Saturday, 13 October 2007

The Algerian prisoner

Great! The bus was practically empty. The front seat on the upstairs deck by the window was free. Therefore, the journey of approximately 25 min from Holborn to Caledonian Road - even if it could be expected to be a bit longer due to the common traffic delay - would probably be reasonably easy, one could say almost pleasant. Sitting on that specific seat on the famous red double decker London buses is one of the best ways of observing the city’s street – from above, moving and, preferentially, in silence.

However Mohamemed (fictional name and illustratively chosen due to the fact that it is one of the most popular names in Great Britain) wanted to speak. As he had been freed on that very morning after two years in a Canterbury jail, the large and dark moustached Algerian, likely to be older than 32 but yet with such lively eyes that made him look not even 28, was celebrating. “I am sorry if I am bothering you, but I am very excited”, he explained noticing my lack of reciprocation to his intriguing excitement. He had decided to seat beside me and a typical comment on the miserable English weather, which was especially awful this past summer, had been Mohammed’s strategy in order to trigger a chat. Trivially catching up with a stranger on buses is not the usual way down here and, faced with my apathetic response of a slight head movement, his wish of talking could have ended up in frustration. Initially I did not believe that he had just been released from prison but as I noticed the enthusiastic eyes of my interlocutor I decided to reciprocate to his efforts.

The English prison is terrible, according to what he told me. “I have already been in jail both in France and in Spain, but here it is definitely much worse”. But Mohammed did not give any further details. He only sighed and looked thoughtful and alleviated the hustle of the city through the window. Robbery and fraud were the offences of the experienced former prisoner that at that moment, as his first action as a free man, was going to pick his cat up from his friend’s house. British documents such as drive licence and National Insurance Number were Mohammed ‘s specialities. “And you are going to keep this business up?” I asked with a smile on my face. “Sure thing! In this country you’d better be quick otherwise they eat you, man!”, he firmly replied.

I did not have time to ask anything else. Two stops before Blundell Street, he shakes my hand, asks my name and runs down the stairs with a youthful enthusiasm.

Pavillon 9
The prison population in England, according to the statistics data of the National Offender Management Service (bulletin from 5th October) is 81.245. There are also Brazilians in the English prisons. And a lot, from what Mohammed told me. In Brazil, the estimative is there are over 400.000 prisoners squeezed in the approximately 500 prisons of the country.
On the second of October, the Carandiru massacre turned its 15th anniversary. The film about the tragedy can be found in some shops and rent videos of London. The chaotic reality of the prison system is also daily seen in Brazil. By the way, the past 10th of September was the first anniversary of the murder, till now unexplained, of the Colonel Ubiratan, the one who was in charge of the operation that resulted in 111 deaths.
The building has been imploded, but it seems that the incompetence and the impunity remains stand up on the debris. I hope Mohammed, before go back to run his business, watches Carandiru as well.

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