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Torture versus culture, past versus present

As a country in which the political system changed 30 years ago, Romania has undergone significant improvement in the attitude toward its cultural legacy, especially the national principles towards a better future and better rights for all its citizens. Romania has become a part of the European Union, implicitly meaning that our political leadership has agreed to adhere to a whole class of European political ideals. EU standards were imposed as a new objective target for the future of the country, one that had a shade of communistic view across many past years. This difference between what was in the past, and what should be in the future should be as big as we genuinely like, in order to have real positive change in our local day-to-day life.

The Iasi Penitentiary, part of the National Administration of Penitentiaries from Romania, has become a pioneer in imposing a national positive trend regarding institutional events. Even though our institution, by its nature, works on the basis of a defined set of rules of engaging in the community that we are part of, a detention unit lead by our prison governor, Mrs. Cristina DUMITRAN, recognized that things must change. Through this change, the intent was achieving a more positive and realistic perception of the community that our institution encompasses, defined by roles and objectives.

We were told that we had a drop of “madness” when we started putting into pieces the first edition of the National Conference of Penitentiary Psychology, in Romania, in May 2018. Indeed, we did not think about what adversities we may encounter, we just wanted to give birth to something that can realistically describe our passion and desire to provide a better a view of our mission to our community. The success of this first event, gave some pertinent feedback about what are we trying to establish, so other plans came to our mind. Courage was invoked by our potential and power to transform something that was seen rigid and limited, to something else that was more appropriate to our characters and ambitions, open minded and creative.

This year, between the 15th and 18th of November, The Iasi Penitentiary organised the first National Conference of Penitentiary Education “Re-education by torture versus Re-education by culture”.


The purpose of this event was to confer visibility to the complexity of the educational activities and to assure the transparency of the social reintegration interventions in the detention units. More than that, the quintessence of this conference is underlying the antithesis of the past and the present, a modern approach of the penitentiary work. Facing the stereotype that a detainee is dangerous for others and cannot be genuinely adapted to his community, we encouraged others to see more to the image of the employee. He is not just a “guardian”, but rather a specialist in his profession, dedicated to his mission and creative towards whatever challenge he may face.

By the time four conference days had passed, guests had the privilege to hear the voices of priests that had been detainees in the communism era, and their experiences within the detention from the past. It was that time, were torture was used to impose a so-called “forced discipline”, where prison guards loved to be seen as gods in front of those who were incarcerated for political or just real legal reasons.

Time has changed us, and we have proof for this statement. Education in penitentiary units can provide unlimited ways of teaching a better way of living, especially for our inner-selves, beyond the identity that we have in a certain community. Learning could be achieved through the art of writing – a passion that is losing ground to the technology era in our day-to-day life. Other activities, that are adopted, include occupational therapies (such as crafting multi-colour glass and creating mosaic tiles), or just finding novice painters that later on with their time spent in the detention unit they reveal to themselves to be talented artists. Culture is being “served” to detainees in distinct forms, whether if the walls of the walking yard of the detention unit are painted in a graffiti style or if they are included in different art workshops, such as calligraphy, painting or literature circles.

The concept of “healthy prison” was presented to us by Mr. Dorin Muresan, and it was an approach that could give us a real sense of the direction that we must follow in the near and far future. Starting with a complex analogy from the “The tale of two cities”, written by Charles Dickens, Mr. Muresan presented to us a “painful” but true analysis of the penitentiary system in a country that shouts for a change in actions and facts. Starting with a belletristic metaphor, he managed to sketch the problems that our national values face presently, and to encourage us to follow a model that goes along with a real humanitarian vision upon our lives in prison, no matter if we talk about correctional staff or detainees. As a promoter of good examples, by his work in creating a correctional guide around healthy principles and values, Mr. Muresan manages through his actions, within тhe International Corrections and Prisons Association and тhe National Administration of Penitentiaries from Romania, to make a difference for our future path in our correctional institutional system.

Trying to understand our culture, in a way helps us to harness it, so we can build good and solid foundations around the existing one, created by our past. Our conference lecturers spoke about the symbolic importance of the tattoos and the music that our detainees prefer. Talking about the criminal mind behind a murder scene, and distinguishing the limits of phantasms and symbols, helped the participants to understand the multicultural and the versatile knowledge required to figuratively transform a chaotic scene of a murder into the comprehensive attitude and mindset of the one who committed the crime.

The Pitesti Experiment, as an essence of what torture represented in the past, was presented within a new movie project started with the purpose of showing the the extremes of human behaviour in our political past. The main point of the “method” used at Pitesti was to transform victims in torturers, the torture being appreciated just as simply as a method and not as a purpose. The re-enactment of that era is a painful truth to our days, but a practice that many political detainees, most of them students against the communist party, had to endure and to manage after time past, so they would not lose their personal identity.

Special thanks to our prison governor, Mrs. Cristina Dumitran, who believed in us and encouraged us to follow our ambitions and to transform our institutional dreams in reality. Through her personality, she managed to accomplish things that for others were mentally impossible to put in act. Innovation, creativity, ambition, institutional vision, strength in face of any obstacles, kindness, diplomacy, leadership and good management in any field of our institution, these are some of the traits that moved an entire unit to become better in their activities. Nothing of what was done in the past year, would be possible had we not had her as our leader.

Author: Marius BABAN, ICPA Member