Greek prisons: On the occasion of recent events in Trikala prison

In mid July we heard from the TV news bulletins that the police have arrested three correctional officers in Trikala prison on charges of importing drugs and other hard-to-find staples into prison. We are shocked by the lack of esprit de corps in the police force and particularly those police officers that cynically arrested their colleagues, without reflecting on the difficult and dangerous work they are asked to carry out… Without any shame, they arrested these beacons of policing heroism that daily come in contact with dangerous prisoners while leaving their sweet family’s warmth whenever it’s their shift. Caring with such zeal for the smooth operation of their prison… Struggling for survival to raise their kids, to pay tuition fees, loans, installments for the new car they bought to show off to their colleagues. Especially at a time when crisis has reduced wages, allowances for dangerous and unhealthy work, at a time when reserve employment is lurking around the corner…

But the joke goes blunt at this point.

The fact that once again the police stages a spectacular performance under the anti-terrorist law (or criminal organization act) is not something new; on the contrary, once again it confirms what has been written long ago by radical circles, i.e. that all kinds of “anti-terrorist” laws are made for widespread use. Nevertheless, the content of this performance presents a good opportunity to document what everyone suspects (except of course the constantly shocked parrots of the mass media), and this has its value, especially regarding the matter’s implications.

Prison is a first-class business for the administration (or prison service) and the inmates who collaborate with them.

Whilst prisoners are humiliated, beaten, and spend time in disciplinary isolation, the above-suspicion humanguards who impose these measures make a fortune by trafficking objects that they claim they are trying to prevent from entering the prison. It is also common knowledge that the harder the prohibition is, the bigger the gains are for those who have their way to override it.

With a large number of prisoners addicted to drugs before their imprisonment and even more inmates becoming addicted after confinement, the profits of drug trading in prisons are enormous. When Aravantinos, known as the padrino of humanguards, states that “to serve the needs of Koridallos prison a kilo of smack is needed daily”, it is easy to realize that we are talking of an approximately turnover of 200,000 euros. Daily.

And that’s just Koridallos prison, and it concerns smack only (preza, for heroin in Greek). As Koridallos prison has only 20% of the country’s prisoner population and a mobile phone fetches 2,000 to 3,000 euros, it is easy to deduct that we’re talking of a market worth millions.

Obviously, such quantities of drugs and other “commodities” are practically impossible to be imported by inmates. Besides, the arrests of humanguards with large quantities of drugs and mobile phones speak for themselves. The “correctional officers” that have occasionally been arrested, held quantities of pills, smack or cocaine, far beyond the capacity any prisoner has to smuggle in one pass. In 2011, at the beginning of May in Nea Alikarnassos prison (on Crete Island), a humanguard was arrested inside the prison with 250g of smack, 50g of cocaine, 50g of hashish, 30 Subutex pills, 4 mobile phones and 30 SIM cards. Later that same year, in July, in Patras, another humanguard was caught with 100g of smack. In April 2012, in Malandrino prison, another humanguard was caught with 213gr of smack and 2 mobile phones. And of course now in Trikala, with Papaioannou (one of the three accused humanguards) cynically admitting that in less than a year he smuggled “only” 2 kilos of smack and “some” mobile phones while he is accused of smuggling 6 kilos and 500 mobile phones. It goes without saying that we could not forget the resounding and notorious cases of Fotakis and Aravantinos, with 2 kilos and 800g of smack respectively, found in Koridallos prison safe.

Of course, no chief humanguard, deputy humanguard, low ranking humanguard or indeed anyone else from the prison staff indicted needs to worry much. History has shown that Justice, the patron and feeder of the prison system, is perfectly generous to its children gone astray.

If not acquitted during preliminary proceedings or at first instance, the penalties imposed on them are much lighter than those imposed on prisoners for much smaller quantities of drug abuse.

The aforementioned humanguard who was arrested inside Alikarnassos prison walls “got” 15 years’ imprisonment at first instance, and his sentence will undoubtedly go much lower on appeal. By 1994 the warden Fotakis, who was caught with 2 kilos, served just 3.5 years of his prison sentence, while in 1996 the ubiquitous Aravantinos for 800g was incarcerated for 6 months and was finally acquitted by decree. For four simultaneous deaths from heroin in Koridallos women’s prison in 2002, the director was sentenced to 8 months’ imprisonment while the warden got 1 year of unpaid leave. It goes without saying that, even if humanguards are imprisoned, their colleagues provide for their wellbeing in special conditions, which among other things means protection from any “warm hospitality” possibly afforded by other inmates.

We do not know about the sentences of the remaining humanguards we have mentioned, since it is difficult to get such information (and the “fourth power”, i.e. the media, also protects the system’s children gone astray).

What we do know however is that 4 prisoners in Alikarnassos in December 2007 shared three life sentences and 10 years’ imprisonment for possession of 2.9g of smack while at Koridallos in 2009 a prisoner was sentenced to life for 1g of smack. Note that in both cases the prisoners were drug addicts.

Similar cases of both humanguards and inmates are numerous, however we will not expand further as the purpose of this text is not a denouncement but rather a demonstration of the political dimension of the conciliation between prison administrations and inmates and of control methods, either expressed as drug repression or through searches, penalties, disciplinary councils, etc.

The examples mentioned have their value and demonstrate very clearly the effects of imbalance among all kinds of people working for the system and the prisoners. Their value is that they demonstrate, inter alia, how the dominant petite-bourgeois morality and conscience, that justice comes to meet, are structured. Guards and servants of all kinds are always the exceptions, that “have gone astray” and ultimately “deserve a chance”, while detainees are altogether by default “criminal subjects”, “villains”, “junkies” that deserve their fate and receive a “legitimately” tougher treatment.

The system watches over its children…

The show that was staged in Trikala prison is but a confirmation of what has been at times written by comrades on control procedures imposed on prisoners. Namely, that all sorts of searches, disciplinary punishments, prison transfers and isolations are, primarily and above all, the authoritarian aspects of the process of authoritarian enforcement and disciplining; that drug-substance detection devices, anal and vaginal searches, urine tests and x-ray examinations are tools used by the system in order to lift the burden of its incrimination, a system that systematically uses legal or illegal drugs among its methods in order to control prisons.

Body control, i.e. cavity search, is a standard procedure every time a prisoner enters the prison; this way the control net tries and succeeds (in some cases) to prevent the smuggling of “illegal” items into prison (small amounts of drugs in 90% of the cases).

But, even with all these strip searches, smack and all other kinds of drugs are still the easiest thing to be found in prisons. Common sense suggests that drugs and other “goods” are smuggled in by those who are not subject to any kind of search. Why then the insistence in an ineffective way of controlling, or ultimately why not apply the same scrutiny to the “employees”?

To begin with, it keeps the pretense of security in the prison; secondly, it maintains the social distinction between prisoners and “decent citizens”-humanguards, while the guards’ power over inmates is reaffirmed with every inspection. By enforcing cavity search, the prison administration immediately clarifies who is the boss, who commands and who is obliged to obey submissively.

Thus, the firmament of Power is maintained and reproduced smoothly.

At this point a note is necessary. All this applies to nonadministrative prisoners. For prisoners who serve the administration things are undoubtedly different. The prison system is generous to those who collaborate closely with it…

In the past 18 months, the denial to remove underwear during body searches has become common practice for several anarchists whilst it has been adopted and was also implemented in the past by individual prisoners.

Far from protecting some vague “dignity” or a false moralization, this refusal to some extent defines the boundaries between a prisoner and the administration, stating factually that the red line of adversary camps is firmly maintained.

The administration’s reactions against this refusal differ depending on the policy of each prison, the idiosyncrasy of each humanguard but also the legacy that has been won by prisoners: varying from acceptance of the inmate’s claim, to many days in solitary confinement (in a “reception space” or “host cell” in modern democratic terminology), disciplinary transfer to another prison, macho responses or forcible strip searches.

The latest incident, among the many in recent months when anarchists suffered the consequences of this refusal, was the case of comrade Sokratis Tzifkas: after his transfer to a hospital and on his return to Diavata prison (near Thessaloniki), he refused to consent to the cavity search and as a result was punished with 10 days in solitary confinement, in the disciplinary wing, and a disciplinary prison transfer.

Given that a month earlier Sokratis (again on his return from the hospital) had kept the same stance, refusing to undergo the cavity search, but at the time this did not present a problem, we believe that this reaction is indicative of the anxiety that humanguards and prison administrators are experiencing after the “revelation” of the gang of Trikala.

We cannot avoid suspecting that in the case of Sokratis, as in other cases that we might not know about, the administration adopts an “intransigent” attitude so as to shift the burden of smuggling and its impact onto the prisoners.

Against the prison institution as a whole, we oppose all transactions or exchanges and any kind of relationship with our guards. Irregular or illegal activities of the prison administration are not some sort of random deviation, but a structural component of a “correctional system” where the core of its existence lies in domination’s reproduction, either in the form of enforcement, or in the form of collaboration.

Against exchange relations with respective prison administrations, we call to joint struggle, solidarity and self-organization of prisoners against the state of incarceration.

Let’s broaden and collectivize our refusals.

Spyros Stratoulis
Giorgos Karagiannidis
Rami Syrianos