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STORIES TROUGH PRISON BARS

Issue 1 - September 2010


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A case study of a recidivist criminal

 
DIONYSIOS CHIONIS
PhD Candidate, Lawyer - Criminologist,
Center for Penal and Criminological Research
 
This is the interesting story of a recidivist criminal (Elias) who is living his life in a Greek prison, and more specifically in the Korydallos Prison Complex in Athens of Greece. We managed to meet him in late May 1999 in a special area in the guardhouse yard, unattended. Just a day before we had met his younger brother in the Special Institution for Juvenile Offenders in Avlonas [1] and this acquaintance would prove to be the key for the interview. Gradually, he managed to overcome his initial guardedness and the conversation began with football, he asked about his clubs fortunes. The banter about our shared team, made him open up even more. His laughter cut off abruptly when he exclaimed how long it had been since he had gone to a game, and here he began to tell the story of his life.

Elias was young then, almost 22 years old, but according to prison subculture he was already a veteran. With hindsight at his previous life and his too much for his age criminal record and by observing his familiarity with the environment, with the people (prison staff and inmates), and the criminal justice system, we immediately understand that his involvement in the prison system had been a long one.

Elias was the second child of a large, poor family and he was leaving in the district of Egaleo.[2] The only thing can Elias recall by his childhood is his fathers figure in prison (his father was serving a multy-annual  sentence in prison for multiple felonies) and his older brother to follow in his fathers footsteps in a criminal career, leaving Elias to grow up alone with his mother, sister and a younger brother. He heated school and couldnt afford the daily burden of school lessons and for that reason he left school without having complete primary education; as he admitted he knew how to read and write, but nothing more. His mother worked almost all day to support the familys needs, with little time to provide a proper upbringing and guidance for Elias.

So, Elias soon followed the path beaten by his father and his brother, he arrested for theft at an early age and was enclosed in a Special Institute for Young Offenders for a period of 3 years, more than enough time, as he explained, to complete his criminal studies at the appropriate university of prison. And whilst the correctional model administered by the State offered him next to nothing, because nothing works, his interactions with the older and very experienced  inmates provided him with a perfect training in criminal practices. Inside the prison, the older and more experienced prisoners delivered courses on how stealing cars without car keys. .

When he was released and returned back into society he faced many problems. First of all, he couldnt do nothing because he was an ex-prisoner, the stigma was haunting him he couldnt create friendships with people and so started encounter with familiar persons from his prison days. His associations with people who had the same past (full of illegal acts) soon led him to utilize his new skills "for fun”, he shrugged, since he had no particular criminal career in mind at this point. He took to stealing a particular brand of Japanese car (Toyota Corolla) joyriding alone or with friends, until running out of gas, before abandoning it. That was his hobby. After all, he didnt have a steady job, nor did he want one, earning his living from casual labor and small-time pilfering. Moreover he didnt want to help his family financially.

Months later, and having tired of cars, he became captivated by high powered motorcycles, only he could not afford to buy one, nor steal one. Thus he decided to resort to a robbery in order to collect the necessary money. After several days of planning, together with a friend and accomplice, he began robbing petrol stations along the Athens - Lamia National Road, and only stopped when he was arrested, after his fingerprints were identified on a petrol pump. He was a known suspect,  having often occupied the authorities.

He has been in prison ever since. Having been transferred to several prison facilities throughout Greece, he knew many infamous Greek prisoners personally His institutionalization after so many years was evident. He was feared of the idea that someday he will be free to come back into free society  because he no longer knew anyone outside prison but his family; because he didnt know any particular trade; because he had not yet served his military service; in his words: because he feared of society. On the other hand, he was fully adjusted to the prison environment; everyone knew him, he even had a close relationship with the guards and the sergeant. His only complaint was that he had not been granted a five-day leave; all his applications had been rejected. Shortly after we met the sergeant by chance, and asked him the reason for this. The sergeant replied: "Because he is famous!”, "he was on television during the recent riots, on the roof waving a burning blanket!”. Elias smiles slyly, "It wasnt me, it only looked like me," he answered. His file was rife with disciplinary incidents. As a veteran prisoner, it was necessary to demonstrate his power and his personal value, in order to retain his prison-title.

The most serious problem which faced inside the prison was to do mainly with the living conditions and the overcrowding, especially in Korydallos Prison Complex in Athens. He slept in the same cell with four other people despite there being not enough beds, as for sanitation the conditions were horrible, and their contact with the outside world was difficult and limited. He even complained about the yard-time, it seemed to him too little time spent out of the cell. For this reason, when he informed that we will be there and the next day, he implored us to interview him again so he could spend more time in the yard. He was concerned about his family, especially for his younger brother, who was in the Special Institution for Juvenile Offenders in Avlonas. He admitted that he loves his young brother and worries about him and for that reason he was waiting for his adulthood, when he would be transferred to Korydallos Prison Complex in Athens, where he and his older brother, who was also incarcerated there, could watch over him.

Eventually, it appears that Elias has failed so far to extricate himself from his established course of life, criminal family tradition and escape his involvement into the criminal justice system. And since he was not able to avoid his entrapment in the underworld, given the conditions provided within his own family, it was not difficult for someone to foresee his subsequent course of life. The findings of the investigation illustrate clearly the normal development of repeated offence and serial offence.

Perhaps this is why he is so worried for his brother. Because he fully understands how easy it is to follow the path that our environment has shaped for us, rather than carve out our own.
 

TRANSLATOR FOOTNOTES:
[1] Avlonas is a municipality north of Athens.
[2] Aegaleo, commonly Aigaleo or Egaleo is a poor working class municipality west of Athens. One quarter of the municipality is industrialized.

Emeritus Professor Calliope Spinellis
 
"Today, there are several well-qualified criminologists in Greece".


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JOURNAL "SOCIAL SCIENCES"

Constanteion - Centre of Criminology & Psychology Researches

Federation of Prison Officers

Professor Nestor Courakis

Ministry of Citizen Protection

I feel safe

Ministry of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights

Hellenic Supreme Court of Civil and Penal Law

ex-offenders

Professor Giannis Panousis

Centre for Psychoanalytic Research

Sector of Criminal Sciences - Faculty of Law - National & Kapodistrian University of Athens

Association of greek criminologists - Panteion University

Centre of Social Research - Technological Education Institute of Messolonghi

Sector of Criminology - Panteion University

Sector of Penal and Criminological Sciences - Faculty of Law - Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

European Court of Human Rights - Search Portal

Hellenic League for Human Rights

Marangkopoulos Foundation for Human Rights

Faculty of Law - National & Kapodistrian University of Athens

Centre for Penal and Criminological Research

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