A place to lose your senses

When the metal door clangs shut behind you, that’s when you realize you’ve reached the gates of hell… And then slowly, the loneliness, the pressure, the lack of freedom, begin to work under your skin… It all builds up, you go mad, look for an outlet… but where? At first, you resist the idea of taking drugs but there comes a moment when you want to get high to get away from reality. You take various drugs, sedatives, then you go on to mixing them up or washing them down with moonshine liquor… hoping for the nirvana which will allow you to fly though the bars of the prison, far away and free… Well, from that moment, you’re on the road to nowhere…» Having served a sentence of five years for aggravated theft at the Korydallos prison complex, Iordanis, 44, is now trying to rebuild his life. But he can’t help recalling the hours and minutes he spent inside, and he sweats with «fear and anxiety» for the friends he left there. Kathimerini talked to him last Friday in Piraeus. Despite our journalistic credentials, it was only with difficulty that he could be persuaded to talk. «Even outside, I’m not safe.» But the mention of the three women detainees who died recently within their cells from a cocktail of pills and heroin unlocked his tongue. Laconically, in curt phrases, he described what he saw, suffered and learned in jail. He talked about the strangling sense of being trapped, which paralyses all resistance to artificial outlets. «They creep up on you slowly and gradually… and after you have won the confidence of the big shots who control almost everything, you can find whatever you want, as long as you have money… Heroin, pills, tobacco, aspirin, tsipouro, wine and even whisky… Even if you don’t have money, you can still get whatever you want. You get your dose in exchange for your personal stuff and when you’ve lost that – by now you’re an addict – you sell yourself.» Iordanis stopped. He took a deep drag on the roll-up in his hand and sipped his Turkish coffee with the air of being up before an uncomprehending audience. «In prison, you have to do various things to pass the time or to forget, for some moments, where you are.» When asked what he meant, he replied, in considerable irritation: «Are you kidding me? Didn’t you see what happened to the three girls in the women’s prison? Why do you think they did it? They wanted to forget where they were.» Had not their own actions landed them in jail? «That’s another story. It’s our fault we go to jail and that’s why we pay a terrible price.» But he added that prison was unbearable at times. «Then you drink your cocktail and take a trip from reality.» There were, of course, inmates imprisoned for drugs who «continue to do the same thing they did outside. They’re on a permanent high… Perhaps some of them want to be in this state so they don’t bother people. They don’t get mixed up in anything; they don’t exist. And if they die, who will cry for them? At the most, maybe a mother or some fiance.» Drugs, he explained, are supplied by «certain individuals» who get them from relatives and then sell them through accomplices on the cellblock. «Sometimes, even if you don’t want to get mixed up in ‘parties,’ you get pressured into doing so and because we all live in fear of our lives. We give in and get caught in the drug ring’s nets.» If, during a cell search, warders disrupt such a «party,» then «the newest member will take the rap for all the old hands… they’ll send him to solitary for a few days and then he’ll come back. It’s a recycling system. There’s no need to do anything smartass; the smartasses are all six feet under…» Iordanis himself had been sent to solitary. «I was covering up for older and more powerful cons. If I’d been able to, I’d have done otherwise. It’s difficult in solitary. You feel like the walking dead. As soon as you hear the clang of the corridor door, you stick your head – if it fits, of course – through the window in the cell door to see if it’s your turn to leave and return to the cellblock. In solitary, you lose your sense of time.» He stopped speaking again and indicated a scar over his left eyebrow. «I got it when I was in solitary and I was beating my head against the wall, wanting to punish myself,» he said, sweeping his hair back over his forehead to conceal the mark again. «They sent me to solitary because I didn’t snitch on other cons who’d had a party with tsipouro they’d brewed themselves, pills and aspirins, which they’d crushed and put inside their cigarettes. I paid for it, but I was safe and sound. But I think we’ve already said too much,» he said, falling silent. Tomatoes filled with heroin The most recent haul by warders during routine checks of parcels bound for inmates were tomatoes stuffed with heroin. When the courier, a prisoner’s mother, was arrested, she tearfully disclosed that her son had asked her to bring him small amounts of heroin – even providing a supplier. Prison authorities have recorded dozens of smuggling methods. «Selling drugs inside prison is highly profitable, and so some convicts’ relatives risk everything,» warders told Kathimerini. «Some do it for their child and others for the money.» The best-known methods are tossing tennis balls that have been filled with heroin into the prison yard. Drugs can also be smuggled inside shoe soles, clothes and food. Shoelaces are soaked in heroin. Convicts returning from leave swallow small bags of heroin which they retrieve in the toilet. Others deliver a small amount of heroin via a French kiss when visiting. But drug rings constantly find new methods, since annual profits are estimated at nearly 3 million euros.