Life in a Polish Correctional Facility in the Project of Zuza Krajewska
Studzieniec is one of the first correctional facilities for underage convicts in Europe that is based on rehabilitation through education and work. Polish photographer Zuza Krajewska visited the borstal and captured how young offenders come back to the right path.
Photographer and filmmaker from Poland. Graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk. Her series called Imago was shortlisted for International Photography Awards 2017, organized by the British Journal of Photography. In April 2017, Kahl Editions will publish Imago as a photo book. Krajewska’s work was exhibited in Poland, France, England, Slovakia, and Germany.
It was my boyfriend who showed me that borstal. We were on the way to thermal baths in Mszczonów and he decided to show me the place, which was nearby. It was amazing. A borstal in the forest, with a cross at the gate. While working on the project a half a year later, I saw the other premises — a park, a church, and buildings made of red brick.
A week in a borstal consists of five days of learning, workshops, and evening classes. Weekends are rather boring, including cleaning and supervised housework. If one really wants, Studzieniec can provide a good education. One can learn carpentry, construction, gardening or breeding horses. It is one the first such institutions in Europe where the main objective is to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents through education and work. There are three similar detention centers in Germany, France, and the Netherlands.
This concept seems to have been working well in my opinion. A borstal efficiently reduces the level of aggression. It is well-managed, they employ specialists; for example, a psychologist. The personnel includes women who are very important in such an institution as they moderate the pupils temperament.
Of course, I have witnessed violence between boys. I saw them competing in groups, small fights. But to my way of thinking it does not exceed an acceptable level of aggression you can observe in the backyard of a secondary school.
Firstly, I had written to the director if there was any possibility to make such a project. He appeared to be a wonderful man who agreed, taking it as an opportunity for therapy. It is not easy to enter such a world from the outside and break the wall of teenage aggression, hostility and shame. Deep inside they are all good and trusting children. Having known them for a year, I can really confirm that some of them needed that kind of contact and interaction. Afterwards they opened emotionally a little and started a personal development.
In my opinion, they are just children harmed by their parents. Whenever I returned from the borstal, I felt like smacking their thoughtless cruel parents in the face. Their behavior and actions made those dear children end up in such a place. The boys do not deserve it.
I can’t tell you if Studzieniec is a typical Polish borstal before I’ve visited more places. I think any place is about the people. It is also a story. Studzieniec is an exceptionally enlightened place. Try to imagine this: the middle of the forest, blossoming apple trees, and broad landscape. How deep must it affect young brains intoxicated with alcohol or amphetamines? I think Studzieniec lets them start from the beginning away from the previous environment and they are lucky to have it.
I am kind of a mother for many boys. We often chat and I help them as much as I can. Unfortunately, some of them cannot be helped anymore.
These young people have got a chance to change their behavior if they keep avoiding bad habits and get the appropriate support they need. Somebody must help them keep away from their destructive backgrounds — violent fathers, drunken mothers, illegal job proposals from mafia. They will succeed if one trusts, helps, and employs them.
I was brought up in an ordinary housing estate consisting of a large block of flats typical of the Communist era in Poland. They were inhabited by both the well-educated and the working classes. Boys from pathological families, similar to the ones from my project, were my early childhood friends. I was playing with them, listening to their stories, having my first drinks. Few of them have already passed away. Some moved abroad looking for a better-paid job. Some of them are still living in Poland with families, I hope.
The main purpose of the project was to show those kids to the world in a gentle and subtle way. My intention was to focus on the combination of childlike innocence and harm they caused. I just wanted to understand where it came from. That is all. Now I am aware it derives from a bad upbringing, cruel and drunken parents who did not provide their offspring care, safety, and self-confidence. I had no intention to take such lyrical photos. They turned out to be subtle in the end.
Most painful is the hopelessness of their return to real life. They start to escape into drugs, alcohol, and degradation again. I am upset Poland does not help them enough. But I am glad that the government wants to rehabilitate them and I truly hope Studzieniec detention center will never be closed.