Translation from the blog of the Anarchist Initiative of Aigaleo (west Athens) on the situation in the women division of the Petrou Ralli prison for migrants – very close to downtown Athens. (http://www.occupiedlondon.org/blog/2010/02/11/187-welcome-to-hell/)
(Testimony from the hell of Petrou Ralli by comrades that were detained in the prison wing for migrant women on P. Ralli St. after the occupation of the Keratsini Town Hall in solidarity to the 22 persecuted in the “Resalto” social space on 5th December 2009).
The scene is the same as if it were a high security prison; the difference is that no one has committed any “crime” here. The cameras that are everywhere in the cells, apart from the toilets, are an example of how human dignity is violated in here. The detainees are under 24/7 surveillance, they can’t get a moment of privacy and no personal data protection policy is in effect. Even the cell doors are made of iron bars, from top to bottom, and in order to create a somehow private space the detainees have hung bed sheets. “I cannot bear it that everyone walking up and down the corridor can see me”, an immigrant woman told us. The wings made of cement have electric doors of latest technology, windows (some without pane) that look out on… the rest of the cells and are at a height that you cannot reach in order to see what is happening outside. The cells are equipped with “post-modern” beds made of cement (square ones that remind of benches) with worn-out foam rubber on top, a “soft” blanket that resembles emery cloth (exclusively sponsored by the Greek army) and no pillow whatsoever.
Hygiene conditions are non-existent, which explicitly shows the intention to “decompose” the body and to eliminate any characteristic that reminds detainees that they are human. The medieval-style toilets – which often host cute insects such as cockroaches– are only four and superdirty. The idea in the Petrou Ralli St hell is that cleanness is a fallacy [trans: play on words on a popular Greek saying]… Soaps, shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper and sanitary towels are considered “small bourgeois residues” and consequently are unnecessary. Instead of a mirror, they use a piece of plastic that reflects like tinfoil the faces of those who live there for up to 6 months (according to the new law): distorted and partial reflections of persons that eventually forget who they are. All adds up in order to forget your very own existence.
Food is transported daily from GADA [trans: police headquarters] and of course it does not contain milk because there is fear that it will go bad during transportation. Everybody is given an instant coffee, a juice and a chocolate croissant. Even children are given the same (from 12-month babies to 10 year-old boys); age and personal needs do not matter. For lunch we were given bean soup, olives and one loaf of bread per cell to be shared by all the detainees, as well as oranges from Arta [trans: Greek city] at preference. The detainees serve themselves in plastic yoghurt-pots. There is no refectory or special room for food to be served, and they are obliged to place their bread on dirty, miserable blankets. Special needs are not taken into consideration, and diseases like diabetes, intestinal dysfunctions, cardiopathies etc do not receive any special alimentary treatment. We heard the detainees complain that they and their children suffered from itching. Cases of dermatological problems, such as mycoses, scabies, allergies and other kinds of dermatitis are frequent; they are mainly due to the sordid mattresses and the horrendous hygiene conditions in the cells and the toilets. They even face serious problems with their teeth, as they are not given enough bottled water and are forced to drink tap water from the toilets.
The women also talked to us about the aggressive behaviour of their underage children. And what is more reasonable for a child that grows up in prison than to develop an “antisocial” and aggressive behaviour. How can it not hate the world, as it is experiencing it from this hell? It has been marked for life by this experience and we better not dare to ask it in puberty why it’s throwing stones. Surely, in any case, the prisons on P.R. St. are an ideal environment for panic crises and psychosomatic conditions. The human being is a part of nature itself, and therefore it cannot survive in an environment made of cement.
Some prisoners have made artistic interventions to their cells in order to make them feel cosier. A Russian detainee has drawn huge cartoons on the walls. My soul is in pain… she misses her baby. She has transformed the cell into a child’s room. Love graven in hearts, and around the beds graven lines that mark days and months that have gone by. Engraved poems, promises, memoirs, names. In other cells the detainees have made an iconostasis; they have hung pictures of Saints everywhere in an effort to keep their hopes and dreams alive. Above their heads Angelina Jolie and Helen Menegaki [trans: Greek television star] next to shampoo labels, anything that can fill the empty walls.
Communication with the outside world is difficult and only those who have the money to buy a phone card have the possibility to make calls. Even the communication between the detainees is difficult as many of them do not speak nor understand Greek. There are no interpreters whatsoever and communication takes place through eye contact and gestures in an effort to exchange information on daily survival. Of course, this means they are deprived of their right to claim their rights or to be informed on their detention status and the date of their release. Complete isolation and loneliness.
Contact with the air, the rain and the sun is simply zero, as there is no yard to go out to. Detainees can only walk in the corridor (1 meter width and 20 meters length) that is outside the cells. They are deprived of a room where they could sit or do physical exercise; as a consequence they can only walk or lie down, in other words they carry around their pestered body. In this decorative background we saw small kids holding dolls, climbing up the iron bars and walking barefoot on filthy water and liquids of unknown origin. Their shoe laces had been taken away from them, thus they cannot even run. Some older children have understood what’s going on and every spark of life in their eyes has disappeared. Who can explain to them how one day they were returning home after school with their mum and suddenly they found themselves behind prison walls?