Below is our documentation of a longer letter written by Max Zirngast on November 4th and received by us recently; we have translated and edited this and are publishing excerpts here. We have also added some annotations and subheads in square brackets for a better understanding.
4 November, 2018
The space-time of the penal regime and resistance to it
We have certain routines here, but sometimes we also encounter certain problems. For example, we haven’t had any hot water for a week and the heating isn’t working anymore because of some damage. Of course, we are cold, but the real problem is something else: we’re more tired than usual; reading and writing, focusing has become more difficult. But we somehow manage to deal with all of these problems.
Relative isolation continues. Our visitors are not allowed to visit us yet [Editiorial note: Each inmate may submit a list of three visitors; within 60 days, the prison must decide whether or not the listed persons are granted visitation rights]. These bureaucratic obstacles are placed in our way, because we are here incarcerated under fabricated terror charges – even though there has not yet been a single offense proven against us under existing Turkish law, there’s not even an indictment. Anyway, there’s no use getting upset, that’s just how it works here.
This is why it’s a little bit difficult to write something [Editor’s annotation: journalistic] from here. Especially, when it should be quick. The concept of time in prison does not match up to time outside. I’ll still try my best. Feeling my way through the situation, I’m trying to establish a new method of working here. I also want like to write again about life, everyday routines and the time-space-complex. Maybe I will not be able to put everything in this letter. But it will be a start.
I would like to start by analysing the architecture of the F-Type Prisons [Editor’s note: type of maximum security prison where Max is imprisoned]; then I will go into the description of one of our normal days. Towards the end, I will make some more theoretical points and explain some of the behaviours used to deal with the situation here.
[Time and Space in Prison]
So even though we are not yet convicted under applicable law, we are being punished. The punishment does not only consist of “removal from society”; the objective and subjective conditions we face in prison are also a punishment. In particular, the objective conditions of the prison – the architecture, the routines, the time-space complex – have certain mental and physical effects.
As a start, it is necessary to say something about the architecture. Unfortunately, I cannot say much about prisons in general or about prisons in Turkey in general. Personally, I know only the F-type. However, Mithat [Ed. Note: cellmate of Max], knows the F-type, the D-type and the M-type. Most of my knowledge about prisons comes from him.
There are many types of prisons in Turkey. In addition to open prisons, there are closed prisons. Closed prisons are categorized into C, D, F, L, M, etc. (I do not know exactly how many categories there are). In general, a distinction is made – at least roughly – between “types of crime”. The F-type is for the “political”, but every now and then there are other prisoners. We stayed in Sincan 1 for a week, since then we are in Sincan 2. As far as we can make out, there are mostly “FETÖ” detainees here [Ed. Note: this is the acronym for “Fetullah Gülen terrorist organization”; an official political and legal term used in Turkey to refer to members of the organization of the preacher Fetullah Gülen]. In all likelihood, there are also detainees who are accused of ISIS or PKK membership. Because we have no contact, we cannot say much about this. As far as we know, those who are imprisoned next to us are soldiers – that is, Gülenists. We also know that in Sincan 1, Idris Baluken [Ed. Note: HDP member of parliament who has been in prison since November 2016 for “terrorist propaganda” in his speeches and has now been sentenced to more than nine years in jail]. Because the rooms where we talked to our lawyers are divided by glass walls [Ed note: walls with windows], we could see the rooms beside us. In Sincan 1, Idris Baluken was talking with his lawyer(s) at the same time that we did.
As far as we know, the F-type is a direct import from the USA. Mithat says they were built in Turkey starting in 1980 [Ed. Note: On September 12, 1980, the bloodiest military coup in Turkey’s modern history up to that point took place, destroying the political left.]. The architecture of all F-Type prisons is the same. At least as far as Sincan 1 and 2 are concerned, I can confirm that myself. Mithat stayed in Adana in an F-type and said that this prison also had the same architecture (only minor alterations were made).
In F-type prisons, cells are for 3 people. But of course, there are not always three people in every cell. We are two, and some are single. The main function of the F-type is isolation. The number of three persons is also chosen with a purpose; it does not really allow for a social life (for example, games). Even with four people – as is common in H-types – the whole situation changes quite a bit. When it comes to coping strategies, one must have these realities in mind. You have to turn the disadvantages into advantages. If the main form of punishment of the F-type is isolation, then you have to create a program that meets these specific conditions – loneliness, silence, the absence of the hustle and bustle of contemporary urban life on the other hand also means the possibility of deep concentration and consolidation. We try to evolve in the absence of [hardly legible, presumably the stress of everyday life].
In the F-type, the holding cells are double storey. Each cell has a yard about ten by five meters wide. From the corridor, a door opens onto the lower floor as well as into the yard. From the cell, a door leads to the yard. In the morning during roll call, the door is opened by the guards; in the evening around six o’clock it is closed again. At the door to the corridor, there is a grate. Almost all communication is carried out through this window grate. Through this, we are given food, clothes, letters and so on. Next to the door to the yard is the shower. In Sincan 2 there is no shower head. We have to put the warm water in a bucket and shower with a bowl. In Sincan 1 there was a shower head and hot water at all times. In Sincan 2, as described in the last letter, only at certain times. Currently there’s no hot water at all, and the heating hardly works. Allegedly because of damage in the heating furnace. In order to shave and shower we’re now heating the water by kettle.
On the lower floor, there’s something like a kitchen. That means there’s a sink and a cupboard and next to it a place to put a fridge (we didn’t buy one because it doesn’t make much sense for us). There’s a staircase upstairs, there are three beds and three closets upstairs. There’s a radio down there (with only one channel, playing what the guards listen to, so this is generally TRT Fm [Ed. note: TRT is the state radio and television station in Turkey.]; in the evening, the Diyanet Radio [Ed. Note: Diyanet is the Office of Religious Affairs in Turkey]). We’re allowed to have a TV, but we don’t want one. The only electronic device in our room is the kettle. There’s also a plastic table and two plastic chairs.
The materials used are deliberately chosen. The three main materials are concrete, iron and glass. The windows are made of glass, but are barred with iron bars and wire. In the bathroom there are tiles, a mirror and a sink. There’s also some plastic furniture (among the kitchen utensils there’s nothing made of porcelain or wood or similar materials). In other words: deliberately no “living” materials such as wood are used. The only plants are a few mosses in the yard. Our living space is thus “cold”, lifeless and designed without anything beautiful. The yard is very high at the top, with the top closed off by NATO wire and a kind of a roof made of wire. Because of this height, the sunlight hardly ever reaches the yard – especially in winter. But we’re lucky: our room is facing east and so we get a lot of sun there. We make sure to “sunbathe” at lunchtime and recharge on vitamin D.
Also from the perspective of hygiene, Sincan 1 was better than Sincan 2. The cell we’re in now is pretty dirty. The plaster on the wall is crumbling, the iron is rusted, the door to the yard is very difficult to open and the bathroom is very humid. Especially the rusted iron and the rusty water from the tap are quite unpleasant.
A Day in Prison
Against the backdrop of what I’ve just described to you, it’s easy to understand how a normal day works for us. Much of the routine and the timing I have already explained in the last letter. I’ll briefly repeat this and then go into more detail.
Not every day is exactly the same here. For example, we do sports here four times a week for an hour, or an hour and fifteen minutes. There are also occasions such as visits (although this has rarely happened so far), lawyer’s visits, telephone conversations, and every two to three weeks sports in the closed sports hall which gets us out of our cell. And once a week is canteen day when the things we ordered in the canteen arrive (writing utensils, cleaning supplies, hygiene items, some food). Once a week, there are fruits and vegetables.
As I said, I wake up around 7:00 am, go downstairs, read or prepare letters, then we have breakfast together. By the way, the breakfast is delivered to us the evening before and is often quite poor. We buy most of the stuff to supplement it: green and black olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and so on. Sometimes Mithat gets extra eggs and cheese. Tea and coffee we make ourselves. After breakfast, we get dressed and prepare for the roll call. It usually takes place around 8:15-8:30 in the morning and at 20:15/20:30 in the evening. During the changing of the guards, there is a complete check of all the cells. For the roll call, you have to wear pants, shoes and so on. We make sure that we stay dressed throughout the day (except in the times when we do sports). So we take care never to be “unprepared”. As mentioned in the last letter, we also hand in letters, applications (everything here in prison is based on applications) and shopping lists for the cafeteria in the mornings during roll call.
After that, we do sport and read until lunch (about 12:30). For lunch, we get a piece of bread per person and the newspaper. So far, as I said, the Hürriyet, from November, then also Dünya [Ed. Note: a business newspaper] and Evrensel [Ed. Note: a left-leaning daily newspaper.].
The quality of the food varies enormously. Sometimes there is little, sometimes a lot. Stews are often cooked with a lot of bad fat. This is why we have made a sort of filter out of a 5-liter water container by cutting the container in half and making holes at the bottom. If the food is too greasy, we “filter” it this way, wash it and eat it afterwards.
I’m still trying to get vegan food. So far, I only get vegetarian food. So far, I have solved this problem by making salads out of the vegetables we buy. In between, I eat nuts, fruits, biscuits and the like.
Afterwards, we wash dishes and read the newspaper. Starting at 3 pm, it’s back to reading books until dinner (5.15-5.30 pm). At 6 pm our door closes and we read again. After the roll call in the evening, we write letters, talk or read novels. At 11 pm we go to bed.
That’s roughly how our days are going. As can easily be seen from this, days begin to resemble each other over time. Monotony is one of the biggest problems that you have to deal with here. The basis of the criminal regime imposed on us is a specific space-time-complex. Every day we look at the same walls and can only be active to a limited extent. This reality, coupled with subjective power relationships as embodied in the guards – communication and contact taking place almost exclusively with them – can lead to the prisoners being broken, paralyzed, and worn down. This danger hangs over us like a sword of Damocles at all times. In my opinion, to meet this danger, three things are necessary: discipline, creativity and solidarity – between those imprisoned, but also of the outside world with us. I will write about my concrete thoughts on this in some more detail in a few days in my next letter.