Lewis was 29 when he took his own life in an isolation cell from Brians I prison, in Barcelona. He used the sheets as a rope. It was the second time I visited that cell, after they found marijuana. His mother, Barbara, was told by an official that maybe her head had gone. "These things happen," he said. It was November of 2017.
Nine months later, the body of Gina, 20, appeared in another isolation cell in the same prison. Gina, who suffered from drug addiction and took medication, also took her own life after spending three months in one of the hardest prison regimes. "His calls for help were never heard," laments his mother, Alba.
Only in Catalonia, last year 41 people died in prison, according to the statistics of the Generalitat. The majority (19) for diseases. Eight people committed suicide, five died of an overdose and in nine other cases the cause indicated by the Catalan government is "unknown". A factor that alarms the rights organizations of the prisoners and that, in their opinion, supports the opacity around the death in prison.
Barbara, Cuban, and Alba, Colombian, are not satisfied with the explanations that the Generalitat has given on the death of their children. It is not that they suspect a violent death. They assume they committed suicide. But they have doubts about the circumstances that led two young people, with no criminal record and with good prospects of being released, to make that decision.
The mothers of Lewis and Gina believe that, in prison, isolation kills. In the Special Departments of Closed Regime (DERT, for its acronym in Catalan), the inmates remain locked alone, in their cells, for 20 hours a day or more. They can only go out to the patio – also alone – once a day.
"The physical and mental deterioration of the prisoners in isolation is evident, and it can be a direct cause that leads them to take their own lives," says Andrés Berrio, who defends the interests of Lewis and Gina's families. Berrio reminds that the UN, through the so-called Nelson Mandela Rules, establishes that the maximum time of imprisonment in these conditions should not exceed 15 days. "In Catalonia, there are people like Gina who can spend months like that."
Lewis arrived in Catalonia more than ten years ago. He has worked as an air conditioner installer, waiter and even DJ. Amateur to skate, was known in the Plaza dels Àngels, next to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona, the iconic scene of urban skating. When he died in Brians I, he was a pre-trial prisoner for an alleged robbery. He entered the DERT for the first time because he "bounced" against an official when he woke up. He stayed there for a week. The incident with the marijuana took him back to the cell and prevented him from visiting with his five-year-old son. He had been in these conditions for five days when he committed suicide.
Barbara, his mother, has lamented on Tuesday, on the verge of tears, the death of his son, "a ball of joy that had never thought about killing himself." He visited him on a Saturday. He told her that he was fine and that the experience of the jail where he wrote poems and lyrics and where he had started going to Mass-could, after all, be positive. On Thursday night, he was called from Brians I to tell him that the boy had committed suicide. "I was alarmed by the official's coldness, he told me that he gave him something while doing so with his finger circling at the head." Barbara wants to know if her son had a problem, what medication she received and what happened, and that is why she is going to present a lawsuit against the Generalitat.
Gina arrived in Catalonia "in search of a change of life". Amateur at the dance, I had problems with drugs. Like Lewis, he was remanded in custody for the first time in his life, also for alleged robbery. There, her problems began to worsen and she was admitted to a psychiatric unit, where according to the family, she was tied to the bed with her hands and feet. Desperate, she tried to run away, which led her, as punishment, to the isolation cell of Brians I.
"They did not give her adequate treatment, she received medication that prevented her from expressing herself and getting dressed, she was denied calls and that subjected her even more," said Alba, the mother. He says the girl was encouraged to "get ahead." But, like Lewis, he committed a "second offense" that took her back to the DERT cell, where she did not leave. "Gina has died in state custody, we want to clarify it," insists Alba, who has initiated a criminal trial and has asked the judge, for now without success, to perform a second autopsy to clarify the circumstances of his death. "No more isolation or deaths in prison," he claims.