Italy – On the revolt in the prison of Spini

Here are two texts on the revolt in the prison of Spini di Gardolo (Trento), distributed in the city and outside the prison during visiting hours.
In the night between Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd December a prisoner, Sabri El Abidi, committed suicide in the prison of Spini di Gardolo. He was the ninth person to do so since the inauguration of so-called ‘model prison’ (2011), the third in 2018. At the end of November another prisoner took his own life.  Only the week before an attempted suicide had been avoided and a female prisoner was taken to hospital after swallowing bleach in protest. The cause of the latest suicide is a recurring one: no response to a request for release on bail by surveillance judges (Rosa Liistro, Antonino Mazzi, Arnaldo Rubichi). The press made it known that the prisoner had promised his daughter he would spend Christmas with her. The surveillance judges’ denials had already led to two deaths: in 2014 two prisoners committed suicide after yet another refusal to their request for house arrest or alternative measures to prison. The latest protest against surveillance judges dates back to mid-September.

In the morning of Saturday 23rd December, as news of yet another death and its cause spread, 300 prisoners (out of about 350: in practice all the prisoners, except the female unit and ‘the protected’ ones) barricaded themselves in the sections, started a dozen fires and smashed furniture, structures, cameras. The canteen, laundry, workshops were also damaged, while anti-riot cops and carabinieri lined up outside the gates of the units; they were also outside to prevent prisoners’ families from entering the building, as visits were due in the morning. Cries rose up from inside: ‘Murderers!’ A screw was injured and another six were taken to hospital for intoxication. The revolt involved all three levels of the prison, which ended up heavily damaged, with about fifteen cells (five wings out of eight) declared out of use, and lasted until the afternoon. A group of prisoners managed to break down a door and get out to the yard; the cops’ intervention blocked what could have been an escape attempt. The police chief and a government commissioner arrived at Spini, and a politicians’ parade began (from northern league members Fugatti and Bisesti to Ghezzi, who in an interview had the indecency to talk of a ‘model prison’, just a shame about the suicides which ‘are becoming too many’, with a ‘recurrence well above the national average’).
The prisoners’ claims are those that anyone who has had to do with the prison of Spini knows off by heart, and are directly linked to the latest suicide: shorter delays for requests submitted to the surveillance court and for getting answers, possibility to benefit from measures alternative to prison for those sentenced to less than three years (so called ‘empty-prisons’ law) and to early release for good behaviour, implementation of a medical system in prison also during the night. Yes, because yet again in this case there were no doctors in the prison at the time of the suicide; they had to wait for the 118 service intervention. If doctors had been there, perhaps Sabri El Abidi wouldn’t have died.
Then come the politicians’ declarations, party statements, the guarantor’s visits, the bishop’s outpourings (in Christian solidarity with the prisoners but also with the guards, why not), newspaper headlines. Chief police Garramone and the prison governor Gioieni had to bring themselves to negotiate with the prisoners and ‘declared’ to with those whom they put behind bars every day ‘their commitment’ to summon a Committee for security in order to discuss the prisoners’ claims. About a hundred prisoners have already been transferred to other prisons (and another eighty transfers have been announced), and about thirty prisoners have been accused of bodily harm, damage, even kidnapping (a cooperative’s female worker had been blocked in one of the barricaded areas). After the revolt the screws beat up several prisoners and put them in solitary confinement. Always accustomed to having the upper hand, for a few hours the brave prison men got a small doze of the violence and fear they dispense every day.
The day after the revolt and the suicide, the regional secretary of the National Autonomous Union of Prison Police [SINAPPE] was such an asshole as to declare that ‘the prisoners are not being adequately sanctioned for their incorrect behaviour’. A good lesson for those who had any doubts about the screws’ humanity. They are the same ones who a few weeks earlier removed a clock form the visiting hall so as to send visitors away before the end of the visiting time. Later on still SINAPPE invoked the reintegration of closed cells for 24 hours (this being a constant request by screws’ unions, any time is good to bring it out). For their part the union UILPA – The Prison Police, in a touching letter to the minister of justice, written after the revolt, rave about ‘giving dignity back to working conditions for prison police’. Only they know what sort of dignity the ‘most disgusting job of all’ can have. Certainly dignity can’t be known to those who lock up, beat up and torture every day. But hangmen seem to like giving lessons on dignity, considering that even Spini governor Francesca Gioieni had the insolence to brag about her ‘engagement for a dignified and acceptable detention’ a few days after Sabri El Abidi’s death and the uprising. Only she knows how one can ‘accept’ to live locked-up, and also find some dignity. The dignity of the oppressed, as the prisoners of Spini teach us, is only in revolt, in the struggle for freedom.
Almost a month after the revolt that set the prison of Spini on fire following the umpteenth death due to the work of the surveillance judges, there’s still no clarity about the situation inside: as for transfers a game of numbers continues (100, 180, 50…); they talk about real punitive transfers used to send prisoners who were particularly active during the revolt to ‘confinement’ hundreds of kilometres away (in Emilia but also Rome and Reggio Calabria, it seems); outgoing letters continue to be blocked; prison police unions are complaining  (poor things!) about ‘lack of disciplinary sanctions’, while from the inside there is talk of several prisoners being beaten up and put in solitary confinement. From families’ prisoners we learn that Sabri El Abidi had already protested and self-injured because there had been no answer to his request for release on bail, and that after his death, hours passed before medical personnel intervened.
In recent days we have witnessed the predictable institutional parades, with the prison governor, politicians, administrators, magistrates and cops united in some improbable ‘committee for order and security’, for photographers’ use and consumption, where they could blab about vague promises concerning medical assistance, education, work, ‘task force’, ‘good practices’ (‘good practices’? Maybe they are referring to the 9 deaths since the opening of the prison, the beatings, segregation, letters thrown away, phone calls denied…), ‘life quality’ (in prison?!)
Something interesting has actually come out of this: the government commissioner Lombardi had to admit that ‘the revolt had repercussions outside the prison’,
‘relevant to public order and security’. As a consequence, the minister of the interior also took an interest. Surveillance judges Arnaldo Rubichi and Antonio Mazzi were also part of the discussion. These are the judges to be thanked for Sabri El Abidi’s death besides that of two prisoners years ago (Giacinto Verra and Riccardo Scalet). As concerns the medical situation in prison APSS [Provincial Health Service Agency] is said to have carried out an inspection, where they found out what was obvious: there are no doctors during the night, when at least one should be there. That one was not there in the night of 21st December; and this is what prisoners have been demanding for years, but it was necessary to burn a prison for someone to listen to them. The supporters of ‘pacific and civil protests’ should remember that.
They are also talking of ‘situations of very serious psychic suffering’, their solution being to strengthen the normalizing role of psychiatry, with a permanent psychiatrist on call every day, while psychotropic drugs are already being widely dispensed in order to keep prisoners adequately ‘sedated’. Nobody ever thinks that suffering can be caused by the fact of being deprived of one’s freedom and subjected to the everyday violence of prison and to the screws’ inhuman treatments. The directors of the health agency allegedly consulted Claudio Ramponi, the current responsible for prison health. Yes, the very Ramponi who, as health director, had prevented an autopsy being carried out on Vargas Zsolt’s body, when he died in Spini in 2013, and tried to file the death as ‘cardiac arrest’ (in fact the death was caused by a mixture of gas and psychotropic drugs dispensed by the prison) in the obvious attempt at relieving the governor of any responsibility. At the time there were no doctors during the night or at weekends, while help arrived too late. In other words, we can be confident.
The Spini prisoners’ revolt tore down the wall of silence and isolation upon which screws and governor count to guarantee the prison governability. We tried to amplify the prisoners’ voices in many ways: gatherings, leaflets, graffiti that scandalized journalists (such as ‘long live the struggle for freedom’… the prohibited word!), a small demo which for a while interrupted the consumerist routine of the town centre on Saturday’s day off. An anonymous claim also appeared in the internet mentioning other graffiti (‘judges murderers, long live the Spini rioters’) and windows smashed with stones at the surveillance judges’ office.
The revolt in Trento was not isolated: in the prison of Aosta fifteen prisoners barricaded themselves in a section for a whole day and prevented the guards from intervening. On Sunday 20th January there will be a gathering outside the prison of Turin in solidarity with the prisoners of that jail and the rioters of Trento and Aosta.
We’ll see what happens. What is certain is that only with a strong struggle and open revolt can prisoners make themselves heard, otherwise their voices don’t get out beyond the walls and their lives are condemned to be crushed by prison. It is up to all of us, as we are temporarily free on bail, to give strength to prisoners’ protests from outside and create links between the revolts.
Translated by act for freedom now!

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