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An Interview with Jen Osborne

Today’s featured photographer is Jen Osborne. For this year’s Photo Issue Jen spent two weeks with Maria “Show” Christina da Silva after she was released from the Talavera Bruce Women’s Prison in Rio de Janeiro. Maria had been in prison since 200...
July 20, 2011, 12:00am

Today's featured photographer is Jen Osborne. For this year's Photo Issue Jen spent two weeks with Maria "Show" Christina da Silva after she was released from the Talavera Bruce Women's Prison in Rio de Janeiro. Maria had been in prison since 2006, serving a six-year sentence for cocaine trafficking. She was released early due to overcrowding in Rio's prisons.

VICE: Hi Jen. Can you describe the moment Maria walked out of jail? Was that overwhelming for both of you?
Jen Osborne: I had been staying up late every night editing photos. I was only getting a few hours of sleep a night, so I was pretty tired. When you're really tired you become more emotionally susceptible to situations of high intensity like that. Some of the really tough girls from the prison were crying a little bit when Maria left because she was very popular inside the prison. She was somewhat of a ringleader inside. When she got out she was yelling "Wooo! Freedom!" She was singing, too—I have a recording of her singing a song about freedom. She had a beer pretty soon after we left. I was at the point where I could've cried, but I couldn't let her see me cry. That wouldn't be cool.

Do you think that drugs are a big part of her life? Or was it more of a "job related" thing?
She claims that her ex-husband, who left her while she was inside, by the way, got her into trafficking. She says she was fairly clean and crime-free before she met him. According to her, she used to make bikinis and sell them on the beach to tourists. But anyone who has a severe addiction—and Maria definitely has an addiction at the moment—is prone to telling fibs or elaborating on the truth. So I don't know, I just think she's an addict now. I don't really know what the past says.

Does she regret trafficking drugs, or just getting caught?
I think she gets depressed and hits low periods, which is common for someone using a lot of blow because their brain chemistry is being shifted. But no, she never expressed any regrets to me. She's a really entertaining and uplifting character. She was singing a lot, dancing a lot, wanting to party. But I also didn't see her when she was in her really low periods. She wasn't willing to hang out with me when she was hitting a low, so I didn't have an opportunity to see it. But on a side note, she did kind of regret leaving her children in the dark. Her children live with her other family members. When she first visited them after being released from jail, she asked one of them to come and live with her, and the kid said, "Mommy, I'll never live with you." She's got four kids and they disrespect her.

That must be tough for her.
Yeah. For me, that was the heaviest part of the whole story. The drug thing, it's pretty normal in Rio. There are a lot of traffickers, you know, people are desperate. They're just resorting to this type of lifestyle because they've got no other options. I'm cool with that. I don't think it's a healthy lifestyle, but if people have to do it, that's what they have to do. That statement affected me more than anything else. When I heard that kid say, "Mommy, I'll never live with you." I wanted to cry.