An open letter from an open prison

An open letter from an open prison

By Martin Smedjeback
19 Jun 2009

Excerpts from a letter from a Christian Peacemaker Teams reservist who is currently in prison. Martin Smedjeback was sentenced in March to four months for breaking into the Saab Bofors arms factory in Eskilstuna, Sweden on 16 October 2008 and disabling fourteen Carl Gustaf bazookas. He will be released from prison on 2 July 2009.

During the time I have been in prison so far (almost three months when writing this), I have not been met by even a harsh word, threat or any physical abuse what so ever. Neither have I seen any violence, physical or psychological, between anyone in prison.

The heaviest weapon the guards carry is a pepper spray. "I have never had to use it," says a woman in her forties who has worked many years as a guard. "I use this instead" she says and points to her mouth. "It solves almost all conflicts."

At one lunch, I had a philosophical discussion with a twenty-nine-year old female guard about the difference between determinism and utilitarianism.

I had expected the guards to be civil but was worried that some of my fellow inmates would be violent... my expectations were put to shame. Being surrounded by murderers, drug dealers, extortionists, robbers, extreme right activists and yet [feeling safe]... has strengthened my belief in the goodness of humanity. Because if even these people, some of them whom have committed horrendous crimes, can be kind to one another and to guards, then I feel there is hope.

Now I have been sent to a minimal security prison. Here everyone has their own private cell equipped with a bed, desk, chair, bookshelf, wardrobe and TV. Here they never lock your cell door. They only lock the door to the floor at nine in the evening and unlock it at eight in the morning. During all the other hours you are free to walk outside, go to the gym, etc.

Where I am, at the prison Skenäs, outside of Norrköping in the south of Sweden, there are beautiful surroundings... There are no walls or fences or anything surrounding the prison. Instead, every inmate has an electronic device attached around the leg that gives a signal at the moment one passes outside of the perimeter of the prison.

Although I [may] think life here is pretty sweet, people who have been in the Swedish prison system longer say[s] it has grown worse the last couple of years. Before, there was an attempt of rehabilitation but now most inmates (and some guards) say that all the decision-makers talk about is security, security and security.

Most are here for drug related crimes and they complain to me about the difficulty of getting into a decent program to be able to kick their bad habit. The guards here wanted to put me into a program of rehabilitation as well. The program is called "Behaviour, talk and change" and aims at asking the right questions to yourself to be able to find a meaningful direction in your life. I look forward to the programme!

I think everyone can gain something from throwing around ideas about how to build more meaning in one's life, although I feel it is unlikely that it will change my "criminal" behaviour, which probably is the aim of the programme...

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(c) Martin Smedjeback is a reservist serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams (www.cpt.org), which intervenes nonviolently in situations of war and conflict. Ekklesia works in partnership with CPT in Britain and internationally.

CPT UK are currently recruiting, and are offering training in London in October 2009. More information here: http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9621

People wishing to write to the author may send letters to Martin Smedjeback, Anstalten Skenäs Fack 11 610 31, Vikbolandet, Sweden.

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