By Carolina Camps
I began this documentary project in Unit 33 of Los Hornos women’s prison in La Plata, near Buenos Aires, with a brief visit in 2004. In 2007 I felt the need to return for the type of images that required me to get closer to the inmates. Wanting to go deeper into their lives, I worked in the maternity wing where the inmates lived with their children until the age of four. There were 63 children inside at that time.
They are children who were mostly born in jail and whose perspective of the world was confined to within the prison walls. They never committed a crime, but they were child prisoners. When they reached the age of four, the saddest day for their inmate mothers, they were sent outside to live with their extended family, or in a state institution if they don’t have one.
The prison holds hundreds of sad stories, stories of abandonment and abuse. The inmates’ children shared their lives in the lockup, their poverty, and the violence. The mothers told me that their children were their companions in prison, and helped them forget where they were. I managed to spend enough time inside that I came to share their pain and their dreams. My eyes saw their world as if through their eyes.
Recently, five years on, I went back to look for those women and their children. I wanted to know what had been of their lives after those years. It wasn’t easy, but I did locate four of those I had come to know and photograph. It brought me great emotion to see how much their children had grown, and hear their stories about all that had happened to them since then. I managed to share considerable time with each of them, several days in most cases.
It took a lot of investigation but I did manage to find Julia under house arrest, Valeria back in prison for the fourth time, Sandra free on the outside, and Silvia still imprisoned for the same crime.