Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Paris prison + Gare de l'Est Nazi style

Last week I posted about the old women's prison torn down in the 1930's. Here's breaking news about the last prison in Paris, La Santé. Update today from the Guardian: 
France is about to turn the page on a shameful chapter of its penal history by renovating its most notorious prison, La Santé.
La Santé, named after a neighbouring hospital in southern Paris, has held some of Frances's most famous prisoners in its colourful 147-year history. They have included poets Paul Verlaine and Guillaume Apollinaire, and the playwright Jean Genet, as well as Carlos the Jackal, war criminal Maurice Papon and the Algerian revolutionary leader who became independent Algeria's first president, Ahmed Ben Bella. Although the prison had a VIP wing, Ben Bella told an interviewer: "The French put me with the prisoners who were being guillotined. I could see the guillotine from my cell."
In 2000, the prison's chief medical officer was so shocked by the brutal conditions in the overcrowded jail that she published a diary about her seven-year experience that sparked a parliamentary inquiry.

"Three inmates fought with knives. I was standing in blood until about midnight. The next day, it starts all over again … multiple injuries. It's the humidity, the sun, the suffocating heat in the cells that makes them go crazy," Véronique Vasseur wrote in the diary. Her description of a jail infested by rats, cockroaches and lice was a vision of hell. Some prisoners in the cramped shared cells drank drain cleaner or rat poison to put an end to their misery and others suffered from skin rashes caused by the lack of hygiene with only two showers allowed each week, she said.
La Santé was built to hold 1,400 prisoners, but at the time of the exposé by Vasseur – who received death threats after publication – it was housing more than 2,300. Since that time the most insalubrious blocks have been closed, and on Sunday, the last 60 prisoners were moved out under reforms ordered by justice minister Christiane Taubira, who has ordered a four-year facelift.
When the prison reopens in 2019, it will contain 800 cells.

I'd meant to post about visiting under Gare de l'Est, the train station where many French soldiers, 'le poilu', left for the front in 1914.  This time to highlight what we saw in the bunkers circa the Second World War, the war the Great War was fought to prevent.  I'll let the photos do most of the talking.

an aerial view of the station and lines leading East
Below Gare de l'Est the hangout room for the train hobby club - all former and present SNCF who love trains big and small
Here's a set up and the club work on this all the time
Going deeper below the station
Ring the bell to enter the shelter/bunker

This is what it looks like on the platform and you can get out through the grill if needed. I used that in a book and was so thrilled to have this photo as proof.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. You get to go to some amazing places for your research, Cara. Love that grille in the station floor. And the wonderful model railway.

  2. You do get to amazing places, Cara, Louboutins and all:)

    Glad to hear Paris is doing something about those horrid prison conditions. NYC could take some pointers. According to a recent NY Times expose' on Rikers Island (NYC's primary jail), many of the conditions reported are the same as those pointed out in an investigative report I participated in MORE THAN FORTY YEARS AGO! Dostoevsky's right: "You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners."

  3. Simply wow! That is a great attempt to map out the prison's relation to the larger city, by the way, with those coordinated bits and pieces of accounts, complete with the photo documentations and whatnot. That should increase our understanding of the function of prisons in our lives, and to what extent it ought to operate in, and how much respite should be provided for the accused. Thanks for sharing!

    Norma Richards @ Just Bail Bonds