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.
Pete – 4.5 years
My mother died from the fact that her only prince caused disgrace and such suffering.
Yes, my mother died from me getting convicted.
I am Pete. I am 49 years old and I was sentenced to 4 and a half years. Out of those 4 and a half I only did 3 years though, because of good behavior. I was born in California and I grew up in Germany. I was on hard drugs for 27 years, 20 years on methadone. I am a musician. I lived in Paris for 4 years, 1 year in London, 7 in New York and another 7 in Los Angeles. I studied film, I made records, I lived off benefits and I robbed two banks.
Your prison experience in three words?
Scary, disillusioning and freeing.
Scary and freeing. Can you explain that?
Scary because you only know about prison and its clichés from the media. When I was sitting in the basement the first day, I thought I’d be perfect feed. I remember thinking‚ ‘Good god life is over. Please let me get through this alive!’
Freeing in a sense that for the last 1 and a half years I ran around with a smile on my face because I knew that I had found peace with myself. I can look into the mirror and I can smile, because you can’t lock up my thoughts. They were only able to lock up my body. My thoughts were free, beyond those walls. That is a spiritual thing. I was freed from slavery, meaning yearlong long-standing heroin and methadone abuse. I found faith and a base to free myself on, instead of all this consumption. I gained a different system of values and simply inner peace. The certainty that I can now be completely open. I worked hard for that and from ages 17 to 47 I was wearing a mask. The mask of arrogance, the mask of falsity, of acting. That’s what doing drugs does to you. When you do hard drugs and you still want to do your own thing, that’s a really tough request. And then suddenly realising you don’t need that mask anymore… now I am very open about my feelings and my past and everyone can know that.
So prison has saved you? You learnt something from it?
I learn every day. If it was a good day. That’s got nothing to do with prison. A day you don’t learn a thing, is a wasted day. No matter what it is. So I wouldn’t call it learning. It saved my life. And it cost my mother hers. In exchange.
Why your mothers in exchange?
My mother died from the fact that her only prince caused such disgrace and such suffering. Yes, my mother died from me getting convicted. In the end, she let herself die. That was the very high price I paid.
How do you feel about that?
I am letting go of thoughts to blame myself for things that are long gone or that belong to the past and that I can’t change anymore. They are part of me but of course it hurts me a lot and the fact that I caused the downfall of my family. I am very aware of that. But it’s not constantly on my conscience and I don’t let it influence my here and now.
What value does the experience have for you today? Did it change your outlook on life?
Totally, I don’t want to be missing out on it. Sometimes I am worried that I forget about it. I notice how I start putting on a mask again, out there in this shark tank. Taking things for granted. Having expectations that don’t get met. Or treating people in a way like I wouldn’t have a year back. Not to be exploiting them but sometimes you just need to play along in this manipulative game. And I don’t actually like it at all. That’s why at the moment, I am thinking about spending a few days in a convent. A silent retreat. Simply to regain that feeling of going back to zero. When suddenly pepper gains value again. And a cushion. And warm water. That is a bit of a plan right now. I would even go back to prison for a week!