Popcorn behind bars

We are driving through peaceful landscapes. Between meadows, where the horizon is hard to find, a grey compound with fences and high walls pops up. The building seems like a forgotten box in the middle of nowhere. So this is the juvenile prison, where 16 to 26 year-old teenagers are put. During the DOK Festival they share their three favorite documentary movies with DOK guests. An unusual place for a film screening.

My first steps into the prison lead through a turnstile, where I have to lock all my belongings into a locker. I only hold on to my ID. I hand it to the judicial officer and get checked after. The second, huge wall opens and a very strange feeling goes through my body. Some roses blossom on a little peace of earth at the entrance. They are a contrast to my feelings. I see a raven fly over the prison and wonder that birds are even to be seen here. We are brought into a room where the delicious smell of popcorn greets us. Two inmates prepared this for us.

We slowly get used to the situation: I am literally standing next to real felons. They seem very peaceful to me. We are asked to take our seats. Before the film starts an inmate welcomes us and tells us to enjoy. During the film I totally forget where I am. The atmosphere is nice and I forget that we are being monitored. The light goes on, the blinds are opened and I see the bars in front of the windows – we are in jail.

After the film there is a discussion and everyone can state their opinion. Without hesitating some inmates tell us what they think of the film. The atmosphere continues to be easy, until a loud sound is heard. All guests look around in panic. All seem to hold their breath except the inmates. “Staff, alarm in the courtyard, staff, alarm in the courtyard.” The director David Sieveking asks what this means. An inmate answers: “Some must be fighting”. Again and again the devices of the staff members beep and one hears the annoyed groaning of the inmates. The time passes by quickly and we have to leave soon. First, the guests are lead into an entrance area. The inmates are counted. The toilets are checked. Only then can we leave.

We walk outside along the windows. I can see the inmates through the bars. They look at us like in a zoo. Again we go through the turnstile. And again we are on the other side of the wall. I feel very grateful and guilty at once to have the freedom to leave the compound, until I remember that the inmates are there for a reason.

An article by Lisanne Misfeld

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