Translated by Act for freedom now!
Ayear has passed since comrade Gabriel Pombo Da Silva was transferred to the Topas penitentiary centre (Salamanca). He continues to resist the harsh experience of the deprivation of liberty (after already more than 30 years behind bars), but also various stratagems that the prison administration is continuing to come up with in the best of its interests and those commanding it.
Topas prison was created as part of the program of construction of about twenty maxi-prisons promulgated in the early 90s by the PSOE government of Felipe González.
At the same time, the left and socialist head of the AP, Antoni Asunción, introduced the internal directive governing the FIES regimes.So Topas prison has the characteristics of these new mass incarceration factories – in Spain, the number of imprisoned persons has doubled in 20 years, from roughly 35 000 – 70 000 between 1991 and 2011.
One of the criteria of this modernization consists of distancing prisons from urban centres, so Topas was built in the open countryside. This serves several purposes: to hide these wretched places as much as possible; further separate those imprisoned from their loved ones, forced to travel many kilometres for any visit – (?!) luck, unlike most other jails, Topas is located along a main road served by a bus route, a ‘luxury’ that avoids the collective punishment of expensive trips or forced marches.
The distance is also intended to reduce demonstrations of solidarity in neighbourhoods as they once existed, especially when there is movement inside the prison, and to make escapes extremely difficult.
This program of new prisons is therefore the response to the waves of struggles, riots and escapes that rocked Spanish prisons regularly from the 70s to the 90s. Bringing together different types of detention inside them (remand, central etc.), these are maximum security prisons, equipped with automatic doors, increasingly sophisticated computerized control systems and a multitude of high tech devices among other things.
The size and architecture of these prisons makes it possible to lock up over a thousand prisoners in each of them, while separating them according to the requirements and experimentation of the prison management. They are in fact divided into separate autonomous buildings each with their own exercise yard, visiting areas and canteen. Any kind of interaction between the different units is carefully avoided, and prisoners have little way of knowing what is happening in the rest of the prison, which reduces the possibilities of struggles or even riots. To prevent “dangerous combinations”, it is also very easy to move a prisoner from one building to another without the need for a transfer to another jail – even if dispersion remains an effective way to punish prisoners and their relatives. After 5 transfers since arriving in Spain, Gabriel for example has already been able to discover 5 different internal modules in Topas.
This organization based both on massification and atomization contributes to continuing the dirty war by breaking bonds of solidarity or encouraging rivalries and entanglements in a context of emotional and economic misery. To add a layer to the hardship and the struggle for survival, the latest find to date in Topas has been to reduce visits to two a month, to be conducted only by family or a lawyer …
Parallel to this architectural model the modern concept of scientific treatment of prisoners is also being developed. Contemporary guinea pigs, they are classified according to a long list of regimes, degrees and phases. This cataloguing is extremely precise and is carried out by a whole range of specialists (so-called “technical teams” or “trucologues [trickalogues]” as Gabriel quips, who refuses to submit to their examinations: psychologists, sociologists, educators and other social workers … ) according to essentially behavioural and disciplinary criteria.
What carries the sweet name of “individualized treatment” amounts to scrutinizing the behaviour of each prisoner to establish their profile and the treatment to be applied to them. To put it bluntly, it is a question of hitting where it hurts – knowing that this bureaucracy is also critical for exit permits and conditional liberty. All this obviously goes towards constituting huge databases and tighter control.
Beyond the regular interrogations required by these battalions of experts, daily monitoring is ensured through various means: the system of ubiquitous cameras and incident reports distributed by the screws are unfortunately often supported by the effective control of fellow prisoners.
The so-called modules of “maximum respect” of so-called “life in common” are an extreme example of this co-management. The prisoners who enter them actually undertake to respect and ensure others’ respect not only of the prison rules, but a bonus code of conduct developed for the division itself. Under cover of assessment assemblies, they are actively involved in their own imprisonment and the reign of the equilibrium that tends to generalize, that is what rehabilitation means…
Of course, the whole system functions on the strategy of carrot and stick: rewards for those who show proof of their good will with regard to the prison administration in various ways, while the closed regimes, isolation and most FIES regimes are intended to punish “conflictual” prisoners and endorse the diagnosis or prognosis of social dangerousness.
FIES 3 awaited comrades Francisco and Mónica from the start of their incarceration. Gabriel, for his part, was put in FIES 5 while he was in A Lama, and this decision has already been renewed several times by the Topas administration. Noelia Cotelo, also considered a rebel, arrive at Topas in turn, where she was immediately put in solitary confinement. She is still in FIES 5. Among other special measures, it implies that all written and verbal communications are read, photocopied, listened to and recorded and can be censored based on criteria such as the vaguest “subversive content” or “endangering security or the proper functioning of the jail.” As it happens, for the comrade it is almost all the publications of an anarchist nature that are retained, even when they meet the mandatory selective criteria of having an ISBN number and mention of the printer. Hence her request not to send letters with this kind of post as they are totally denied. Her correspondence is also subject to the limitation of two letters to be sent per week, not counting delays or “unexplained” disappearances of letters, in order to silence and isolate her most likely.
The supervising judge of the region responded to the appeal sent by Gabriel by confirming his placement in FIES, with this sentence, that does not lack flavour: “It appears from the reports received and the content of the monitoring of calls made since he has been in this detention centre that he continues to carry out an anarchist and anti-system struggle against the regime and the institutions, encouraging his relatives and friends to fight.” This speaks volumes about what the State expects from the comrade: to renounce what he believes in and what he is; harassment and dirty games involving his release date (legal recourse is still ongoing) probably intended for this and obviously failed.
The functioning and function of prison reminds us yet again that it is a denser reflection of the society that produces and needs it. From the lowest to the highest levels, the wheels that maintain the institutions and the established order, need and demand the submission of the many. It’s about breaking individuals and eliminating possibilities of struggle. Consent can be bought with shots of good and bad points, crumbs, legal and illegal drugs or it can be snatched with the most direct violence, because all means are valid in the eyes of the powerful, democratic or not.
The “humanization” of prisons sold by power and media propaganda actually conceals the attempt at depersonalisation and total dispossession, just as their alleged “social peace” is merely a more or less covert war.
Outside as inside, it’s these gears that need to be broken, along with all the physical, technological and psychological chains. Only revolt and the struggle will finish with relations based on domination and satisfy our desires for freedom.
Down with the prison society, the State and all authority!
To write to the comrade:
Gabriel Pombo Da Silva
Ctra N-630, km 314
37799 Topas (Salamanca)