Brazil: pressed against the bars, waiting for tomorrow
// Series of testimonials “a day in prison” (2)
In prison, days follow one another but are not always identical. The conditions of detention, the rhythm of the days, the possibility of receiving visits, medical treatment, the food, or still the access to the right for the defence, vary considerably from a prison to another one, from a country to the other one. Prison Insider publishes testimonials of people who live or have lived in prison and can share their experience. This series of testimonials “A day in prison” puts into words the varying realities of imprisonment around the world.
Samuel, imprisoned in Brazil, describes a day.
Immediately, the lights come on and the prisoners get up. They place their hands behind their back and lower their heads.
WITHOUT a doubt, it will be hot in Rio de Janeiro today. At the Evaristo de Moraes prison there are over 30 cells throughout five cellblocks wih a total of over 1,800 inmates. There are 40 beds and over 60 individuals per cell.
Everyone is sleeping, except for the inmate designated to monitor the cell during the night. Pressed against the bars, he attentively watches everyone who passes outside. He is called a “ligacao”1 (“run-around” in English).
While everyone sleeps, he keeps watch. It is barely 7 am when he cries out, “Inspection! Everybody up! Guard in corridor!”
Immediately, the lights come on and the prisoners get up. They throw on their shirts and trousers (shorts are banned). They place their hands behind their back and lower their heads.
On the other side of the bars, in the corridor, the guards are ready to open the door. Only one of them is authorized to enter and do the headcount. He checks everything from the toilets to holes in the floor, looking for anything which could be used in fights or escape attempts. While one guard is inside the cell, the others wait outside and watch the occupants.
The headcount comes to an end. The number of inmates corresponds. Everything is correct. Silence is mandatory until the guards leave the corridor. The gates close behind them, and the prisoners start their day.
The English equivalent is what is known in prison as a “run-around”, an inmate whose responsibilities include assisting the prison wardens with daily tasks (cleaning up, distributing meals etc.). Run-arounds are also used by other inmates to pass messages and other contraband substances between cells. ↩
The guard locks the door and we are caged in once again
The water supply is switched on. The penitentiary administration remembers we need it, which happens only three times a day!
Some prisoners go back to sleep. Others rush to the showers –it’s a race! A small queue forms.
A list arrives containing the names of prisoners summoned before the judge. Others visit the doctor. The rest go to class.
It is 11 am. After a morning of studying, those who went to class return. A small cart carrying lunch boxes appears in the corridor. The number of boxes corresponds exactly to the number of inmates in the cells.
After lunch, around 1 pm, access to water is granted again for 60 minutes.
Another group of inmates can shower before heading to class. The toilets and cells are cleaned with the remaining water.
The second group returns from class around 4pm. Dinner arrives. After the meals are distributed, a new team of guards arrives to perform the last headcount of the day.
The inmates who were summoned to court are counted separately. The guard locks the door and we are caged in once again.
An inmate presses up against the bars and throws a bundle tied to a string: a kite is passed
As the day draws to a close, neither the prison nor the cells show signs of stopping. The guards leave the building, the inmates are locked in, and water makes its final appearance for 60 minutes. An inmate presses up against the bars and throws a bundle tied to a string: a kite is passed1. This is the origin of the term “ligação” , and is how drugs, snacks, and other items are bought and sold.
As night falls, the prisoners watch the news and soap operas. They love movies and series; it helps pass the time. It is 9pm, and the lights are turned off. Some sleep, others read books or magazines. Those who were in court return. It is almost midnight.
At the bars, the ligação stands watch until sunrise, to announce the headcount. A new day begins.
A “kite” in prison slang refers to messages and packages passed between inmates. Kites are usually passed by “run-arounds”. ↩