Migration and Jails

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HHamza has been for almost three years in Catalunya, he comes from Alger, the capital of Algeria.

"Truth be told, I don’t know how much longer I am going to stay here, it is all up to fate. I could go now or I could stay until… I don’t know, I truly don’t know."


"The thing that made me migrate is that I wanted to change. I wanted to change myself. I was in the wrong path and I wanted to change my ways, my friends, a little of everything because I was in the wrong path. (…) I came here all over from Marsella in train. I went out to the boardwalk and it was a Friday night, everyone was there, there was a party and some other things. I thought to myself “Wow” I thought it was amazing…"


"Of course I would go back to my country but not yet. I’ve got everything in there, family, is my land, my country, and I’ve got to be there. I have to be buried in Argelia, you know?"



Gerson is a youngster from Guatemala City. He started working as a model and interiorist but in order to grow he had to move to another country.


“I left my country because you can’t grow over there, the country is extremely poor and you just can’t. I think here, asking for help, you could get ahead (…) I didn’t come as a migrant because I had all my papers in order, I came here by plane and everything was going just fine, too fine (…) I only miss my family, but one must make sacrifices to get ahead so that is why I’m here.”


“I chose Spain because in the United States they keep an eye on migrants and it is harder to be there. My future here is look for a job, seek for ways to improve my life and bring my family here.”



Julian comes from the little city of Dosquebradas, one of the principal industrial core from Colombia.


“The truth is that the place where I come from is very dangerous, I kept myself involved in odd things and they were going to kill me. That’s why I moved here (…) I have been in Catalunya for two or three years and a year and a half locked. I do not know how much longer will I stay here. I’ll see what I do once I’m out.”


“Uf! What I remember the most of my country is my people, my family, my brothers and the party. Uy! Is what I remember the most. I would not think it twice, I would go back because all my family is there and danger is gone. I miss Colombia a lot, of course I would go back…”



Mahmoud was born in Dakar, capital of Senegal. He has been in Catalunya for six years.


“I changed of country for many reasons. I though that once I get into Spain I could get some money, help my family, these kind of things (…)  I arrived in ship from Mauritania to Tenerife. When I arrived some people took care of me because I was underage, I was 16, and they put me in a youth centre until I was 18. (…) I arrived to Europe to get a job, earn some money to help my family, to change their lives and the hard way they live right now there. That is what I thought…”


“We were 93 people in a ship that wasn’t big. It took us 6 days to get to Tenerife. I had never been in the sea, I continuously kept throwing up and dizzy. There were some people that were on the verge of dying but everyone arrived alive. (…) I though that it was a ship not a canoe. When I paid the money they told me it was a ship and I paid 1200 euros.”


“I saw many people that lived in Europe for 5 yeas and then they went back to my country and they had a house, a car, and then I think: How do these people got the money? I have been 20 years working and I just can’t anything, not even a house. Let’s see how is Europe.”



Ismael was born in the capital of Ecuador, Quito. But he has been in Hospitalet city for nine years.


“My mom took me here when I was little, I didn’t know anything, and now, here I am. (…) Right now I wouldn’t go to my country, if I ever go back is going to be for holidays. I would go back once I’m older, to die there and remain there always.”


“When I arrived here nothing seemed easy. I saw my mother working, working quite a lot, and she still does it. And no, as a child I didn’t see life and street as easy things. (…) I always lived in Hospitalet, my neighborhood was very problematic but as every neighborhood it has its good qualities. (…) I remember myself being at school and they picked up someone and started throwing bottles to him, he couldn’t go further from the entrance door, everyone was throwing bottles to him from there…”



Yassine doesn’t speak Spanish. He has only been in Catalunya for three months. His story of how life took him to Europe is the most singular story we found in this project.


Everyone calls him Sáhara. He was born in Dajla, the capital of a province of an old Spanish cologne of the Western Sahara. Today it is occupied by Morocco.


Against his willing, when Yassine was 15 years old, he went to Morocco to do his higher studies, but his support to the Sahara’s independence generate him a series of troubles with the authorities and was locked for 8 months in a Moroccan jail. When he finally achieved his freedom, his family did everything they could to expel him from the country until get, previously paid, a fake visa to go to Europe.



Romeo is Dominican but almost his entire life he has been in Spain.


“I came here when I was eight years old. I couldn’t decide where to go, my mother brought me. I have been here in Catalunya for 11 years, and the truth is, I didn’t think about the time I was going to stay…”


“I miss my entire country, specially the food. Rice with bandule, coco milk and cutlet… or the “Dominican flag”, rice with beans and meat (…)In the Dominican Republic, there are some people that have almost no money; and there are some others that have a great, great time.”



Edwin came to Spain for holidays in 2001. He came to visit his mother and never went back to Colombia.


“I was born in Colombia. My parents came to Spain when I was little and that is the reason I came (…) I thought that Spain was bigger, richer. It wasn’t heaven, but when you arrive here everything is different, you know?, You have to get used to a new culture, a new way of living. Everything is stranger but little by little you adapt yourself. (…) Colombia is very poor but the people are happier and fine with the things they have, they are very humble.”


“Too many deaths, it is not known when this is going to end. It is an intern conflict of the country, between the same Colombians. There is warfare, the drug dealing war, the war between hired assassins; there are too many wars that are never over. It’s one of the most unsafe countries in the world, although it’s a beautiful country, I would ask anybody that hasn’t ever been there to visit it.”


“The presidents of my country are not quite… correct. They are all corrupt. So, it is very difficult to have justice when all the politicians are the same.”


“I don’t know, for example, here you just hear a fire gun, pof! And that’s it. In Colombia when people listen to a fire gun they know someone has been shooted. They just know someone is dead, you understand?”



Samir went out from Alger, the biggest port in the north of Africa, almost ten years ago.


“I came inside of a van inside a ship. I arrived to Almería, I was a kid, and I got myself into of a youth centre and from there I have been in the same sort of places, youth centers (…) This country had a funny smell, seriously, nothing bad but weird, different than where I come from.”


“The memories I have are from when I was a little boy and I played with my friends of the neighborhood, my family (…) With some time I would definitely go back because it is my country, it is where I was born, where I have everything, where my people are. But not yet. I haven’t fixed my life here nor there, so, not until that happens. I have come here to do that, to create a life. I arrived when I was young and now it’s time for work. That is what I want.”



Andres abandoned Colombia when he was 10 years old. His last 10 years he has been in Catalunya.


“Well, I came here because of my mother; she had been here for about for years. She told me that life was going to… That life was going to be way better and that I would study and have everything I wanted, that I was going to have a much better future because the best things were here.”


“I miss everything. My family, the parties, the food, the women, the beaches. A little bit of everything. The culture and the atmosphere there is more cheerful.”



Albert is a 21-year-old prisoner born in Maresme, Premiá de Mar.


“I love my people. They will always help you. If you go to other places people don’t like this. (...) Ugh, my life there was a drift, I spent all day smoking and smoking... I wouldn’t stop from smoking and it was going out, but it was fantastic.”


“We would gather all in my house. Sometimes we were between 15 and 20 people in a room playing on the console and smoking. One day my father came and said: "What is this, a brothel or what?!" Everybody out! When people began to leave, he began to put his hand over the heads of the people and was counting 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... We fucked it big time, but I had a great time.”


“When you leave, you leave ... I will myself into a gardening course or nursing assistant, have a job and can save pennies in order to buy a house in the middle of the mountain. Live there, in the middle of nowhere and forget about people and be quieter.”



Silva was born in the north of Brazil although he was raised in Sao Paulo. He never intended to stay in this country.


“Destiny’s bad. I was to Turkey, well, actually I was going to Japan to give something I had and made a scale in Turkey. Coincidentally, I came here and something went wrong and here I am. Not because I want to, or I wanted to stay in Spain. I’m here due to my bad luck in life.”


“I can’t tell you my impression of Spain because I wasn’t in the street. For the moment, my impression is based on what I’ve seen here in jail. I thought it was very dangerous, like my country’s jails, that people kill each other. And no, totally different, everything is quite relaxed (…) When I arrived to Trinidad I had a problem with a Moroccan and I thought that I had to fight to death with him to gain respect. I had the mentality of my country, you know? And no, they just locked us into our cells and that was it.  Very different from my country. I got into jail when I was 17 in a Youth Center and in my first fight they stabbed me. Then I did it back to gain respect. I had been there for only five months and I got stabbed, I blacked out and they took me to the nursery. All in five months!”


“You always go back from where you came from. It is clear; I’ve got a long way back, that is why I have to go back to my family, to my roots.”


According to official data, 75% of the prisoners inside Catalunya Youth jail are migrants from outside of Europe. The other 25%, half are Europeans from outside the EU. Therefore, we found an overwhelming data in the Catalunya Youth jail: the 87.5 % of the prisoners are foreigners, coincidentally, the group with the less economical resources of our society.

These images have no author. It is almost impossible to know who is the creator of each and every 6cm x 6cm negative. The process where the 12 photography sessions in which these images were made, from the outside may appear as a great chaos. Photographers took turns behind the Bronica camera, took two or three shots of prisoners with different backgrounds, and few seconds later a new eye appeared behind the lens. The rest of the group measured light, focused the lens, or gave posing ideas to the model. The session was over once the reel was full.

Making a portrait of half format project does no intend to be an exact replica of the Multiculturalism behind the walls of these jails. This project was just an excuse to join the youngsters from different roots in an improvised photography set and talk. Talk about their history, their journeys, their memories, and their lands. Testimonies that teach us that the world is not necessarily black and white, that there is no good or bad, and that luckily everything is more complex.


acvACV. VCC. Albert, Charif, Ismael, Jaouad, Julián, Mahmoud, Moktar, Samir and Zaka know perfectly well how is the lifestyle in prison. They are between 18 and 23 years old and they are prisoners at the “Centre Penitenciari de jovenes de Catalunya”. They are the eight participants of the first edition of Visual Creation Classroom (VCC): In a period of seven months, they learnt how to use photography as a way of storytelling. The VCC intends to be a way to improve the social life amongst youngsters in prison as well as an improvement of their educational process..
acvRuido Photo (Barcelona, Spain, 2004) is an organization dedicated to produce and transmit documentary photography regarding Human Rights violations and major social issues. It gathers photographers, journalists and designers, who consider documentary as a tool for reflection and social transformation. It is a platform that opens its doors to receive independent documentary with strong social content and cultural commitment. It operates on four continents and focuses on three interrelated areas: Research and documentation; training and diffusion, and community revitalization practices.

The next photos and videos are the result of leaving a photo and a video camera on the top of a table while making the 12x12. Migration and Jails project. Any resident who had some free time and felt like documenting his surroundings, could grab a camera and feel free to do it without any kind of pretension.

The result is these images that illustrate some moments of the creation process inside a prison. In a makeshift photography set, inside the only casually empty room of the Catalunya Youth Prison school, prisoners themselves decided to create a psychological portrait series of residents that had different geographical roots to show that almost 90% of them were migrants.