For the 41 inmates of KATK (drug dependency treatment center) at Elaionas near Thebes, the place is best described as the beginning of a return to the land of the living. All are serving a prison sentence at the same time as going through a program to ween them off drugs. Its completion lays the basis for their easier rehabilitation into society. Most would call themselves lucky to be there, regarding it as an escape from ordinary penal institutions. «When they brought me here, I couldn’t believe it. I kept looking behind me to see if the prison van would go out of the gate, to check that I’d be serving my sentence here,» Alexandros, 24, told Kathimerini. He was serving slightly over a year at the center. «There are activities, we take part in vocational training workshops,» he added. Early September saw another visitor to the detoxification center, Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras, as part of a tour of the country’s penal institutions. «The State treats the user as victim, and the dealer as victimizer. The State’s aim is to cure, and not to punish, the user. I admire the struggle you’re engaged in,» he told the 41 inmates. The two-year-long drug-addiction treatment program is divided into three phases. Participation is voluntary, and the prisoner must have served one-fifth of his prison term in another detention center and have been selected by a special committee. The first phase is a transitional one. The prisoner serves out his sentence and attends a detoxification program at the same time. The second phase, lasting at least eight months, is described as a mental weening period which takes place at special KATK centers. As independent communities, the centers resemble a collection of small houses rather than cells. Each house can accommodate six inmates. The third and final phase involves re-entry into society and lasts one year. The inmates work outside the center, though they remain under its protection and continue to live there. Behind the KATK fence, each of the 41 inmates has their own story. «I sold pills at big parties and, at some point, they caught me. Then, I liked looking at people enjoying themselves and thinking that I was behind that. Now, if I could, I’d change everything. What I’ve been through was a huge ordeal. However good conditions are here, I miss my parents, my house, going out in the evenings, summer swims.» «Not a moment goes by when you don’t think of the outside. It doesn’t stop being a jail, inside here,» Alexandros confessed to Kathimerini. Kornilios, his housemate, frets over the future, as indeed do all of them. «It’s necessary for it to get out to the outside world, the efforts we’re making to break the habit, for people to learn about it and treat us without prejudice,» he told us. However, Papaligouras’s comment on the need to expand intake («it’s a shame that there are only 41 drug addicts on a 27-hectare site») was dismissed by staff. Raising the number of inmates to over 80-100 would turn the treatment unit into an ordinary institute, placing the effectiveness of the program in danger, they said.