Birth of a Prison

Social justice stickers. Brussels, March 2014.

You don’t have to have an eye for street art, to notice. Wherever you turn, in Belgium’s capital, there are stickers, and in the poorer neighborhoods, posters, denouncing the construction of a new prison. Located in Haren, in north Brussels, the prison-to-be is the stuff of post-modern fantasy.

Dubbed a ‘Mega-prison with a humane face’ by Flanders Today, the ‘open’ jail has all the trappings of a gated community, albeit one run by the police, with a minimum of visible boundaries. “A prison village,” in the words of Belgian secretary of state Servais Verherstraeten, replete with a courthouse, a hospital, and a workshop, the 1900 person facility is intended to kill two birds with one stone: alleviate overcrowding in city jails, and provide a smoother transition for its inmates, back to civilian life.

What’s the problem, then? For one, it blurs the distinction between prison and the outside world. The facility is so normal-looking, that, on the surface, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a retirement home. What purpose does such a disciplinary space serve – to make the distinction between jail and everyday life less obvious, or to get Belgians used to the idea of living in a maximum security state? It’s hard to tell, which is, perhaps, one of the motivating factors behind the intense, and omnipresent visual campaign in Brussels, against its construction.

The following flyers, photographed in March, will give you a good idea of the amount of anxiety the new prison is generating. Kit Rickard’s translations follow.


Saint Gilles. March 29th, 2014.
Saint Gilles. March 29th, 2014.



The state wants to build the largest ever Belgian prison in Haren, north of Brussels. This is part of a plan to build another nine new prisons. After years of revolts, mutinies and escapes, it will become the umpteenth weapon of power used to subdue the desire for liberty and lock up even more of the unwilling. This project is a model of what they want to do to Brussels: transform the city into a massive open-air prison. Urban replanning to chase us out, CCTV surveillance in the city, all sorts of uniforms, militarisation of public transport, securitisation of the business and European districts: Law and order must prevail, everyone must march to the beat of the economy and power. The state wants to crush anger against the world, put an end to the questioning of a society which thrives on exploitation and oppression.

Yet all plans can be stopped, all construction can be sabotaged, all power can be attacked. Let’s fight the construction of this prison. Let’s fight with all our will, in all areas of life, against authorities that would see us as prisoners. Let’s revolt against anything and everything that wants to enclose us.



The Marolles, March 22nd.
The Marolles, March 22nd.



Because this new prison will be another tool to crush the poor and rebellious. It goes hand in hand with bad living conditions, police brutality and the increased surveillance.

Because the authorities invest in the construction of prestigious projects for the rich and their various business, whilst the people can shrivel up and die, some of which will be in jail. Power is everywhere and only ever interested in protecting itself and its wealth.

Because we miss freedom and the joy of life. This new prison will add yet more layers of misery.
Because our desire to breathe as free men and women cannot be reconciled with the fact that there will be at least 1200 people locked up, subdued and dominated in this prison: 1200 men, women and kids.

Simply because the prison is an atrocity and atrocities are meant to be destroyed, not built.


(Full text found at


Translated from the French by Kit Rickard. Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.

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