An experience with cruelty in Finnish Jails

I thought that even if it might not have too much of an impact, I would like to do something and show my support. I got downtown around 2 and got into a tram to go to the Russian embassy. The tram didn’t move for a while, so I looked ahead at what was causing the delay. I saw a big group of people marching and thought that maybe it was the same group. It ended up being another group, but I went with them to the square in front of Cathedral. I stayed for a bit but then left to go meet up with a friend that had gone to the youth protest.

We met in Woolshed, an Australian bar and close to the central railway station. We started out with a couple of drinks and talked about the situation. Then more friends came, and we watched some rugby. A couple of the guys were buying drinks for everyone, and they bought me a few drinks. I had already drunk a beer before I got there and smoked a little bit of weed. I got very drunk from the drinks and from some more weed that I smoked along with it. Around 9 I said goodbye to everyone and stumbled out of the bar towards my train with the thought that I would be going home. My memory is hazy after this point, and I don’t remember all the exact details, but this is as good as I can remember the following events. I made it to the platform of my train and went inside. I felt then that I needed to throw up and tried to go to the bathroom. The door of the bathroom was locked, and I felt I would throw up at any time, so I decided to go outside to puke instead of inside the train. I didn’t want to puke on the train platform where people were walking, so I tried to puke into the lowered area by the train tracks. There was a not in use train that was parked there. I got onto my knees, but someone put their hand on me and held me back and told me not to do it. There was a group of people around me asking if I was okay, and I said I was fine, and they didn’t need to worry. Immediately after that a train arrived, and more people came walking past and started asking if I was okay. I told them to same thing and tried again to throw up into the area by the tracks but was stopped again. Someone must have told the security guards because they showed up at that point.

They roughly picked me up and asked me if I was drunk. Being an honest person, I said that yes, I was very drunk. They then asked if I had used anything else and I again honestly told them that I had also smoked some weed. I don’t know when they searched my bag, but they found some weed that I had, and that seemed to make up their minds for them that they needed to take me to the . Then roughly took hold of me and dragged me over to a waiting police car, despite the fact that I was cooperative the whole time. The police asked me some questions about the weed, I apparently told them that the weed was mine and that it was for personal use, and they put me in the back of their car. I remember feeling that they were very professional compared to the security guards, who I think were unnecessarily rough and it felt like they were power tripping. The area where they put me was a very small box, just big enough to sit in with my legs folded. They proceeded to drive for a while and being very intoxicated and having already wanted to throw up earlier, this driving makes me throw up. I tried to throw up by the door, so that maybe some of it would leave through the crack on the bottom of the door.

When we got to the police station the police officer commented about the throw up, but I just got up and we went inside. They searched me and put all my belongings into a box. They let me keep my jacket and brought me to a cell. The cell was small and had only a mattress and a metal toilet. I was exhausted and fell asleep almost immediately.

I slept for a few hours. I remember hearing someone come to check and asking if everything was okay a couple of times. Around 1, someone came to check again, and I woke up after that. Now is a good time to explain that I have a history of sleeping problems and mental health issues that continue to this day. To explain it shortly, I have had sleeping problems and anxiety since I was a teenager, and depression starting in the beginning of my adult life. I am currently taking a medication for the depression, and it is relatively under control, but my mental health is still not that stable. I still suffer with sleeping problems. Knowing these details, it won’t be too surprising to hear that after waking up I started feeling very anxious about the situation and could no longer sleep. The lights were bright, there was no blanket or pillow, and the mattress wasn’t very comfortable.

I started to get very anxious about what was going to happen because of the marijuana that they found on me. I also had no idea what time it was or how long I needed to remain in the cell. Of course, I also had a terrible hangover from both the weed and alcohol which increased the anxiety and overall bad feeling. I drank , checked out the cell, and found that there was a button close to the toilet and the door. I assumed that it was to call the guards so that I could ask for help or ask them questions. I pressed the button, heard nothing. I waited for a bit and pressed it again, still nothing. The only answer I ever got was an automated response about the line not being available. I pressed the button throughout the night, and never got any response.

A female guard came around 2, which I know because she told me the time after I asked, and opened the hatch on the door to check if things were alright. I asked her what time it was and then how much longer I would have to be in there. I heard later from the police that gave me a ticket as I was leaving that usually they hold people for a minimum of 5 hours, and that usually once they’re sober enough and awake, they are let out. The guard told me that I would be able to get out around 5, so in 3 hours.

I started waiting. I felt a bit better now that I knew what was happening, and how much longer that I had to wait. Time went by very slowly. I read the scratched messages on the walls, I drank more water, I paced back and forth in the cell, and tried to sleep. I had no way to know what time it was but guessed that there was some sort of schedule for the checkups. I thought probably they are every hour or so, so I would just need to wait for a few more checkups.

I had to poop, but there was no paper. I also noticed that there was no way to flush the toilet, or that at least the button on the toilet didn’t . I waited for at least an hour for another checkup and asked him if he could give me toilet paper. I also said that the toilet didn’t seem to work. He then flushed the toilet, I guess from a button outside the cell and left. He returned with a wad of toilet paper. Being American, and having never been in a Finnish jail before, I didn’t know what the rules were about my rights as a prisoner and whether I would be allowed to speak to a lawyer. Because they only seemed to come every hour, and because they didn’t answer at all when I rang the button, which I continued to try, I decided that I needed to prioritize what I asked them. I really wanted to ask if I could call my wife and tell her where I was, because I was sure that she was freaking out and very worried about me. I knew this because she had gotten very worried and upset when I didn’t tell her where I was another night that I was drinking. I guessed she probably wouldn’t be able to sleep, and I was right.

However, I thought that maybe speaking to a lawyer would be more important. I didn’t really understand why I was being held there, and why I couldn’t leave now that I was sober enough and not able to sleep. I asked the guard if I could talk to a lawyer. He asked why I wanted to, and I told him that I didn’t understand why I was here and for how long that I would be kept there. He then, seemingly because he misheard me, asked why I would want to talk to a doctor (lääkäri) and then I responded by just saying “lakimies”. He seemed upset by the request, said something to the effect of “you don’t need to talk to a lakimies” and closed the hatch. All the other questions I wanted to ask weren’t able to be, and I was left feeling more anxious and feeling like they were upset at me.

I pooped and used the toilet paper, but the guard never came back to flush it, so I was stuck with my poop, and its smell until the end of the night. I started to think that maybe they were ignoring me on purpose, and that they were upset at me because I had had the marijuana on me, or because I asked about the lakimies. I continued to try and call them with the button to ask what time it was, and whether I could call my wife. Still there was no answer. I started to get more and more anxious. I began feeling like I was going to have a panic attack. I tried to meditate to calm myself down, and it worked for a little bit, but then the anxious thoughts and worries came back and made it too difficult to continue. I paced back and forth continuously, I started to sing songs to try and calm myself down, which helped momentarily. I waved at the camera, trying to get the guards’ attention to tell them I was about to have a panic attack.

A 3rd guard came to check on me at that point but opened the hatch and looked at me and closed it immediately. He didn’t even ask “kaikki hyvin?” like the previous 2 had. I tried to yell through the door to get his attention, nothing. I continued to pace, sing, sit, ring the button. I was sure at this point that it had been more than 3 hours. I heard sounds occasionally in the hallway outside the cell, and some of the sounds sounded like people were being let out, or at least talked to. There was one guy in a cell near to me that was moaning and banging on his door to no response. There was another guy that seemed to be in serious pain at some point, based on the noises and loud groans he made.

The anxiety kept building, and I kept trying to handle it. I was very hungry after having thrown up the contents of my stomach and being in a highly anxious state since I woke up. I was sure that they were punishing me for asking for a lawyer or for singing, and that they were avoiding talking to me to punish me in some way. I thought they probably wouldn’t let me out before they let everyone else out first, and I felt unsure that they would even ever let me out. I was sure that it had to be past 5, but I began to question my own sanity. I felt like I was going crazy, or that I would go crazy soon.

I began ringing the button and begging for them to please come and help me. I told them that I was going crazy and begged that they would just tell me what time it was. No response, or a couple times the same automated response stating that the line was reserved. I waved more at the camera. I started screaming in frustration and banging my hands against the wall. I even banged my head against the wall at some point. I began looking around the cell for anything that I could attach my jacket to, because it seemed like they were ignoring me and punishing me, and the only way I would ever get their attention or a response would be to try and hang myself, or at least pretend to do so. I found nothing and continued trying to sooth myself in any way I could.

I started then to hear more noises out in the hallway. I thought maybe that they were letting people out and that I might soon be able to escape this hell that I was in. A 4th guard came then to check, opened the hatch and asked “kaikki hyvin?”. I was sitting on the bed at that point, feeling like I was about to go crazy and just trying to stop it from happening. I almost cried and shook my head and told him, “Ei ole”. I thought maybe now finally I could get some help. Instead, he shut the hatch immediately and left. I sprang up and tried to yell to him and ask what time it was, and even banged on the door. Nothing.

The panic continued for a short time, but after that was replaced by complete hopelessness and emptiness. Nothing I had done to try and get helped had worked. It just seemed that they were purposefully ignoring me and punishing me. I just stared down at the ground for a long time, until there was the noise of keys outside the door and the door was finally opened.

Defeated and hopeless, I thought that I had to just do whatever they wanted so that I could get out. I wasn’t at all sure that they wouldn’t just lock me up again. It felt like they didn’t treat me as a at all and instead just a piece of garbage, the filth of society.

I walked with the police officer to her room, and she gave me a fine for the marijuana. I told her about what had happened, how they had never answered the button, how they had shut the hatch quickly, how they hadn’t given me answers to my questions. All she had to say was that it was weird that they never answered, and that maybe they were just busy. She didn’t seem to understand or didn’t want to try to understand when I told her that it was a terrible experience for me, possibly the worst of my life. She told me that the guards weren’t police, and that she wasn’t sure how I could file a complaint. She said I could go and ask them, but I was so defeated and scared at that point that there was no way that I was going to talk to them. I was sure they would just find an excuse to lock me back up. All I wanted was to get out. They gave me my stuff and I left. When I checked the time on my phone, it was 9:00. So, I hadn’t been crazy, it had been longer than three hours.

Why didn’t they explain anything to me? I think I called with the button over 30 times throughout the night. Why didn’t they ever answer my calls? If they were busy, why couldn’t they have at least told me that, or told me the time when I asked them? Why didn’t the guard come back to flush the toilet? Why didn’t anyone except for the female guard at 2 want to interact with me or answer my questions?

I have always heard that Finland treats prisoners humanely. What is humane about locking someone in a cell with no clock, no real way to contact anyone, no stimulation to distract myself from my anxiety with, no answers to my questions, and no way to get answer to my questions about what was going on? Is it ethical to be this punitive towards people whose only crime is getting too drunk in public? Is the idea of the putting overly intoxicated people in jail to sober them up or to punish them? I’m sure there are a large proportion of people in Finland who have at some points in their lives gotten too drunk. From what I understand, it’s a pretty common thing. All it takes is the wrong circumstances and events happening, and this could happen to any of those people. Why can’t there be a clock in the cell so that people will at least know how much time approximately they have left there? Those cells seemed meant for hardened and violent criminals. Even in those cases, prolonged isolation can be very harmful for people, and it is considered to be inhumane in many parts of the , even for these hardened criminals.

Why was it necessary for them to take away my phone, if the main purpose for the jailing was to sober me up? Couldn’t they have at least just given me something to read? I would have taken anything at that point to distract myself from my escalating anxiety and nervous thoughts. I’m not that mentally stable, but I’m sure that there are people that come there that are in even worse conditions. I’m sure this kind of treatment can cause significant trauma and mental breakdowns in some cases for some of those people. Do they have no system or regulations in place to prevent this from happening? I’m sure that’s part of the reason why they come to check every hour, but in this case, they didn’t even check every hour, and when they did check it was more of a formality and most of them avoided interacting in any way, probably defeating the purpose.

We know from the Stanford prison experiments that ordinary people, when put into these kinds of positions of great power over other people will it. It is completely natural for these jail guards to begin to treat with contempt the prisoners they are responsible for and abuse their power. That is why, in addition to the quality training I’m sure they receive, there should be constant monitoring, both of the jail guards of themselves and by some sort of outside group, to make sure that this isn’t happening. This experience left me with a lot of questions and emotional damage from a traumatic experience I’ll probably be working through still in the future. Treating people this way is inhumane and should be unacceptable in a developed society such as Finland. I hope that this story will in some way prevent this same thing from happening to someone else. No-one should be put through the worst night of their life just for getting too intoxicated in public.

To protect the privacy of the author, this reader letter is published anonymously.

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Source: The Nordic Page

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