Statement of Being is a project by photographer Julia Schönstädt. Julia has photographed and interviewed several prisoners in institutions across Germany, her aim being “to dispel the stigma of the ‘criminal’ and simply make the subject human.” We will feature one pair of portrait+interview [the interview is actually an excerpt of a longer conversation] every day for six days.
Harry – 1 year
We are all hidden away in a box.
We are cut off by society and it’s not society’s probem.
My name is Harry, I’m 23 years old and I was sentenced to 12 months in prison, of which I served 3 months inside and 3 months on an electronic tag.
How do your parents feel about you having been in prison?
My dad said it made me more of a well-rounded individual. I think my dad is more like, “oh well, it is over, the good that has come out of it, is that I am in university now.” Doing a degree, doing something positive, which I might have not done before.
With my mum it’s a bit more sensitive I guess. Even if I come home with a new tattoo now, it’s a bit of a taboo subject which is a bit strange as I am gonna be 24 in a few months. Maybe that says something about our relationship.
If you would have been inside for longer, do you think it would have made a difference?
No. The only reason I don’t go out right now and commit crimes at the moment is because I don’t want to let down my family again. I feel like I have too many friends and family around to do that to them at the moment. I feel like I should be finishing my course. But the real truth is prison doesn’t put me off at all. It’s actually quite interesting to me. Some of the people in there. Just to study them as people. I like watching people.
My prison experience didn’t put me off. Because it was a low-level crime even though I was in the second highest prison, the second category of prison, so there are rapists, murderers and pedophiles but it doesn’t put me off prison. I’m not scared of prison. Which is a bit stupid. When I was in prison, I wasn’t thinking I never wanna come back here again. I might have been but my main reason to stay out of prison was my girlfriend and my family. Now she has left me and now I don’t really… not care but I feel like if I go back to prison that’s my own business. Even though I know it will affect my family- maybe that’s just the defect in me.
Is that something you would describe as a general state in prison? Everyone is putting on a front? Nobody is really themselves?
There are two types of people in prison. There are the ones that have kind of broken down. I don’t know what has happened to them but they just had a bit too much of life so they can’t put up a front anymore. Society has just broken them down so that is them. Just this shell of a person. I’ve seen people trying to kill themselves daily. Setting themselves on fire and chucking themselves off the landing. You can tell they don’t care anymore how they look or their general appearance, brushing their hair or brushing their teeth or whatever.
And then there are those people who have kind of like a front like nothing can hurt them but from what I know when they are locked up they are crying all day, you know? I don’t know what’s better. To show that front or not. But you have to have a front in prison to stay strong. So I guess I count into the second category because if I was just weak and really honest, telling people what I was thinking like I am doing now, I wouldn’t survive because people would take advantage of you.
In such an environment of negativity, can anything good come out of it?
But why would anyone care? Because you can think of reoffending rates and what’s gonna happen when they come out of prison but when I was there I saw a man getting sentenced to 32 years. He will have to do at least 20 something years before he gets out. And he might die in that time, he might get stabbed or something. And the health care is so bad, I’ve seen people getting cancer and they are just being looked after improperly. So why should the government care?
Put the animals in the zoo and if they kill each other, fine, or if they become depressed like sort of a shell of a person, then good.
But sometimes I’m quite happy that I went to prison because you know, it’s an experience. Maybe I wouldn’t say that if I had been inside for 10 years, but because I only did three months it was almost like an experiment to me. It’s kind of like a joke sometimes. It’s just a game. Like I go in for three months and then I come out and I’m back with my family. And the crime I have supposedly committed, I’m not guilty of. I never felt guilty about it. It’s still a big joke to me. If I had a victim on the other side, if I had taken one of their family members, yeah, I probably would feel differently.”