In early March 2020, as fear of the Covid19 virus spread outside prison walls and the government imposed social distancing and the obligation to stay at home on the entire population, prisoners throughout Italy made their voices heard to obtain health protection and guarantees, to ask for amnesty and the reduction of the sentence.
The riots in March were certainly one of the hottest moments of protest in Italian prisons in the past 40 years, both in terms of the number of prisoners involved and the impact on prison structures in terms of damage. The riots, strikes of all kinds, fires, escape attempts and damage forced the state to recognize that even in prison, fear of the virus and the risk of the infection spreading was seen as a problem. In the face of all this, the measures taken were systematic beatings, new closures, transfers, heavy denunciations for those who rebelled.
This is in addition to the blocking of visits with relatives and unnecessary measures to send under house arrest those who, due to the rules in force, could already have access to alternative measures to detention.
During these months it has become clear that for the state the detained population is absolutely expendable in the name of security and that the right to health does not extend to prisoners.
The riots left 14 people dead, whom the state was quick to declare dead from drug overdoses. If this version has never been considered valid by those who, like us, know well how the State organizes itself to suppress riots, in prison as well as outside, and how easy and frequent it is for the guards to unleash themselves on people locked up and far from the spotlight, the testimony that we offer below goes further. In fact, he tells us that in the Modena prison, then temporarily closed because of the revolt and where there were 9 dead, including 4 during the transfer to other prisons, the special forces fired at the detainees to restore calm. They shot at people locked up who could not escape; then, their bodies were quickly cremated after the autopsies. 14 dead who still demand revenge.
Testimony on prisoners killed in Modena prison in March (Letter sent to OLGa in mid-October 2020)
I went to jail because the police came to check and found me undocumented, so they sent me to jail.
Since I was in jail, the problems started; once, there was a fight I had nothing to do with. Then the police came and they beat us and broke our bones; then, they put us in solitary confinement for 3 days without taking us to the hospital.
Eventually, a boy was taken to the hospital and passed out from the pain. When he saw him, the doctor urgently let him in. The doctor told the police he had to stay in the hospital for at least 3-4 days, but the police wouldn’t allow it. The doctor had requested that someone inside the prison help him move for a month, but the police did nothing as the doctor asked and gave him a certificate. He reported to the police at the hospital and took the file with him; in the end, that evening, they picked him up and immediately took him to Modena prison where I had also been transferred, to a cell where my friends from my town were also.
I stayed there until the coronavirus came and when the corona came there was a man sick with the virus and they didn’t want to let him out and they forbade us to see our family members.
After that, a revolution happened and they set the prison on fire and the special forces entered and started shooting. 12 people died including 2 of my friends; they died in front of my eyes. I’m still in shock. I had escaped to the roof of the prison so they wouldn’t shoot me. After, they took us all and put us in a room; they took off all our clothes and they started beating us, slapping us and kicking us. Then, they gave us our clothes back and they put us in line and they beat us again with the baton; at that point, I realized they were going to take us to another prison. These were the beatings we received and they sent me to another prison without shoes.
Then, when we got to the prison, they beat us again. In the end, I served my sentence. I am very shocked for my friends. I could not file a complaint against the riflemen because they are too strong. And I have no money or documents. I’m still very shocked and I can’t sleep or eat well anymore.
We are now in the midst of the so-called second wave of the pandemic. Across Italy, the number of infections and deaths is rising and, as well as for healthcare and schools, the government has done nothing for prisons to prevent the spread of the virus. The data is catastrophic: more than 2,000 prisoners and guards are infected. With the overcrowding of prisons, it is clear that we are faced with a bomb ready to explode. In addition, today like last spring, adequate sanitary measures are not even taken inside the jails: masks and other personal protective equipment are lacking, tampons are distributed with difficulty, medical care, which was already difficult to access, is now even more questionable. In addition to the various prison administrations, the local health authorities responsible for prison health are also responsible for these deficiencies.
The prisoners, exhausted by the repression of this spring, however, do not give up the actions of protest: riots, refusal to return from walks, refusal of the cart, hunger strikes are the tools with which they use to make themselves heard because they know that for the State and the public and penitentiary administrations, they are cannon fodder.
The arrangements made by the Dap (prison administration department) and the Minister of Justice are a photocopy of those of March: blocking visits for prisoners in the red zones and ridiculous overtures to reduce overcrowding.
While the guards, the main vectors of the infection, enter and leave the penitentiaries and the surveillance magistrates continue to refuse the freedom to many candidates, demonstrating that they do not want to overcome the security problem, despite the risk of carnage in the prisons.
It seems more important than ever to us to break down the wall of silence and isolation that surrounds prisons, to give voice to the protests of those who are locked up and to support their struggle so that it is clear that today as in March the only security is freedom.