Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Civilization can be seen in the way it treats its prisoners." Dostoyevsky

Sometimes a news story just drives me off the wall.  Does that ever happen to you?  Yes, Tim, I know your answer.

Here’s the lead in to a story published in Wednesday’s eKathimerini, the online version of Athens “equivalent” to The New York Times. 

“Greece's largest maximum security prison won't get to keep its waterfall-adorned, barbecue-equipped pool.” 

The Grecian Pool that created all the fuss.
Catchy huh?

It gives you the image of prisoners lounging around a pool eating lamb chops while “One of three Greeks has serious financial woes”--another headline story in the same paper.  

The Elegant Barbeque unmasked by the media.
If you’re a Greek taxpayer that’s bound to really piss you off.  How could it not?  The image of prisoners holidaying on your tax dollars as you struggle to earn a living, paying what you know is an unfair tax burden, dealing with daily threats of jail from bankers demanding payment of your debts, and forced to deal with so many around you still insisting on their “no receipt” ways.

It’s almost enough to make the decent, law-abiding overlook another story.  The one about the Greek “Tax Ministry mulling another tax amnesty to collect revenues.”  Greece did that in 2010.  It allows you to pay a “one-off fee” so that your outstanding tax affairs are not investigated.  The new one would cover arrears up through 2011.  Can you imagine a better way to encourage tax evasion than by offering tax cheats another get out of jail (almost) free card?  But at least if some do get caught and serve time they won’t have a swimming pool to look forward to.

By the way, it wasn’t taxpayer dollars that paid for the pool, though I assume the Ministry of Justice will be sure they are used to destroy it.

Guess who paid for it?  Greece’s Prison Officers Association.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The prison guards raised money to build a twenty-four-foot pool for the use of the staff and inmates of the prison’s psychiatric wing.  Their purpose: “To change things for the better—viewing inmates as human beings, not numbers.”

The Ministry claims the pool was built without its “permission” and did not comply with “health and safety standards.”  I’d appreciate it if those of you familiar with Greek construction practices would please stop laughing.   As for the claim of no permission, how could the Ministry not know about a 7.4-meter pool being built in the middle of the prison of yard of Greece’s largest maximum-security prison?  Then again, with all the celebrated escapes from that prison by high profile inmates (the most recent only a few weeks ago by a notorious Pink Panther-style jewel thief) those in charge may not have known.

Olivera Cirkovic, Pink Panther escapee
One of two separate helicopter escapes by same prisoner

Frankly, I thought the Prison Officers Association’s efforts should have been applauded across the nation as a proud example of how Greeks truly care about what happens to other members of the human race.   

I’m well aware of what goes on inside a prison because for a-half-dozen years I served as Special Counsel to the New York City Board of Correction.  I know that correction officers spend more of their lives in prison than the inmates.  Their opinions on what would help deserves far more weight than any politician’s knee-jerk “let’s show I’m tough on crime” blustering. 

Just think of all the time, care, and energy it took for so many to visualize and bring that pool into being.  And how easy it was for a single, dismissive, bureaucratic reaction to destroy such genuine acts of human kindness.

Shame on you, Ministry of Justice.

Besides, there’s no need for any Greek politician to show the world how tough the country is on the criminals they catch.  The world already knows.  After all, the prison that created all this fuss, Korydallos Prison Complex in Pireaus, has long been rated by Amnesty International as one of the worst prisons in Europe, repeatedly cited for overcrowding and inhumane treatment of detainees.  And that was before Greece’s financial crisis and spike in crime.
Korydallos Prison Complex south of Athens
Don’t we all feel so much better now as human beings knowing that the pool will be destroyed?



  1. Actually this renovation makes good economic, logistical and therapeutic sense. For a nominal cost the water can be drained from the pool, replaced with concrete, and--EUREKA!!--instant helipad.

    As good as swimming was for their morale, the prisoners will find even greater solace in knowing they can now safely hop aboard their escape chopper, rather than having to grab a flimsy rope ladder and fly away dangling like a Greek participle.

  2. And if they can get a German company to build the helipad--Siemens comes to mind as an entity deserving of doing hard labor in prison--I think it only fitting that it be named Das Klein Feld.

  3. There's a certain comfort in knowing that governments, newspapers and, well, people, are pretty much the same the world over. Unfortunate, as I kind of keep hoping that there's somewhere in the world where people are actually smarter, nicer, more aware. But I keep being disappointed. That's why I keep trying to hide my head in the sand and focus on the good stuff. But then fools like you keep coming a long and pull me out by my neck.

    Sigh. Thanks, Jeff, you're a real bosom buddy! :-)

    1. Everett, be there a better bosom than yours by which to be embraced I doubt, but I shall nevertheless carry on my futile search undaunted by the thought of failure!

      Yes, I know, a rather feeble attempt at mimicking Churchillian cadence but I wanted some segue from your observation on how people are "pretty much the same the world over" to acknowledging last night's remarkable Olympic opening ceremonies, and since you couldn't see me jumping up and down on my hospital bed shouting "GOSH" in thank you for your comment, that's all I could come up with at the moment.

      Sorry for failing so miserably.

  4. Great post, Jeff. Here's my approach to the problem, in fact to all the world's problems. We build an enormous bell jar at the bottom of the sea, plant it with food and make sure there's a good non-salt-water generator, and then put every single politician on the planet, from far-right to progressive, into it forever and then abandon fossil fuels and run the planet off the gases the politicians will generate. And any young person who expresses interest in becoming a politician is forced to read the minutes of the U.S. House of Representatives eight hours a day for a year and then, if unrecalcitrant, is zoomed down to the bell jar in one of those cool pneumatic tubes they used to use in department stores.

    1. I love it, Tim. Just one teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsy little tweaking suggestion. As I recall, sound cannot travel through a vacuum, so if we used a bell jar each politician would be spared having to endure the endless ramblings of the others. How about if we substitute in a mason jar? Preferably one recently used to preserve status quo.

  5. Oh, the idiocy of a very busy Ministry. Somehow, Tim's idea intrigues me. What if they held a speech and nobody came? What if we truly had people representing themselves? I know, I know, but what if....

  6. What if the world actually listened to itself? It might cry.

    Next week comedy.