Nico

We are looking for the subway-entrance and i ask directions to a guy. He is very friendly, walks up with us. He tells that he has to do a tour through the neighbourhood: postoffice, shop, etc.. He hasn’t been in Amsterdam, is not allowed to leave the state. There is a case going on because they arrested him with some softdrugs. He realy feels harassed and limited. We shake hands and go our own way.

Just came back from my visit to Nico Epskamp. Its pretty confronting to be in the position of a visitor and observe how parents, ladies (often very young and with small children) and parents are treated. The staff acts in slow motion, never adresses people with more then a word (“shoes”, “enter”, “name” etc.) and makes them feel that they are not equal for them. It is more like people usually adress to their dogs. We were expected to fill in a form and deliver it before 1 pm. a lady who is later then the rest, but still in time comes to the fence. The officer looks at her and does not take a step towards her. Non-verbally he communicates: “I am not doing this three steps to you, you have to come to me.” so she gives her three years old child to someone else, goes around people and the fence and gives him the paper. He looks at it gives the form back and says: “name”. She runs back to the sort of cabin to fill in the rest. When she comes back I see the pain  on her face. And I see the face of her child looking at his mother. This “little thing” of disrespect is typical for the behavior of quite a few staff members the sytem and when it is done over and over every day towards people in the system and their family it must cause damage, hate and violence.  We have to wait on several spots for more then an hour, after given our passports and a form we have to fill in.  We are packed up in small rooms untill we finally reach the visiting-department.We can get candy and soda from a dollar-machine and are put in a room with about 20 chairs put with their back against the wall. The guards sents you to a chair and you have an empty chair next to you for the incarcerated person you are visiting. So we sit in a circle, next to eachother with a trashbin in the middle. Most of the inmates entering the room look like the people I’ve seen in other prisons: muscled, tattoos all over and from a hispanic or afro-american background. Nico is huge, by far the biggest guy in the room. Nico looks pale, wich is logical when you are in prison, but he looks healthy. “I spent some hours in the sun. On the roof. Ice Cones -(ice with a taste) were presented! Coming Wednesday there is a performance by Shakespear on the Roof. MacBeth ios performed. I have a ticket…” Nico thinks there probably could me something with his heart but they cancelled three times a visit to the hospital.  Nico says:” But I am not sure: probably there is nothing wrong”.  He says he is okay. “Freedom is something in your head and I realy enjoy the fact that Ihave unlimmited acces to email over here. I also can go to the library every week for four hours. I can do a lot over here. He is inside for three and a halve years now. He does not expect to be released any time soon. The first opportunity will be after a verdict on appeal. The whole procedure takes endless. Three and a half months between jury verdict and sentence. Nico has no high expectations of the outcome. The system is rotten. But….he will appeal and has strong points to win this. Especially on the jurisdiction issue. And a lot of other things that went wrong. In ‘pre trail’ there is one federal Judge who calls all the shots. No appeal possibility in between. Nico: The Dutch judicial system is superior to the American.way the syetem works is, that people usually confess and testify against others. There is a process of intimidation, negociation in which they threaten everyboy who is in contact with you. For examle: when you used the phone or computer of your child they threathen to arrest him too. Others make a deal, testify against you and so you are forcedto confess and testify too, being afraid that the judge only hears one side of the story. Nico did not congfess and he is one of the few percent of suspects who did not. Nico tells that about one third of the cases who are brought to court like this end up in a win for the suspect. We talk about the Dutch and the American system. Nico tells that there are a lot more training and housingprogramms in the US, compared to Holland since 2003, when budgets in Holland were cut back and there was no money for anything anymore when there was no undisputed evidence that it directly led to results, meaning: less recidivism. He tells about the ambition of Bill Diblasio to fight social misery, exclusion and poverty and we are talking about Nico ‘s plans and projects in holland, where he was working at BONJO the organisation which fights for the interests of incarcerated persons. Those plans were promissing and also  from that perspective it is a real pity that Nico ended up in this situation. Nico does not want his family to visit him here he has a lot of emailcontact and does not want them to spent a lot of money and brought in this visiting-situation. “They cancel visits very easily over here: even from family coming especially from abroad to visit their loved ones!” Relations amongst incarcerated persons are okay over here. Everybody knows that when you make a problem you diapear into the housing unit (solitary confinement) for a long time. They also can add extra detention-time: a guy who bit in the finger of an officer who interfeared in a fight with another incarcerated person got an extra fifteen years! It was a very impressive visit. I felt sorry for Nico, am glad he is still strong and doing well considering the circumstances. IT was very hard to communicatie because of the incredible noise of ll those people talking, laughing and screaming. I draw the same conclusion as I drew in Texas: facilitating proper contact between incarcerated persons and their loved ones does not have any priority over here. And that is a sad fact.

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