Near Buenos Aires, in Argentina, the Unit 33 penitentiary in La Plata welcomes women sentenced to long periods of detention. Most of them arrive with their children. In that jail, 78 mothers live with 84 children. Many of these mothers are waiting for another baby. Behind jail bars, resound laughter and tears of these little prisoners.
I remember that I was drinking my coffee reading Clarín newspaper in Corrientes Avenue. Suddenly, I read an article dealing with children living in jail in Argentina. I could barely believe it! How can children live behind jail bars? In which conditions do they live? Why the Argentinian Government allows it? What will be a child born in jail when he is grown up? Many questions that I needed to investigate.
Few weeks later, I succeeded in going inside the Unit 33 Penitentiary. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy to deal with convicted women. The first day, I was very nervous and I got scared when the personal officer locked the door up behind me. I was alone and I didn’t know what to do with a plastic bag full of soaps and shampoos. When you visit someone in jail it’s important to bring some presents. Few second later, a huge woman smoking a cigarette walked toward me. It was the leader of the convicted mothers . Her name was Paula. She kidnapped with her husband a teenager for a ransom demand. Because he cried a lot she cut him a finger off. When I met her, Paula was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. In her cell she was not alone. She used to live with Diana, her 4 years old daughter. I knew that I had to first convince her to get authorized to do my photo documentary with mothers convicted. The first days, I used to walk into the jail with my camera hung in my neck. I didn’t make any photographs. I needed to be accepted and recognized. I spoke with the women, I drunk mate (a kind of tea infusion from South America) with them and each morning I used to arrive early with some croissants for breakfast before they woken up. Few days later, a convicted woman invited me to enter in her cell. Monica used to smoke « paco » with her husband. They committed many hold-up being addicted to the drug. Monica was from a middle class family and she perfectly knew that a cell wasn’t the right place to raise a baby. In average, due to a very slow justice system convicted women have to wait four years in jail before receiving a sentence. Many of the children who were born in jail suffer of intellectual disability because of lack of stimulation and violent surroundings. Some don’t even speak and many of them don’t know the difference between a dog and a horse. In the cell, Monica sits in her bed, lifts her t-shirt and breastfeeds her baby. I kneel down ready to make a photograph. Suddenly, she smiles at me and says: « if my husband knew what you are doing he would… » And I said: « I know he would kill me! Right?»