House of Certainty: Ukrainian Prison Design

Photos and Text by Misha Friedman

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Can we learn what is unique about Ukraine, a country in a perennial identity crisis, by looking at interiors created without any grand vision nor official protocol? Guards and prisoners design these spaces to look homey, as they understand such a concept. This documentary project, though encompassing 15 prisons, focuses on conjugal rooms and prisoner barracks. I've set to explore the concept of Panopticon (The House of Certainty, as defined by Foucault) after photographing in Odessa's pre-trial detention center which was build in the 19th century in that shape, where guards sit in the center of a circular building able to effortlessly see everything and everyone in their cells. Observing decor in conjugal visitation rooms and prison barracks turns viewers into these Panopticon guards, but it’s not just prisoners who are seen, it’s the whole national identity.

In Ukraine, the prison population rate is much higher than in Western Europe—77 in Germany versus 167 in Ukraine per 100,000 of national population. Being incarcerated is not an unfamiliar concept when every family can relate. Though the ongoing prison reform entails decrease in this number, prisons will continue to shape Ukrainian society. With increased access for human rights monitoring organizations, this project is an opportunity to document a culture that has evolved mostly unseen by external observers.

More images from this series can be licensed via the Getty Images website