14 December 2011

More self-harm in the CIE of Milo. Escape in Vulpitta

The Cie of Milo, Trapani
Ali cut his wrists, Ahmed swallowed three bottles of shampoo, and Redha fashioned a rope for himself. The names are fictional, to respect their request for anonymity. The stories, however, are damn true. And damn trivial. Chronicles of ordinary administration in the infernal days of the Centre for identification and expulsion (CIE) of Milo, Trapani. Where yesterday afternoon, in the "B" section, yet another series of acts of self-harm and attempted suicides took place. Starring three Tunisians, two of whom have resided in Italy for many years. It all started after lunch, when Ali swallowed an iron screw and a piece of glass, and then began to slit his veins. As though self-mutilation were the only and final way to communicate his dissent and desire for freedom. A few hours later, in the same section, another Tunisian tore a sheet and made a rope to hang himself. His mates stopped him just in time, before he put his head through the loop and jumped into emptiness. He is one of the few - it seems there are three or four in all - to whom the detention period was extended beyond six months as a result of the new law. The third to have chosen the path of self-harm is another Tunisian who ended up in the infirmary with the contents of three bottles of shampoo in his stomach. None of the three, however, got any pity from the staff. And soon they all returned to their cell without stopping at the emergency room.

Though it is true that the CIE of Milo was inaugurated only last summer, the social workers and law enforcement officers already seem to have gotten used to the sight of blood. Which says a lot about the frequency of acts of self-harm in the new maximum-security CIE of Trapani, run by the cooperative Insieme – of the Connecting People consortium - which manages the other two CIEs of Trapani: Serraino Vulpitta and Chinisia (closed since last summer, following the opening of Milo). Confirming how intolerable the situation in Milo has become are two other prisoners, whom we were able to speak to this week, and from whom we learned of the revolt and escape from Serraino Vulpitta.

The first is a young man from Hay Zuhur- a working-class neighbourhood of Tunis- who ended up in the CIE of Rome two and a half months ago, after having served a two-year prison sentence for drug dealing, and was subsequently transferred to Milo. Outside he has a 36-month-old boy. He lives in a shelter with his mother; she is Italian. They have not seen each other since his arrest. At the end of his sentence he could barely wait to embrace her. Instead, now all he can think about is having to spend 18 months in the cage. He tells us that something happens every day. Someone cuts himself, someone makes a rope, someone protests because of the food or the cold. Even in Trapani, as in other places, they confiscate inmates’ shoes- thereby reducing the risk of escape- and get them to wear flip-flops even in winter.

One of his countrymen, also inside the CIE but in another section, confirms this but specifies that the ones who are worse-off are those who try to escape and protest. The police are very violent towards them, he tells us, asking to remain anonymous. Also because he has seen the beatings with his own eyes. Against one of his cellmates. A young Algerian. Slapped in the face in front of other inmates because he was found in possession of a razor-blade while the cells were being searched. The incident dates back to a couple of weeks ago. But it happened in the other CIE in Trapani: Serraino Vulpitta. After a daring escape, which until now we had no news of.

The technique is the same used in Turin. In other words, smuggling iron files inside and sawing through the bars of the cage. They worked on this for several days, and in the end, according to what the prisoners transferred from Vulpitta to Milo told us recently, the flight was successful. Apparently 14 young Tunisians were able to escape from Vulpitta, while another 4 were caught by the police. And brought to Milo with at least 16 of the 32 inmates of Vulpitta. Supposedly, among them are the young Tunisians who landed in Trapani in recent weeks, as well as young men who were stranded at the Palermo airport during repatriation operations via charters to Tunisia because the Tunisian consulate in Palermo could not identify them.

Young men like L., a thirty-year-old Tunisian who after 10 years in Florence has been imprisoned in a CIE for the past 4 months. First in Bari, now Milo, after the Tunisian Consulate could not identify him at the Palermo airport. This means that he will not be expelled, rather he will spend another 14 months in the cage before returning to freedom. He’s just hoping to not end up like the other Tunisian, the one from the CIE of Milo who is always doped-up on psychotropic drugs, after he was mistakenly expelled to Algeria, and from Algeria sent back to Italy, and who has not seen a child, a piazza or the seashore in nine months.

translated by Camilla Gamba