The Korydallos prison complex in Piraeus is Greece’s main “Type B” maximum-security prison. It is massive, with a designated capacity of 8,500 across its numerous wings, which hold both male and female prisoners – many of whom the Greek State consider to be the worst of the worst. It is also grossly overcrowded and currently holds over 12,500 people, some in wings designed to house half their number. A significant factor in these excessive numbers is the high percentage of pre-trial prisoners being held there rather than, as would normally be the case, in lower-security “Type A” prisons. Historically, Greek prisons have long been prone to serious overcrowding problems, which have precipitated regular prison uprising and protests, but the country’s current economic crisis has further exacerbated this endemic problem.
In the prison’s male hospital wing, the situation even worse: meant to hold only 60 sick prisoners, more than 200 are currently forced to live in its dirty and unsanitary conditions, with the majority having to sleep in bunk beds or even on just a mattress laying on any available free piece of floor space. In the only room not full of bunk beds, single bones are set head to foot with barely enough room to squeeze between the rows. In this environment, those suffering from communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis and scabies exist cheek by jowl with patients suffering from cancer and kidney problems. Many are also HIV positive, part of an epidemic sweeping the Greek prison population.
There are no single rooms there, not even for the oldest and sickest. So unpleasant are the conditions that the prison guards usually stay outside the prison hospital walls, and on the rare occasions when they do come inside e.g. to count the prisoners, they wear masks and gloves. Added to that, there are only two doctors for the 200 plus patients and a seriously under-staffed nursing workforce.
It came as no surprise then when up to 180 patients launched a full-blown hunger strike on February 16, with some of those too severely ill to participate fully eating only bread. The protesters were also refusing medication, including antiretroviral and cancer drugs. This is just the latest in a long line of strikes over the past few years, some of which have elicited promises of improved conditions, but nothing has changed. So this time, the prisoners smuggled in a mobile phone with an Internet connection and launched a social media campaign with a twitter account and facebook page, where they uploaded photos and videos of the appalling conditions that they have to live in.
In one of these pictures, an ailing man lies on a bunk with his intravenous drip having to be held up on a mop handle because of the lack of equipment. Contrast this to life on Wing 6, the so-called VIP wing, which was originally designated to hold the colonels sentenced to life following the fall of the dictatorship in 1974. Here, the businessmen, bankers, shipowners, politicians and fashion designers who are its current residents enjoy their own private prison yard, read newspapers, magazines, play backgammon and are even able to eat meals sent in from the outside rather than the prison slop everybody else has to endure. It even had a small swimming pool, until the press got hold of the story and it was filled in.
Main photo © www.ekathimerini.com