Jan 27, 2009

In The Berlin Prison

The title may a little surprise you, but that what happened with Nasim is that he is Berlin prison now. May be you will think that he is suspected, because he comes from the country which provides 95% of opium to the world.

I am in Kabul now, this post had to be posted already, but it was missing somewhere in between of the data. I was invited by the GTZ as a photographer for a photography workshop on November 7 to 14. There were six other photographers from other countries; Jodi Bieber from South Africa, Dörthe Boxberg from Germany, Stefan Erber from Germany, Elena Koktanek from Germany, Michael Tsegaye from Ethiopia, Leonel Vasquez from Colombia and two workshop leaders: Ralf Bäcker and Jörn Neumann from Germany.

Before going to the workshop in Berlin I had been in Italy where i received my freedom of expression award from Information Safety and Freedom (ISF) in Siena.
The workshop subject was “Developing security and security development” the central theme of for 2009 of the GTZ. For one day I was shooting in the main Berlin prison “Justizvollzugsanstalt Tegel”, which contains 1580 prisoners from 62 countries right now. Around 32% of them are foreigners.

It was early morning, when we arrived at the prison. The security guards at the main gate got our passports and in return a coarse card, not easy to bend, was given to us and we were demanded to not lose it, otherwise we couldn’t get out of the prison afterwards.

The doors and windows are built out of rigid steel and concrete structures, strong glasses are used for the windows and soundproofed rooms. Inside the control room are many monitors that show the area where the staff and prisoners are moving around. A burly security man suited in a dark blue suit, with written on his arm and back “Justiz” guided us around inside the prison. We were told not to photograph the prisoners or security guards, nor locks and keys. And we had to empty our pockets from money and electronic devices.

The buildings inside are surrounded by a barbed wire fence and in each corner cameras are controlling your steps. We were given two hours inside the prison, by the security guard who was with us. Me and my German colleague Elena definitely had to be clever to use our time as well as possible. Elena was excited to see the inside of the prison, me too. It was very important for me to see the prison in Berlin and to compare it to the Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul. It's a large prison in Afghanistan. I visited Pul-e-Charkhi prison and remember pretty well how horrible it was.

Now, I found myself in the biggest prison in Germany. I was looking for the meaning of Sicherheit inside the prison, in the Berlin streets, in the city with its skyscrapers and well dressed people with luxurious cars moving and people 'petting' with their best friends, which is not normal in Afghanistan and other Islamic states.

I had to find out now what Sicherheit means in this country, for the Berliners, for the people who work and earn money to live, for those who hope to have a shelter where to spend the night, for the many who survive.

This time Berlin became very interesting for me, but how to figure out its looks? I like this city, but how can I find myself if I would live there for a day? With this workshop I learned a lot, and also from the people who I met in the streets, at their work, and also the beggars who smiled at us.

The 44 years old security guard Rafael Galejew, who originally comes from Georgia, accompanied us. He works in the Justizvollzugsanstalt Tegel prison since 1994. Rafael carried a bunch of large keys. One was bigger than the others and I joked by calling it “the king key”. Yes it was a real special one, because he could open any door with it.

Entering the first building of the prison, and looking up to the walls painted yellow doesn’t give a sense of being be happy. "But for a prisoner" said Rafel, "yellow is a happy color". Doors are numbered together with their prisoner names. The stairs, door, and windows are netted with steel girders. While I tried to take pictures Rafael told me to not picture the prisoners. To have him trust me I showed my pictures to him every now and then and told him to do so as well after our tour. That made him happy and he told me he trusted me.

Time was running and we had to go to the next building, moving from the short term punishment prison to the lifelong imprisonments building. The 8 floors building contains over 300 prisoners who committed murder or similar crimes.

Another security guard joined us when we came on the fifth floor. We entered a cell of 2x3 meters wide, with a bed, tv, tape recorder, a toilet and lots of pictures of family, children, and relatives hanging on the wall of the prisoner who himself is outside and waving to us. But we can’t respond to him nor take pictures because we had been asked not to talk or get close to the prisoners.

In the entry hall of the building hangs a picture of a priest, the writings on it say that he was killed by the Nazis. Rafael commented, "The Nazis were the enemy of human kind, not only Jews."
I asked Rafael if there are any Afghans in the prison, and he told me that a couple of years ago there were a few, but now they are all released.

They have special meals for the Muslim prisoners, and however, "since 2000 the numbers of prisoners are decreasing" as Rafael described.

The reason for being in the prison and to look for the word of “Sicherheit” was because in the German concept, Sicherheit has no specific meaning. Many use it as 'security' and 'safety' which are not right translations in German.
As photographers from various backgrounds, but all coming from post-war countries, we had to find out the meaning of security in Berlin, where I don’t see police, or military convoys in the streets.

So, what does security really mean for Berliners here? But it is the question and the theme of our workshop photography.
We had to explore the city to find the meaning of security in the German context among Berliners and foreigners living in Berlin.
It was very interesting hearing the meaning of security in so different ways. For some, security is about money, or trust, love, or sex, profession, or travel, while for others it means to find shelter, to be safe.

Jan 6, 2009

My Interview with the Rai News 24

It is a bit funny to see myself in this clip. It just made me to laugh, I can't believe what I was telling to Mario Forenza, the Interviewer.

By the way, i am trying to do video podcasting but I still challenge with myself how to overcome on my shyness.
By the way, you can also download the movie from here.