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Vance Jacobs

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Picture Show: Inside a Colombian Prison

As the home of the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, the city of Medellín, Colombia, used to be one of the most violent places in...

As the home of the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, the city of Medellín, Colombia, used to be one of the most violent places in the world. Today, the cells and grounds of its Bellavista prison are largely populated with people who grew up in and around the city. It's an intimidating place, to say the least, yet as is evident in the images of Vance Jacobs's photographic series "Colombian Prison: A View from the Inside," even within the confines of prison walls can the beauty of the human spirit be observed. On the invitation of the Centro Colombo Americano, an English language school for Colombians in Medellín, Jacobs ventured to the Bellavista prison with an inspired assignment: to teach documentary photography to eight inmates in one week.

"One of the things that gets the inmates' attention is responsibility, that there is a stake in what they do. In this case, their ability to work together as a team, and to pull this together in a very short amount of time would determine whether other similar projects were done not only at this prison but at other prisons in Colombia," says Jacobs. "Once they bought into the idea that there was a lot at stake, they really applied themselves."

After that week-long effort, the project was exhibited not only at the prison, but also at the Centro Colombo Americano, for the families of inmates. What follows is a selection from those photographs, all of which were taken by inmates (who must remain anonymous) except for those taken by Jacobs (where noted).


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