“I lost my mother on the 6th of May, 2017—the year I went back to Baumettes. I wasn’t allowed to attend her funeral.” Samy is 33 years old. Originally from Nantes, he is incarcerated at the Penitentiary Center of Marseille, initially for a narcotics offense. Today, he is alone in his cell—an old cell of just 9 square meters in building B of Baumettes. Those who have met him report: “He is very skinny and suffers from a collapsed lung.”
Unable to escape his daily life, he decides to tell his story.
All night long we can hear cats yowling. I can’t get to sleep, I can’t take it anymore, but we have to make do…
“Rats are everywhere”
In 2018 I WONDER how it’s still possible to live in a prison just as dilapidated as the historic Baumettes of the past. With time, we’re becoming more and more impatient, which is why I am going to tell the shocking account of my incarceration.
It starts with the poor sanitary conditions. The showers are cold and have mushrooms growing on the floor. The heaters are all shut off. The pipes are so old that they give off a horrible smell. The flushing mechanisms on the toilets are broken. Even the stairs have collapsed…
There are holes in the cell walls, stuffy with humidity and with exposed wires hanging down. The windows are broken and the cold gets in. The grills behind the bars keep us in a permanent dimness which, in the long run, causes vision problems1.
1:Samy is here describing the grates installed on the outside of openings and windows which prevent exchanges and bartering
The rats make themselves at home. Roaches are swarming, even into the refrigerators. All night long we can hear cats yowling. I can’t get to sleep, I can’t take it anymore, but we have to make do…
Some of the prisoners are locked up three in a cell only 9 square meters large. Just thinking about it sends a shiver down my spine.
In the exercise yard, there is no shelter; when it rains, we must stand in the downpour.
A little while ago, I began working in clean-up2. I’m paid 1.98€ per hour, a portion of which is deducted to indemnify civil claimants.
I encounter hordes of rats that proliferate and won’t hesitate to infest the new prison, if they haven’t already. The prison administration needs to hire an exterminator.
2:This group is in charge of any work contributing to the day-to-day functions of the prison (cleaning, meal distribution…).
We packed together like chickens in a crate. If an inmate is sick, they say that so long as he’s breathing, there’s no emergency.
Loss of life
When you order from the canteen, the meals arrive late, or sometimes not at all. When you put a flag on the door to call a guard, it sometimes takes more than two hours for them to notice. There’s no intercom in the cells to alert anyone in case of problems. When we have a health emergency, we wait more than an hour to go to the infirmary1— just enough time to die.
1:The medical unit is currently situated in Baumettes 2, the new building.
The waiting rooms in the medical unit are overflowing with prisoners packed together like chickens in a crate. If an inmate is sick, they say that so long as he’s breathing, there’s no emergency. I’m alone in my cell and I’ve already had three collapsed lungs and am at risk of relapse. Once, they put me in an old cell that had been burned and never renovated, despite my pulmonary problems. I was inhaling burnt-up residue.
I lost my mother on the 6th of May, 2017—the year I went back to Baumettes. I wasn’t allowed to attend her funeral. This shocked me as I had provided all of the necessary documents.
This infringement of my rights has been confirmed by the Rights Defender in a document sent to me. My right to correspondence is not respected, even with lawyer: none of my letters reach him. The mail sent to me by lawyers and Rights Defenders, which are supposed to be confidential, are given to me opened, all this despite the labels noting their confidentiality.
I was assaulted by a guard on August 1st 2017. I reported the assault to the building chief. He saw that I was spitting blood and promised me I could go to the infirmary.
By August 3rd, still no appointment. I wasn’t allowed to visit the infirmary until August 7th, and by then many of the injuries had healed to the point where it was no longer possible to report them.
My complaint, filed August 8th is, as of yet, unresolved. I was later summoned by a brigadier who told me outright that if I pursued my complaint, I would suffer the consequences and that my life would be a living hell.
Afterwards, it was exceedingly difficult for me to retrieve the documents proving that I’d filed a complaint. They had been hidden away for several months by the prison administration, who claimed that it was because of the prison move.
The prison guards continually expressed their resentment for the articles being published by the press following the hunger and thirst strike that I had led at the end of August alongside Abdelhalim.
I’ve lost 15 kg during my detention.
Theft, violence, and fire
When I began a new hunger strike to assert my rights and demand a transfer, I was once again assaulted by guards on October 15th 2017. The night before, I blocked the cell lock because I felt threatened by other prisoners and by the guards. They accuse me of having damaged my cell and demand that I pay for the repairs. The cell had already been damaged and I had never signed any documents confirming its condition when I was placed here1.
They claim that I started a fire in the cell with an explosive device: false, I’d used a piece of cloth. After the fire, when I came back from the infirmary, I found that all my belongings had been stolen as the guards had deliberately left the door unlocked.
When they again responded by taking me to solitary confinement, I collapsed to the ground as a result of respiratory failure. They beat me.
I had a medical certificate written the next day. I filed a complaint against unknown person for the violence committed during this intervention, but it never arrived at its destination.
Today I’m accused of having insulted and threatened the guards. They claim that I made threats in the name of Islam, which I formally deny. This just seems inconceivable to me because I believe that Islam is a religion of peace, entirely incompatible with violence. For these damages and threats, I have already been sentenced by the disciplinary committee and placed in the disciplinary unit. I lost 45 days of my sentence reduction and the court is preparing to punish me even further.
Anyway, no matter the outcome of the trial, I hope to be transferred out of Baumettes, hoping to be incarcerated in a prison that complies with established regulations.
Currently, even if my relationship with the prison administration is improving, it is all still difficult on an emotional level: the death of my mother, my comatose brother still in the hospital, the absence of my children, etc… I’ve lost 15 kg during my detention. None of the state workers truly help me. I suppose this could be explained by the difficult work conditions and confinement in this prison, as well as by the considerable lack of resources making the work so difficult to carry out.
My last hunger strike took place from the 13th of December to the 9th of January. I spent the holidays without eating. I wasn’t brought to the infirmary until January 3rd, 21 days after the hunger strike began. The Rights Defender confirmed this. I did this to put pressure on my demand for transfer to be closer to my family. Here I lack any support.
Life in Baumettes is so difficult that some are driven to self-mutilation, to swallowing razors, to hanging themselves… it’s the prison with the highest suicide rate in France. The conditions I’ve just described are not at all fit for humanity.
It’s normal that we are deprived of our liberty, but here, I can see that they are also depriving me of my dignity. This is why I am expressing my outrage, and will continue to do so until the day I’m released, so that others do not have to endure such psychological torture. I hope that new generations will never again have to experience this sort of imprisonment.
Samy demands his transfer and placement under judicial protection.
Building A, where the cell in question is located, had been emptied of occupants at the beginning of the month. It will be torn down this summer, just like Building B where Samy is currently located, as well as many more of the older buildings at Baumettes. ↩
Written by Samy, edited by Prison Insider
Inmate number #184030
Penitentiary Center of Marseille-Baumettes. (France)