Social distancing, disinfecting common areas and accessing health care: All three key tactics for curbing the spread of coronavirus are particularly complicated inside jails and prisons. While it might seem like an already self-isolating bubble, life inside prisons has changed dramatically since COVID-19 arrived. In an effort to keep healthy, many have lost their rights to socialize, make extra money through jobs and receive visitors. At the same time, many are looking at the option of releasing some prisoners as a way to alleviate overcrowding and limit the spread of the virus. Here are examples of how some countries are taking on the issue:
Releasing & Escaping: Countries like Iran and Turkey have responded by releasing tens of thousands of minor offenders to increase space in prisons, but also raising the question of why so many need to be jailed in the first place. While in Brazil, prison riots led to mass escapes from dirty, inhuman facilities. The last few months have shown how a highly infectious disease can exasperate exploitive systems where human rights abuses are engrained. Along with momentum from the Black Lives Matter movement, there are now global calls for criminal justice reform, from interactions with police to incarceration to reintegrating into society.
Nordic model: There have been success stories of prisons avoiding outbreaks, in places both expected and not. Known for its innovative prison environments, where the focus is more on rehabilitation than punishment, Norway has allowed around 300 inmates to complete their sentences isolated at home, with ankle monitor bracelets. The program focuses on those who are serving sentences shorter than six months or who only have six months left. Other inmates have asked for leniency because of the isolation required to stem COVID-19. The disease has impacted some Norwegian prisons, including on the island of Bastøy (with six cases), where there are no fences and many inmates farm, watch television and ski in the winter.
Wearing face masks at a prison in Mexico City — Photo: Ricardo Castelan Cruz
Mali model: Perhaps more surprising, the West African country of Mali has also been successful in keeping its incarcerated population and correctional staff safe. One of the pandemic hotspots is the capital of Bamako. And it could be potentially catastrophic in the Bamako Central Prison, a colonial-era building which was supposed to house only 400, but currently has 2,100 inmates (with many held in pre-trial). As reported by RFI, the facility has had no registered cases through relying on basic hygiene practices, moving prisoners to other facilities and checking visitors' temperatures. Red Cross donations have increased sanitation supplies and prisoners are even manufacturing masks to wear and be sold. As prison warden Colonel Adama Guindo told RFI, "If the monitoring continues to be done proactively, we have every chance of being spared. We're in the middle of the river, but we can't declare victory until we've reached the other side."
Indian overflow: Despite efforts to let more people out on parole, India is also facing overcrowded prisons, with facilities in Delhi receiving on average 80 new inmates a day. Despite the country's Supreme Court urging prisons to decrease their populations, many are caught up in the justice system, where the limited supply of judges is overwhelmed by the high number of cases. As Jai A. Dehadrai, who practices in the Supreme Court, writes in The Wire, "It would be most unfair for our decisionmakers, who enjoy the privilege of sanitized safety in their homes and offices, to not spare a thought for prisoners — especially those presumed innocent in the eyes of our legal system." Dehadrai writes that underfunding in the system enforces inequalities.
Political tool: In Nicaragua, the government is using the pandemic as a tool for silencing dissenters. Since anti-government demonstrations began in 2018, more than 90 activists have been sent to prison on trumped up charges, Al Jazeera reports. President Daniel Ortega, who has been in office since 2007, was implicated in the violence at demonstrations that led to the deaths of more than 300 people.
More recently, Ortega has been accused of downplaying the severity of the pandemic in the Latin American country, even as coronavirus began to spread in March at "La Modelo," the country's largest penitentiary and where many government dissenters are kept. The prison has done little to help inmates. Instead, visiting family and friends bring medication and food and ask their loved ones medical questions so they can consult with an outside doctor.
The government has released more than 6,000 inmates since April, but only four activists were among those set free in mid-July. As Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, tells the human rights organization, "Nicaragua is facing a question of life or death. We are not only talking about freedom, but the lives of dozens of people who were put behind bars in order to silence them. The question is: How far is Daniel Ortega willing to go to keep them in silence?"
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
- From Beirut To Baghdad, Syria's Spillover Is Redrawing The Middle ... ›
- Tamales To Gonorrhea: How Violence Shaped Colombian Spanish ... ›
- Destination Chernobyl? Radioactivity, Jobs And Tourism ... ›