In the night of June 4 to 5, Francis D. and two of his fellow inmates took the Ensisheim Prison’s psychologist hostage in Alsace, France. 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2017: it’s the fifth time this same man has sequestered an individual working inside a prison. “Seeing red”, “lack of apparent logic”, “no clear demands”, or … simply silence. Francis D. actions are defined as senseless.
Riots, mutinies, and hostage-takings follow each other without any explanation being provided for the motivations that led to their commission. A soft litany serves to quietly introduce a basic idea: prisoners should keep quiet and stay right where they are; preferably longer than expected. They haven’t understood the lesson.
The two “shrinks” who, for a few hours, were taken hostage by Francis D. did not press charges. The “surrealism” of their account and the Stockholm syndrome some might want them to acknowledge (identification with their aggressor) stand in stark contrast with a reality few want to hear about. This is the reality of prisons where inmates are bullied until their breaking point, where violent or inaudible demands are qualified as “seeing red”. Where a prisoner’s vision grows fuzzy beyond eight feet. A horizon made of only walls, a future that has been walled in.
“This hostage-taking could have been avoided and anticipated. But this type of episode will repeat itself. We need to think about what can go on inside the head of a man, a husband and a young father, who is condemned to thirty years and has not been granted a family reunification.” This is what Cyrille Canetti, the psychiatrist taken hostage in 2009 by Francis D., told the newspaper Le Monde, as he alluded to the reasons for a smouldering anger.
It took the words of an outsider, someone not belonging to the prison administration, to explain an alleged “absence of logic”. How many revolts and desperate acts are strangled to the point of appearing absurd to us?
At this point, we are unaware of the motivations for the hostage-taking carried out by the three men. They provide an example, one of many, of prisoners who get bogged down in a system, precisely because they fight it. We hate violence. When it occurs, the words used to express it do not serve to excuse it, but to understand it. Institutions know—not in all cases and not all the time—how to be violent. They offer no apologies.
Sometimes, when we hear about instances of “seeing red”, we cannot help but empathize.