Disgraced former Paphos mayor and fraudster, Savvas Vergas played bouzouki, and ex TV presenter Elena Skordelli, jailed for her part in the murder of Sigma boss Andis Hadjicostis, came top in graphic art, during a ceremony to mark the end of the ‘academic year’ at the Nicosia Central Prisons on Tuesday.
The event included performances with dance, song and recitation of poems by inmates. Skordelli even said she was planning a fashion show for September, according to the Cyprus News Agency.
The reports came at the same time as social media was abuzz with the news that a large inflatable pool has been set up since last weekend for the 45 female inmates.
Acting prisons chief Anna Aristotelous said the move was part of efforts to keep female inmates engaged because due to limited space, they did not have many options. “We are trying to keep the inmates busy with as many activities as possible,” Aristotelous told the Cyprus Mail.
Following suggestions from experts, female inmates also have access to a gym, and the opportunity to take Zumba, yoga and body combat classes, Aristotelous said.
There are also courses in graphic arts, singing and secretarial support, she said, as well as beauty and makeup, and nutrition. The courses are also aimed at contributing to the women’s smooth re-integration into society following their release.
Aristotelous said they encourage the participation of prisoners in education, and that the number of prisoners participating in school programmes has increased from 182 to 396. Almost two thirds of the prison population, she said, attend the education programmes offered.
Tuesday’s ceremony ended with the award of prizes to those who graduated top of their painting, and crafts classes.
“Inmates are not second class citizens. They have been punished, and they are serving their sentences here in this place. It does not mean that they must be punished daily for their deeds,” Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said in his address at the event.
He added that the government’s people-centric policy, “aims at opening bridges of communication between prisoners and society”. As part of this philosophy, he said, the prison’s management in cooperation with the education ministry, have made the education and training of inmates, “necessary and important” for their personal development and the improvement of their living conditions in prison. The aim, he said, is their smooth reintegration into society once released.
Nicolaou said that prisons should be converted into correctional centres and that they are looking into ways for people jailed for debt, to be able to do community service instead of serving prison time.
Aristotelous said the prisons now had an educational system in line with European regulations and the recommendations of the Council of Europe guidelines.
“However the education of the individual is not only achieved through educational systems and educational programmes,” she said. “There are other factors that affect the growth and the formation of good character and human behaviour such as family, religion, art, etc.”
Skordelli told a CNA reporter that her source of inspiration for her painting and iconography projects were “patience and faith in God,” adding that although she has experienced an injustice, she believes justice will win.
“I derive enormous patience through this theory so that I am able to continue my life in prison,” she said.
The news of the new swimming pool drew some comments on social media but while the majority of commentators congratulated the prison’s management for their initiative, some said it constituted discrimination against male inmates. Others said life in prison appeared to be better than life outside. “I hope they don’t like it so much in there, that they will want to return (following their release),” one commentator said.
Some however criticised the decision saying it was unfair to the families of the victims of some of the inmates that they had access to such amenities.