CNN Photos

Inside a Polish 'sobering chamber'

While taking photos inside a Polish drunk tank, Kuba Kaminski expected to spend most of his time photographing society’s outcasts — people who lacked a family or job to steer them from the toxic depths of alcoholism.

Instead, he encountered people from all walks of life in the Warsaw facility.

Inside what Kaminski calls the "sobering chamber," bankers, diplomats and journalists shared rooms with panhandlers and the homeless, chatting in the nonsensical language of the inebriated.

"It reminded me of a bad dream," the 29-year-old Polish photojournalist said. "It was very interesting to me that people from different social classes could be in (the) same situation."

Kaminski photographed scenes in the sobering chamber over two months in 2010, pulling all-nighters after he'd finished his day job as a newspaper photographer.

A staff of four to five people, including a doctor, handled anywhere from 40 to 60 people each night, stripping them of their clothes and assessing them to decide whether to send them on to a hospital or keep them in the facility to dry out, he said.

Staff members told him that most patients were repeat visitors. Kaminski saw one person return in the same night.

In Eastern Europe, these police-run sobering-up stations originated in early 20th-century Russian republics and spread to neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. They began to appear in Poland thanks to a 1982 "anti-alcohol law" intended to rid the streets of visibly intoxicated loiterers and encourage sobriety.

Funding issues and concerns over treatment of visitors led to the gradual decline of the centers outside of Poland, where they remain one of the last remaining vestiges of the communist era. A 2013 report by Poland's Office of the Human Rights Defender cited violations of patients' rights to privacy and proper medical care. The report also recommended that control of the centers be upgraded to serve as "family assistance" centers that provide ongoing preventative treatment for alcoholism.

Because Kaminski was unable to show faces of the dozens of people passing through each night, his images are dark, blurry and contorted — an effect meant to convey the haze of alcoholism, he said.

He considered whether the abstract compositions could have the effect of dehumanizing or stigmatizing his subjects, but he decided it was important "to show the ugly face of the addiction."

"I wanted to do it like that because the more and more I visited the chamber, I realized that I wanted to show the point of view of a person who's in there," he said.

"Part of me wanted to stigmatize them; I wanted to show (them) maybe as a reminder of what alcohol can do."

- Emanuella Grinberg, CNN