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Valerio Bispuri / EchoPhotoAgency



Encerrados, Travel to South American Jails
Italy    www.valeriobispuri.it

I spent 10 years travelling for South-America jails. A different and complex world in which violence and abuse are part of convicts’ lives. I saw, during the time, how convicts try to find a space similar to that one they had outside of the jails. They try to preserve their dignity. Jails are a reflection of society, a mirror of a country both in terms of small problems and also big economic and social issues. The necessity to recreate their space is the only way to defend themselves.
They hardly try to maintain their habits in a human boundary condition and overcrowding status. Violence and power management inside the jails are the direct consequences of these conditions.
Thus, for instance in Brazil, even if I got the permission for taking pictures inside the jails, the jail director had to seek the approval of a “control” group who ran the prison.
In Santiago, in Chile, the convicts, irritated by such bad life conditions are used to fight during their autonomy hour. The jails rules are the same in life: who has more money and power, supervises and has authority.
Life in jail is not only about power games and fights. In daily life there is time to play football, to talk, to joke. For women,there are moments when they dress up and apply make-up. This work is not to denounce the situation in jails but to discover and share the similarities and differences in South American countries.

I went to 74 male and female jails in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia e Venezuela. I was in contact with prisoners and guards, both in fear and anger, and with both hope and diffidence. Some convicts considered me a distraction, others looked at me with envy, others with contempt because they thought that I was only there to photograph their confined life.

Every jail was a way to see the country from inside and outside. Even if everything seems to be just a reflection of violence, the contrast of life and violence belongs to one line. This corresponds to the history of South America.