Prisons drag themselves through the humidity of this world,
walking the gloomy road of the courts:
They search for a person, they search for a people,
they chase them, absorb them, devour them.
Spain has a long history of jails and penitentiary centers and thousands of social and political prisoners have passed through their walls. Not all of them survived. Since ancient times, punishment has been part of stratified societies, but the concept of prison that we know today is a relatively modern idea. In the 16th century, prisons where prisoners of the crown, gypsies and slaves were subjected to forced labor were commonplace, such as the Almadén prison, which communicated directly with the mines. The “humanization” process which happened during the enlightenment also changed the structure of the prison system. During this time, buildings began to be built to house the poor, beggars, homeless people and criminals; men and women. Overcrowding gave way to the cellular model in which the prisoner’s isolation predominates. This is the case of the San Fernando del Jarama Correctional House, built in 1776 in what is now San Fernando de Henares, east of Madrid. This prison was a pioneer of the modern prison, with infirmary, a yard designed for recreation and even a chapel for the morality of the inmates.
The Alcalá-Mero prison, the colloquial name given to the Madrid II Penitentiary Center, was built two centuries later not far from the exemplary and modern prison of San Fernando de Henares. This is a high-security prison built according to a Swiss model that was never implemented in this country, and its unique architecture is used to guard inmates who have been convicted or accused. A thousand prisoners of different nationalities coexist within its walls. During the health crisis, they have asked officials to be careful not to enter the Covid-19 in a space where the protection masks have been slow to arrive.
Daniel Gallardo Herczog is 22 years old and has lived within the prison’s walls since October 17, 2019. He was arrested near Madrid’s Puerta de Sol when the police repressed a protest and solidarity demonstration supporting the convicted political prisoners. These political prisoners had been convicted to long sentences only days before by the Supreme Court as a result of the Catalonia referendum on October 1, 2017, which is known as the Procés. Daniel denies having committed the crimes attributed to him by the prosecution, for which they are asking for 6 years in jail and a several thousand euro fine.
Gallardo’s lawyer Mario López spoke about who he is: “Daniel is the outcome of Spanish migration to Germany, son of a German mother and a Spanish father. He soon returned to Spain to grow up living in Andalusia and Madrid. He studied secondary school in the Madrid region and his Baccalaureate in Andalusia, and starts studying Hispanic Philology at the University of Cádiz, later dropping out and requesting to transfer to a Nursing Assistant professional training program. He finally emancipates at 19 and returns to the Madrid area, where he worked in precarious jobs, taking on diverse types of temporary and unstable contracts in order to pay his bills and a rent a place in Getafe, the town where he lived until he is arrested.” This information was part of what the defense based their request for provisional release on, a request which the Investigating Court 22 of Madrid has denied three times supposedly due to the risk of his escape and mentioning the proximity of his upcoming trial. Eight months later, this trial still lacks a confirmed date. “Even in the current context of the pandemic, they have not let him out,” his lawyer explains.
The COVID-19 health crisis has already worsened current prison conditions. The total restriction of visits and post has evidently affected the prison population’s morale. “Dani has been almost completely alone. During the whole duration of the quarantine, he has not received a single letter, nor have we received any of his. Maybe the mail system isn’t working, who knows,” his friend Sara reveals. She still struggles to make sense of all this, and is worried about how prison might be affecting him. “At first he was sent to the conflictive unit, his cellmate owed money to some inmates and Dani found himself in the middle of it. Some terrible months passed. Dani has always been a very good boy that gets along with everyone, he shares everything and has a general good vibe but when we went to visit him, he was being defensive. We noticed that the prison was changing him. Then the officials realized that he was a calm boy and they switched him to a different module. There, he tells us, the prisoners take care of each other, play basketball and hold workshops. He now works in the library, but we haven’t been able to send him any new books due to this current situation”.
One of the toughest periods in Spanish history, especially regarding this tradition in which political powers use prison as an element of torture, criminalization of critical thinking and political repression, was during Franco’s military dictatorship. Areas controlled by the rebels had overcrowded prisons soon after the military uprising and coup against the Republic. After the victory of the “lovers of death”, old practices such as slave labor were resumed by the dictatorship. Political prisoners raised fascist monuments with their bare hands, such as the famous Valley of the Fallen where Franco was buried with state honors until only a few months ago. The stories that some political prisoners tell of the Franco regime are shocking. Miguel Hernández was imprisoned after the war and died three years later in the Alicante prison. The village poet left us some verses about the prison, the reading of which is one that clings to the throat like the breath of a wounded animal.
A man who has dreamed about the waters of the sea,
and rips his wings apart like tied-down lightning
and shakes the bars, and his teeth bite down
on the teeth of thunder.
Today, Daniel Gallardo’s case adds to the long list of political prisoners in Spain. His case has gained attention thanks to the solidarity of his friends and the support network of the Madrid Anti-Repressive Movement (MAR Madrid), which brings together groups and assemblies from different areas that seek a solution to the political problem of repression. “When they repress someone who is not politically organized, like Dani, we get in touch with him and his close environment, and we start a support campaign, to spread, organize protests, raise funds, etc.,” says Marco, spokesperson for a movement that has been developing and building itself for the last two years. “We cannot be starting from scratch every time repression comes along. Now there is a joint defense network, which is working and has its demands. Repression is a political problem, solving each case individually cannot solve the bigger problem. We need to look for a collective answer, and make the mythical slogan “if you mess with one you mess with us all” real. This is about going on the offensive for our rights and freedoms, which have been systematically violated by the Spanish State. Because when you try to fight for them, they repress us all regardless of the environment, the ideology and methods used.
“After the sentence of the Procés half of Catalonia rose in solidarity with the prisoners, and other cities joined the cause, the yellow ties multiplied, spreading a wave of solidarity that has made the government and opposition uncomfortable. That Wednesday afternoon, when the demonstration in solidarity with Catalonia was concentrated in Sol, a small group of neo-Nazis appeared with Vox flags shouting fascist slogans to irritate those present. The protesters’ own safety protected the concentration without responding to this provocation. The heavy police deployment organized by the Madrid local authorities charged against the protesters who spontaneously decided to approach Congress. After this, the running began and the groups disintegrated. Dozens of videos offer a wide graphic testimony of the abuse of power that unfolded. Daniel was arrested when he was trying to contain some police officers who were beating his friend Elsa Vilki. “He spent the night in Moratalaz with the other people who were arrested at the demonstration. We will highlight that there were hooded police officers, not while taking his testimony, but in the corridors. We cannot prove this because there are no cameras that give evidence of such police action but that has the objective of intimidating and violates all regulations,” says his lawyer, who is currently working on the defense brief.
Will Daniel be a scapegoat of the state’s repression strategy against solidarity with the Catalan process? This 22-year-old young man with no criminal record is rushed into prison after the Prosecutor’s Office requests the most serious precautionary measure for him, imprisonment without bail, an exemplary lesson for any other young person who might take to the streets to speak his mind. This is an ancient practice that uses fear as a way of ending solidarity, organization and critical thinking.
Even in times of a pandemic, the strategy of fear is prioritized over the care and dignity of these people. These have been difficult times for the prison population. “In addition to the fact that the sanitary protection measures have been minimal and the health of the prisoners has not been guaranteed,” Marco tells us, “face to face meetings with family members and visits in the prison parlor have been cancelled, despite the fact that these occur with a 5 cm thick piece of glass between them. However, the prison guards enter and exit without any sanitary control, risking infecting the inmates. This situation has led to a worsening of the conditions of the prison population. And it has also affected them emotionally. Activities inside the prison, such as workshops, and intermodular communications have been cancelled, and they spend much more time locked in their cells. ” In addition, “Different organizations have demanded basic measures such as the release of the elderly, sick, third degrees and that prisoners with permits do not return to jails, while this lasts. But nothing has been done. ”
The peoples of Spain, in recent months, have experienced a situation of confinement that, even if not comparable to what a person locked up in a prison may feel, but, depending on some situations and circumstances, could be similar. Maybe it is too much to ask that the population quarantined in their homes show solidarity with the around 60,000 prisoners who live in the prisons of Spain. Perhaps knowing cases like that of Daniel and other significant data such as the fact that the majority of those in prisons are poor, vulnerable people from excluded sectors, can bring us closer to a more accurate understanding of reality. Perhaps the solution to our problems as societies lie more in paying attention to our differences than in punishing “the damned of the earth.” Going back to the words of Miguel Hernández:
Wipe the spittle from his cheek,
and unleash the heart of the world,
and stop the jaws of the ravenous prisons
where the sun recedes.
Today, after severe restrictions, visits are again allowed in correctional facilities. An appointment is necessary, so Daniel’s friends continuously call the phone provided, however someone is yet to pick up the call.
**This is the sixth article of the series Criminalization and punishment in quarantine, a communications initiative of different international media projects whose objective is to raise awareness to, amid the current public health crisis, the realities of those people that are subjected to forced isolation (penitentiary, psychiatric, or migrant detention). The oblivion and exclusion of these populations only increases in these times with the suspension of visits. What is the situation in different countries and what are the responses of the Governments? During these days of quarantine can the confinement of societies be a bridge of solidarity towards the people deprived of their freedom? This series of reports seeks to understand the situation of prisons in times of pandemic.