No less than 10 people have died or committed suicide in prison since Alex Dalli took over as director.

His defence is that each and every one of those deaths has been, or is being, independently and thoroughly investigated. I’m not aware there’s a shred of evidence that suggests negligence or worse.

Which means absolutely nothing, because the fact remains that prisoners are dying. Individual inquiries don’t tell us much about the broader picture. They simply look into individual cases, in a disconnected and context-free way. Thing is, deaths, and especially suicides, tend to be profoundly connected to specific contexts.

I’ve followed every single interview that Dalli has given to the press and I’ve a feeling I know exactly what’s going on at Corradino. I think prison is being run on the kind of discipline that breaks people, physi­cally and mentally. I also think it’s a fine line between discipline and sadism.

I’m not accusing Dalli of anything. I don’t know enough to be able to do so, and I’m not sure anyone does who is on the right side of the bars. For all I know, his intentions are good. If they are, they’re the proverbial ones.

As is, the prevailing mode of governance appears to be inspired by three things: the army, English boarding schools ca. 1910, and the Republic of Molossia.

In reverse order, the Republic of Molossia is a micro-nation founded in 1977 by President Grand Admiral Colonel Doctor Kevin Baugh, President and Raïs, Protector of the Nation and Guardian of the People. His Excellency enjoys something of a reputation for bizarre rituals, fancy livery and a general grandiosity.

Readers who have been following the innovations at Corradino will spot the striking resemblance. The only difference is that Molossia is all a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun, and that none of its citizens are known to have died or committed suicide.

The second model takes us back around a century, to an English boarding school. We’re lucky to have a first-rate insider account by George Orwell himself. ‘Such, such were the joys’ is the title of a celebrated essay he wrote decades later about his time at St Cyprian’s prep school.

There was nothing particularly the matter with St Cyprian’s. Pupils were routinely and savagely beaten for all manner of offences, but then that was standard procedure everywhere at the time. Welts weren’t the main reason behind Orwell’s terrifying experience.

Rather, the problem was that the schoolmaster and his wife (pupils addressed her as ‘Mum’, tellingly) used a shifting good cop, bad cop strategy to inflict impossibly high standards on the boys. They ranged from the top marks that would gain them admission to public schools, to not masturbating. Here’s Orwell:

“I was crying partly because I felt that this was expected of me, partly from genuine repentance, but partly also because of a deeper grief: a sense of desolate loneliness and helplessness, of being locked up not only in a hostile world but in a world of good and evil where the rules were such that it was actually not possible for me to keep them.”

At St Cyprian’s, discipline was sacred. It was pillared on sustained humiliation and a kind of malevolent benevolence that kept the boys in constant terror, not least of themselves. The marks were good, the running smooth, and the scars deep. While Orwell makes no mention of suicides, his point is that all of the boys died a little in there.

Military discipline has a dark underbelly: it produces fine and upright men and women, but it also produces casualties that have little to do with enemy fire- Mark Anthony Falzon

The third regime is the obvious one. Dalli, as he loves to remind us, is an army man who has imported wholesale to the prison the disciplinary methods used in the army.

Sounds great, until you consider that military discipline has a dark underbelly: it produces fine and upright men and women, but it also produces casualties that have little to do with enemy fire.

Suicide, for example, is not uncommon in many armies. Clearly, the trauma of action can be a factor. The rest is down to what a certain kind of discipline can do to people, especially relatively powerless ones in lower ranks. Put simply, military discipline can and does kill.

This, then, is the lethal cocktail that the inmates at the prison are being made to drink, every single day, and without any form of recourse.

At St Cyprian’s, the boys at least got to go home to some normality at the end of term. No such luck at Corradino: many men and women will be stuck there for years, with the beaming colonel for company.

Beaming at his own achievements, that is, and without a thought for the casualties.

Take drugs; he claims, possibly accurately, to have stamped them out within weeks of taking over. A good thing at face value, except the second word of ‘drug dependency’ is there for a reason.

I’m not suggesting that drugs should be freely available, in prison or elsewhere.

But neither is it wise to eradicate them overnight and expect dependents to take up brass rubbing and basket weaving. Without a proper transition, you can expect serious physical and mental trouble – which is what we have, in fact.

In Dalli’s own words, one of the methods he used to eliminate drugs was a ban on conjugal visits (less hiding places, it seems). I think that sums it up.

When impossible standards, pointless rituals and a fixation with discipline elbow out humanity, some will take the emergency exit.

mafalzon@hotmail.com

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