Joaquim Forn was Catalonia’s Interior Minister from July 14 to October 27, 2017. In this short period, he had to deal with the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, and with the celebration of the independence referendum held in Catalonia on October 1, 2017. As a result of the independence declaration on October 27, he was removed from office by the Spanish Government, initially went to Belgium and was then remanded in custody upon return to Spain.
Joaquim Forn has been held on remand without bail nor trial date for exactly one year today. He decided to keep a diary in prison from day one and on September 20, 2018 a book titled Escrits de presó (Writings from Prison) came out, published in Catalan by Enciclopèdia. Thanks to the bookhouse’s permission, we are able to offer our worldwide readers an exclusive selection of some of the diary’s key entries in English language, in what proves to be the honest testimony of the life of a Catalan political prisoner.
November 2, 2017
I’m afraid. I’ll admit it. I would never have thought that I could be sent to prison, and now here I am. I could have imagined living a thousand and one different adventures and misadventures, facing all kinds of unforeseen events and setbacks, now that I am a certain age. But going to prison did not feature in any of my plans. Neither in any of my nightmares. No way. Come to think of it, I suppose that losing your freedom and getting locked up behind four walls doesn’t enter into anybody’s plans. Certainly not in mine. Maybe it’s because my whole life I’ve been told that I’m “a good guy” and I guess I’ve ended up believing it myself. It must be that. Maybe it’s just that I’m naive. “He who does not do evil, does not think evil,” as the saying goes.
Yes, it is true that, as the political situation became more complicated in recent months, the idea that I could end up in jail did cross my mind, and I had even discussed it with Laura, my wife, and with my closest friends. But eventually I always persuaded myself that it was a very remote possibility, which turned out not to be the case. It’s not unlike car accidents: you think that they always happen to other people, that it will never happen to you. I know what I’m doing, you tell yourself.
Josep Rull, Jordi Turull, Raül Romeva, Carles Mundó, Oriol Junqueras, and I — six Catalan government ministers— were processed into Estremera prison this evening. I will never forget this day. I will never be able to get over it, I suppose. Going to prison will stay with me for the rest of my life. I have no doubt about that. Everyone says so, and I don’t think that I’ll be an exception.
The treatment we have received from prison wardens has been good enough. There has been a big difference between the Guardia Civil officers and the prison staff. With us, the Guardia Civil has been unpleasant, while the prison officers have treated us properly. The director of the prison made a positive impression. We spent a long of time with him before we were provisionally assigned a cell. We had to fill out many forms and procedures, such as appointments with a doctor, a social educator, a psychologist… And we have still some things left for tomorrow or who knows when.
Finally, we were provided with a personal hygiene kit, sheets, a blanket, and a towel. OK. And we went to sleep because we were exhausted! I’m sharing a cell with Oriol [Junqueras]. We’re very tired. More than tired —I’m busted. No doubt I’ll sleep very well, I think. Despite everything.
I think that the word Estremera is too similar to the verb “shudder” [“estremir-se” in Catalan]. I remember a novel by Jesús Moncada called Shuddering Memory. I trust that this place will be a page of my life that passes quickly, and that the memory will not make me shudder for the rest of my days.
I am gripped by fear, although I know that jails are no longer like those of the Count of Montecristo. I’m worried on two counts. Firstly, I feel the natural concern that everyone should have when entering such a place. We’ve seen so many films about prisons. We’ve read so many things. We’ve heard so many dark legends.
I think of Midnight Express, a film that has always had an impact on me, and that deals with the life in prison of a young US man who is stopped at Istanbul airport for drug trafficking and ends up in a Turkish prison. I understand that it is a story based on true events. I’m rattled by this memory. I try to get it out of my head. Away!
I also have doubts about the way in which other inmates will receive us and about the degree of violence that may exist in prison and might be “taken for granted”. What do I know?
Nor do I know what image they, the prisoners, will have of us. Of course, I do not think it’ll be very good if everything they know comes from Madrid’s TV stations. We’ll see how it goes.
November 25th, 2017
There is a small store [Economat] where prisoners can buy some basic cleaning products, food, writing material, stamps, phone cards … But nobody should assume that they stock everything. More often than not, you can’t find anything; but it helps to supplement your diet. An inmate runs the Economat store. They tell me that he killed two of his partners, one of them pregnant. He is a curious character. In addition to this activity, he gives talks about philosophy, the origin of the world, and teaches English.
You use a card to shop at the Economat. All of the prisoners have one and we can have a maximum balance of one hundred euros per week. It’s topped up every Wednesday. I don’t spend more than thirty or forty euros a week, now that a lot of people send us stamps inside their letters. Buying them was the biggest expense we had. The stamps are very useful, and the officials haven’t given us a problem about it, although they could, according to the regulations.
One thing that surprised me about the cellblock is that every morning, just before breakfast, a small group of seven or eight people can be found in a corner of the indoor football field, where they embrace and pray. The one who leads the prayer is Akuna, a Nigerian who acts like an evangelist pastor, gesturing and making great exclamations. Akuna is funny, thick-bodied and burly. He says that when he entered prison he was one hundred and thirty five kilos and now weighs one hundred and five, but the truth is that he is pure muscle. As they say, he’s in jail for “refusing to talk”. It seems that there is a bit of truth to this. He is involved in some political plot and seems to be locked up preventively to get him to speak. He does sports (runs and plays soccer) all day, or reads the Bible. He’s positive, or at least always seems content. The others that interact with him are El Niño, Jose, and a black boy whose name I don’t know and who I think is a Muslim.
On Sundays, from 11 to 12, they meet in a room to write, read and discuss some passage from the Bible. One day I went to listen. I’ve never joined the group. They are too noisy.
December 1, 2017
This morning we gave our statements in court. I don’t know how it went. I’m very nervous and, since I can’t sleep, I’ve decided to leave a record of how the day went. I’ve come to the conclusion, the main one, that the prison transfers are hellish. I hate them as I have hated few things in life.
The day started very early. I didn’t get a wink of sleep all night long. We got up at six thirty, and we had to wait for more than an hour in the prison in-processing section until the Guardia Civil drove us to Madrid’s Audiencia Nacional court. All of the Ministers were together as we waited. We were hopeful things would go well, but without euphoria. Not at all.
We were driven in two vehicles: Rull, Turull, Romeva, and I, in a Guardia Civil van, and Junqueras and Mundó, in a Guardia Civil car.
Inside the van there is a small cubicle, completely closed off and with no view of the outside, that can hold to five people. It has dim light and this morning it was freezing cold. We were handcuffed and this time they did secure everyone’s safety belt. This time they didn’t abuse the sirens during the journey, which lasted almost an hour. Both Rull and I got terribly dizzy. We ended as sick as a dog. I had to close my eyes and I was in a cold sweat the whole way.
Once we arrived at the courthouse, they sent us to the same cells that we got to know on November 2. This time we had company. In my case, I was with Raül and Carles. The first to be deposed was Carles, then Raül and finally me, the last.
In the court house, apart from handcuffing us from behind, they once again removed our shoelaces, ties, belts, glasses… it’s police protocol. Our belongings were not returned to us until we were on our way to the Supreme Court.
The transfer to the Supreme Court is five minutes by car from the Audiencia Nacional and we did it in a Spanish Police (CNP) van. The officers were kind. Once inside, I saw Dolors Bassa, who I haven’t seen since November 2. We were able to talk a little during the transfer. She seemed well, and had cut her hair and dyed it a darker shade.
Once at the Supreme Court, they brought us to a room where we weren’t allowed to talk to the rest of our colleagues that were present. In silence, we waited for the judge to call us. I was with Bassa, Rull, Romeva, and Mundó.
When Mundó left after making his statement, they called me. The statement went as planned. I agreed to answer questions from everyone, but was only questioned by my lawyer and the Vox lawyer. The prosecutor did not ask me any questions. I testified for about twenty-five minutes and I was returned to the Court’s holding cell via the same route I had followed an hour earlier.
While returning to the cell, I caught a glimpse of Turull and Cuixart about to be transferred to the Supreme Court. Cuixart has not lost his smile and he looks very well. We only had the chance to exchange four words. I also saw Jordi Sànchez inside a cell, alone. When I moved closer to greet him, I was told off by the police officer who accompanied me.
Inside the cell we met again with Carles and Raül. We spent a few hours locked up, with some fun moments and resting for a while. At times, we laughed a lot. Carles told us some anecdotes about his cell block, frankly hilarious, and there were times when I thought that we would draw attention. We could not stop laughing loudly. We had been needing to do so.
At about three o’clock, they brought me back in handcuffs to the prison of Estremera. This time I went in a car with Mundó. I was able to see and look outside. I enjoyed it. I had a strange feeling while being driven through the center of Madrid in handcuffs. I think it will be a long time before I return as a visitor. I will not forget this experience easily, which I found humiliating.
For the first time, on my way back to prison, I was able to contemplate the landscape. The Spanish landscape that Machado described so well is very nice. The prison area, and especially its tower, can be seen from a long way away. It’s surrounded by fields that, I suppose, must be crops of some kind of grain, although they are cropless right now. From time to time we saw areas with a lot of olive trees. They tell me that the name of Estremera comes from the temperatures that are so extreme here, both in winter and summer.
Although most of my days in Estremera have gone very well, the temperature, especially this December, is very low early in the morning and in the evening. If the sun shines on the prison courtyard, as is usually the case, you can stay there for a good while and even feel warm. When the cold comes, however, it can kill you. I heard once, I don’t know from whom, that the winters in Madrid are like Siberia and the summers tropical. He was absolutely right. I don’t know how the summers might be, but in winter it’s freezing.
The roofs of the different cellblocks are made of metal, and many mornings we can see how ice on the roofs melts when the sun hits them, and how water freezes again when it makes contact with the ground of the yard. Another beautiful thing here is the blue sky, intense and cloudless.
When we left the Supreme Court, they told us that the judge would not decide on our freedom until Monday. We still have two days of suffering. It will be a long weekend.
December 4, 2017
Today, Monday, will be a difficult day to forget. From the first thing in the morning I was eager to know the judge’s decision. The television spectacle began very early. The media announced that the decision would come early on, from 9 am. And they did so anxiously, like those who wait impatiently to find out, once and for all, who won the Oscars. As if they couldn’t wait. As if their life hanged on the balance.
The news was delayed more than expected. Finally, it wasn’t until a quarter to eleven that it was made public. I was in the TV room and it was like a hammer blow. As if the judge had hit right in the head with his gavel. I saw it on La Sexta: “Junqueras and the former Interior Minister have been denied freedom”. I read it on the screen, without sound, as always, and, like me, the rest of the prisoners who were there with me didn’t know what to do or what to say to me. I went to tell Raül, who had preferred to take refuge in the library. He was paralyzed, mute, not knowing how he should react. Later he told me that he was convinced that if not all of us were released, then he would be one of those who would be kept behind bars.
We all ate together and, before leaving, the ministers were able to say goodbye to us, because the lawyers made it possible for us to be together one last time. We could not believe it. We embraced, as if it were the last time. As if we would never see each other again. Those grandparents who had fought in the war said that their trench companions were more than brothers. Now I understand that perfectly. They are blood brothers.
Once the disappointment passed, the truth is that I’m happy for my colleagues and their families. It seems clear to me that it’s better for some to be released than for all of us to remain in prison. At the very least, this allows me to dream that there is some chance of getting out of here. These 32 days I’ve lived together with Raül have been very good. He is a good companion and we have helped each other in everything we have been able to do. I’ll miss him.
From the moment I heard the news, I felt a lot of support from the rest of the inmates. There are many who came to cheer me up and tell me that if they freed six, the rest would be able to leave soon, without a doubt. They can’t know the future. They’re beginning to understand that ours is a very particular case, different, that doesn’t follow the logic they have come to know.
Tonight they’re not letting me sleep alone. Although I’ve insisted on it, protocol dicatates that you spend the night with a cellmate. So one of the officials invited me to choose a cellmate. He suggested that I give him two names, and that they would choose. I gave them two names, one of which was, naturally, that of Celes, my walking companion, the one from the rotisserie, who was the one chosen in the end. He was officially informed and was delighted to be chosen. He reached the cell and asked me how I was; I said that I was fine, and we went to sleep. When he got into bed, he took off his tracksuit jacket and underneath he was wearing a Spanish football team shirt. I am convinced that he did this with all the naturalness of the world, without meaning to bug me. The image seemed comical to me. I think if anyone had seen me, they would have freaked.