By Angelos Anastasiou
INMATES at the Central Prisons on Monday sang songs, recited poems, and exhibited their artistic creations at the year-end ceremony of the institution’s school, which was addressed by acting prison director Anna Aristotelous and Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou.
In her speech, Aristotelous offered a brief overview of the improvements made at the prisons during her administration – including collaborations with local universities and art teachers – and stressed the institution’s role as a reform centre, as opposed to a disciplinary facility.
“Only through learning can we change attitudes and behaviours,” Aristotelous said.
Addressing guests and inmates, Nicolaou said that governance at the prisons has shown great improvement and praised Aristotelous for her contribution.
“I would like to share my deep gratitude for the fact that the prison finds itself today at the best operational level in the history of the Republic of Cyprus, which proves our policies, and those of the new administration, were right,” he said.
The justice minister also spoke of a government-commissioned study, to be prepared by British experts, on alternatives to incarceration for lesser crimes, including community service and therapy instead of imprisonment for drug users.
Following the speeches, a programme performed exclusively by inmates was presented. A short amusing sketch, prepared with the help of Cypriot actor Zoi Kyprianou, prompted bouts of laughter among the audience.
Introspective poems written and recited by inmates – a few familiar names among them – touched on issues of regret, remorse, and yearning for freedom, with one striking example apologising to the poet’s father for the grief his mistakes caused.
A song set followed, with one inmate rendering well-known Greek songs with his bouzouki, while another performed self-penned reflective, mellow songs of regret, despair, and the hope of being free once more.
“Twenty-four years using drugs, one year clean – with my guitar,” the songwriter said as a preamble to a soft ballad titled ’20-years-old’, which earned him enthusiastic applause by the audience.
When the programme was over, three inmates who graduated their long-distance undergraduate degrees from local universities were issued their diplomas, while several others were given honourary certificates for outstanding work in handicrafts and attendance of the prison school’s courses.
And in what had been a surprise to everyone but the inmates on stage, after Aristotelous announced the end of the ceremony, everyone involved in the programme got on stage and recited a poem dedicated to her.
“Let anyone else say what they will, we know you’ve made our lives better,” the poet told the smiling director.
The grateful inmates also handed Aristotelous an icon depicting the Virgin Mary holding baby Christ, painted by Elena Skordeli.