W. , 17, is from Zakhu, Kurdistan Region of Iraq. W is a teenager living in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and serving a four-month sentence in the Dohuk Juvenile Detention Center. “During exams [at school], a boy insulted me. He said bad words. When we came outside, we fought. Then, they transferred me here,” he explains. W. is not happy with the sentence and feels guilty about it. “My family supports me. My father is 60, he has never been to court or any trial in his life. It’s all because of me… in this hardship… it was all my fault. [...] We were a reputable family in Zakhu,” he says.

I might have no friends anymore [when I get out]. My elder brother will be my friend. He is a year older than I am. Just me and my brother. God willing, I will be released… It’s tough to return to what I was… way too tough…

Sports are one of the most important aspects of the rehabilitation process for the young men who find themselves in the detention centre. “Most inmates here love soccer. I think the main advantage is to keep them busy and to keep them out of trouble,” explains the sports coach at the centre. With football being so popular among the young detainees, it was essential to rebuild the football field and give them a space where they can play and learn to have a team spirit.

He leads a normal life in the center: he reads, helps out with chores, studies and is a big fan of football. “It makes me healthy. And I like it. Physical exercise improves your temperament.” But it was not easy when he first arrived: “Before being put in prison, when I said goodbye to my mother and father, I was thinking to myself that there must be really dangerous people here… I would need to control myself,” he says, “and stay out of trouble. Then, when I actually got it, I learnt that [the other prisoners] were not that bad at all. Only their heads were messed up but most of them are set straight by now.”

W. is learning his lesson at the Center and when he gets out, he knows he will try to be better: “When I get out of here, I will do no wrong whatsoever. [...] All I learnt here is that this is where you end up if you keep throwing tantrums, when you get angry and you can’t control it. So, I need to be more careful for myself and learn how to be more patient.”

© European Union 2019 / Johanna de Tessières

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