Jean Marc Rouillan, January 27th 2000
The death penalty still exists inside French prisons. It is true that the condemned no longer have their heads chopped off. That bloody spectacle was too obscene for the tragicomedy of our asceptic societies. And yet today the long prison sentences are murdering people. It is simply a slow assassination consisting of a thousand daily deaths. An execution which takes twenty years to carry out, sometimes more, but nevertheless just as effective as a knife. Death was delegated to the guards’ work, to the “necessary” violences, to the days without life, to hopelessness. Before the war, when public executions ceased to serve any function in the imagery of State violence, they were hidden away in the “courts of honour” of the Penitentiary Administration. We no longer slice the neck today, not in public or otherwise; in this brave new world the prisoner’s death is described as “natural”: suicides, diseases and insanity. The ultimate negation as the deceased are no longer even counted as prisoners. For if medical release has all but disappeared from prison, the administration nevertheless makes sure to send the dying prisoner out to a hospital before he passes away. Sometimes they wait right up until the last coma, until the last breath before they remove them from their registers. They are afraid of a miraculous recovery, and especially of the possibility that a dying prisoner might enjoy a few extra days of “stolen freedom”.
For the time being the administration is still hiding this management of death behind various stratagems and lies. Not many people dare to make the connection between the ravages of SLOW DEATH and the back-to-back sentences, the psychiatrization of penal centers, the generally foul nature of the prisons maintained by the Penitentiary Administration and courts which are entirely beholden to conservative and repressive ideas. The death penalty can be felt even if it has no name and no clear form. It is administrative. It is as faceless as the judges in charge of sentencing or the bureaucrats at Vendome Place who apply it with “innocence” and care. The hangman used to wear a mask, these people hide behind rules, penal mathematics, and the reactionary conformist environment.
From our submissions to our false revolts, we are all responsible for the establishment of the new penal order. With hardly a murmur of complaint, without rebelling, either in the prisons or on the outside, we have abandoned the field to the institution of SLOW DEATH. And it’s a new dungeon!
The guillotine was reserved for the worst, for the most unlucky, for the most miserable. The administrative system of SLOW DEATH effects thousands upon thousands of men and women:
* Those sentenced to life in prison, of course, whose number has not stopped growing in twenty years. With the new sentencing policies their sentences will never be commuted. In the past a life sentence was horrible on a human scale. The condemned pretty much almost knew that he would serve 17 to 18 years. Today, with the sentences of thirty years and the “real” life sentence (as if there was such a thing as a fake life sentence!), it is no longer exceptional to meet prisoners who have passed more than twenty years behind bars.
n Prisoners receive several sentences to be served consecutively, so that they would have to live two lives in order to serve their entire time. It is not all that uncommon for prisoners to be scheduled for release in 2056 or 2062!
n Prisoners having sentences of over fifteen years without possibility of parole.
n But SLOW DEATH also touches thousands of prisoners who do not have the inner strength to resist the annihilation of penal elimination and the system of isolation sections (IS) and secure establishments.
And last of all, the shitty pardon granted for the year 2000 and the verdict of the Troyes Criminal Court against the prisoners who escaped from Clairvaux (how can anyone pretend that a fifteen year sentence is some kind of clemency!) show that nothing will change without a fight. Our backs are against the wall, and this is especially true for those of us who are in isolation sections, who are subjected to WHITE TORTURE, who are held in the Secure Establishments, who are sick and waiting in vain for medical release.
How many shattered illusions? How many times must we wait in vain for false promises?
Will the revolt against SLOW DEATH take the form of a new inferno as violent as the movements of the summer of ’74, with all of its nameless dead? Or will it take the form of the guerilla struggle, as was the case in the battle against the High Security Wings? You can see it coming in the contours of the new imprisonment and the deaf resistance that it provokes.
One thing is for sure, prison today is already quite different from what it was in the 1970s and 1980s. The penal system marches in step with the rest of society as a whole, of which it is the highest form of repression. There was an obvious connection between the masses of workers at the Big Factory wearing their work uniforms and the lines of carefully numbered prisoners all wearing their prison uniforms, a connection between the chains of production and the collective shackles, between the big sweatshops and mandatory prison labour. Prison evolves alongside society and finally its new characteristics are tied to social relations on the outside. Today, SLOW DEATH is one of the dominant forms of prison in a neoliberal society. The “complete prison” and long sentences carry the imprint of the error-free and completely manageable flexible labour force. Finally, SLOW DEATH exemplifies the fragile prison. And as such this dehumanized condition is the reflection of masses of people without rights.
And yet just as on the outside, if the system produces inexorable destruction, at the same time it guarantees the minimum necessary to survive, just enough to camouflage its crime and stave off radical revolts.
The current debates around Doctor Vasseur’s [Dr Veronique Vasseur, doctor in charge of prisons for the Minister of Health, who initiated two inquiries into the prison system – translator] book do nothing to challenge the reality of the new dungeons, as they all end up being sucked into and recuperated by the institutionalization of SLOW DEATH. They merely aim to make survival more bearable. In just a few days, the subject of long sentences was replaced with discussions favouring the orientation of the Minister’s model prison projects (in its heyday Fleury was a model prison, as was the Moulin complex!) While tomorrow the cells may no longer be filthy or rundown, prisoners will be dying of loneliness, neglect, and the physical and mental sicknesses of the “clean” prison. Because the most significant fact about today’s prisons are the rapidly expanding sentences being handed down. The Criminal Courts are now condemning people to 24, 25 and 28 years, who just ten years ago would have received sentences of 12 or maybe 15 years. The prosecuters are backing up their inflationary requests with fairy tales about eventual parole after having served half a sentence. And yet they know full well that parole is now only granted in exceptional cases.
The sentencing statistics in France are rigged. The turn-over of shorter sentences makes any calculation of the effective length of detention impossible. What’s more, the fact that people are being locked up for minor infractions that just yesterday would not have merited incarceration, further masks the reality of what is going on. All the more so as they, like the VIP prisoners [white collar criminals, corrup politicians and others who end up behind bars – translators note], enjoy parole and other measures of early release.
We are also disgusted by the media’s treatment of the ex-VIP prisoners’ petition. No, Mr Marest, this kind of statement doesn’t bring us forward by even one year. On the contrary it reinforces the old myths about prison. According to them, the prison system is brutal sanctuary of the law of the jungle and prisoner rape. What a great sales pitch coming from a guy like Bob Denard! This French secret agent who has worked on behalf of the South African Apartheid regime led mercenary gangs who lived by violence and rape inflicted on the people of Africa. As for Le Flock Pringent, fairy godmother to the multinational corporations, it is obviously better to condemn the little daily violences in the holding cells rather than the power relations that the monopolies impose on society. Especially considering that he was the head of the EDF [France’s State-run electricity monopoly – translator’s note], that is to say the most important network of corruption, rackets and neocolonial violence during the 1980s!
Neoliberal society’s power relations are much stronger outside than inside the prison walls. And inside, the violence and power of the administration is on a completely different scale than that which exists between prisoners. What’s more, despite the imposed castration, there is certainly no more homosexuality than on the outside. And there are certainly more rapes committed in the offices of personnel managers, in religious institutes, or simply in the family, than in our group cells!
To recap : this false debate has only one goal as far as we can see, that of pushing prison reform in the direction desired by Guigou [Elisabeth Guigou, Minister of Justice – traslator’s note] and company rather than prioritizing the issues of long sentences, isolation, sentencing and genuine programmes to reintegrate people into outside society. Reforming survival boils down to managing SLOW DEATH.
We are already hundreds, going on thousands, who grasp the fact that we have been sentenced to death. And we are faced with this raw truth : our humanity depends on rising up against the unnameable end that they have in store for us. Faced with this administrative crime, we not only have the right to refuse and the right to revolt, but we now have a duty to do so if we are able, wherever we are, with our own means, with our fists if need be, individually and collectively. The fight against the institution of torturers and hangmen will be merciless. Repression will be fierce. We have already had a taste of of the administration’s vendettas, so we have some idea of what they have in store for us. Crimes disguidsed as suicides, beatings, years and years in isolation wings, insults and harrassment, in fact everything that they can get away with behind the veil of laws and rules. Nevertheless, our refusal is not afraid of their violence. Nothing more can happen to us, for unless there is some radical change WE ARE ALREADY DEAD and buried alive.
In the prisons of the French State, it is urgent that :
1) The white torture wings, the isolation wings that followed the High Security Wings, must be unconditionally closed
2) Re-establishment of the various procedures to lessen sentences : parole, pardons, reductions, etc.
3) Liberation of priosners haviong served twenty years
4) Immediate liberation of all prisoners who are sick or close to death
This text was translated by Solidarity, a Montreal collective that existed in the early 2000s. The original in French is available on the Action Directe website at http://www.crosswinds.net/~actiondirecte
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