Inside Rockenberg — Art in a Youth Prison

Gunnar Triebel
Oct 10, 2013 12:24PM

We spent a few days in a German youth prison, the so called Justizvollzugsanstalt Rockenberg, to curate a rather uncommon art project.

Roids (London), Horfèe & Ken Sortais (Paris), SatOne (Munich), Score & Fence (Berlin) met in Rockenberg prison which is situated close to Frankfurt am Main. While the international artists were painting the well protected walls, a selected group of young prisoners were assisting them. In the beginning of the project, all participants were excited to know how it would end. Especially the security staff found themselves in a tense situation because of the fact that ladders and scaffolds were in use next to the prison walls. The artists worked right next to the inmates' windows. This is why they had to deal with many rough remarks. Even the participating prisoners had their concerns. During the project, many amazing and meaningful conversations between the inmates, the artists and also the guards took place.

“I thought we wouldn’t be allowed to participate really, I thought it would be only ‘Clean up behind the artists!’. But they allowed us to really do something useful with them.”— Mohamed, inmate

All participating artists were working on their murals based on conceptual preparations. Most of the resulting works are influenced by the prison environment, the architecture and the people living inside the prison-walls.

“For us, when you do graff’ the feeling is interesting when you paint and you take the risk to paint. So here, this risk doesn’t exist. So we need to have this different risk in the image. It’s the risk of total composition.”— Horfée 
Rockenberg prison is supposed to be a place of learning.
A pleasing environment can foster the motivation to learn. The aim of the project was to maintain links between the prisoners’ lives inside and outside the prison in a positive way, to enable a life of social responsibility and also the integration into a social life. This includes efforts in art, culture, architecture and design to achieve lively, motivating and inspiring effects.
“Prisons have the tendency to be isolated places and so they do not seem to exist in the eyes of the public. I want to change that by showing the public how the environment in our prisons should be designed to make a successful release of the inmates possible. The art project is a way to enrich each other through positive impulses from outside the prison.” — Klaus Ernst, prison governor

Rockenberg serves to protect the public from further crimes. The prison requires the safe accommodation of the young, all male inmates, as well as confronting them with the consequences of their individual offences. It further demands the active participation of the prisoners in order to overcome their criminal orientations and to allow the emergence of a responsibility for their own actions.

It’s a project with a change which will remain, not like a theater project which comes and goes. We will see these walls day by day.” — Jacub, inmate

We want to say thank you to all the young inmates, the artists, the prison management and guards, Mathias, Agnes, Kent and Montana Cans.

More pictures here 

Pictures by DRAW A LINE. Due to privacy reasons the inmate's names have been changed.

Gunnar Triebel