I have been in Eleonas prison since 20/3, where I was quarantined along with other prisoners for 14 days. As I have mentioned in a previous statement, a mobilization took place in previous weeks in Korydallos women’s prisons, by keeping the cells open during lunch hours, and demanding immediate decongestion measures for the prisons. Later in the day we began the mobilization. Half an hour after lock-down, I was hastily transferred by use of violence to Eleonas prisons. This was a fascistic move aiming to put an end to the mobilizations in Korydallos and to deter the spread of revolt in other prisons.
Both texts that we published from Korydallos prisons about the demand for decongestion of the oppressively overpopulated prisons in the country, as a necessary measure for the prevention of a catastrophic pandemic, became the spark for mobilization also in some other prisons. Statements were published and protests took place, or attempts to protest, as some were deterred through the pressure and threats exerted by the prison authorities and the New Democracy government, or simply because the mobilizations did not spread to many prisons and mainly to the male prisons of Korydallos.
It is the first time that such a transfer is ordered, by use of police special forces, for the kind of mobilization that we did in Korydallos. On the 24th of March, and while I was held in quarantine, Nikos Maziotis was also violently transferred to Domokos prisons. The reason for this was that Maziotis was trying to start a mobilization in the men’s prison of Korydallos demanding decongestion measures.
When I came out of quarantine on 2/4, I entered Wing C. The prisoners there and in other wings were especially concerned with the fact that the government was not going ahead with the decongestion measure, not even on a limited scale, as promised. The women in Thiva prisons had already sent their own statement to the ministry about the necessity for decongestion, emphasizing the vulnerable groups, older prisoners, pregnant women and women with infants.
The conditions in the prison had become increasingly stressful, due to the difficulty in transferring sick prisoners to hospital, due to the pandemic. I know as a fact, from my time in Korydallos, that the prison management has been given a directive to not send medical incidents to the hospitals. Except from the very heavy cases, surgeries have been cancelled, medical exams have been cancelled, since hospitals are reaching capacity in their struggle to deal with the coronavirus.
In Eleonas prison, an informal discussion was going on about what we should do. There was an assembly in C wing, where I am, on 7/3 so as to discuss and decide what kind of mobilization we wanted to do. It had been posed that even if prisons stay clear of the virus pandemic, many prisoners would be at risk of death from other health issues, since prisoners would rarely be transferred to hospital. Eleonas prison, as I was informed by inmates, would very rarely send patients to hospital, even if they were babies. As soon as I stepped into this prison, I was informed that one month prior to my transfer a prisoner from E wing, Georgia Triantafyllou (Roma woman), had died. She was screaming that she was unwell but she was not transferred to hospital. In E wing, where mostly Roma women are held, the situation is desperate. As many as 19 persons are stacked into wards for maximum 12 people, while their treatment by management is cruel. But, the treatment of other prisoners is not much better. I have been told of incidents of beatings by staff, like the case of P. A., who was brutally beaten and has filed suit for humiliating treatment.
As for hospitals, access to them is extremely difficult, while the women who react to the management’s refusal to transfer them or their children to hospital are punished with disciplinary charges, which are abundant. One characteristic case is that of K.P. who was in the mother and infant ward. When her baby was bitten by an insect and had suffered infection, the management refused to transfer the child to hospital. K.P. refused to go back into her cell at night demanding that she is transferred to hospital. The next day she was transferred to hospital with her baby. The child was examined and treated, but when the prisoner returned to the prison she was given a disciplinary charge of one year exemption from daily work, which amounts to one year extra imprisonment.
In other words, In Thiva prisons, the price of a mother’s protest in order for her child to receive medical care, is longer imprisonment, one whole year in this case. The incidents with sick babies who are not transferred to hospital are many. Another case which I personally recall from when I was transferred to this ward when pregnant in 2010, was a two year old baby that was vomiting and burning up from fever for 3 days, its mother was crying for help and they would not take it to hospital. I had understood that to keep a child in that prison was dangerous for its life and health and when I was transferred to Korydallos prison I made a request to the Ministry of Justice that I be permanently transferred to Korydallos where at least there is access to hospitals. My demand then, which was a condemning report about the unacceptable and dangerous conditions of detention for children in Eleonas prison, was accepted, since the ministry preferred to keep me in Korydallos than to disturb the ‘peace’ in Eleonas prisons. Whoever wants can refer to the archives of the children’s hospital in Athens, where they can find many incidents of delayed transfers of sick children. I remember one case in 2017 where a boy with a broken arm aged 3, and as his mother was crying for help in the prison, was transferred to hospital 2 days after the fracture, to the exasperation of the doctors.
The ‘ideal’ images projected by reports in Eleonas prisons bear no resemblance to reality. As every attempt to exert pressure to the management in defense of prisoners’ rights, like health care, every report filed by prisoners regarding lack of medical care, offensive behavior, mistreatment etc, is thrown into the bin by management. The countless incidents of mistreatment and insufficient health care (in Thiva the doctor is not available round the clock and so the decisions on which case will be transferred to hospital lies with the shift managers), the pressure and stress about the threat of the pandemic and the exclusion from hospitals due to the coronavirus, in combination with a policy of authoritarianism, threats and punishment that the management enforces so as to stifle any pretest, has contributed to the already tense situation in prison. All these events and the delay of the ministry in applying the decongestion measures as promised, had created an explosive climate in the prison.
The death of Azize and the revolt
The death of prisoner Azize Deniroglu, aged 42, on 9/4 at dawn sparked the fire of revolt. The woman was complaining all night that her chest hurt and the shift manager (renowned for her despicable stance towards sick prisoners and with many complaints filed against her), threatened to report her for nuisance. The woman died in her ward, she was wrapped in a sheet and dragged outside. In the morning we were woken up by the screams of our fellow prisoners on E wing. Some of them were calling my name. I asked what was happening and they said that a prisoner died in their wing. They were enraged about the 2nd death in one month, they cried that had there been a decongestion these women would have been released and they would be alive now. We tried to find out the cause of her death and our fellow prisoners informed us that she had heart problems. We could not rule out that she had been infected with the coronavirus, since they said she had fever but the staff had not even taken her temperature. In any case, what matters is that she died in prison.
The revolt was triggered by her death, by the lies of the government, the fear of a pandemic inside prison and the lack of access to hospitals, on top of the chronic stress from the conditions inside the prison. The revolt, as was to be expected, started on the morning of the 9th of April from E wing where Azize had died and where mostly Roma women are held. It quickly spread to wings B, C, D and E (only A remained quiet). The fires had choked the prison along with the cries of fury against the management, the shift manager and the government which has not carried out the promised decongestion measures. Besides, many prisoners are ‘trapped’ due to the suspension of court proceedings, and some would have been released while others’ release is in limbo, as they waits for pending decisions, since prosecutors and judges are on coronavirus holiday, and lastly, instead of having prisoners released we have about 100 new prisoners a day across prisons that are already overpopulated.
The death of Azize sparked a revolt in a prison where no similar event had ever taken place, and at a time when revolts has not occurred in any prison since 2007. The event breached the wall of silence that was prevailing about the conditions of incarceration in Thiva, about the deaths, it sent loud messages of struggle in a period where the fascist dogma ‘law and order’ has been dominant long before the coronavirus pandemic.
The secretary of counter-criminality policy Sofia Nikolaou told journalists during the revolt that Pola Roupa is also in Thiva, insinuating in this way that I am responsible for the revolt. I understand that the ministry is concerned that the events unfolded only a few days after my exit from quarantine and transfer to C wing. Just as I understand how problematic it may seem to the rulers that my violent transfer from Korydallos was ordered so as to halt the protests there, during which we were only refusing the midday lock-down, and instead a revolt breaks out in the prison to which I am transferred.
But, I must remind them that the fact that sparked the revolt was the death of a young woman, a crime for which everyone knows that the responsible are the prison management and the ministry. Because they think that deaths of other women did not result in similar reactions, and they had gotten used to the fact that prisoner deaths are painless and without cost to them and to management, I must repeat that they forget that the constant lengthy oppression, the punitive tactics and terrorism against prisoners, as well as the deaths in prison, created the conditions for such energy to be condensed, energy that had no outlet, so that it was inevitable that it would break out. The false promises of the ministry about decongestion measures was the widespread reason for the frustration. Many women expected they would be released based on these measures, including Azize. The response that the management received from the Roma women when they were asked who gave them the order to revolt, was that they were not animals. Prisoners have dignity and an opinion, however much management refuses to understand this.
Our response to the pressures of the management to stop the revolt was that they should bring the ministers here to talk to us. After some time, some representative from the ministry arrived by helicopter. From the information we had, he was some general but we never learned his name. They called 2 persons from each wing (C, D, E, except from B and A). From wing C, I went along with my cell mate. I will report on what I said, as I cannot refer to what the other women said.
At the ‘meeting’ were present the director of the prison Makris George, the prosecutor of the prison and a general who did not tell us his name, even though I asked him. The ‘climate’ was initially very aggressive, which was to be expected as the revolt was just unfolding. At first the prosecutor asked why there was vandalism going on in the prison and if we agree with this. I asked him “what is more important to you? Some mattresses and objects in the building or human life? Today a prisoner died and this is the only topic for discussion”. The questions about vandalism ended there. I said that we asked to speak to the ministry and he pointed the general to me.
The discussion then proceeded to the causes of death of the prisoner and that this is under investigation. My reply was that whatever the causes were, the responsibility lies with the ministry and the management. All the prisoners were waiting for a decongestion that never happened and the ministry is fooling us. The general asked how does the decongestion relate to the death of the prisoner. I replied that since the hospitals are under strain from the coronavirus pandemic and there is a directive that prisoners should not be transferred there, their lives are at great risk, as was shown by the death of our fellow prisoner. The prosecutor denied the fact that patients are not transferred to hospital. I asked him “then why did they not take her and instead she died?”. I received no answer. Addressing the general I told him that the fact that the ministry has promised to implement decongestion measures and they simply haven’t done it, has enraged the women. His reply was that a proposition has been deposited to the ministry of Citizen Protection and it has not been processed.
His position was to convey the responsibility of the delay elsewhere (obviously to the government and the Ministry of Justice). I told them that there are many prisoners trapped due to the closure of courts and the pending trials that are postponed, and that many are expecting their release and are stuck here. The prosecutor was hasty in calling this misinformation. I told them that one month prior another woman had died on E wing. The director and the head of the social service denied this. They were lying. I noticed their uneasiness about this topic and they quickly diverted the discussion to the revolt. I replied that if the general wanted the deescalation of the situation, then the ministry should commit to immediate decongestion. His answer was that first the situation must calm down and then there will be decongestion.
This is where the conversation ended while the situation in our wing had become more intense. The women had ‘taken’ a small corridor in the wing and the flames were higher, they were demanding for the yards to open, which did not happen. Finally the general came down, who promised that the police forces would not come inside and he called for calm.
Earlier, police forces of the outside guard had invaded in E wing and they shot teargas at the women in an attempt to push them away from the yards and force them into the wing. The women resisted the invasion, violence was used and some women who had respiratory problems were moved to the clinic due to exposure to teargas.
The raid of the riot police in C wing the next day.
At night the revolt in the whole prison had calmed down and the conversation moved to how we will continue. We decided to keep the prison open until 11 as well as at noon hours, demanding the decongestion of the prison with priority to vulnerable groups of prisoners. Some time after lock-down and while only a few of us had remained out of the wings, the riot cops invaded the wing. In number, riot cops and prison guards were more than us. The riot cops as expected made a violent raid.
They were shouting, cursing, throwing chairs on the women, breaking things and they brutally beat up a woman who was trapped outside the ward. This woman suffers from serious health problems and is on heavy medication. Among other things she suffers from epilepsy and she was beaten on the head. These blows could have proved fatal for her. The prison guards who know of her conditions made no attempt to deter the heavy blows. They dragged her and threw her onto the ward, beating and cursing her. From all the doors you could hear yells against the riot police. It is well known that the riot squad, as a squad for the use of raw and often murderous violence, is the body that is used for repression of prison uprisings. However, it is the first time that a riot squad raid is ordered to ‘deal with’ a small number of prisoners who are making a peaceful protest, as the revolt had already stopped. This is a new tactic, a grand practice of repression in the history of struggle in prison. A dark legacy for the government and the management.
The following day the cells did not open on time. We were asking why they are not opening and they stated that they were waiting for the prosecutor to arrive. I heard them call my name while the prison was still closed. I understood that I was to be taken to the prosecutor first. When the prison opened at 10.30 am, I was called along with 3 other prisoners from my ward. It was the supervisor prosecutor of the prison and she asked why we perpetrated ‘disobedience’ and did not return to the wards.
In summary I stated the following:
I have participated in many mobilizations in the prisons by keeping wards open, a form of mobilization that is a protest. The reasons of these protests have always been serious, something which was always recognized and I have never been imposed a disciplinary sentence. It would be unacceptable to impose disciplinary charges for this reason or for any other reason on the prisoners. Yesterday a woman died like a dog and we are discussing why we didn’t go into our wards on time? The riot cops invaded, they chased and beat up women. My fellow prisoner (who was next to me) was beaten while she is suffering from serious health problems. It is the first time in history that such a violent repressive intervention is done against a peaceful protest. I may pass my ‘congratulations’ to the government and to you about how you handled the prisoners. A woman died and the mockery of the government towards the prisoners that they will proceed to decongestion measures was the reason why all this happened in the prison toady.
Prosecutor: Do you know the causes of her death?
Answer: She died from pathological causes because she was not transferred to hospital
Prosecutor: But she was not in your ward.
Answer: It does not matter. Serious incidents are not treated. An elderly woman, prior to these events, in my ward had a health problem and she was ringing the bell all night. The next night again she was calling for help, only then did they take her to hospital.
Prosecutor: So you are saying that they took her to hospital only because of what happened in the prison?
Answer: I have lived this before. Besides, all that has been achieved in the prisons, and in society also, has been won over with struggle. Some people risked, bled, were exposed. All the rights prisoners have today (3/5 of the sentence, exit permits and many more) have been won over by struggle and revolts. Nobody gave it to us.
Prosecutor: There will be an investigation about responsibilities.
Answer: There will be no investigation. Nobody will pay for this, I have lived this before. And even if the shift manager receives some punishment, she is not the sole person responsible. The directors of the prison are responsible, and you are responsible for the prison staff and its operation. The ministry is also responsible.
Prosecutor: If there are responsibilities for neglect they will be accounted for.
Answer: Neglect? You are talking merely about neglect? This word you know very well that it holds no gravity and the fact that you are using it confirms that nothing will be done. If you use the word ‘neglect’ I will use the word ‘murder’.
Prosecutor: You are using this word obviously to create a climate.
Answer: No, since you are positioning yourself on one end, talking about neglect, I am positioning myself on the other and I say it was murder.
This is where the conversation ended. Later we were informed that the supervisor prosecutor would examine whether or not we would get disciplinary sentences, and that many prisoners would either not be released or not get permits etc. Meanwhile, the prisoners are waiting for the legislation that will dictate the prison’s decongestion. Many believed and still do, that these measures were announced so as to appease the prisoners, that they are delaying with the implementation, waiting to see the development of the pandemic and that in case the development would be mild in the general population, and in case the developments in the prisons would not stir up concern, either from low number of infections or from low level of reaction (which did not happen), then they would cancel the measures. This is what is happening. But the prisoners in Thiva had no more patience. And obviously nobody likes to be mocked, especially when it concerns matters of health, matters of life and death.
As much in Eleonas prisons as in other prisons, management is keeping a very cruel stance vis a vis the prisoners and their mobilizations, regardless of who is in power. In the framework of a suffocating treatment of prisoners, of breaches of their rights, of autocracy and the threat and even use of violence, they are imposing a sweeping, repressive and terrorizing policy towards peaceful mobilizations (e.g. refusing lock-down for some hours in the day), by enforcing disciplinary charges, transfers, even pure violence. This not only does not ensure the keeping of order in the prisons, instead, the absence of any guarantee for prisoners’ mobilization regarding serious issues, which could function as a decompressing agent, may lead to the exact opposite result, and a powerful event is enough for a violent explosion in a prison.
Democratic rights to protest in prisons do not exist. The only thing the guards say is: “Write a report telling us your demands, but do not disobey.” In many cases they do not even tolerate that, since when these reports are delivered they are thrown into the rubbish. In other words, prisoners cannot even speak out. In some cases they even intimidate prisoners as to sending signed memos to the ministry, and they do not tolerate the refusal to accept meals, which does not even count as disobedience. However, at some point the tables are turned, and the extreme violence brings opposite results.
The revolt in Eleonas prisons took everyone by surprise. Nobody expected that such an event could take place in this prison. But, as we wrote, the women in C wing, in our statement about the riot police raid, the moral instigators of the revolt are the government, the ministry and the management.
In place of an epilogue…
The reason I am in prison serving lengthy sentences is my struggle for a society without injustice, inequalities, oppression, exploitation. I am in prison because I have fought for a society of freedom and equality. For our children to have a better life, free, to live in a planet that is not slowly dying, in a world that is not suffering from murderous pandemics, which are created by huge inequalities and degradation. In other words, without the conditions which not only enslave and poison humanity, but they also murder it en mass, as is proven by the coronavirus pandemic.
The reasons I am fighting in prison are no different. I never made a mobilization to satisfy my personal demands and everyone knows that. My priority has always been the most vulnerable and frail people, those whose rights, health and life are at greater danger in prison.
I am aware of the fact that I am a primary target of the government during this period in the prisons. I know that they are doing their best to pressure me, and they will do their best to make my exit from prison as hard as possible. I declare, and this they know, that they will not make me yield, and that I will not cease to fight against injustice and that I will resist any vengeful actions by the state against me.
Pola Roupa, member of Revolutionary Struggle.
Prisoner in C Wing in the Womens’ Prison, Eleonas, Thiva