What’s it like in prison

All right, a bait-kind title for once. But I just took some photos of these historical buildings for my novel and thought I would share some of them with you. The walls here are thick and the doors are heavy and have always, of course, been heavily guarded. Less so these days in this particular prison, that has now been refurbished into modern housing, some boutiques and a hotel in which you can stay over in former cells. I’ve seen those cells in their original use and the interiors were rough, to say the least. I could not take photos of them, then.

My relation to this prison, and particularly to its psychiatric ward, goes back some 25 years when the “inhabitants” were still criminals. This was at the time when I worked as a French language interpreter for the municipality, mainly with political refugees and asylum seekers. One guy had tried to rob a bank and was kept in the ward. He was mostly not speaking and the staff was very worried about his health. At times, suddenly, he would say things to the doctor or a guard and I was called to come and translate what he was saying, in urgency. By the time I had arrived, he had already gone silent. Every time. His staring the walls in the cell and us trying to make him say something again felt almost like a game, and yet, maybe he really was not in balance at all.

His custody had to be renewed at the court of first instance at regular intervals before he would be considered ready for deportation, and he needed to be present at the court when the judge read out loud the stipulations. The reading always ended with the question: “Is there anything you would like to say in reply to this?” Strangely, and very unconveniently, he did. Suddenly a Biblical flood swept over us in the court room, and what he was saying came out in all possible tongues, and in no particular order. It made no sense whatsoever. Imagine the looks on you, the interpreter, when it was time to translate his marathon gibberish into… what? The task was simply impossible.

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