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I came across Julie Adnan‘s Born in Jail series at Bite Magazine. I wanted to know more about the women and of the social backdrop of criminal justice within Northern Iraq. I was happy that Adnan could answer a few questions.

This woman was imprisoned on 8 Feb. 2009. The child was born in prison; he is 6 months old. She, an Arab from Mosul, was arrested for prostitution. At the time of the photograph, she had been imprisoned for 18 months. © Julie Adnan

This woman was imprisoned on 8 Feb. 2009. The child was born in prison; he is 6 months old. She, an Arab from Mosul, was arrested for prostitution. At the time of the photograph, she had been imprisoned for 18 months. © Julie Adnan

CONVERSATION

Why did you choose this subject?
I choose this subject because there are many children in the prison without having committed any criminal offence; there only because they’re children of those who may (or may not) have done something wrong. Nobody thinks about what the children will remember when they grow up.

What prison is this?
This is the Arbil prison for women, in the city of Arbil (also written Erbil or Irbil or Arbela) in Kurdistan of Iraq.

How long were you on assignment?
It took a long time to gain permission from the government, but after [getting permission] I took the photographs in two different visits over two weeks.

This child was born in prison. He is 8 months old. His mother was imprisoned on 29 Jan. 2009, sentenced to a year in prison for illegal sex with another person. She is from Arbil. © Julie Adnan

This child was born in prison. He is 8 months old. His mother was imprisoned on 29 Jan. 2009, sentenced to a year in prison for illegal sex with another person. She is from Erbil. © Julie Adnan

What were the reactions of staff, women and children to your photography?
The children thought it was game and they loved it, but the women was so afraid of the camera and of the photographs. As you can see, they do not want their faces to appear.

Did the families ever see or receive prints?
Unfortunately, I did not send any photos to them and I do not know if they’ve seen the photographs anywhere.

Do you plan to return to this subject or any other stories within prisons?
Yes, but not with photography. I want to document their letters to their families in a booklet.

Five of the eight women are in prison for prostitution. What sort of sentence does that carry?
It depends on their crime. It could range from a few months to five years.

Is there ever a notion that a prostitute might be a victim?
Because Islamic law rules prostitution as a crime, the government and other people can not say anything about them. Prostitution is something in the culture they cannot accept, however we have some people now who allow [make accommodations] for them but they cannot really change or do anything.

One lady was imprisoned for sex outside of marriage. Is a prison sentence common for such a transgression?
Within traditions here, a woman’s family may kill her for that [sex outside of management]. Sometimes, a woman’s stay in the prison is necessary as a secure place or a shelter.

This female gypsy was sentenced to 15 months in prison for robbery. She would like her daughter be with her in prison. Her daughter was 1 year, 8 months old at the time of the portrait. © Julie Adnan

This female gypsy was sentenced to 15 months in prison for robbery. She prefers her daughter to be with her in prison. Her daughter was 1 year, 8 months old at the time of the portrait. © Julie Adnan

MORE READING

Julie Adnan maintains a Lightstalker profile and a Flickr photostream. Her work has been featured at Greater Middle East Photo (a blog I highly recommend).

This article, Life in a Womens’ Shelter, Erbil perhaps more than any other relates the dangers for women should they compromise their families “honour”. It talks about shelters and prisons as being alternative institutions to family homes which – in extreme cases – can harbour the real threat of murder.

BIOGRAPHY

Adnan, from Kirkuk in Iraq, is a 25 year old freelance photographer, and currently a student at the art academy of Sulemanyah University in Iraq. Adnan has worked for a number of agencies newspapers and websites including The New York Times, Reuters, National Geographic, Al-Sharql Awsat, The Washington Post, Jordan Times, Taw photography magazine, Kakh magazine, Kurdistani New, Aso newspaper, Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Driknews agency, World News Network, BBC World Website, IO Donna magazine of Italy and L’Express of France.

EMAIL

prisonphotography [at] gmail [dot] com

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