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Crisis in the French Gulag

As you may know, the French prison system is one of the worst in Western Europe; its conditions and facilities of confinement are the same as those of bloody Turkey!

In the 1980's things only worsened. Each year there are more prisoners and they are always serving heavier sentences. The number and proportion of prisoners serving life sentences has increased enormously. The new sentencing system also has "security sentences" of 18 to 30 years. This means serving the entire sentence in a maximum security prison with no change of conditions, no good time reduction, no parole, no furloughs, nothing.

These judicial conditions are imposed by courts and tribunals that are always easier about revealing their fascist and anti-proletarian positions. They condemn children and the poor to very severe penalties but at the same time they acquit people like the former chief of police during the Vichy government [Ed. Note: this was the puppet regime set up by the Nazis during WW II to administer France] and the chief of the anti-Jewish section of that Nazi government. They also acquit cops or people accused of killing Arabs, Gypsies, and youth of the outer ghettos.

The body of judges represents the first security lobby, but now another pressure group has come to light, from within the prisons themselves: the guards' union. They are extremely right wing; certain groups of them are affiliated with neo-nazi organizations. And these two lobbies openly support the putrification of the Mitterand regime. They are constantly demanding more and more, not only in terms of social favors (higher salaries, better work conditions, "independence", etc.) but also worse conditions for prisoners (penal punishment, isolation, less rights for prisoners, etc.).

The events in the fall of 1992 have occurred in two phases.

Taking advantage of the killing of a guard by a "crazy" prisoner (who had been left in the normal prison population despite the recommendation of psychiatrists), a guards' strike that affected almost every prison in the country took place. But it wasn't a strike like those that had happened before (even though strikes by prison guards are prohibited by law). The strike's goal was to lean on the prisoners to make the prisons explode. We were locked in our cells 24 hours a day without anything, above all, no communication with the outside (no mail, newspapers, visits, etc.). Various prisons exploded with one dead and several injured among the prisoners. After more that 10 days the strike ended, the guards having obtained various advantages and measures but the strike left many conflictive wounds in the prisons that will continue to fester.

Within the prisons the conflicts are rapidly exploding into open conflict. The following has occurred since the strike.

Here in France those condemned to long sentences (more than 10 years) are kept in special penal prisons and among them there are four high security prisons: Moulins, Chatauroux, Clairvaux and Landemezan. After the first strike the guards imposed many punitive measures, provocations, and punishments without cause. The union's official line was to "reintroduce authority." And in two days what was supposed to happen happened: in Chateauroux a helicopter dropped weapons into the yard leaving one dead and several wounded in the ensuing gunfight. In Moulins the prisoners seized the prison and held it for 2 days with 20 guards hostage, various wounded, etc. And finally, in Clairvaux a group of newly arrived prisoners escaped after a shoot out that left a guard and a prisoner dead. Three of the four special prisons have been affected by these events.

The guards went on strike again. As always, taking advantage of the prisoners, leaving us locked in our cells without mail, visits and very little food for two weeks with terrible pressure until the riot police took over the entire prison system. The guards' strike was meant to punish the prisoners. An attitude that was clearly expressed by the level of the guards' hate and through it a clear, irreconcilable break within the prisons. The myth has ended of the guard as "educator." The first priority in these times of the "rights of man": reinsertion. [Ed. Note: This is the term used by Western European governments for the complete submission to capitalist state authority by political and politicized prisoners.] We have seen the beginning of the times of brutality. The current period in Europe is one of extermination produced by the seizure of state power by the most reactionary factions of society.

But the resistance is also growing. During the strike various prisons were burned down, shoot outs and escapes continued. Yesterday (Dec. 12, 1992) 3 more prisoners escaped, one was killed...

[Jean Marc is a political prisoner of Action Directe and a long time prison activist. He, and other AD prisoners have been held in isolation since their capture in the mid 80's. PLN has been permanently banned from the French Prison system because of Jean Marc's previous articles about conditions in the French gulag.

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