Not a ‘different way of life,’ but ‘not a life’ at all

A former detainee recounts his experience of the disciplinary system: «I started my career in Avlona Prison at the age of 18-and-a-half. It was a university for crime: drugs, assaults with knives and iron bars… I then went to the Nafplion Prison where the prison staff let ‘smack’ in freely. I’m very bitter about the system.» A female inmate who did time at Korydallos Prison, northern Athens, gives a hair-raising account: «Life in prison is not a different way of life. It is not a life. The people in prisons are the living dead,» she said. «In wards meant for 10 prisoners there are 30. They have installed triple beds and between them camp beds without proper bedsteads. There’s no room to sit and there are cockroaches everywhere. The only place the inmates can move about in is in the corridors. They spend their whole life in a corridor of 2 to 2.5 meters. Do you realize what that means? They go to and fro, for hours, for days, for years. I met women who were on life sentences and who had been doing this for 16 years. Can you imagine what happens to someone after spending time in such places? After six to eight years, that person breaks down. They end up grovelling and snitching on others. There is supposedly communication – a visitors’ room, just half an hour behind a pane of glass, so that you don’t touch anybody.» «I’m a conscientious objector,» said a 20-year-old youth serving a four-year sentence. He describes his experience in the military prison in Corinth. «My short experience taught me that prison is a warehouse for people. In the two-and-a-half months I spent there, I experienced the power wielded by the chief guard; he could come into my cell whenever he liked and force me to sleep with the lights on. Prison is a never-ending waste of time. Sexual deprivation is particularly difficult to cope with.» N.K., who has managed to kick his drug habit, said: «I started doing time in 1990. I have spent about four-and-a-half years in various disciplinary warehouses. I first went to prison when I was 17 for petty theft. In prison, feelings are repressed. For my punishment, I had to share a cell with three other people, I couldn’t be alone even to go to the toilet and I couldn’t breathe. In prison you feel as though you have no right to even sleep. As soon as I got out I kept the doors open, so as to move about freely and find drugs more easily. The people I met in prison drove me toward drug addiction. At 17 a hate was born in me and I turned against society. The conditions inside make you react, so I had to put up with further disciplinary action. The most humiliating thing was getting leave after being in prison for a long time and then having to go back to jail. They made me defecate in case I was carrying drugs. Isn’t there a law against that?» Strong rule weak «Prison is a microcosm of society. The strong rule the weak, with no chance of solidarity either. If someone fights back, he is sidelined by those who are in on the deals.» E.P.’s experience in Korydallos was a nightmare. «The first word that prevails in my mind is humiliation, from the detention center to the prison. In my cell there were four of us girls in a double bed, side-by-side. If you don’t have money to buy your bed linen from the prison shop, then you have to spend the entire winter with an army blanket or a mattress on the floor. There is also no first aid if something happens to you.» These accounts were heard at an event organized by the Initiative for Prisoner Rights’ group.