Lebanese prison life

A friend of mine recently got caught rolling a spliff in the street and was arrested. As she was able to afford a lawyer with sufficient wasta she got out of prison after only a few days (drug use normally earns you between 3 months and 3 years of confinement in this country). She was very shaken by the experience of prison life, though, and told me numerous horror stories about those few days. As it happens, Nowlebanon today features an interview with Joëlle Giappési, a naturalized French woman who was teaching at the USJ university in 2001 when she got caught using heroin (she got addicted during the civil war). She spent 5 years in various Lebanese women’s prisons and wrote a book about the experience, which is about to be published. In the interview, she gives a concise but lively description of the conditions in jail: ‘Prison is the reign of “long sentences,” that is, the people who are sentenced for several years. The longer you stay in prison, the stronger you get. This doesn’t make life easy on the newcomers or the shorter sentence [prisoners], as the cells’ discipline is usually under the authority of the [one with the] longest presence in the cell (…) or, in Arabic, the shaweesha (…) Just imagine what it can be to give power over his/her cellmates to a convict, who knows that he/she must stay there for years, who feels oppressed by the system and is often bitter or desperate. It doesn’t go without some abuse. As for the prison administration, they would try to ignore the abuse, if possible, as it is not recommended to make a long sentence [prisoner] too angry. An angry long sentence [prisoner] is a potential bomb. I’ve witnessed the case of two angry long sentence [prisoners] accusing the wardens and the director of the prison of corruption and stealing. There were right, of course. They ended up [destroying] the career of the people they accused, as the investigation proved them to be right. No wonder that the administration would try to ignore the abuses committed by long sentence [prisoners].’


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