Dima, one of our climate activists, was arrested during the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen last month and held in prison under preventive detention. Here - he shares with us what it was like for him in jail.
At 7 o’clock the door bangs open and the first uniform of the day sticks his head into the cell – wake up call. I hurry to put my clothes on – 5 minutes later the breakfast cart will roll up, and if I’m not out of bed they won’t serve me. And you don’t want to miss the cart – the two teabags I am allowed per day are given out then.
The door opens again. I put my tray with the plate on top of the hot water maker. One of the two guards ladles cereal into the plate, the other places the tea bags onto the tray. I fill the thermos with hot water, grab a milk from the bottom of the cart. “put me on the list for a shower sir?” The fat guard nods and makes a note on a crumpled up bit of paper. The skinny one just scowls. “And may I call my lawyer please?” It’s important to ask that question at breakfast, if you don’t -- the call won’t be allowed. The skinny one scowls again “We’ll see if we can do, later -- later, we are very busy now”. So much for my inalienable rights.
The door bangs shut. I fold the bedding and the bed is transformed into a couch. The couch/bed takes up most of the space along one wall. The other wall is occupied by a fridge, and a long shelf with 4 cupboards. An old banged up radio and a small TV are sitting on top of the shelf. The barred up window is high up right underneath the vaulted ceiling. I stand on the chair to peer outside – the fenced and barbed wired yard is covered with snow. Going to be cold exercise hour today. The police have taken my gloves and hat as evidence, so I know I'll freeze.
I peer at the sink in the corner. Got to take a piss, and the sink is looking quite inviting, but I decide to try to hold it in until they take me to the shower.
Half an hour later the door bangs open again “Shower, hurry up”. I grab the soap and the towel with the neat stencil of “Köbenhavns Fängsler “ (Copenhagen Prisons) in red. The shower and toilet is a luxury – big, clean, smelling of fresh disinfectant and (!) I can lock the door from the inside! I push the button that gives me 7 minutes of hot water and luxuriate.
Back to the cell, grabbing yesterday’s newspaper from the stack in an alcove in the corridor. Settle down for the long wait until lunch. Danish TV is showing in slow motion the Greenpeace activists crashing of the Head of State dinner at the Copenhagen climate summit again and again with voice over from various pundits saying something serious about security in Danish.
Time goes ever so slowly...
13.00 lunch comes by. Same trolly, same guards. “How much bread you want?” “4 slices please. How about that lawyer phone call?” “Later, later”. “OK may I use the toilet sir?” “Yeah hurry up”. I walk down the hall again. Through the open door in the neighboring cell I see the profile of the Russian activist who was also detained. Guy barely speaks any English, and has been trying to arrange a meeting with his lawyer for days. I have been trying to translate for him, but the guards keep saying “Later, later”.
Back to the cell. Listening to the radio, switching through TV channels hoping to find a station that shows a clock – inability to tell time is one of the more annoying aspects of being locked up. Being locked up for something I didn’t do and having to ask permission to go to the toilet. I hear cell doors bang open and shut again, the long term prisoners are coming back from work. You sit around folding paper all day for 70 kronor per day...
Magic hour comes – 17.00. Door bangs open “Exercise!”. I put on the jacket, making sure all my pockets are empty. The whole cell block is lining up in front of an airport style metal detector sitting incongruously in the middle of the hall. I pull out the belt, put it on the tray, walk through, and raise my arms for a body search. Go out into the frigid air.
Tadzio, my former cell mate throws himself into a hug. He has a PhD in social sciences, radical leftist from Berlin, professional activist – been to all the climate summits since Seattle. He was picked up outside of the Bella Center here by a squad of 6 secret policeman right after speaking to a crowd of delegates from the stage with internationally acclaimed author Naomi Klein.
More prisoners come up, we start moving in a circle around the snowed in yard, exchanging buts of news about what happened on the outside that we gleaned from various channels -- a letter from a coworker, visit with the lawyer, visit from a family member.
We jog around the yard a bit. The two guards are lounging in fold out chairs in front of the doors. “Other side of the line” barks one of them to the kid from Canadian Green Party. The kid was picked up wearing flip flops on bare feet. That was before the cold snap and snow. He is standing a little too close to the door to get some heat. Even though his feet are freezing he would not miss the chance for the exercise yard, for being outside, for seeing people not clad in light blue uniforms with massive key rings.
The hour flies by much too fast. Back inside, through the metal detectors, into the cells. The door bangs shut. But it’s ok -- just 1 hour before dinner.
Finally the door opens again with the dinner tray – same macaroni salad as always. “Vegetarian right?” “Yes sir”. The veg meal looks good – you get an egg, half a cucumber, a tomato and a chunk of beige textured soya protein. I hold out the little bowl to be filled with the sugar ration for the next 24 hours. “sign up for socializing with cell 3 please sir?” The fat guard nods and makes a note. The skinny one scowls. “and what about my lawyer call?” “later, later, we are busy now”. Yet again - no lawyer call…
I eat the dinner. At 19.00 the door opens again “Socializing!”. I rush down to cell 3. Tadzio and Luca, the Italian astrophysicist . Both have also been falsely accused after attempting to peacefully protest the climate talks and are now in preventive detention like me.
The door slams shut behind me. We hug. Luca talks excitedly about the support petition that his university is doing on his behalf. Scientists from Harvard, Oxford, etc have sign on. There is even hope to get Steven Hawkins on. We sit around talking politics, telling jokes, laughing like crazy. It’s SOOOO nice to be around people! We watch something mindless on TV, just to be in the same cell with others is a treat. 2 hours fly by. The door bangs open again. It’s the skinny guard. “Time. Back to your cells. ”May I go to the toilet sir?” He scowls but nods.
Back in the cell. Make the bed. Brush my teeth. Have a hot cup of tea (water still hot in the thermos, tea bag still working. Sugar ration looking solid). Creep into bed. The lamp on the long chord dangling from the ceiling is moving slightly in the breeze from the half open window. Watch something particularly mindless on Danish version of MTV. No books. When it gets too depressing – try to meditate away all thought.
Eventually I fall asleep.
We still have 4 activists in jail who have been held without trial since December 17. We're hoping they will be out soon.