Family Stranger

What if the person you trusted the most committed a crime and ended up in prison? Many people can’t imagine their family member committing a crime. Neither did the people I met.

‘Family Stranger’ is about the families of prisoners after they find out that their family member has been convicted of a crime. The family has ethical questions to deal with and because of this their relationships with one another can come under severe strain. A long process of re-evaluation has to begin. Family members find themselves assessing the relationship with the criminal family member, reflecting on their love for them and whether they can live with what they have done.

The purpose of Family Stranger is to create awareness of the struggles that families endure when it emerges that a family member has committed a crime. I noticed that this is not an easy subject for families to talk about. Most of the children I spoke for the project were concerned that it could create more distance with people around them and don’t like talking about it. Often, adults also experience the topic as taboo, or at least very difficult.

Through my project I want to show that the family around and beyond the prisoner is also ‘convicted’. The members of the family can experience a kind of imprisonment in their own world.

I admire the strength of these families. They try to continue with their lives as positively as possible, but at the same time they are often confronted with hard realities about the choices made by their criminal family member.

Family Stranger depicts the diversity of the ways in which families deal with this situation. Some of the families shown have decided to end their relationship with criminal family members. Others try to get to know each other again after a few years of separation: in effect the lives of these families continues whilst the criminal enters a sort of time capsule.

During my research for Family Stranger, it became clear that despite their varied circumstances, each family has gone through some of the same phases. The book is divided into three periods. The first starts when a family member is arrested and continues until the family is in contact with the arrested family member. The second period deals with the period/time when their family member is in captivity. And the third is the period after the release. Each period is divided into corresponding (invisible) phases in this project, and it’s these phases that have determined the order of my photos.

I enjoy it when steps are taken at a skip and cross-links are made; when there is little said and shown but much is implied, and when stories are visible and sense-able between lines and photos. I treat my photos as poems, with their own rhythms, metaphors and symbols.

I have seen that honesty, expressions of regret, and forgiveness, are essential to surviving together.

All images & content © Wiosna van Bon. No unauthorized use.