This week is my last week at the prison. I was coming to the end of the project and at this stage over 2000 photos had been taken of which 200 photos were chosen by staff and inmates. 48 people had taken part in the project, with 40 of them being the inmates and the remaining 8 staff members included the prison social worker, lawyer, chaplain as well as guards and drug counsellors.
It was now the plan to display the photos in the sports hall and invite all the prison, staff and inmates, to view them. On the first day, the photos were placed up randomly and with the help of the inmates and staff, the intention was to analyse them into their core groups based on the patterns that were seen. These themes were then re-displayed for staff and inmates to ensure that they were accurate and representative.
Yesterday I spent 8 hours with the inmate who helped me translate all of the captions that accompanied the photos from English to Norwegian, so that the findings were accessible to everyone.
Here are a few examples of photos of the findings, which will be published in the future and subsequently discussed and shown at the Howard League for Penal Reform Conference this March.
The second photo shown here was of particular importance to me. Harald took an even more active role in feeding me during this tough and tiring week and Daniel prepared me coffee each day, giving me a cup with the Norwegian word “justice” on it. I couldn’t help but think that he was trying to tell me something about how projects such as these can promote positive change. It was these little gestures that I will miss the most I think.
The exhibition couldn’t have gone better. Both staff and inmates were excited about the findings, some shed a tear and a number of inmates who did not take part came to see the project and congratulated the research team and their efforts for creating an accurate depiction of the valued aspects of the prison. One member of staff looked at the photos and read every caption in silence. I approached him as he approached the final photos and saw he had a tear in his eye. All he could say was “I feel proud to work here”. I wish I could feel as proud of my prisons at home....
The themes became clearer over the two day event, with over 100 visitors in total and many coming back to see the photo-essays again. The atmosphere was both great and transformative in its own right. There seemed to be a real pride sensed by both staff and inmates. The themes focused heavily on having opportunities for personal growth and creating meaningful relationships. A sense of freedom was also identified as significant, as a way of preparing for release, feeling included in society and experiencing ‘normality’.
I became increasingly relieved as the day went on because everyone seemed happy with the outcome, I knew that the next day was my last and I would be saying goodbye to BastØy prison. I wonder how this will all end...