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The following text by Yiannis Dimitrakis is from the 1st issue of “Storming the Bastille: Voices from the Inside”, a periodical published by the Solidarity Fund comprising of texts by prisoners in struggle.
I always keep in mind this image of myself, unconsciously looking up at the high walls with the barbed wire on top every time I passed outside a prison. Which prison do I mean? Well, every time I went to visit some friends in the Nikea neighborhood on my motorbike and rode down Grigoriou Lambraki street, Korydallos prison with its stone walls magnetized my gaze. I don’t know why this happened. Was it because there were times I found myself on the nearby streets due to solidarity demos for imprisoned comrades, but never within breathing distance as all the passages to get closer were completely blocked by the police? Or was it perhaps because that enormous, imposing building which concealed with incredible diligence everything that happened in its depths -an unknown world with its own rules and laws, full of peoples’ stories, some heroic some of torture- provoked my curiosity?
Now that I think about it, I remember another time when I was in front of a prison. I think it was the spring of 2003 when we were demonstrating outside the “correctional” institution of Larissa. Yet another dungeon located in a suburb of that city, next to a school. There, prisoners have the unfortunate privilege of feeling the psychotic climate of the Thessaly plain on their own skin. In the summer, you stew in your own juices, with temperatures around 43ºC. And in winter, you search frantically for a little heat beneath a mountain of blankets in order to escape the one-or two-digit Celcius degrees below zero. Pure madness. I obtained this information first-hand from prisoners who did time there, and Vagelis Pallis also confirmed it to me in the summer of 2008 when we communicated daily.
The starting point for the demonstration was in the city’s central square, which was surrounded by cafes. I had the impression that the locals were staring at us in bewilderment, as if they had seen something that was completely foreign and alien to them. We had come up to Larissa because there were rumors that they were constructing a new wing -an isolation wing-, intended to receive the people involved in the case of the revolutionary organization 17 November. This meant that they would be transferred from the special wing in Korydallos where they were already being held, which would cause many problems for them, their families, and their lawyers, considering the distance from Athens. It’s not easy to travel 700km there and back in one day for an hour or a half hour visit. So, immediate reflexes and the black swarm takes up a position of combat in Larissa square and then a demo up to the prison. Naturally, when the demo started it attracted the attention of the locals and, as expected, as soon as we approached our destination two or three riot police buses and rows of green uniforms containing something resembling humans were waiting for us, forbidding any closer approach to the prison.
Our slogans and shouting were greeted by hands that reached out as far as they could through the bars of their cells, waving tops and sheets and loud whistling. The distance did not allow any recognition of their faces, so each one of us had to draw in our mind the imaginary image of a person desperately trying to give back what they were receiving: Solidarity or simply the presence of human beings? Who knows …
The demo left us all with a good feeling. It had been vibrant, intense, with a lot of people and zest. However, what has been deeply carved into my memory from that day was a picture, which I have no idea how many, if any, had the fortune to take in. As we were covering the last stretch before the prison and we were passing the last houses of the city with our slogans vibrating -and becoming louder and louder so that we could be heard by those inside the walls- my gaze fell upon a figure on the balcony of a fairly old, two-storey house. Taking a closer look I realized, astounded, that it was an old man, some 80 years old, who, obviously touched, was waving at the demo with tears in his eyes! I wonder what we had reminded him of? What kind of memories did we draw from the depths of his mind, which he compared to what he saw at that moment? It remains unknown and of minor significance. What matters is the fact itself and the resulting flood of sensations, felt from both sides. It is not a small thing to realize in the present that what you are doing is matched by two nostalgic tears of a person that moisten the traces of his past, who in a curious way is encountering the future, which is however your present. A present that on the one hand you are creating mutually in comradeship with others, and on the other you also experience individually as a unique and different being within a group of people.
Anyway, whatever my reason for being stuck with the image of the prison, finally curiosity “killed” the cat. And what a cat! Armed to the teeth and ready for everything or at least that’s what I thought. To tell the truth, as a “promising” youth and anarchist then, at the twilight of 1997 and in subsequent years during which I ran, immersing myself without a second thought, into the cauldron of social fermentations, I was convinced that they would never catch me. Me, the cat! But alas, what an illusion! Although a cool retrospective of my records can verify that, as they say in the street, I lasted for a bit. Not for long, but I managed to withstand walking like an “anastenaris” (fire-walker) over glowing coals for nearly 8 years, until finally my fur got singed. Because I was walking on the coals in the way I had decided to participate in the preparatory works, those necessary, according to my evaluation, to pave the ground for the advent of the future and deeply desired revolution.
So it didn’t take long for things to go wrong, and a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and a little also due to my damn luck that left me hanging in one of the most critical moments of my life, fighting alone with three angry cops’ bullets that seemed to be engraved with my name, destined to accompany me on my journey of no return. However, like a real cat with seven lives, for unknown reasons I was left on the pier without embarking on the boat of the famous boatman dressed in black and instead ended up in the place I was before itching with curiosity to see what went on. Like I already mentioned, it was a place I never expected to enter when I was a promising young anarchist.
Behind bars …
A new chapter opened in my life from that moment and it still refuses to close. It is, you see, that I was caught for a very serious offence, according to their penal codes. A bank robbery with 110 thousand euro in loot, mixed artfully with another six cases and a heap of other felonies, which the jackals up at the police headquarters found easy to charge me with – accomplishing their sacred vocation with the perfect sense of professionalism and decency that has always characterized them – plus search and arrest warrants for three friends and comrades. Marios, Grigoris and Simos: named as my accomplices and who over time were renamed arch-thieves and a connecting link that would help dismantle the domestic armed guerrilla groups and who knows what else. All written in various “distinguished” stinking newspapers or said by television reporters of “unquestionable ethics and merit” spouting police propaganda. The result? In October 2009 the newly established parliamentary terrorist organization PASOK put out a 600,000 euros bounty on their heads, thus making their lives even more difficult, as they were already on the run from the law and hidden from the scrutiny of the prosecutorial organs, refusing to recognize the arrest warrants.
And if things had stopped going wrong there one could have perhaps, with difficulty of course, swallowed this bitter cup. But no, the devil had to break a leg again. This time not for me, but for Simos. And this time he not only broke it but literally lost it. An armed robbery at the hypermarket “Praktiker” on Piraeus street, near Gazi. Screams, gunfire, wounded people, total chaos. The police arrive at the incident site and listen to an eyewitness saying that one of the criminals was tall, and already the butterfly had flapped its wings in Vietnam so the hurricane strikes in the neighbourhood of Keramikos in Athens. Not once but twice, as apart from the coincidental tracking down, arrest and serious injury of Simos, another friend and comrade, Aris, was caught in the same area and then imprisoned with the most ridiculous and completely fabricated charges. A late finding by the persecuting authorities inside the inquisitor’s office, just moments before he was set free for the misdemeanors he was accused of during his arrest in Keramikos. And as if robbing him of his freedom at the last moment was not enough, they also deprived him of his father, a comrade to us. His heart could not take so much injustice, anger and indignation and he said goodbye to us forever. If I’m making an effort to narrate everything that’s happened recently, from the day this wretched 2010 dawned through all the horribly unsettling developments within the anarchist milieu, it’s only because of the names involved –being careful with memories so as to not forget any comrade. Like Lambros, for whom a police bullet with his name on it took away his life in the alleys of Dafni while he was expropriating a car as part of broader plans related to the class war. Like Haris, Panagiotis, Konstantina, Ilias, Giorgos, Polikarpos, Vagelis, Christos, Alfredo, Pola, Nikos, Vagelis, Kostas, Hristoforos and Sarantos.
Leaving aside for now the sad and tragic evaluation of 2010 and rejoining my writing to the dark days of my past, to the beginnings of an iron-clad life, the “search” on my biological hard drive stops somewhere at the end of January 2006.
I still remember that sunny morning when the cops at the General Hospital of Athens notified me that I had to get ready for my transfer to Agios Pavlos Prison Hospital. I have a vivid recollection of the moment because it marked the end of a snow blizzard that had struck the whole of Greece, bringing chaos and mayhem over urban areas, paralyzing almost everything, dismantling—although only for a few days—the organized structure of large cities, and halting all forms of transportation and plans, as well as everyday workings, throughout the public and private sector.
We had been waiting for this very snow blizzard—or at least some spell of bad weather, which according to the weather broadcast had to arrive—to help us achieve our unholy objective; to rob the National Bank at the intersection of Solonos and Ipokratus streets. It was a central point in the heart of Athens and we had optimistic anticipations about a big booty –although clearly accompanied by a disproportionate, almost prohibitive, risk. Not that we would postpone the day of the hit in the case that the weather was not in our favour. We were not that kind of kids. The day had been decided. Monday, January 16. A pretty bad day for attempting to carry out such an action, as in the beginning of the week everyone is at their post and ready to do their duty, especially cops. Yet, something kept frantically pushing us to the edge of the abyss.
Finally, the weather played a dirty trick on us and that Monday morning the sun —triumphant and proud of its victory in the dead of winter— rose high above and, unhindered, was blasting its hot rays on the citizens of Attika. The result? On the one hand everyone was out and about doing errands or having a stroll, a fact that functioned positively for us the unholies, since the centre looked like a viscous human river in which you could move only with difficulty. On the other hand, like the others in the car, I was decked out in a sweater, a winter coat, and the martial tools of expropriation; flushed and sweating, we were cursing our bad luck while watching all those foot patrols in the centre of Athens parading in the sunshine with a smile.
Pensive and nervous having seen the first bad signs, we arrived at the meeting point from which we had to set off toward our final destination. There we found the others. All of us definitely had the same strange feeling. We were a small circle of conspirators, far removed from everything going on around us, strangers to the general climate of joy that was emerging in the atmosphere from all those that had come to the city centre to enjoy the sunny day. Our own universe was at this time, and in the moments that would follow, light years away from the one everyone else belonged to. Our universe would be colliding with theirs, and actually violently, making our presence tangible within a few minutes, when we would be upsetting the parallel and rarely intersecting courses of our different lives. A momentary invasion of one word into another that would create an uncontrollable chain of events. One more slap in the face of normality, one more slap in the face of the horizontal and rectilinearly coordinated sequence of things. Something like a pileup on the motorway, when the act of a fast or careless driver also carries with it the fate of other passengers, disrupting and blocking the normal flow of traffic according to the size of the pileup.
Those who were already waiting for us at the meeting point had some bad news. As they were coming to meet us they passed a police blockade that was so near the place of the attack that it posed a serious threat to the whole operation, made it almost impossible. Immediate reactions of the sort “who gives a shit, let’s do it and whatever happens, happens” or “fuck it, lets put it off and try again some other time” were balanced out by some of us going to check if the blockade was still there, and then act accordingly. Finally the cops were gone, but “gone” is so relative in the centre of Athens -and even more at the point where the bank was- as is a supermarket frozen pizza compared to one made at a good pizzeria. Thus, since, as I said, something was pushing us over the edge, we decided to go through with it, as the cops were “gone”. Of course, what followed has to do exactly with Murphy’s Law, which says that if you drop a piece of toast with jam on it, 9 times out of 10 it will fall to the floor jam side down. The fact that everything went pear-shaped definitely belongs to this story with the jam, those damned factors of uncertainty that can overturn everything and above all the unpredictable nature of human character and behavior. A whirlwind of faces and things which, after stopping its manic spinning, washes ashore an urban area: a stupid bank guard injured by his equally incredibly stupid willingness to stop the flight of the robbers in a totally mistaken and distorted perception of the limits of his duty; a car that wouldn’t start; a bag full of weapons and money; three people who frantically scatter into the featureless crowd; and yours truly left injured in the hands of his pursuers.
The same -indifferent to what happens a thousand million miles from him- sun that warmed that wintry day in January, appeared again that morning in the hospital, creating these parallel memory projections.
I was expecting it to happen at some point. I knew they had put pressure to get me out of the intensive care unit sooner and I had found out that they were in a rush to take me to the prison hospital. To get rid of me. I still had the stitches, bits of metal in the form of a Greek P -similar to those with which they nail the upholstery onto the skeleton of a sofa- from the chest to the groin. I still needed a bit of work done to me in general, but no matter how strongly I protested about not being moved yet from the hospital, the pigs had their orders from their superior. And since the superior had said it, what could I do? With great effort and pain I started to gather my things, crippled and incapable of even straightening my own body. Just some minor details as far as the superior was concerned. Evidently, this was also included in the price I now began to pay for my choices.
However, the finishing touches to my hasty expulsion from the hospital were yet to come. Before two dozen police radios, weapons, boots and another so many problematic brains were able to coordinate the operation “secure transfer”, just then my mother shows up, arriving early for the regular visit to her beloved son.
My mother … Mrs Eleni, separated from her son by just 17 years. In the 90’s, whenever we opened the door together to some bookseller, they would always ask: “Is your mother home?” Mrs Eleni, who, upon hearing the news that I was involved in a bank robbery that ended with me seriously injured, was a breath away from having a nervous breakdown. Although not completely so, as ultimately the cops at the Police Headquarters failed to obtain any statement from her, as she started screaming out of control: “I want to see myyyy chiiiild…..” The cops lost it by the reaction of my mother and, well, what could they do? She was a mother worried about her son. Give her a beating? Throw her in the detention room so they don’t have to listen to her? It would have been like that or worse if we went back 60 or 35 years into the past, either to the dark days of the civil war in 1946 or to the later seven-year period of the audacious cowardly scum of the Junta. However it was 2006 and we were already traversing 30 years of pseudodemocratic parliamentary oligarchy, where the fascistic and harsh authoritarian behavior was hidden behind other, more flexible and perhaps more effective forms of violence. In any case, the screams of my mother brought her in no time to the hospital where I was being held and the statement was given at a later time. As if those bright brains would have forgotten all about it!
So, this mixture of a woman with strong doses of maternal instinct, as a genuine female turned into a mother lioness, into a wild beast, when she felt that one of her children was in danger and under threat – especially when compared with her usual everyday stance in regards to institutions, powers and voluntary rules. Appearing seemingly unprepared that morning for what was going on, she went straight into combative mode as every true mother and was ready to oppose anything that would endanger my physical and psychological integrity.
As one can easily imagine, my abduction/transfer to the prison hospital remained in the air for a few moments, until the “responsible power”, meaning my mother, returned with the doctors who took care of me and who, as she said, were the only ones suitable to decide whether to discharge me. And so it was. A crowd of white shirts, clearly disturbed and surprised, with my mother in the front row, appeared from a distance heading towards the stretcher that was already in course for departure.
– “Who ordered the transfer of the patient?”, one of the doctors asked the cops.
– “We have orders from above sir, it’s not our decision.”
– “Maybe I can talk to your superior?”
– “One moment, I have to confirm …”
And while those in authority and those responsible were involved in a verbal duel, my stretcher was brought back to the room in order to – as the outcome of the battle between the cops and doctors finally turned out – give me a last look. The last stitches were removed, medications were prescribed and confirmations were given that the most difficult part and the most important care for my injuries was over, and that the only thing left was for my strength to return through rest and abundant food. That certainly was a half truth, or rather a lie well-wrapped up in its package of powerlessness. The fight between the doctors, my mom and the cops reached my ears, with those first insisting that I’m still not fit to be discharged and those last monotonously repeating that they were “simply following orders”. “Following orders” obviously won, as expected.
But this was not the first time the scales tilted in favor of the cops and their fucking orders. Hadn’t the same situation already taken place over the issue of guarding me inside the Intensive Care Unit? Then, the medical team for two days managed to resist pressure from security forces who wanted to invade my room, with their key argument being that something like that would be dangerous not only for my health but also for other patients’. However, it would be naive to believe that fundamental human values would be able to prevail over the new “repression and security” dogma.
Hadn’t the same thing happened when the head of the ICU came to announce to me, crestfallen, that he was unable to keep me any longer under his own supervision, even though the state of my health required it, as he was under extreme pressure by the prosecuting authorities, who wanted him to sign my discharge from the 24 hour Monitoring Unit and the continuation of my hospitalization in the Eye Department! Why there and not in the surgical department? But of course for “security reasons”. The pigs were demanding that an entire operating room be cleared and the other patients thrown out, just so they could keep a closer eye on me. They really believed that’s how it had to be, even though it would have been impossible for the hospital. So, I was taken to a room in the eye department, which was already prepared, because, as I was informed, it had “hosted” Dimitris Koufodinas during the hunger strike he carried out to make them remove the security netting that covered the yard of the prison wing were he and others of the 17th November armed group were imprisoned. Prepared … Yes it was prepared. That is, there was nothing inside, or better yet they had removed or bolted down anything that, according to them always, could be used by the prisoner in a possible suicide attempt or an attack on the guards, and of course the balcony door had bars. The square logic of stupidity at its height.
Was it not the dogma of security and intimidation which, in the blink of an eye, wiped out every trace of human dignity and integrity in this room? Was it not pure sadism and revenge that drove these subhumans to monitor my mother when she was cleaning my shit as I lay still bed-ridden, without even diverting their eyes for a moment? Was it not their boorish behavior during all those days I was in their suffocating “embrace” that led to the interrogator and prosecutor -who came for my statement- finding me dozing, sleepless and exhausted? Or was there I wonder even a trace of humanity in the head torturer and prosecutor I. Diotis, when he paid me a visit, in a hurry to take my statement while I was still intubated, obviously unable to whisper even a whole sentence, thus not only ignoring but also posing a threat to my tragic health condition?
These are of course rhetorical questions and there are not posed as another cry of protest against the trampling of democratic rights or something like that, but as a record of the terms in which the conflict between two countervailing forces, between two completely different worlds, is carried out. On one side we have those who dream of a society totally subjugated and enslaved at the service of the oligarchic appetites of insatiable idlers. On the other side those who fight for true equality, justice and freedom, which create a new reality away from terms such as gain, competitiveness, exploitation and hierarchy.
While the wheels of the stretcher rushed over the small irregularities in the hospitable floor, -with each one being translated as a sharp pain on my operated back-, the savage pack escorting me amidst shouting and consecutive contradicting orders led me, to its great relief, towards my final exit from the General Hospital of Athens. The first rays of warm light that I encountered on the patio, -where the ambulance and escort cars for my safe transfer to the prison hospital “Agios Pavlos” were awaiting- were something really liberating, something that seemed to atone for these three weeks of my coexistence with Cerberus in uniform. Those few seconds that passed until I was placed inside the ambulance were my last chance to breathe fresh air and watch the sun without the interference of fences and barbed wire. With the sun as my comrade I bed my final farewell to freedom and entered the deepest winter of my life.
To be continued…