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#Greece: The Struggle Against Prison Reform: Two Stories Reveal the Abuse of Power of District Attorneys in Prison

The new correctional bill proposed by the ”radical left” Syriza, is a regressive legislation which has sparked continuing protests in six correctional facilities across the country and a 31-day hunger strike carried out by two anarchist prisoners.

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Published by Enough is Enough, based on Athens Indymedia and Tokeli. Translated by Black Cat.

Note: Enough is Enough is not organizing any of  these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

Greece: The Struggle Against Prison Reform: Two Stories Reveal the Abuse of Power of District Attorneys in Prison

The new correctional bill proposed by the ”radical left” Syriza, is a regressive legislation which has sparked continuing protests in six correctional facilities across the country and a 31-day hunger strike carried out by two anarchist prisoners.

The bill attempts to redefine prison furloughs from an authoritarian perspective, eradicate the democratic procedures currently followed by the prison council (at least on paper), reintroduce solitary confinement and dehumanizing vaginal inspections, legitimize the use of violence against prisoners even in instances of passive resistance, adopt force-feeding as form of retribution against hunger strikers and prohibit incarcerated parents from being able to sit close to and touch their children during visiting hours and while the latter will be mandatorily institutionalized, incarcerated parents will automatically lose custody. As a response to the peaceful protests, the Prison Guard Association decided to strike during visiting hours in the final week of November, while on December 18th units of the antiterrorism police intruded a correctional facility in the city of Patras and carried out unscheduled transfers of five prisoner representatives who were subsequently led to separate correctional facilities. Moreover, one of the hunger striking anarchists was assaulted by a group of prisoners after his transfer in a general population ward, following a lengthy period in solitary confinement. Despite the escalating repressive measures, prisoners on the island of Corfu joined the protest on the 29th of December.

Should the new correctional reform pass, district attorneys will be endorsed with a veto power capable to overturn decisions taken by prison councils, which in fact will undermine the democratic operation of prisons and promote authoritarianism. Although the so-called ”democratic procedures” often exist only in theory as countless prisoners suffer the consequences of the punitive and arbitrary actions of district attorneys, the legalization of such abuse of power will only facilitate other conservative reforms and establish an obvious turn to a retributive system of justice that no longer serves the purpose of rehabilitation.

This piece intends to highlight past and current experiences of prisoners in a system that is already broken and needs to be reformed based on the effect of policies on the experiences of prisoners while validating and considering the opinions of incarcerated individuals in order to safeguard their human rights and re-entry to society.

The two stories that follow are separated by a seven year gap and illustrate the trauma of living in an authoritarian and disciplinary environment that fails to offer any support. They show how power relations between prisoners and prison authorities manifest an abusive regime that invalidates lives behind bars, causing tremendous physical and psychological pain to prisoners and their families and leaving no option but to fight back in any way considered appropriate for asserting their rights; the right to see one’s family, the right to attend one’s courses at university. Things that most of us take for granted every single day.

Vaggelis Pallis, prisoner activist, 2010

It’s Saturday, 28th of August 2010, 8am. The cell doors on the first floor of the D section of the Trikala Prison opened. I came out of cell number 5 and shouted two sentences. The first sentence, which comprised of three words, was not made known by anyone. The second one, that circulated around, contained four words: For honor and decency. Then, I stood before a camera that was placed at the end of the corridor and forcefully stuck a piece of glass in my throat which I then dragged to my right. I was transferred to the hospital and was immediately put in the operating room. Inside the prison, rumours in the surrounding wards amplified the lie that I was attacked by other inmates and possibly killed, but by the time the prison closed down at night, those rumours came to an end since the whole incident had been recorded by the security camera.

At the same time, the doctors were telling my family and friends that the chances of my survival were few. I spent 42 days in the intensive care unit of two hospitals and then I was taken back to Trikala prison, on the first floor of section D1, cell 5, which was the same cell I was housed in earlier. I was in a very bad condition. I was on a wheel chair and my cell mate, Chiotis Benjamin, who worked in the kitchen, looked after me day after day and helped me get up, go to the toilet and eat. For an entire month until I managed to be able to stand on my own two feet, I was fed and taken to the toilet by my cell mate. I had gone to the prison council to submit my application to furloughs, on my wheelchair, pushed by my cellmate.

Previously, the district attorney had announced that I should not bother filling up applications for my right to regular furloughs, because I was not going to receive any for as long as she was in charge. During my first appeal to furloughs, on the 7th of June 2010, the district attorney asked to hear the reasons I cited for my right to furloughs. I answered that I WON’T BEG FOR MY RIGHT TO FURLOUGHS, I DEMAND THIS RIGHT AND WILL FIGHT TO GET IT. On that same day, the district attorney, in a very aggressive manner, declared that there was no possibility to grant me a furlough. Four months later, on October 13th 2010, following the incident of 28th of August, the D.A. did not ever dare to look at me as I went to the prison council on my wheelchair. I was granted the right to furloughs without being asked a single thing about what had happened.

The struggle continues.…

P.S. I won’t forget those who attempted to deconstruct my words and actions in the prison struggles I participated, for honor and dignity. I also don’t want to forget all those prisoners that have intentionally gone against the activist movement in prison and the legal rights they managed to establish from the 80s and onwards; the prisoners that stay close to the prison guards, those who sell drugs to become powerful and collaborate with the prison service to be able to do so, in order to enforce the ”peaceful operation of the prison”.

I always stress the importance of one thing: prison struggles that ”wink” at the enemy not only allow for established rights to be repealed but trivialize the meaning of struggle; struggle that intends to safeguard human rights and abolish tombstone laws and decrees that affect negatively political and activist prisoners.

P.S.2 I always believed that written applications with a protocol number must be kept by prisoners in multiple copies, since they will become a useful instrument for the struggles to come.

Vasilios D., incarcerated law student, 2017

The day before yesterday, I appeared before the prison council in Korydallos, which was to process an appeal I had submitted three weeks ago, regarding educational furloughs. I was told by the D.A. that my application was rejected.

Yesterday I submitted another application through my attorney, with the request to fulfil the conditions set by the Common Ministerial Decisions regarding distance learning, since I had managed to be admitted to the university but so far the correctional system has attempted to cut me off from education, despite the fact that my education as a prisoner is ”guaranteed” in this country.

At the same time, I clarified in my document that ” Despite the fact that the prison council was asked to consider my human rights, during the processing of the application I was told that my appeal was rejected because I had not managed to pass the first two modules of my course just yet.”

At the same the D.A. advised me in three different instances (with a scolding tone) ”not to make any trouble” because ”there is a rumour that I disturb the peaceful operation of the correctional facility”. I do not know if claiming my human rights falls within the scope of such ”disturbance” -but if that is the case, I indeed proceeded to that disturbance and will continue to do so, proud and resolute in my decision to move on a path of dignity and self-rehabilitation, despite the crashing difficulties I have encountered from the very same institutions. Regarding the rest, I asked and I ask again: if anyone believes that I wanted to act or indeed acted like a troublemaker and created any problems to the operation of the prison, they should formally accuse me of those actions so that I would be called to express my opinion on this. But I do not accept being scolded as if I am guilty just because someone heard something (the context of which was not even made known to me) and I would like to make this clear”.

What was the result?

I was called today before the prison council to ”sign a paper” which I insisted to read first. This resulted in me staying behind a closed door and when that door opened becoming informed that I was ”found guilty for a disciplinary breach which added30 degrees on my sentence”. I was not given any information on when, what, why, or what evidence this was based on.

This treatment comes as an escalation of the humiliating, degrading and even torturous conditions I have endured since the moment I stepped in Korydallos prison following a transfer which took place in order to supposedly facilitate my right to education; as a reward for being able to pass my exams with a distinction, enabling my admission to a higher education institution despite the inherent difficulties in my capacity as a prisoner in Greece.

The struggle to enforce the law, the constitution and the international conventions and recommendations for the enforcement of human rights, which include education, reveals the increasingly repulsive face of the State and its Correctional System, which now threaten my integrity.

Asserting one’s rights leads to disciplinary punishments. The real aim of today’s disciplinary prosecution and punishment, which took place without my participation, is to muzzle and hinder my effort to achieve and materialize human rights for me and my fellow prisoners, especially Higher Education students. I was punished for various reasons but not to ensure the peaceful operation of the correctional facility, which is the reason why the disciplinary law for corrections was created in the first place and includes counts of ”criminal nature” such as what I was charged with, the supposed ”disobedience”.

I state that I will continue my peaceful struggle until my last breath, despite the constant intimidation, the denigration and the harassment I am facing for our right to education and dignity and I won’t succumb to practices that are not aligned with the pillars of the democratic polity. I am asking for you to repeal your parody of a decision, which was made in my absence, while I was still standing behind a closed door, trying to find out the counts i was facing, the file number of the case and asking for a deadline in order to inform my attorney so that this process would at least have a veneer of legality and a trace of democratic aesthetic.

I am asking you to stop intimidating, hurting, humiliating and crashing people as if they were cockroaches, like those that take up every inch of this prison, just because prisoners claim their rights as humans. I am stating that in case this punishment I am facing for expressing my wish to be treated as human continues, I will proceed to a hunger and thirst strike until my body and mind would stop perceiving this torture.




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