Human’s unending megalomania has lead to constant attempts to get rid of whoever proves their fragility and imperfection. We find this in places like the now defunct psychiatric asylum in Mexico called La Castañeda, whose hallways were witness to numerous forms of abuse to patients and prisoners for fifty eight years. It’s difficult to imagine what people are capable of doing to keep what they find uncomfortable out of their sight.
But La Castañeda was not the only place were the confined were mistreated by medical personnel. Across the world, and even during the twentieth century, people with disabilities, mental disorders, or those who were perceived as different would be subjected to electroshock therapy and other inhumane practices.
However, it’s not only those residing in psychiatric institutions that are mistreated by those charged with caring for them. Inmates at some prisons are also deprived of their dignity from the moment they step through those walls. Instead of rehabilitation, the inmates only endure the violence inflicted from guards and authorities. One of these prisons is found in Brazil, where there’s no room for more people.
Photographer Tommaso Protti has documented the horror lived by the inmates at some of the most overpopulated penitentiaries in the world. Brazil falls only behind the United States, Russia, and China in the list of countries with the largest inmate population in the world.
Brazil’s prisons are made to house 300 thousand inmates, yet the entire imprisoned population is close to 680 thousand. Not only that, but given that between 2008 and 2014 the population went up by 33%, we can only imagine that this number is not going down any time soon.
Protti’s pictures are not only testimony to the current life of these men and women, but of the disaster that approaches. Since the penitentiary system continues to be seen as a way of keeping certain people out of society’s reach, the methods of helping the at-risk population from committing crimes are still far from being successful.
After seeing these images, we can only ask ourselves if this is the right way to find justice. There are several people fulfilling long sentences for minor crimes. If they remain in these conditions, it’s unlikely they'll find true rehabilitation or ever be able to leave. What’s true is that the loss of their human dignity has left them incapable of leading a functional life after their release.
Like Protti, there are other photographers who have documented the abuse people suffer in institutions meant to help them. Here's the artist who captured the terror of mental asylums in the seventies.
Tommaso Protti Web
Translated by María Suárez