Fatima fell in love with her English teacher. Leili had an affair. Rai Hanna divorced a husband who forced her into sex work. Shabona ran away from her abusive husband, a seventysomething man she had been forced to marry at 13.
Instead of support from family, friends, or social services, all four Afghan women received prison sentences for allegedly committing zina
, or a "moral crime."
Sadly, their experiences are not unique. Human Rights Watch estimates
that half of all women imprisoned in the country are serving time for so-called moral crimes, which can range from adultery to running away from an abusive parent or spouse. Even being a victim of rape can land a woman behind bars.
Photographer Gabriela Maj first began photographing female prisoners accused of moral crimes while on assignment in Afghanistan in 2010. During that trip, she visited Badam Bagh, a prison outside Kabul. Hearing the stories of the women incarcerated for what seemed like unimaginable offenses, she said, was a "powerful experience."
"I met a handful of young women, who were in most cases much younger than myself, who had been through lives of tremendous trauma and who were living with a horrendous amount of uncertainty," she said. "They were also caught…in a justice system that was a fun-house mirror of what the justice system should be."
She returned to take more photographs — and hear more stories — over the next four years. The result of her visits is Almond Garden
a book of portraits that takes its title from the English translation of the prison's name.
Maj spoke to Refinery29 from Dubai about what she learned from the project and how being a woman helped her tell these powerful stories. Ahead, are powerful images that capture life inside Almond Garden's four walls. For more information about Almond Garden, or to purchase the book, visit Maj's site here