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The following text was written only 24 hours before the magic escape from the prison in Trikala on the 22nd of March 2013.*
Probably it has some interest to comment on the last two attempted escapes from maximum security prisons in Greece: the one with a helicopter from Trikala prison, and the other with a small bluff from Malandrino prison.
In the first case, it became apparent that the police, in order to consolidate the doctrine of zero tolerance, did not hesitate to open fire and endanger the lives of dozens of people, citing the intent to prevent an escape, an act punishable as misdemeanor…
In the second case, we saw what a prisoner can succeed by camouflaging a simple radio device into a remote-control bomb (!) when the mechanisms of law enforcement know he makes no jokes about his freedom. Although he did not manage to escape in the end, he kept the entire prison staff on their toes for 24 hours with decisiveness as his only weapon.
But what really matters in these two incidents is the alteration in the meaning of escape, as well as its mutation into an individual affair of the prisoner. Until the late 90s rebellion and escape were two almost interrelated concepts. A prison rebellion was usually the result of an attempted mass escape. Prison inmates were trying to flee together, some managed to run away, others in their attempt got wounded by bullets of the cops, and the rest were forced to return inside, and they would torch the prison. The causes of this alteration must be sought on the one hand in the upgrading of technology and architecture of repression, on the other hand in the unprecedented individualism of contemporary prisoners.
Modern prisons are designed for the maximum possible control, using both physical and electronic methods. There are surveillance cameras on every corner of each prison wing, which is perfectly squared and devoid of any natural element. There are security doors that open only electronically from the control rooms. Another important detail is that nowadays the roof—the primary refuge of prison rebels—is not accessible in almost any way.
What’s more, the composition of the prison population itself has changed over the last decade, which has largely changed the perception of prisoners as well. The prison population is not composed of bloodthirsty criminals or romantic outlaws. It consists of migrants from Africa and Asia, who in most cases do not even know, not only the Greek language, but also the reason they are in prison. It consists of drug addicts whose place should be in hospitals. It consists of scared petty-delinquents and debtors, the new trend in Greek prisons. It is also composed of godfathers and thugs of the nightlife that, in exchange for some small favors, maintain a balance between corruption and social peace in Greek prisons.
Relationships between prisoners are fake, hypocritical ad nauseum, and diplomatic; a game of domination that acts as a brake on building relationships of trust, a fact that subsequently reduces any combative mood which requires solidarity. Prisoners are being divided in nations and races, in small and large prison sentences, in different offenses that were committed, in personal disputes arising mainly because of dope or petty personal interests, and thus destroy every sense of community of struggle that could have been created among them. Ultimately any prisoner who wants to assert his freedom is encouraged to attempt it on his own or alongside some friends. Collective solutions seem an obsolete romanticism that belongs in the 90s.
And why is all this important?
Because prison is not a mirror of the society. It is rather the ground on which society’s functions, values, traditions, ethics and problems are being condensed. Watching and analyzing what is happening on the inside, one is able to interpret the social inertia outside the walls.
Helicopters for prison escapes are both spectacular and legitimate, but even more beautiful are the flames of prison rebellion. We must not cease to honour those who have succeeded or even attempted to escape, but we must not forget that the aim should not be just to fly over the walls, but to dance on their ruins.
Anastasios K. Theofilou
E1 wing, Domokos prison
March 21st, 2013
* On March 22nd, there was a successful escape of 11 prisoners from Trikala prison (nine are still on the run, while two other escapees were caught by police nearby).