Travelling through the Greek correctional system.
The bus carrying Rita pulled out of the border crossing as I looked out through the window of the duty officers office. The duty officer came in and informed me that I had been found guilty in absentia, of theft and sentenced to 5 months in prison. I was also told that I would be taken back to the place from whence I came and then taken to a place of execution and hung from the neck until dead… not really but I couldn’t help myself. I would be taken back to Lefkas, a Greek (almost island) island in the Ionian where the crimes took place. Lefkas is an almost island because it is joined to the mainland by a chain bridge crossing a 15m gap.
I sat on the couch for a couple of hours and was then taken in a police car to Salonika where I was locked in a holding cell in the basement of the police station. This is where the nightmare bit begins.
The holding cell was about 6 meters by 4 meters with a toilet in one corner. The toilet, the hole in the ground type, was blocked. Being blocked didn’t stop anyone using it, no choice really, so it was piled high with shit and I mean piled high. The smell was so bad that if you wanted to use the toilet you had to breathe through your mouth and not look down. The cell had a wall of bars across the front that looked out on to a room with a desk that was otherwise empty. There were about ten of us in there and stragglers turned up as the night went on.
There were only three beds which were all taken. The rest of us had to stand, sit or lie on the floor. The territory, bed, furthest from the toilet was taken by a mean looking character and the spaces extending from there to the toilet were taken by the next meanest and so on all the way down to me who, being a 61kg 5.10 hippy didn’t even make it on to the mean scale.
As I was in a holding cell anyone that was picked up by the police that night was just dumped in there. The atmosphere was charged as most of the residents were drunk and all of them were unhappy to be there which they took out on each other. My work for the night was to somehow stay under the radar and stay in one piece till the morning.
I had a choice which was to pretend I didn’t speak Greek and that way know what was going on without others knowing I knew or I could speak Greek and tell my story which usually got people interested. I decided that the best option was to speak Greek as I didn’t know how long I was going to be held in the cell and I wasn’t sure I could keep up a pretence for days on end if needs be.
I sat on the floor at the end of the row of people, closest to the toilet, and just minded my own business pretending to be asleep. At some point I heard the others talking about me and wondering what I was in for but they didn’t bother me. The night passed slowly with the police having to come in to the room quite often to sort out fights and scuffles. In the morning we were given a cup of milk and some bread which was welcome and which also had the effect of calming the whole room down as they were all like little kids lining up for their bread and milk at school, something that used to happen in Cypriot and Greek schools, and forgot their “playground” differences.
Most of the prisoners left to either go to court or home, if all they were in for was being a bit drunk, and I was alone with a few others. Later on in the day we were herded out of the cell and into a prisoner transport van. It was a box van with benches running down each side. There was a cage wall towards the back door of the van which left enough space for two guards to sit between the cage wall and the actual van door. When we got to the van it was already quite full and we ended up squeezing five on each side and four sitting on the floor between the benches. The weather was very hot and inside the van it was steaming. I didn’t have any water as I hadn’t had a chance to buy anything since being caught. We drove from Salonika towards Athens, 520 kilometres, which was a 7 or 8 hour journey by car and I suspected it would be much more in the transport van. I still didn’t know where I was going to end up.
The van stopped a couple of times along the way to drop off and pick up prisoners and we finally reached Athens, actually Pireaus which is the port close to Athens, at about 10pm. I was exhausted and starving having drunk little water and only eaten bread with a tomato which the guards had thrown, at least it seemed that way, to us. We were taken out of the van and into another holding cell which was much like the one in Salonika and was already quite full of people, all men. The toilet in this one worked for half the night but ended up blocked just like the one in Salonika. I wondered whose job it was to unblock the toilets.
The night passed in much the same way as it had done in Salonika and the next morning the cell emptied until there were a few of us left who were again bundled into another overcrowded prisoner transport van which then drove off towards the west of Greece. I had been told by now that I was being taken back to Lefkas where I would be told what my fate would be. The trip was as bad as the first one and by evening we had reached Amfilochia which is a small town by the sea where the road forks going one way to Ioannina in the north west of Greece by Corfu and the other side to Preveza and Lefkas which is on the west coast below Corfu.
I was dropped off at Amfilochia, I was the only one, and escorted into a little cell in the local police station. This was better as I was by myself and my things had been given to the police men who asked me if I wanted anything. I asked for a couple of books, I was into the I Ching and Rajneesh at the time, so the policeman gave me my two books. I was also served a few souvlakia along with a coke and the policemen were quite nice. They spent some time talking with me and finding out what had happened and why I was there. I don’t know if I mentioned this earlier but I had been convicted of theft which is another story to be told later.
The next morning I was taken by police car to Lefkada which was about 50 kilometres. When I got to Lefkada I was put in the holding cell at the police station. My long suffering mother came to visit me.
Although secretly I hoped that something would happen and I wouldn’t go to prison another part of me wanted to go. I had the opportunity to pay for the sentence and be let go but as we had no money I was scheduled to be taken to Corinth prison the next day.
The next morning, accompanied by two police men, I got on the bus to Athens. The policemen handcuffed me which didn’t look to good and I am sure that if my old headmaster had seen me he would have had all his beliefs about me confirmed and if was English would have tut tutted himself all the way home. The bust trip lasted about 5 hours and I got to know the policemen who decided that there was no need to keep me in handcuffs as I was not going to try and escape. They did ask me to promise that I would not try and run off as they would then be in trouble to which I agreed.
We arrived at Corinth and the bus dropped us off on the main Athens — Patras highway. A police car came and picked us up and took us down to the local prison. I had been expecting the type of prison you see in Hollywood films but was a bit underwhelmed at the real thing. It was quite small and had what looked like a house attached to a big wall surrounding a yard about the size of two football pitches. There were a couple of guard towers but if you took away the huge wall you could be looking at a well off persons holiday home. There were some steps leading up to the main entrance and a large hall which ended opposite the main entrance door about 1o metres away in a wall to wall divider of prison bars which had a door made of prison bars in it, like the ones in the westerns, that led into the prison area. There was an office on the right which was the wardens office and further down on the right was a little coffee making facility. On the left were two rooms which I later found out were for stores and the guards.
I was taken into the wardens office and asked if I was going to behave a question that I suspect everyone answered yes to. My bag was searched and the books, being non christian, were confiscated. I was then led into the main prison area which was divided into two large rooms, one on the left and one on the right, housing about 18 prisoners in each room with beds lining each side of the wall. Just past the hallway outside the rooms there was a bid room which led down some stairs into the main prison yard. To the left of those stairs was the kitchen room and to the right the yard itself. The yard was divided into a lowered part which I think used to be some kind of garden and the main part which surrounded the lowered part in a kind of L shape. There was one basket for basket ball and that was it. The yard floor was hard earth and the walls about four metres high.
I was shown to my bed, put my clothes in the bedside cupboard, and lay down found a spot on the ceiling and started to meditate in the hope of opening my third eye.