Occitanie: love behind bars

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The prison population exceeded 70 thousand inmates in France. Little known units of family life foster romantic relationships in designated spaces.

Love stories often begin on social networks. They rarely end up behind prison bars. By the key, the birth of a child between four walls, in the relative intimacy of the small family parlor where the hours are counted. Sandra has just given birth to a small child from an ongoing relationship with her husband, who is imprisoned in a detention center in the south of France. She chose between the supposed renunciation of a “normal” emotional life and the shackles of an idyllic person behind bars. “I would never have accepted a romantic relationship with a man who had no shoulders to carry my past and utensils on,” attests this young mother in her thirties who has gone four years through the gates of a prison world to find the person who became the father of her child. A man serving a long burglary sentence. Their relationship began in 2017. “I was at home in Toulouse and was checking my messages on my mobile phone. A guy sent me an invite on Facebook. I told him in a foul tone ‘Who are you?’ There are dating sites to flirt with! And then the conversation continued.” He told me, I’ve been in it for several years. I understand then that he is in prison.”

I calculated my visits according to the period of ovulation.

A few weeks later, Sandra was imprisoned for a year in a remand center. But the two lovers do not lose the thread. As soon as I got out of prison, I asked to visit the rooms to see him. They were rejected for me. So we continued to create a bond strong enough to give the prison administration to me. We were talking about children. I already had some and he didn’t.” For two long years, the couple maintains a virtual relationship. Love letters and family life plans until the first meeting and the long-awaited moment at first sight.” I arrived at this salon with great excitement. The meeting lasted for an hour and at no point did I want to go back. Nothing will make me change my mind.” In a family parlor, one winter morning, Sandra and her companion let their bodies talk. Two tables, a chair, linens laid on the floor to ease the hug. We had to preserve this moment of intimacy. The living room is comparable to a chest no bigger About 10 square meters where you can hear outside noises. I took a massage oil because we are not in a perfect place. In the visiting room it is hard to let go.” The family visitation rooms in the prison administration are the characteristic vehicle of the family relations of the imprisoned person. “We stay there six hours a day, feeding and talking. There was this strong anticipation of pregnancy. Every month, I would count my visits based on my ovulation period. But it didn’t work.” Until February 2021 when Sandra got pregnant. “My companion was over the moon! I surprised him by going into the visiting room. My daughter put the ultrasound machine in an envelope with pink paper indicating that it was a girl. He saw that it was a boy and he jumped for joy. It was a moment of great happiness.” After family visits, the couple find themselves with their newborn in an apartment, a T2 called the Family Life Unit, inside the prison. Living room, kitchen and bedroom with double bed for extra comfort. Each visit is somewhat like an expedition, as the child’s belongings require a lot of organization. “When you’re inside, you have to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything because it’s impossible to go out to get a bottle or a diaper.”

The prison administration allows this type of stay for 72 hours, once a year and 48 hours every month. Sandra and her partner learn about fatherhood and learn about life together for a few days. “Sometimes I tell myself I’m crazy for allowing myself two days in prison when I know one year in prison,” ironically, Sandra is planning to marry the father of her child. Being clear about the future, she does not evade the difficult problem associated with any release from prison. Reintegrate his wife, return to freedom and put him as a father into a life where he now has to take his place. “I lived my pregnancy alone. I am planning to have other children. To share these moments with him.”

“Preparing for the reintegration of detainees”

Living room with sofa, kitchenette and TV, bedroom with double bed. T2 is a cozy vacation rental with sparkling decor and accessible homeware. But it has nothing to do with a traditional seaside holiday resort, the apartment in question is in the Moreh Detention Center that accommodates prisoners sentenced to long prison terms (see photo). This type of accommodation is called a Family Living Unit (UVF) that allows prisoners to receive their loved ones in complete privacy.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the unit aims to “encourage the responsibility of the detained person in receiving his visitors with regard, in particular, to the conditions of the restoration.”
These living quarters in detention centers also prepare for the reintegration of detainees who can benefit from a 6- to 72-hour UVF visit (Section 36 of the Prisons Act of November 24, 2009). As of July 23, 2019, UVF 170 operates in 52 prison institutions in France. The prison administration also has family visitation rooms aimed at maintaining links between relatives. These are closed rooms with an area of ​​\u200b\u200b12-15 square meters. “They allow any detained person to see their relatives for a maximum of 6 hours during the day.
As of July 23, 2019, 124 family visiting rooms were in operation in France, spread over 33 prison establishments (including 27 also equipped with UVF).

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