Imprisoned in Spain

Language barriers and dealing with an unfamiliar legal system are issues that affect many Irish prisoners in Europe. An ICPO client describes daily life in a Spanish prison.

Most of the Spanish prison buildings are relatively modern, nearly all have a shower in the cell. The cells are mostly shared by two inmates, though legally everyone is entitled to their own cell. Prisoners don’t have to wear uniforms and if you need clothes, the prison will supply you ‘rags’. The other prisoners will help out with clothes. On every wing there’s a shop selling coffee, sweets and toiletries and depending on the prison you can buy from the local supermarket once a month or every week. In general the prison food is ‘bad’ – that’s putting it nicely and tap water is dangerous, bottled water is a must.

The prison day starts at 7.45 when the officer does a cell count, you must nod or wave normally, (certain wings you must stand), then the doors to the cells open at 8.30ish, depending on the funcionarios (prison officer), when after mopping your cell you make your way down to the comidor (dinnerhall). You’ll be served a warm liquid that resembles very sweet coffee and a bread roll with jam (sometimes). Most prison shops will be open in the morning so if you’ve got money on your card, you can buy a proper coffee etc.

At 9.00 or 10.00 prison activities start. We’re in Spain where to be punctual is wrong, anyway you most likely won’t have any job or activity to do. Getting a paid job is down to luck like most things. Then you’ll hear the call to lunch at 13.00 approximately. Potatoes and dirty water or lentils or dirty water and potatoes or rice in tomato, all of these ‘lovely’ half meals come with lettuce and grubs. Then back to your cell before 14.00 when most prisons do a cell count (depends on the day), lock up until 16.30 in winter, 17.00 in summer, then back downstairs until around 19.00, more potatoes and back up to your cell until the next day, another cell count at anytime between 20.30 and 21.30.

Then the same again the next day. Now this is not so bad and you get used to the routine, until you want to do a course or have a visit. The prison timetable and buildings are generally good but we must take a look at the treatment and other conditions in Spain’s prisons.

In Spain, prisoners are allowed to phone their family once they authorize the number, this can be very difficult especially if your family live outside Spain. I’d recommend contacting the Embassy or the Department of Foreign Affairs to help with the paperwork. There are also visits ‘Vis a Vis’ (a visit in a closed room with bed and shower). These visits are great as they normally last one and a half hours and you are alone with your visitor.  Although the law states that inmates are entitled to these visits with friends and family, in reality they try not to allow friends in on visits, one must generally appeal to the Prison Surveillance Court/Judge. There are weekly cristal visits (behind glass). For these visits you must authorize the names and DNI or passport numbers of those who might visit. The person or persons that want to visit must book by phone beforehand and present an hour before the visit.

Poverty is a big problem here and unless you work or have financial help life is tough and being Spain, it’s very hard to get work in prison.

Temporary release is another lottery, although lately more TRs are being given, I believe. The Prison Administration have sent a bulletin to prison directors recommending they concede these more often to first time offenders and those with short sentences (less than three years). Northern European prisoners and foreigners in general are being asked to take Conditional Freedom in their home Country. The process takes about six months and non-EU prisoners must complete half their sentence. EU treaties make transfers easier as of this year.

To get anything done you often need an abogadu (solicitor/lawyer). Free legal aid to prisoners has stopped leaving prisoners in the hands of prison staff unless fortunate enough to have private assistance.

With my father in hospital, I wanted to make a phone call. The phone was broken so I was unable to call for a week even though the prison had a copy of my father’s medical prognosis. After asking that my calls be put on the other phone on the wing many times, each answered ‘I’ll see what can be done, I understand your situation’ and then did nothing. I filled a request form saying I would start a hunger strike, within two minutes I was taken to make my call in reception. Every request must be formulated in writing and the prisoner copy stamped (insist) otherwise nothing gets done.

The best you can do is stay out of prison, if not keep occupied, study, read and do some sports. And although television has its place, don’t be afraid to turn it off once in a while and read, talk.