From the US Prison Strike to the Greek Prison Struggle: An Interview with Imprisoned Anarchist Christos Tsakalos
From It’s Going Down:
Below is an interview with Greek anarchist prisoner Christos Tsakalos that discusses the situation of heightened repression and resistance inside of Greek prisons, and discusses the influence of the US prison strike on Greek prisoners.
The following is an interview with anarchist political prisoner Christos Tsakalos who is currently in his 7th year of 180 year prison sentence in the Korydallos prison of Athens, Greece. He is accused of association with the revolutionary group known as the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire or CCF. Christos has refused to ever claim innocence as he refuses to kneel with remorse for acting against his enemy the state and capitalist society. He was caught while on the run from the state in 2011 in the city of Volos. He has been accused of bank robbery, participating in dozens of actions against the state and capitalism claimed by CCF, and given 115 years for a prison escape in itself. He has remained active throughout his time in prison, and has shown inspiring integrity in his refusal to cooperate or compromise with the state.
CCF was a group that was formed out of the December 2008 uprising in Greece that resulted from the police murder of a 16 year old boy Alexandros Grigoropoulos. The group saw defeat and futility in the street protests happening both in reaction to this murder, plus the dawning austerity of the 2008 crisis, and began a clandestine campaign of revolutionary action. With an extreme effort by the state to crack down on “terrorist” groups, CCF faced an extensive operation against them, resulting in the imprisonment of alleged and admitted members, plus a new dawn of modern surveillance and counter-insurgency strategies by the typically disorganized Greek state.
Christos is one of many political prisoners in Greece who have remained active in prison, and has openly declared solidarity with the prison strikes happening in the USA. There have been solidarity actions in Greece this year alone at the Korydallos and Larissa prisons of Greece.
This interview was intended to hear the voice of a long time political prisoner, as well as shine a light on new measures of repression that are being prepared for implementation and experimentation inside Greek prisons. As this is meant for an English speaking audience, and specifically North American audience, it is important to note that many of these new measures being planned for Greek prisons are measures that have been long in place in American prisons. The intention of this interview and information is to strengthen solidarity among enemies of the state across borders, and show how the American prison model of extreme degradation and sterile procedures in uncompromising captivity, are setting a precedent for the modern prison and state repression.
We would like to note that the interview and included information on the measures of repression taking place in Greek prisons are from Spring 2018. Due to the complications of receiving information on the outside from inside the prisons, the interview and response by Christos took many months to receive. The process of organizing the interview and information was a collaborative effort between anonymous international comrades and the local radio project Radio Fragmata. To stay up to date with political prisoners and repression in Greece, as well as solidarity efforts with the US prison strike in Greece we included a few websites that are most consistently relevant and updated. While the sites are in Greek, it is easy to open them on your desktop or smart phone and right click the page to translate the text to English.
Anarchist Radio From Athens
Fund in Solidarity with Imprisoned and Persecuted Fighters
Interview of Christos Tsakalos (member of the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire) on behalf of the Committee for the Struggle Against the New Correctional Code
Can you tell me a little about your background? Why are you in prison, your perspectives in the fight against prisons and generally the social state/condition today?
I am imprisoned since March 2011 following the invasion of the Special Repressive Anti-Terrorism Unit (ΕΚΑΜ) in a hideout of the CCF organization in the city of Volos.
I have been sentenced to 180 years in prison for involvement in anarchist organization, activity, an escape attempt… even for texts I have published through my cell.
In all my trials, I am defending the speech and the action of the CCF and I certainly have no regret for anything … maybe just because I did not have the time to do more.
During my years in prison I have participated in many mobilizations and struggles.
Although as an anarchist, I believe that prisons cannot be improved, but the road to freedom goes beyond their ruins, I do participate in struggles that seek to improve the conditions of detention. The reason is that I do not believe in the objective conditions that all prisoners will wake up one day and rise up against prisons. The prisoners are like society. Many are accustomed to their chains of slavery and do not react. So, these struggles to improve conditions may be some, but they can also act as an alarm or detonator, causing chain reactions. Besides,
I feel better when I fight for something than for being imprisoned except for the four walls of the cell also on… inertia.
What are the new state repression measures that occur in Greek prisons today?
This is the period when the new correctional code is about to pass. That is, all the regulations that apply within the prison. Essentially, these are rules that build a new prison within the prison. Indicative is the case of special detention conditions for the categories of prisoners accused of involvement in rebel organizations and organized crime (in Greece, 60% of prisoners are accused of organized crime, as this is the trick of judges to raise the penalties imposed).
Special conditions include separate detention facilities so that the detainees chosen by the prosecutor are isolated from their detained cellmates. We are talking about an indefinite period of isolation, a punishment without end.
Also, the new correctional code generalizes the electronic monitoring (electronic wristband) measure for prisoners entitled to furloughs (formerly they were not required to wear a wristband), thus widening the technological fascism of monitoring and at the same time enriching companies such as Group4 (Private manager the wristbands in Greece). At the same time, the prosecutor’s superiority in prisons is maintained, which basically decides on everything. Thus, the detainees are constantly in a punishment regime, as the prosecutor has the power to cut off their furloughs, discipline them, throw them in isolation. In their laws they say that the prisoner is only judged once for his deeds, but in Greece the detainees are judged and punished every day.
Lastly, it has become customary for the Special Repressive Anti-Terrorism Unit (EKAM) to invade the prisons, which usually happens very early in the morning, and abduct prisoners by force transferring them to other prisons.
The important thing is that the last abduction of prisoner (the anarchist K. Yagtzoglou accused of the CCF) was dealt by the detainees, who captured the prison, took the keys from the guards, smashed the cameras and lived, even for a few hours an unprecedented sense of freedom in prison.
Do these changes create a wider tension among all prisoners or only those considered enemies of the state?
All of these changes are initially projected as a targeted repression move of authority over the “dangerous” prisoners. In fact, journalists present these measures as the “antidote” for the action of revolutionary organizations, such as the CCF.
In reality, however, authority is not satisfied by striking only certain persons. Authority seeks to hit people’s choices. In fact, the new measures are hovering like an axe above the heads of all (not just political prisoners but also penal) making “dangerous” choices.
And what does “dangerous choices” mean. Any choice that challenges order and slow death in prison. So every protest for better prison conditions, every gesture of dignity, every act of disobedience, by any prisoner, multiplies his/her years of imprisonment with the provisions of the new correctional code.
Because, in fact, the new correctional code and its provisions, what they want to achieve through fear is to make the prisoner a warden of his/her own… And there is no worse thing than a human locked himself/herself in his/her cell by his/her fear.
Are there prisoners of different backgrounds who cooperate in resistance to these draconian (hard or unscrupulous state) changes?
Prison is probably the most multicultural place to meet people. Here are prisoners of all races, who live in the suffocating condition of the prison.
Through the mobilization against the fascist measures that tighten even more the prison walls, we have achieved to create a struggle community. Because the fight itself made many inside the prisons realize that the enemy does not have a different skin color or speak another language, it sits in the investigating offices and in the judicial benches blocking the years of our lives.
The mobilization against the new correctional code is a struggle that unites all prisoners, regardless of nationality, language, political status, or religion.
So, in overcoming all the fake segregation, we all came together…Greeks, Albanians, Arabs, Russians, Georgians, Kurds; all of us discontent inside the prison, to feel that we are a community of struggle.
The new changes to the correctional code functioned as an alarm clock for the prisoners, waking them from the lethargy of immobility in prison.
Besides, I do not believe so much anymore in the separation of political and penal prisoners. A captive human is a captive human without ideological signs. And we all get the same prison, we are locked in the same cells and the loss of freedom hurts us the same.
Besides, I think that people come together through common experiences and not according to how their libraries look like. The experience of prison is an overwhelming experience in which everyone experiences its endurance. It is a living death. And we, through our fight, are choosing life.
Have you heard of the prison strikes in the U.S.A.?
In the past, the news was very hard to learn in prisons. Usually only with a letter that arrived with many weeks of delay and enough censorship. Now things have changed. The voice of the prisoners escape from the prison walls and can reach the other corner of the world.
Usually for the American prisons, most people know what they know through the movies. In Greece, some books have been released for the 1960s and 70s about the struggles (mainly of the Black liberation movements) that took place in prison, such as the Attica prison uprising in 1971.
Recently, there has been a major information campaign on the struggle of prisoners in U.S.A. prisons against slavery (forced labor in jail for the benefit of large companies). In fact, solidarity texts were written by us, here in the Greek prisons, with which we expressed our solidarity in the struggle of the imprisoned brothers there. Because many people ignore what’s going on behind the walls and the locked bars.
That is why it is worthwhile for our voice to emerge as a sign that we refuse to bury ourselves alive. Because human will can bend rails and locks. Yes, the U.S.A. prisoners’ struggle is something well known.
The translations of texts that have been made helped a lot so that we can realize that slavery has not been officially abolished in the “civilized west”. It was very important that the fact that authority in the United States of America does not even bother to disguise its words, but clearly states that prisoners are considered slaves.
The prisoners’ response broke the basic condition of slavery … the silence. Because the worst that authority has achieved today is to transmit a climate of defeat that nothing is changing,
And a struggle is lost, not when you are imprisoned, but when you believe it is in vain. Prisoners in the U.S.A. have shown that a lost struggle is the one not given.
Do you think these changes are an attempt by the Greek state to sterilize the prisons from the few personal freedoms you have?
Surely the state wants to turn prisons into a sterilized zone. After all, many consider prisons to be the dump of society, a hidden place where wasteful shadow-men live.
For me, prison is not just the deprivation of freedom. It is the place of non-memory. Here people are forgotten, buried alive and their memory fades. Changes in the correctional code are burying us even more and they impose a quarantine condition in prisons, which even the little charms of freedom won by blood have to be shut down and shielded with the iron power of the law.
In the United States many of these measures have been standard and mandatory / forced for many years in federal and state prisons and are against political, social, violent and non-violent offenders. Do you think that this is the attempt of the Greek state to make repression more effective under the influence of the US state model?
Authority is exemplified, imitated and often duplicates management models from other countries. U.S.A. is a huge repressive engine that “inspires” aspiring imitator-tyrants.
Even at the level of the courts, an attempt is made to imitate the model of the telecourt (without the physical presence of the prisoner in the courtroom) that is being applied in other countries.
But as repression is experimented by adopting other models for our life management, both the rebellion travels from country to country carrying its own messages of resistance and attack. And it is certain that the rebels of the whole world have to share a common passion … the passion for life and freedom.
What kind of repression have you personally experienced through and during your resistance? The antidote of authority against every mobilization that challenges its omnipotence is fear.
At first, they tried to calm us with vague promises to satisfy our demands so that they could set us to sleep. Soon they realized that their fairy tale did not catch up and then the authority did what it knows best. It began with threats and fear expressed through vengeful transfers of active detainees – members of the committee. Thus, detainees were found in remote prisons extremely complicating visits and contact with their loved ones.
Also, the names of the detainees participating in the committee were requested as a sort of incrimination of the most “troublesome elements”, which should be isolated. Personally, I was informed that in the Ministry of Justice there were discussions about my return to isolation status (I was in special conditions of detention for 2.5 years in the Korydallos prison basement).
Finally, as a demonstration exercise of force, police incursions into prisons were allegedly pre-texted to have information about the existence of weapons, which was in fact an ultimatum of the authority to us to stop the fight.
How can people abroad show their support and solidarity for the struggle that is happening in men’s and women’s prisons in Greece?
As I have written in the past, prison is not just a deprivation of freedom; it is also the place of amnesia. Here people are forgotten, they become shadows, statistics of folders and numbers. The solidarity of the people outside the walls in the struggle of the prisoners is an act against the oblivion that authority is trying to enforce.
That is why it is very important to break the wall of isolation for what is happening in prison and the solidarity world to transfer our voice and struggle out to the great prison of society. So it will only be realized that the prison is a workshop of experiments for everything planned to happen in the world outside the walls. If we do not start from today to strike in every way (events, posters, radio shows, direct actions) the ugliness of the prison, then tomorrow it will be too late and we will be surrounded by walls visible and invisible.
The following information includes an account of some of the Greek state’s new measures of repression, as well as resistance and demands against it.
On October 16th of 2017, the new Correctional Code was filed for public consultation. In the 88 articles of the new Correctional Code, behind his blurred and vague formulations, there is a simple and straightforward translation; “the return of Type C prisons” regime and the replacement of permits and suspensions through the establishment of the electronic wristband and home confinement.” In the new Correctional Code, the existing authoritarian dominions of the prosecutor are expanded, not at all accidentally, as the chairman of the Correctional Code writing committee is the prosecutor of the Court of Appeal, Panayiotis Brakoumatsos. And all this under the mantle of progressive humanism invoked by the Ministry of Justice. It’s like placing the executioner to take care… the health of his victims.
Special conditions of detention in police stations and security sections, prohibition of communication with other prisoners, and isolation (Article 11, paragraphs 4 and 6 part k), degrading physical checks with the denudation of the prisoners (Article 21, paragraph 7), suspension of educational permits and possibility of classes’ attendance termination (Article 33, paragraph 9), electronic recording of any communication of the prisoner (Article 51, paragraph 1), replacement of the prisoner’s permits by the insertion of electronic surveillance (wristband) or home confinement (Article 52, paragraph 4 [mainly for foreign prisoners] and Article 54, paragraph 3 (for almost all the prisoners – there weren’t restrictions in Article 56 of the former Correctional Code), additional restrictions on educational permits by judiciary’s decisions (Article 56, paragraphs 1 and 4), parole’s replacement and release from prison under terms by the insertion of home confinement (Article 58 , paragraph 4 – Article 60 of the former Correctional Code did not introduce such restrictions). And all these under the absolute authority of the prosecutor, who has the capability (Article 53, paragraph 4) to contest any positive proposal by the majority of the prison’s council and appeal to the Court of Penalties rejecting the prisoners’ permits.
Also, the promotion of the electronic wristband and the house arrest, rather than the permit and the suspension, is not an alternative serving time, but a new prison sentence that did not exist.
That is what we demand:
1) The prosecution’s veto abolition (Article 53, paragraph 4). The prison’s council should decide democratically by majority and its decision should not be contested by the prosecutor’s appeal.
2) The LEGISLATION of the permit as the right of the prisoner and not as a benefit, since there are no active disciplinary measures against him/her. Article 66 of the new Correctional Code – (disciplinary offences), essentially assesses the daily behavior of the prisoner in every activity inside the prison. Since the prisoner has not been guilty of misconduct in the period of his license, his assessment can only be positive in terms of authorization. Otherwise, legitimate questions are arisen as for the transparency of the process and the existence of other expediencies (personal malice, vindictiveness, extortion for bribery).
3) The withdrawal of the HOME DETENTION or electronic wristband scenario INSTEAD OF a regular license (Article 54, paragraph 3) with the ironic verbiage “the consent of the convict is required”. In the former Correctional Code in Article 56 there was no such restriction that effectively invalidates the right of license.
4) The abolition of the case of home confinement with an electronic wristband replacing the conditional dismissal of the prisoner (Article 58, note of paragraph 4) – which was not in Article 60 of the former Correctional Code.
5) Electronic surveillance or the measure of home confinement may work in a previous period from the prisoner’s license or the prisoner’s release as a probationary test rather than as a replacement.
6) The IMMEDIATE withdrawal of the regulation for the reintroduction of special conditions’ C Type prisons’ regime (ND government’s and its former minister Ch. Athanasiou inspiration) as it is imprinted in the article 11, paragraph 4 (prisoners’ observation and isolation in police stations and facilities instead of detention facilities) and paragraph’s 6 in particular as it is described in part e.
7) The correction of the article 21, paragraph 7 concerning the humiliating denudation of the prisoner for his strip search. There are, also, electronic means that ensure the control of any illegal objects or substances without the need for the denudation of the prisoner that resembles other eras.
8) The withdrawal of the suspension of the training of the prisoner as it is defined in article 33, paragraph 9. The education of the prisoner must be his/her inalienable right and its suspension only negatively affects his/her character.
9) The abolition of the electronic file of people contacting the prisoners as it is prescribed by the article 51, paragraph 1.
10) The withdrawal of the note in paragraph 1 of the article 56 about the opinion of a judicial officer ordering the temporary detention of a prisoner and may contest his/her right to educational permit. Or at least the enactment of a 12-month time limit (since the court has not been done) for the opinion from the beginning date of the prosecution so that the prisoner not to completely be alienated from his/ her studies.
11) The expansion of the possibility for studying prisoners’ attendance without the arbitrary and anti-educational restrictions as they are formulated in the article 56, paragraphs 2 and 4.
12) The withdrawal of the paragraph 3 in the article 31 which basically cancels the prisoner’s right to hunger strike, allowing torture of compulsory feeding by magistrate’s order.
P.S. 1: In the men’s prisons we stay open at noon and refuse the block of our cells, claiming our suggestions to be accepted that heal the abortion of the new Correctional Code, from 30/10/2017. This is the first move in an escalation series that will follow in all prisons in case we meet against us except for the prison walls, also walls of communication and revision of the Correctional Code by the Ministry of Justice.
P.S. 2: In the women’s prisons from 26/9/2017 we extended our mobilization against the new Correctional Code remaining outside of our cells at noon headcount and keeping the courtyard open until 19:30 (it is closing at 17:30). If the Ministry of Justice once again selectively deviates from our righteous demands, our mobilizations will be escalated.
P.S. 3: The above text with our demands and positions as prisoners will be sent to all the prisons in Greece in order to create and expand a major fight front that will in practice abolish the new FASCIST Correctional Code.
Committee of Struggle for Women’s – Men’s Korydallos Prison (Wings A, B, C, D and A position of the underground annex)
At the same time, on 11/11/2017, the comrades Nikos Maziotis and Pola Roupa, members of the Revolutionary Struggle, commenced a hunger strike with the following demands:
– Withdraw the provision in Article 11 paragraphs 6 pt. E and 4 of the same article regarding the detention in police stations. Do not bring back the Type C prison regime.
– Immediately release Nikos Maziotis from the isolation in which he is held by a decision of the ministry since last July.
– Introduce regulation to the correctional code for the elasticity of visiting hours based on the frequency of visits a prisoner has. For example, a prisoner who has one (1) time visit per month or doesn’t have at all should be able to extend the duration of the meeting.
– There should be a dedicated visiting room for the parents to meet with their children (there is no such place in the Korydallos men’s prison) and when the frequency of the meetings is rare, the duration of the meeting should be increased accordingly. In order to achieve at least the bare minimum coverage of our child’s needs first of all to communicate with us due to the inability to visit us often, we request:
1) Visiting time with our child to last at least three (3) hours.
2) Visiting time between us two (2) hours.
3) Equivalent regulations to be stipulated for other analogous cases, while the minimum time for parents’ meetings with their children should be extended.
Tags: Christos Tsakalos, Conspiracy of Cells of Fire, Greece, Informal Anarchist Federation (FAI), International Revolutionary Front, International Solidarity, Korydallos Prison, Prison Labour Strike, USA
This entry was posted on Saturday, October 27th, 2018 at 4:42 pm and is filed under Interviews.