Christos Tsakalos: ”The Point is That People Should not Leave from Prison Dehumanized.” (Greece)
Originally published by TVXS. Translated by Black Cat.
”I am speaking neither as an anarchist nor as a member of the C.C.F.” Christos Tsakalos clarified as we spoke on the phone. ”I am speaking as a member of the Committee of Struggle from Korydallos Prison, which represents 1500 prisoners who have been protesting the past two weeks against the new correctional code, which will result in the violation of the basic rights of prisoners in case it passes”, he explains and highlights that there is an existing network in Greece’s prisons and the mobilizations will escalate if the government does not make concessions.
He also stated that a Ministry of Justice official who went to Korydallos Prison and discussed these matters with the committee found the demands to be fair. Nevertheless, he clarified that this was his own personal stance and not that of the Ministry. ”We will go to extremes because we understand that they are trying to create a prison within the prison” says Christos, who was detained in solitary confinement from 2015 through to 2017, on the other end of the phone line.
”When I returned to the general population from isolation, I realized that there is a plethora of educational and cultural programs that broaden prisoners’ horizons. The law put forth by the former Minister of Justice N.Paraskevopoulos, that aimed to decongest prisons did not alleviate the problem. Prisons become empty and then they become overpopulated again in two years. A van with ten prisoners could leave for court and return back with those same prisoners who would be bearing centuries in sentences. Those who represent a scientific viewpoint must answer, how is it possible that Greece has twice the number of prisoners in comparison to countries that have twice the population of Greece?”. Christos answers the question himself: ”Because in Greece there is a penal industry that breeds lawyers, judges, and in the future, companies such as the one that has taken on the ankle monitors. That’s how they commodify freedom.”
What are the basic points on the new correctional code that you oppose?
One of them is Article 54 paragraph 3 which changes the requirements in relation to furloughs. According to the current code when prisoners serve 1/5 of their sentence, they can claim furloughs that last a few days. The new correctional code gives an additional authority to district attorneys: the power to impose more restrictive conditions during furloughs, such as the use of ankle tethers or house-arrests through the use of an ankle tether. So this basically introduces the abolition of furloughs and the creation of a new type of prison.
Since there are records which document whether disciplinary violations have been committed by each prisoner as well as records of our behaviour during detention, we wonder why should a judicial authority decide whether or not we are entitled to furloughs. This will create exceptionally asphyxiating conditions because every prisoner will continuously feel like he/she is on trial. The cost for ankle monitors, which is 15 euro/day, will be paid off by prisoners. This means that an immigrant or a poor prisoner who can’t afford 15 euro a day, will not be qualified to get a furlough. So, the furloughs, that prisoners achieved through their struggles, become an issue of financial discrimination.
What would you answer to all those people who might agree with a stricter penal policy, because they might think that it is more important to reduce the chances of someone getting away and committing new crimes or having delinquent behaviour?
Greece has the highest number of pre-trial detentions and simultaneously the lowest number of given furloughs. The percentage of people who got out in order to return to criminal activities is the lowest in Europe. If the conditions within prison become stricter, the violence and the crime rate will increase. When the justice system adopts a retributive standpoint, that does not help either prisoners or society. Following the same logic we might as well re-introduce the death penalty.
Is the correctional code in the rest of the E.U. countries more fair?
Depending on the correctional code and the existing differences. The only thing for sure is that in many other countries trials are not entirely determined by the allegations of the police but evidence are also considered, which is something that does not happen in Greece. Also, in many cases, instead of applying the easy solution of pre-trial detentions which is common in Greece, milder forms of restriction are used such as ankle monitors. In the E.U., instead of placing thousands of people in remand, they use the ankle monitors.
So, you agree with the use of ankle monitors?
We do not agree with this ”Big Brother” system of surveillance but it could have been used in a previous stage, for prisoners to be able to get furloughs. In Europe for example, ankle tethers are used as part of a trial stage. We suggested this to the Ministry of Justice, when a prisoner has completed 1/5 of the sentence they would know what kind of prisoner he is and grant him a furlough if he has not violated any rules.
Why did you say that Article 11 of the new correctional code re-introduces Type C prisons?
The code says that for certain prisoners, who must be transferred to the court and back on a regular basis, there is the possibility for the district attorney to order their detention at the Police HQ or the Department of Prisoner Transfer, in order to prevent communication with other prisoners. But there are examples of trials that have lasted for two or three years.
This concerns a certain category of prisoners, right?
No, this is a matter that concerns the majority. Consider that approximately the total number of prisoners are charged with membership to a criminal organization. The police arrest five purse thieves or car thieves or five Pakistanis who did illegal activities together and charge them with this count. The D.A. is given the power to decide whether they will be placed in isolation in the police HQ or the Department of Prisoner Transfer, while it is well known that nobody would survive there. The conditions of detention there are torturous. It also says that while a prisoner is serving his sentence, the D.A. has the power to characterize him dangerous (for whatever reason) and as a result have him transferred to solitary confinement indefinitely. Currently, there is a ten-day limit. The new time limit is based on ”whatever the D.A. decides”. District attorneys are given excessive power. Unfortunately, this has been copy-pasted from Athanasiou’s bill in 2014, that the right wing did not dare to pass. If I may also add the degrading tactics followed during the process of body search. While they can search prisoners with the use of relevant equipment, they insist on removing our clothing just to humiliate us. They say things like ”Take off your underwear. Bend. ” etc. The guard in command decides how the search is conducted and he is not inspected by anyone in case he violates the code.
You spoke of the excessive power given to district attorneys by the new correctional bill. Are there more instances showing this?
Formerly, they used to respect the right to education. According to the new bill, the district attorney can interfere through the prison council and suspend or terminate a prisoner’s education. If we start mobilizing to improve the conditions of detention or the quality of food, they will label participants dangerous and send them to solitary confinement.
You met with the M.o.J.’s General Coordinator of the Correctional Facilities. What did he say to you?
Mr. Doulamis said that in his opinion we are right and our suggestions are justified. He said that this was his personal opinion. He also asked for the mobilizing to stop. We stated that it will escalate unless the ministry responds through its institutions.
In which ways are you protesting?
We have remained in the corridors from 12 to 3 o clock for the past two weeks. We refuse to abide by midday lockdown, so we sit outside our cells. All prisoners are taking part in this minimum form of protest. Next, we ‘ll go outside to the yard. Night-time protests, outside our cells and in the yard. We are not doing this because we are cool. We are only defending human rights. The point is that people should not leave from prison dehumanized.
How can this be achieved? Give us an example from life in prison.
Each person has his own way. Prison is condition of loneliness, even if you happen to be confined in a large facility like Korydallos, with another 1500 people. Each person copes differently. Some might decompress though their workout, others make new friendships, some make plans for ”the next big job” and others find comfort in memories of the past… I was really impressed by something though. I had noticed that on Fridays the corridors are full of people so I asked why and I was told that they did not have to go to school the day after. So the rest of the days, when the corridors were empty, the prisoners were studying. This is an example.
What about Dimitris Koufontinas and the reactions caused by his recent furlough?
The only provocative thing about Koufontinas’ furlough is that it was approved seven years too late… seven whole years according what the bourgeois justice and law of the state dictate. What’s interesting is that all the reactions against the furlough came from people, whose existence alone generates true reactions: politicians and journalists… No matter how much they edit the truth, they cannot hide reality… the image of Dimitris Koufontinas walking out of prison (even for a few hours) was received by most people in a way that’s appropriate for someone who did not bow… with a smile…