Documenting teen angst in a Czech detention centre

An intimate and sincere portrait of young people growing up behind the walls of an isolated community

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Teenage life in a Czech detention centre
"Renata" (11-years-old) at the centre for nine months because she was ‘beating up other kids’Photography Hana Knizova

Photographer Hana Knizova’s documentation of a teenage detention centre in the north of the Czech Republic is an intimate and sincere portrait of isolated youth. Located in Hamr na Jezeře, a village with a population of just 400 people, Knizova has been interested in the centre since she was a child: when passing by she always wondered, with a mixture of fear and curiosity, what it might be like to live in that centre.

The teenagers, aged from early teens to 16, have been sent to the centre for various behavioural problems, ranging from aggression at school to petty crimes. Their length of stay varies from a couple of months to several years – and some of the children have spent half of their lives there. Knizova has been visiting the centre for over two years trying to understand and document life inside the isolated community.

“They have two buildings where they live, one for boys, the other one for girls. They walk to school in the morning – which is five minutes away – and have ‘free time’ in the afternoon. I think the guardians are trying to make an interesting programme for them – sports days, occasional trips to town, but otherwise they do what most teenagers do – hang out, watch TV, smoke,” Knizova explains. Establishing trust was an interesting experience for her: “I think anyone new coming from outside showing an interest in them is an exciting novelty. Most were super keen to have their photo taken, they even fought over my attention. But it depends on their mood too. They can get really upset out of the blue, argue with each other and won't let you close if they see that you’re talking to their current ‘enemy’. But overall they are great. I really liked a girl called Kacenka. She doesn't have a family and she asked me when I first visited if I was her mum.”

See more of Knizova’s work here

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