Brazil’s ailing prison system was thrown into chaos this
month, as a wave of rebellions swept through Rio’s jails.
detention center in Rio’s North Zone grabbed headlines
across the globe, as 31 prisoners and one guard were executed
during a 62-hour siege. Two prisoners were decapitated, and,
according to sources, an impromptu kick-about broke out with
In the dormitory
town of Magé, 60 km (37 miles) from Rio de Janeiro, there
were similar scenes on Saturday June 5.
of letters written by one prisoner and seen by Brazzil this
week, paint a desperate picture of the Magé rebellion,
in which two women were killed.
began on Saturday night, when after a failed breakout, prisoners
took a guard hostage. Police who stormed the unit to free her
say she was wrapped in a mattress and about to be burnt to death
seemed like I was in the middle of a war,” describes the
18-year-old prisoner, in a letter to family and friends, extracts
of which are reproduced below.
invaded, shots were fired, wounding one woman in the chest and
another in the head. Aline Maria Cesário, 30, was killed
instantly. Another has since died.
A mist of
silence has since descended on the Baixada Fluminense prison.
Visits were initially suspended, and prisoners’ relatives
struggled to get news of their loved-ones. Human rights activists
have been as quick to denounce police mishandling, as the authorities
have been to defend themselves.
police operation was a catastrophe,” Marcelo Freixo, coordinator
of the Prison Community Council, told Brazzil last week.
Astério Pereira dos Santos was quick to deny this. “The
police action was what you call legally, self defense of a third
party… There was no time to wait for Special Forces,”
he told journalists two weeks ago.
the letters—dated June 9, 2004, four days after the rebellion—back
up Freixo’s words. Written by one of Magé’s
402 prisoners, who witnessed the rebellion, they recall scenes
of ‘desperation’ and ‘blood’.
prisoner, here referred to as Michele, describes scenes typical
in Rio’s jail: overcrowded and volatile, and places in which
hell,” describes Michele (not her real name), a model
from Rio’s North Zone, held awaiting trial for assault.
Without the 1200 reais(US$ 400) to pay a lawyer and cover the
bail, Michele has spent over a month in the Magé detention
ask God to get me out of here. Only he knows what is going to
happen,” she writes. “Tomorrow no longer belongs
from the Letters:
Custódia de Magé, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June
are you? Well? I can’t say the same for myself; I’m
pretty badly hurt. Did you see what happened on Saturday on the
television—the rebellion at the remand centre in Magé.
It was the most horrible moment of my life. They set fire to the
floor that I was on. Imagine: I was being held with more than
65 women. I began to scream, ‘Help, my God’. I couldn’t
think about anything, I just thought that I’d die.
[cell number 3] started the rebellion. They took the ‘desipes’
(prison officers) and took the keys. They opened all the cells.
They couldn’t open CX [changed to protect the author’s
identity], where I was and I got more and more desperate a few
minutes later. They opened the cell and took over everything.
One PM [military policeman] got up close to negotiate. The prisoners
said that they wanted to kill the ‘desipes’ who
were being held hostage, tied up and in their pants.
after, the [police] battalion arrived and invaded shooting,
with gas bombs. [It was] desperate; people running everywhere.
Thirteen people were injured, including me. Two died from rifle
shots and we took a beating, those who were involved and those
really hurt, it seemed like I was in the middle of a war. [There
was] lots of shooting. Every day I thank God because I came
alive again. They might have killed me. Soon I’ll be with
you all. I know that I didn’t rob anything, and I’m
going to prove it.
feels like] I’m on the other side of the world, [one which]
I didn’t need to get to know. I’m really frightened.
The people here fight day and night. It doesn’t take anything
to set off violence [or] a whole night of blood. This is the
hell. I ask God to get me out of here. Only he knows what is
going to happen. Tomorrow no longer belongs to us. I’m
still feeling lots of pain in my body. I’ve cried a lot
because of the pain, thrown myself on the floor and rolled about.
It was as if the devil had invaded my body.
escreva por favor [sic] (Please write to me). Faith in God”.
Tom Phillips is a British journalist living in Rio de Janeiro.
He writes for a variety of publications on politics and current
affairs, as well as various aspects of the cultura brasileira.
Tom can be reached on email@example.com.