“Christ forgave the bastards, but I can’t!” – Billy Hayes, the young American protagonist of the 1978 film ‘Midnight Express’ who was caught trying to bring hashish from Turkey in 1970 and sentenced to 30 years in prison, says the words of the brutal guards who beat him, tortured him and starved him to death. for five awful years.
Hayes managed to escape from prison and cross the border into Greece, and freedom, in 1975. He was risking his life when he tried to escape, but he knew he would not live much longer in conditions where he could not speak of prison.
The film is based on a true story, taken from Hayes ’book of the same name. It was filmed, perhaps by prescription, in Malta, at Fort St. Elmo in Valletta.
I was a young teenager when I first came out, but the scenes of vicious cruelty, both physical and mental, that I painted remained with me all my life. I saw it again recently – I noticed, once again, that for some reason, most of the police and prison guards use Maltese instead of Turkish at random moments in the film.
Forty years ago, this was just a curiosity. Now, however, it was chilling to hear the Maltese words expressing the same kind of alleged abuse that so many prisoners told of Malta’s correctional facility that it became a house of horror.
The notorious director of the prison, retired army officer Alexander Dalli, ‘suspended’ himself this week after the nation was shocked to learn that another prisoner had killed his life. There have been 14 deaths in Kordin in the three years since Dalli was appointed in 2018 – half by suicide, four by natural causes and three still under investigation.
The Dalli regime was based on terror. Activist and broadcaster Peppi Azzopardi revealed that the newly installed director had put up a sign instructing the guards to “teach fear” to the prisoners. That table was removed after Azzopardi revealed it, but it told us everything we needed to know about Dalli.
He, and his few supporters, mistakenly describe him as “disciplinary”. But of course, bullying and brutality are not discipline. Terror is not discipline. These tactics are not used by ‘strong’ men, but, as with all bullies, by weak and uncertain people.
The atrocious and inhumane conditions to which the Kordin prisoners are said to have been subjected since Dalli’s appointment have been well documented, with Peppi Azzopardi and the Dean of the Faculty of Social Welfare of the University of Malta , Andrew Azzopardi, lead a relentless campaign for radicals. reform of the Maltese prison system – as well as the removal of Dalli[absta’Malta–kifukollit-tne[[ijata’Dalli
Reading descriptions of this man’s behavior, as he strutted about his mini-fiefdom – accompanying him on the prisoners like the most ruthless despots, allegedly taking potshots on pigeons and straps imprisoned in “a punishment chair”Similar to those used in the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility in the United States — it’s a dreadful and awesome one.
Former and current prisoners have been described as being held in solitary confinement, sometimes for weeks, and subject to verbal abuse and continued harassment by guards.
Kim Borg’s devastated father Nicolas Virtu, the 29-year-old prisoner who committed suicide in June, described how his daughter went through such extreme mental and physical torment that she made at least four suicide attempts during the imprisonment for two years, before her final act, and tragically fatal – which occurred when she had only three weeks left to continue her sentence.
Martin Borg Nicolas Virtu said his daughter was “driven mad” by the cruelty and relentless bullying of the guards, thrown into isolation – isolation – for trivial reasons, and specially chosen by a guard of a particular prisoner, who did things like kick over the bucket of water just after Kim had finished washing the floor and then ordered her to do it again. They reportedly deprived her of her medication, took her books, and even her fan.
Two prison officers have been charged with her involuntary manslaughter. Although – if these are the same guards who allegedly taunted her on the day of her fifth suicide attempt, and after telling them she was feeling suicidal, they gave her a blanket and jogging pants which she would then try to kill herself in her cell – so there seems to be nothing ‘involuntary’ about this homicide.
Encouraging suicide, or coercing suicide, is awesome enough in verbal or written form, as in the case of American Michelle Carter, who at the age of 17 . encouraged her boyfriend Conrad Roy, via text message, to kill himself, even after he told her he was scared and changed his mind.
But the allegation that the guards on duty that terrible day actually gave Kim the means to commit suicide, when they knew she was at risk of suicide, and just after she specifically told them she was feeling suicide, it has to be much worse even than that – how can somehow giving a vulnerable person consciously the means to harm himself be described as ‘involuntary’ in any way?
Some people are worried that these two officers could become ‘scapegoats’ while Dalli himself will come out unscathed. They are right, of course, that Dalli is ultimately responsible.
But as the post-World War II Nuremberg trials have shown, if one needs a precedent, ‘just following orders’ is no defense at all. They are completely guilty. Condemning them, if they are guilty, will not be a ‘burden’ of space. It will be justice.
Dalli has to be brought before a judge as well, of course. The very idea that he was allowed to ‘suspend himself’, whatever that means, is outrageous.
Interior Minister Byron Camilleri should have fired him on the spot, referred the case to the police and carried out his duty to the country by ensuring that no one violates human rights, no one’s life is considered worthless and that the Kordin Correctional Facility is finally replaced. in a place not only of punishment but also of rehabilitation. We hope that the appointment of the Head of Detention Services, Robert Brincau, to replace Dalli, albeit in an ‘actor’ role, will help us move closer to that ideal.
But in the meantime, the failure of Camilleri – and Prime Minister Robert Abela – to respond earlier to the alarming number of deaths in prison, and their relentless dismissal of a large number of reports of inhuman way that the prison prisoners were being treated, they should put them there themselves. the dock with Dalli and one of the guards found to have taken part in this barbaric regime of terror.
Billy Hayes (played by Brad Davis) says, in ‘Midnight Express’, that he cannot forgive the ‘bastards’ who abused and tortured him in prison. We must heed those words. Some things really can’t be forgiven.