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Life Inside an Afghan Women’s Prison

Life Inside an Afghan Women’s Prison


While reporting the story on single mothers (a concept that exists and yet has no word to describe it, neither in Dari nor Pashto), I learned of children living with their mothers inside prisons because they didn’t have anyone outside to take care of them.

I was very keen to see it for myself. The day I visited the prison, I was sent in with a male escort, which made it difficult to work. But as I was leaving, the prison manager whispered in my ear to come back alone after lunch so that I could work without the male escort.

When I went back, after half an hour, she left me as well and I was able to wander around on my own. I was fascinated by the structure of the prison, the decoration, the lives of the inmates and the extent of the access I was given.

Once I was on my own, women came forward to speak, sharing their stories and making radical and, at times, dirty jokes. It was there that I met a woman who had murdered her husband. This woman who had an aggressive tone, said, “I’ve lost my children, I’ve lost my dignity, and I’ve murdered my husband, do you think I have anything else to lose?”

That really struck me and stayed with me.

The photos of the prison reveal a place that’s surprisingly … normal. Mothers watch their children at play, they chat, they share meals. Was this what you were expecting?

Not at all. I had only scratched the surface when I first visited the prison in 2016, so I knew how things looked, but when I went back for this story and got a chance to spend time and embed myself with the women, that was a very different experience. Life was so normal. I struggled at times to see the place as a prison, and not a dormitory.

Tell me something about prison life that isn’t captured in your photos.

The smell is not something I want to remember. The smell of each room was different, depending on the level of hygiene, but it was always heavy, damp and unpleasant.


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