The Day We Closed a Prison

(The Good, the SAD, and the Ugly – part 1)


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Sometimes we ask ourselves whether or not our words (Øystein’s) and pictures (Otto’s) makes any difference. Is it any point in travelling the world looking for stories about the hard realities of life? Are we just providers of exotic entertainment, or are we doing a piece of work that will change things for the better?

Naturally we hope our stories will have an impact. And a few weeks ago we got prove that sometimes they do.

Maula prison in Lilongwe, Malawi, was built by the English back in colonial times. When we visited the place in 2003 we were completely shocked by the conditions. Especially the fact that young offenders, down to the age of 11 or 12, were kept behind bars, along with older inmates. The sentences these kids served were completely outrageous considering the crimes they had committed. The story we made back then was titled “Crime and punishment” and it started like this:

“Seinezani (13) and Chrispin (13) are locked up in Maula prison, Malawi. Doing time here equals rape, malnutrition and massive psychic pressure. 86 under-age prisoners are locked up in a 50 square meter cell, 15 hours a day”.

The two boys were still in custody, half a year after their arrest. Seinezani killed a man who tried to steal the sugar cane he was selling, and Chrispin was accused of stealing a video-player. The two boys were looking at many years behind bars. Even Chrispin, would get at least four years if he was found guilty of stealing the VCR (of course he would be convicted). The boys told us how scared they were and how terrible it was to spend time in the crammed cell. They told us about the constant shortage of food and the fear of never being able to leave Maula alive.

The story was printed in the Norwegian magazine KK, and as we moved on to other projects staff at the Norwegian embassy in Lilongwe red what we had written. Pressure was put on the Malawian ministry of Justice and a process started that ended in moving the young offenders from Maula to another institution, only for prisoners under 18. We didn’t know this until we returned to Malawi this March, ten years after our first visit. We were thrilled to hear the news and really felt we had made the world a better place.

Unfortunately optimism often is caused by lack of information…
We asked around and finally managed to find an NGO that could give us access both to the new juvenile prison and to Maula. Next week we will tell you about the so called “improvements”. If you don’t want to read about crazy sentences, police brutality, starvation and inhuman conditions you better avoid our next post…

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21 Responses to “The Day We Closed a Prison”

  1. […] Again, you can read the whole story and see the rest of the photos on Øystein & Otto’s Blog. […]

  2. It is heartening to note your report, aptly titled ‘Crime and Punishment’, had such encouraging outcome. I am sure there are darker worlds out there, waiting to be exposed.

    Kudos to your humanitarian spirits. I will look forward to reading your next post.

  3. There is so much injustice and inhumanity in the world. 😦

  4. I’m not sure what the next post will bring, but it seems that you have changed some lives.

  5. A great story and a greater impact, wow. It must be a good feeling from your side. Everyone can make a difference and you definetly are! Hats off to you both!

  6. If your stories and photographs can change just one life, then it’s all worth while. And clearly they have. There are so many stories of hardship and one’s of joy that are completely under the radar – nothing will ever change if no-one knows there is a problem in the first place. You’re doing important work that no many people would have the courage to do.

  7. it’s rewarding to know that sometimes we truly are making a positive difference in the world. how heart warming it must have been to hear that because of your efforts, others benefitted greatly.

    keep on slaying those dragons!

    z

  8. To make a difference in the world is something we should all aspire to do. Wonderful chapter Otto.

  9. At this point in the story it sounds like you may have accomplished some good things with regard to the underage prisoners. However, you leave us imagining that they may have gone on to even unhappier circumstances. I shall wait until I read what happened next.

  10. artblablablablog Says:

    good for you, chipping away little by little, for every life that it has made a difference in a little hope will be passed on and keep hope alive for a better world. very sad and discouraging, but never lose hope.

  11. Your doing the good work.

  12. Some progress is still progress. Potent message and visuals. Keep fighting the good fight!

  13. i believe everything matters…even if we do not see results immediately in our lifetime, the efforts made here and at any point when others decide to help others less fortunate than ourselves, will make a difference. it could be immediate or way out in the future. ♥

  14. Hi! I have nominated your blog at Very Inspiring Blogger award

    • Hi, all of you followers out there! It is very inspiring to receive all your comments. Otto and I have chosen this blog to publish stuff that otherwise would have been unpublished. Your feedback give us plenty of good reasons to carry on. And Catarina, it makes us both happy and proud that you find our work so inspiring that you nominate us for Very Inspiring Blogger award.
      Thanks to all of you. Keep on liking us and sharing our work and we promise to keep up the good work!

  15. victoriaaphotography Says:

    Heart-warming to hear that one’s actions can make a difference in the world. Well done and thanks for sharing your work in these difficult and inhumane situations.

  16. Strong images and words from you both, here. I can easily understand your doubts and dilemma, but from my point of view, when it comes down to the stark choice, not going on, would be the worse choice, as you then would certainly not be achieving anything. For me what you do is really admirable.

  17. In the times of sensational journalism and self glorification, the reason why the world is a better place is because of people such as you and Otto, who roam the world and expose such inequities to jolt the authorities into action. I won’t miss your next post.

  18. This article and the pictures were deeply moving. Thank you for sharing these stories.

  19. You will don’t tell these boys’ story, who will? Great work!

  20. Wow, glad to hear that they were able to get out of that place. Great job, both of you!

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