The youngsters at the Avlona juvenile prison are much older than their years, burdened by the time they?ve spent behind bars and the time still to serve. With their T-shirts and sports shoes, their moves both jumpy and languid, they are like teenagers everywhere. But their eyes are the eyes of those who lost their way, who sank into a sea of narcotics and crime, who lost the trust of their loved ones, whose hopes betrayed them (if they had any to start with), who carry the burden of guilt, who don?t quite understand what has happened to them, who are suspicious of everyone.
They committed crimes and were convicted. Alone, vulnerable, forced to survive on their own, they live every person?s nightmare. Uprooted from all they knew, they have the eyes of one who expects nothing good. Life, though, wants to break through.
When they are given the opportunity, some attention – when someone asks them to win his respect – the difficult road begins. The road from defeat and fear toward the risk of hope and participation does not open on its own – it demands people on both sides of the iron bars to give all that they have. It demands a society which, despite all the problems it faces at all levels, does not forget its most vulnerable members, those who are locked in the hold of the listing ship.
Our society is careless – and often brutal – with children that it does not consider its ?own,? either because of their birth or because their behavior made them outcasts. But it is trying. It is trying to correct the mistakes and attitudes of the past. For some years now, the prison administration, along with other state and non-government agencies, has created a framework that allows the young prisoners to grow stronger, to start the long ascent, to use their time to get away from all that traps them.
Yesterday at Avlona, an hour from Athens, I saw life pressing forward. The children participating in the KETHEA-Strofi counseling program for young addicts laughed, smiled, and, very seriously, measured themselves against what they are up against. They sang, they played music with great passion, running through the repertoire of protest, of inflammable youth, of hope and pain. In the little space they have, they opened the way to an unexpected future. Their gaze – from indifferent, hostile or invisible – awoke and fluttered left and right, seeking recognition, understanding. It was a gift from those who would soon return to their cells. It was a gift from those who offered them the chance to create. ?It?s worth living so that we can meet each other,? the young prisoners said. They closed with a song, ?The Game?s Still On.?