Invited by Jean Luc Deschamps, director of the Département des Écartés, which is part of the Philosophy Department of Paris 7 university, the Inscrire association held a ceramic painting workshop with women from the highly secure Fresnes penitentiary near Paris.
Françoise Schein and Lohana Schein visited the prison twice and shared a unique experience with women who committed minor and severe crimes. When entering Fresnes, we were asked to leave our bags, phones, jewelry, and personal belongings. Just like at the airport, we have to pass through the boarding gate and object detection system. Then, we walked through a paved courtyard. We took 6 steps. Another stop in front of the fence gate. They opened the door and we entered the “hall” section, where two floors were leading to the cell. A safety net was stretched across the first floor to prevent suicide.
The building is warm and bright with clean floors. The doors are slamming loudly. The guards are tall, beautiful women. They have long legs and wear navy blue clothes. In our workshop, located on the ground floor, in a large cell, 7 women came, including an English woman, who did not stay very long because she was too emotional.
There are three Basques from E.T.A. and are letting us know they’re Basque terrorists. These three women are highly educated and smart, obviously the most gifted of the group.
One, the oldest, painted a flower and then said “You are right, ceramics are for women because they sit down and are quiet and will not move..”. Later, she asked me how she could learn more about this technique and where you can buy this material. I replied to her that later she could, eventually, do this work again (if she wishes). Later, she said, I’m not going out anytime soon!
A nice African woman, very religious and Christian, spoke to us: I have two children, she said. Really? How old are they? One died at birth and the other died at 4 months! It’s destiny. But when someone asks me if I have children, as I gave birth to them, I say I have two.
Laetitia has three kids she can never see. She doesn’t see them but made 3 ceramics for each of them, as a Christmas gift. Melanie, a friendly blonde, painted a hedgehog surrounded by her children’s first names. She’s going to give them to her children as a gift. She says she’s going to spend more than 15 years in prison. Yannick, a strong woman, painted a cat from the Lisbon Palácio de Fronteira. She paints well.
We arrived at 2 pm and left at 5.30 pm. The guards gave us another 30 minutes because the women were very happy with us. Back the way we came. Tomorrow I will put their ceramic in the oven and go back next Friday to give it to them.
I went back and gave the tiles back to the women, but a week later, I learned that the director did not give them, because she said they could become weapons. I insisted they could keep them anyway, but never got an answer. I gave them a paper file with their works so that each of them would have a souvenir of their experience and paintings.
PARTNERS AND SUPPORTS
Département de Philosophie de l’université Paris 7
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