At the Unit for violent prisoners in Fleury-Mérogis, “lack of murder” and desire to take flight: News

“Sometimes when I get up in the morning, I’m a little bit in need of murder.” Colombo is only 22 years old but, like the other prisoners in the Violent Prisoner Unit (UDV) at Fleury-Mérogis prison (Essonne), his aggression is on the surface.

Incarcerated overseas, the young man (name changed) blinded a supervisor and was urgently transferred to this area of ​​the largest remand prison in Europe, in mainland France.

For six months, away from other prisoners, he is followed by a team which hopes, through interviews and activities, to reduce his level of violence before reintegrating him into the general prison population.

According to the prison administration, 28% of prisoners who went through a UDV in 2022 – there are ten in France – reoffended within three months of their release.

When Colombo was transferred, security measures were at their maximum: guards equipped themselves with shields every time they opened his cell.

These precautions have since been relaxed, but he remains handcuffed behind his back and escorted by three agents each time he travels.

That day, in his cell, he paces up and down, staring at the peephole. “I’m anxious, pensive, I have lots of dark thoughts,” he says in an interview with AFP.

“At night, my body refuses the mattress. I want to bang on the door, burn the cell, break the TV. But I don’t do it…”

– Childish and threatening –

His profile is “the most mysterious” of the UDV prisoners, analyses a guard.

He is a frightened child, far from his family, who is desperate to reach his grandmother.

His feeling of insecurity makes him formidable. From his cell, he screams at anyone who can hear him. “I’m threatening so people will stop looking for me.”

Through interviews with a psychologist and workshops organized by the Prison Integration and Probation Service (SPIP), he learned to channel his words, perceived their psychological impact on exhausted staff and worried fellow prisoners.

The serious injury Colombo inflicted on a guard who had lost one eye troubled him.

“I barely touched him, but he fell,” he muses, his short dreadlocks blurring his vision every time he shakes his head “no.”

“I didn’t mean to hit people, it was something I did in the moment. I didn’t want the consequences. I’m working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

All his efforts came crashing down a few weeks later when an inmate hit him during a workshop. “Colombo went crazy,” one guard said.

Since then, he has remained in his cell, on his guard, and says he is “ready”. For what? He himself does not know. But he considers that it would be “good if we released him into the wild”. “I am not a violent person, I just like breaking and entering.”

On a board in the staff room, the supervisor wrote “Vigilance +++” next to her name.

As Colombo refused to attend the “Knowing how to act against violence” workshop, Martial (name changed) attended alone. On today’s menu, dissect the phases of acting out to try to avoid it.

– “Cocktail Molotov” –

At the origin of his crises, Martial identified a “Molotov cocktail” of fear and anger which irremediably escalated to violence.

“Afterwards, I think. The anger goes away, you have beaten the person, you are relieved, you feel good,” describes the thirty-year-old. “It’s the time when your brain can think about other things again. When you’re angry, it’s like putting your heart in a fridge and going to war.”

It’s hard to imagine Martial in a rage. At the UDV, he has the air of quiet strength. Polite, up at 6:00 every morning, with music playing in the background to bring a little “sunshine” into his day. He explains that he wants to “invest” his time in prison for “his life, which continues behind bars”.

The man was imprisoned in Fleury-Mérogis for the murder of a fellow prisoner he suspected of rape.

“It was more than anger,” he explains, “it triggered the darkness (sic) in me.”

Capucine, SPIP advisor, asks him:

– Could something have avoided this situation?

– Nothing, it would happen again. I am not running away from my responsibilities.

Martial believes he acted as he should in the face of a “pointer”, the name given by inmates to perpetrators of sexual crimes.

“You can’t talk about a desire to evolve if you say you would do the same thing in the same situation,” Capucine points out.

“When a whole prison bangs on the doors saying ‘Kill him’… It gave me an impulse, I was a different person,” Martial explains.

The discussion turns to the reasons for his transfer to the UDV: Martial threatened to kill a prison official, whom he accused of ignoring his letters.

– “Without it exploding” –

Although he considers that he has reacted to an injustice, Martial remains attentive to his advisors. “I see what I need to work on, but it’s going to be complicated.”

The next day, he takes part in a role-playing game: he plays a prison counselor being lectured by his superiors. Martial gets agitated, but does not lose his temper.

“I am learning to manage my emotions and adapt them to emotions different from mine,” he summarizes to AFP. “Today you can be around me without it blowing up.”

His favorite workshop? A radio show with another prisoner from the unit, Moussa.

Both of them select illustrations that remind them of a pleasant moment. Martial chooses a castle that flies away: “It reminds me of my freedom. I hope I’ll see you all again outside of this Machiavellian place.”

Behind the cell door, the atmosphere suddenly became tense. On a lower floor, a prisoner cut open an agent’s skull with a pen.

Another inmate will soon be transferred to the UDV.

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