’ve been through a lot of these experiences already, and I know how to handle the situations. I let him grab me by the neck while the other man seized my belongings. The third man in the cell stayed out of it.
I lay still for about ten minutes until I found the right time to act. When they least expected it, I took out my shiv, cut one badly in the neck, and the other in the stomach. They both fell on the floor. I called the guard, told him that they’d had a fight, and he believed me. When I was alone with the third man, a 19-year-old, he was very embarrassed and told me about all the atrocities these men had inflicted on him for a month. So I taught him how to defend himself, and we keep in touch to this day…
It's like we are dead, but then all of a sudden, there's a spark.
Life is like a song; we dance to the beat that we are given. The rhythm numbs us, leaving us motionless, prisoners of time. It's like we are dead, but then all of a sudden, there's a spark: we realize that we survived the turbulent circumstances. We are living an experience that limits us only to certain things. Yet, at the same time, we are given a chance to say how we feel here.
Prisons anywhere in the world are unpleasant, violent places, foul-smelling; where condemned souls pace aimlessly, from one wall to another. Many of them are like the walking dead, choosing to remain mindless as their souls drown. For whatever reason, they are in prison, imprisoned within themselves. They don’t look through the window to the world outside.
Falling rain never deigns to alight upon me
Staring at his latest photograph I am reminded of one fact; I have forgotten what it is like to be touched. Falling rain never deigns to alight upon me. I cannot reach through metal mesh, I cannot experience it. I see the dancers frozen in their outreach, the press of flesh on flesh and though somehow in-intimate, I am envious. I long to be held.
What is it like to be wrapped in the arms of another? Or to hold a hand, entwine a pinky, bump a shoulder? Once, a description of such easy interaction would have been simple, even unnecessary.
Now I could not tell you what the texture of skin is like upon a body other than my own.
Lost. Lonely. Longing. These are my words. This is what is evoked by an image of dancers from in their performance. Seemingly all of the Human Element has gone from my life. Without it I feel as the shadows must. I am but only a copy of another of like kind. I do not live in a world of physical interaction and stimuli as you do. And now, for this, I fade.
Yielding to the power of love drawing them into one body. Strong, they breathe life leading them to a sad world. Tired deep down, they meditate deeply their love and brotherhood, increasing trust and faith among each other, till they become one heart facing all the troubles they encounter on the stage of life.
The body drawn on the floor may be of someone dear missing, or might represent our tired burdens, figures that no one notices, knowing that it’s an entire being standing like a sculpture.
However invisible, despite all the noise he makes. The hand gesture is a salvation net, glorifying the other and making the lines on the deaf floor a masterpiece. A modern mirror that emulates the world, in a heart beating with buried wishes in our deep selves.
— Read the original version (Arabic)
Just like the dancers who touch, what unites us is this absence as symbolised by the drawing. The lack of the other, others, of something removed from us when we are locked in. A part of us is left behind the walls, a feeling that is common to the "lifeless" that we are; beings in parenthesis, forced to touch each other by the lack of space. We share this emptiness, intrinsic "nothingness" buzzing around, a throbbing pain that keeps track of our days like a metronome.
It helps to remind us that we exist, since our birth, no matter where we are
For some, these bodies, frozen on the ground, may evoke death. But not for me. These bodies are like a verse or a squib, in a novel or a tale. Like a leap, this elongated position seems like a dance movement that might appear in the array of ballet dancers' gestures.
The young woman’s hand outstretched to touch the head of this man in motion. His hand, a few inches off the ground, pointing in her direction; these movements produce strong feelings within me. It suggests palpitation on living bodies. When a dog sleeps deeply, and we cannot tell if it is breathing, our first reflex is to touch it to see if it is still alive.
From prison, I would say that touch is an essential link; a way to be in contact with the objects we use, to experience textures and clothes, to feel the books we love to read and which often create strong sensations and produce varying degrees of emotion.
Touch is essential for the survival of human beings and animals, but in a closed environment, it helps to remind us that we exist, since our birth, no matter where we are. Alas, we cannot touch animals in here. But feeling the hands of our children, of our families, and hugging them during visits keep us connected to the outside life, even if is only for a brief moment.
The clock that counts the hours as they fly by, follows the same rhythm as outside, except that in here, we are confined precisely by the time that passes; we want to touch the clock every day so that it moves faster.
Touch is the feeling of life, simply.
In one way, our sense of touch provides our salvation.
Many have compared prisons to tombs for the living.
At first glance, this photo seems to be of a crime scene before the removal of the bodies ... Those of us who have experience of prison life, will recognize the reality of this depiction.
Here we must cling on to what we can physically touch and to the never-ending, monotonous, daily routine, backwards and forwards to the same few places for the length of our sentence.
In one way, our sense of touch provides our salvation; the ability to make physical contact with our wives, to greet friends with a kiss, to hug our loved ones, and above all, to receive a hug of sympathy and a liberating kiss from our mothers: these are moments of respite we are permitted before we return to the oppressive confinement of walls and bars.
An act of love
If this photo is held up vertically, it looks like a woman holding the head of a man in freefall as though it were planet earth.
However, if it is laid flat, it looks more like the chalk outlines of two bodies that the police leave on crime scenes. From this angle, the two dancers also seem lifeless, sprawled out on the ground, as if washed ashore after a shipwreck.
Then an outstretched arm can be seen which suddenly evokes an act of love.
Read the original version (in Italian)