Authors: Andrew Symeou
fter a few slow and monotonous weeks I’d discovered that the judicial council’s decision was to leave me in prison. According to them, I was still ‘dangerous’ and they were afraid that I might ‘re-offend’. I hadn’t even been questioned by police in the investigation, let alone found guilty in a court of law. As much as I’d convinced myself that I was prepared to remain locked up, I couldn’t even bring myself to leave my bunk for two days. Ashmul agreed to collect my food from downstairs for a packet of cigarettes. I didn’t want to walk into the hallway any more; then again, I didn’t want to be in the cell either. Everything was torturing me – the repetition; the violence; the screaming, shouting and wolf-whistling; the lack of privacy; the lack of hygiene; the cockroaches and mice; listening to Stelios moan about the same shit every day; having to constantly keep my guard up – it was exhausting and doing my head in. My depression was getting worse and it felt like I’d been in Korydallos for far longer than it had actually been. The hardest thing was having no idea how long it would be before I could leave – it could’ve been another month, six months, or even a year; who was to know? Even before returning home I’d be sitting in the dock of a high-profile homicide trial in what could quite possibly be one of the most
corrupt countries in Europe. Maybe my life was over? There were too many unknowns and my 21-year-old mind couldn’t deal with them. The word ‘depressed’ isn’t powerful enough to describe how I felt.
I finally forced myself to go for a walk on the ground floor of the wing. I remember feeling light-headed and weak because I hadn’t moved a muscle in days. Pavlos told me that Apollo needed a favour – I didn’t care about keeping him at arm’s length any more, nothing mattered. The worst thing that could have happened is that someone beat the crap out of me or killed me. In a time of such depression, when it feels like the world is crushing in on you, you don’t think logically and an eternity of nothingness doesn’t even seem that bad any more. I walked in, sat down and sparked up a cigarette. I didn’t even say hello – I remember feeling dazed and in my own world. He showed me a few hits of heroin that were individually wrapped in little bits of folded paper and suggested that I deliver them for him to other cells for a cut of the profit. I told him to deliver them himself, or get someone who needs the money to do it – then I stood up to leave.
He threw his hands in the air, as though he was surrendering. ‘I was thinking you might need a job! I’m asking all my friends. You don’t want it? OK,’ he said.
‘Fuck this,’ I said, and walked out. I couldn’t take it any more. My eyes swelled.
He followed me into the hallway. ‘
come and tell me what’s wrong. You look fucked up, let’s have a coffee.’ He put his arm around me and walked me back into cell thirty-three.
I was given no choice but to sit down again. ‘It’s my
– I’m not getting out of prison for a long time. The police told lies; I might even go down for twenty years and I don’t need people like you trying to turn me into a fucking drug dealer.’
‘You’re right, I just see a young guy like you in here … you
don’t know it but you have balls … and I trust you,’ he said with his hand on my shoulder. ‘I won’t make you do it, there are many others who would.’ He sat down and racked up two lines of heroin on the table.
‘Cool,’ I said. ‘Anyway, I can ask my friends
if you want.’
‘I don’t know them, I don’t trust them.’ He snorted the line closest to him and handed me the segment of a plastic straw. I took it in my hand and looked at the line of heroin in front of me. Two inches long; a mixture of fine brown powder and a few crystallised clumps. In prison – in that moment – I wasn’t myself. I’d allowed my environment to slowly consume who I was. It wasn’t me; it’s as though I’d forgotten my own identity and I was just another prisoner. I don’t take heroin; why would I ever take heroin? At what point in my life would I have been associated with people who took heroin? My life was fine; I had a lovely girlfriend and good friends. I was happy, then it turned to shit and I was forced to leave my home and live in Korydallos prison instead. The world was fucked up and my life was on the verge of ruin. I’d been dealing with the wrongful accusation for a year and a half and it was all too much to endure. I put the straw up my right nostril, held my left nostril closed, pressed the end of the straw against the tip of the line, took a big sniff and followed it to the other end. It burnt the inside of my nose like fire and the tang of chemicals drizzled down the back of my throat. I swallowed; it tasted like bile. I put another cigarette between my lips. Apollo lit it for me.
’ he asked.
I could feel myself welling up. I hid it well. ‘Nah, I’m gonna go.’
‘Any time, you know this,’ he said.
I walked back to cell forty-nine – a pathetic walk of shame that was becoming heavier with each step. Thoma and Stelios
were asleep, but Ashmul was nowhere to be seen; he was probably with his Bangladeshi friends in one of the cells upstairs. I sat on my bunk. My head felt dazed from my racing heart. I told myself to forget about it and smoked a cigarette. My eyes started to stream because of what I’d just done – I was ashamed of myself. Everything became weighty, as though time itself had been diluted. I collapsed backwards with my feet still on the floor. I sunk deeper and deeper into the mattress and my body was overwhelmed with a warm chemical bliss. My mind and body separated – my body was sedated while my mind was lost at the edge of consciousness, a tranquil mishmash of lucid dreams and clouded thoughts.
I don’t know how many hours had passed. I woke up to a song on Stelios’s radio that would play every evening called ‘Opa Opa’. I stumbled over to the toilet, but couldn’t urinate even though I needed to. Instead I vomited; it was mainly liquid because I hadn’t eaten.
– Did you drink/snort?’ asked Stelios.
– No,’ I lied.
Yesterday was a bad day, but today I’m feeling better. I was a dick. Now I’m just trying to think positively. Everything may happen for a reason. Maybe not making bail means this whole fucked-up ordeal will end sooner, even if it means staying in prison. It’s all cool, you are OK, Andrew. Things could be so much worse. Imagine if all the evidence implicated you and you had no way of discrediting it … or no way of proving your innocence. You can … and you will. You had a bit of a slump but it’s time to pick yourself back up. You just have to carry on.
OK, it’s only been one hour since I wrote that last paragraph.
I was happily eating my soggy pasta and suddenly there was a lot of shouting outside in the hall. We all went outside to see what was going on. It was the biggest fight/war I’ve ever seen in my life. About 100 prisoners were beating the crap out of each other; one African guy was on the ground getting very badly beaten. They whipped him with hoses and beat him with what looked like some kind of poles. He was screaming and there was blood everywhere. The guards couldn’t do anything, it was too hectic. Oh my God, that wasn’t the end. It started to die down a bit, and then suddenly someone threw a huge bin full of rubbish from the third floor to the ground floor. Again, herds of prisoners were shouting, screaming and suddenly everyone was throwing pots, pans, chairs, tables and bins from all floors. One guy even managed to rip a telephone off the wall on the third floor and threw it down to the ground floor. I’m still in shock. I think it was an Albanian/African war. Crazy … They just locked us back up early because it was getting way out of hand. The floor was covered in blood. When one Albanian gets into a fight, they all fight. When one African gets into a fight, all the Africans fight. It is all about race. Today wasn’t just a series of fights, it was a war and I don’t think it’s over. I’m going to speak to the social worker and try to be moved to a better section of the prison. This is too crazy.
It’s been exactly six months since the day I was extradited, and what a day it’s been. We’ve been locked up all day because of the riots. They only opened the doors for food, but had locked off all the gates, segregating all the floors. I went down at 11 a.m. to collect food and the war started again on the middle floor. At least twenty of the Albanians on the ground floor were rioting behind
the bars that led to the stairs – kicking and smashing the bars with wooden table and chair legs. They were screaming ‘
– Open the door!’ They were screaming and shouting. Another riot was happening right above me. About ten guards ran upstairs to stop it. A man was thrown down the stairs to my left and looked like he could even have been dead. He landed in front of my feet covered with blood from head to toe. I was still standing in shock with my Tupperware container and food coupon in hand, when one of the big bins came flying from the top floor, covering all the Albanian men on the ground floor with rubbish and hitting one on the head. Two guards carried the prisoner who was drenched in blood out of Gamma wing.
The main Albanian guy who was screaming and bashing the bars was a friend of my cellmate Stelios. I have no idea why he was in prison, but he would often come to our cell for a cigarette and coffee. The man was absolutely huge, at least six and a half feet tall. He was hefty but muscular, and it seemed as though he could have crushed my head with his bare hands. Regardless of his intimidating size, he had a non-threatening face that would normally remind me of Winnie-the-Pooh. I’d say he was probably about thirty years old and had light brown hair that looked almost ginger from certain angles. He’d nicknamed me ‘
’, which could be used to mean ‘chubby’. But he was chubby too, so I’d say
‘Ego eimai “Hondroulli Ena” kai esi eisai “Hondroulli Dyo” –
I’m “Chubby One” and you’re “Chubby Two”.’ He would chuckle and high-five me, so I was very surprised when I saw him act so violently. It was like watching the smiley Disney character become a monster.
The man who’d just been badly beaten and covered from head to toe in blood must have been a close friend of his (or maybe even a relative). Along with an army of prisoners, he screamed with passion behind the bars and continued to strike them
fiercely with wooden table legs. ‘
– OPEN!’ he screeched in a high-pitched, erratic panic. His sweat-drenched face was plastered with fury while he attempted to break open the lock of the barred gate. God knows what would have happened if he’d succeeded; it would have been a stampede!
I couldn’t go back up to my floor because there was a crazy riot going on. All I could do was stand at the front of the ground floor and watch in horror. A guard ran over to the bars (from the outside, where I was standing) and it seemed like he had no idea what to do because he was on his own. He tried to calm down Chubby Two and spoke to him through the bars in a way that was stern but gentle at the same time. ‘
– Slow down/ take it easy,’ he said.
Chubby Two was too overwhelmed to even acknowledge him. The hoarde of inmates continued to hit the bars ferociously and scream at the top of their voices in distress.
– Take it easy!’ the
Chubby Two gave the bars one last strike and then relaxed for a split second to take a breath. The
must have seen it as a sudden moment of vulnerability, because he fed his arms through the bars and held Chubby’s reddened face in both of his palms. It was brave of him, as he was risking his hands being hit by one of the many wooden table legs. ‘It’s OK,’ the guard said, softly, but loud enough for it to be heard over the chaotic cries of other prisoners on the ground floor. ‘
– Take it easy.’
He tried to pull the guard’s hands away from his face, but the guard held onto his cheeks. ‘
Anixe tin porta!
– Open the door!’ said Chubby Two, but he choked up a bit as the words came out. His body relaxed but the army of inmates behind him continued to fill the wing with deep, protesting screams. Then he dropped the wooden table leg, as if giving up. He gripped onto the prison guard’s arms like a scared child holding onto a parent. He let out
a loud, hysterical wail that resonated in a way that was almost operatic. Tears streamed down his cheeks and dripped onto the guard’s hands, which still held his face.
‘See, it’s OK, it’s OK,’ the
It all happened so fast and there was little time for me to acknowledge how it made me feel as an observer. It’s an image that’s stayed in my mind, perhaps more vividly than other memories of prison. In hindsight, it may be because I’d never seen a prisoner reveal any sign of emotion up until that point, and in the same moment, it was the first time that I’d ever witnessed an act of compassion from a prison
. They were two men from opposite ends of the spectrum: one – an Albanian inmate; the other – a Greek prison guard. In that moment, their roles in the social context of prison were almost diminished and they were just two men; one emotionally distraught; the other empathetic and courageous. It’s hard to believe that such a stressful and violent picture could also be so human and meaningful.
So, they opened the door for one hour this morning. I tried to call my mum but all the phones were turned off. Now they have locked us up again and said they aren’t opening the doors. So I can’t call Riya or my mum, and my mum is on her own. She is going to be thinking, why hasn’t he called? And Riya is going to be worried that something is wrong because I told her that I would call her yesterday. This is reminding me of the bad memory in Patras, locked up in the small cell for four bloody days.
Ahhh, the guard just opened the door to give me my medicine and confirmed that there will be no telephones today because the whole of Gamma is in detention. He is a cool guy, he speaks English well. When he first saw me he said, ‘So you’re
the Cypriot Londoner? My girlfriend read about your case and told me. The system is fucked up, man, just be patient and you will be fine.’