Behind the concrete walls and barbed wire of Greece’s largest maximum security prison complex at Korydallos, a suburb of Piraeus port near the capital Athens, a friendly football game was hailed by inmates and their rivals from the “outside world” as an effort to assist in rehabilitation.

Ahead of the Easter holiday celebrated this Sunday in Greece, a group of Greek sports journalists, technicians and actors crossed the gate of the jail that holds some 2,000 inmates to compete against a prison team consisted of convicts and prison guards.

The hosts easily won 12-6, but at the end all participants celebrated as winners.

The goal of the initiative of the Panhellenic Association of Sports Journalists (PSAT) which was warmly welcomed by the prison director Christoforos Giannakopoulos, was to send a message of solidarity with the prisoners.

“A country’s civilization is reflected also on the conditions of detention. We are really all so touched by the struggle of these people here for reintegration. This is the reason we are here — to support them from our side,” PSAT president Sotiris Triantafyllou told Xinhua.

Such friendly games between inmates and visiting squads of veteran footballers or journalists are not unusual as Greek authorities promote sports as a way to promote discipline and team spirit, two skills which will help prisoners reintegrate into society.

Healthy interaction with inmates, educational and cultural programs are encouraged as a means to combat the stigma of incarceration and social exclusion.

Sports or cultural events breaking walls between inmates and society also offer an opportunity to convicts to briefly “escape” the harsh reality of incarceration and in parallel present a different image to people outside, Yorgos, one of the inmates who participated in Tuesday’s game, told Xinhua.

“It is very important for us being able to escape the everyday life of this place. It is important that all of you left your families and your work to support us. We thank you so much for the effort and it would be good if we had more such initiatives,” he said.

Yorgos wished for more “people to believe in us and come closer to meet us and invest time in us.”

“All individuals who have ended up here serving a sentence because of a mistake should not be marginalized by society. We should embrace them supporting their smooth reintegration and I guess I wish for their rehabilitation, not punishment, for as long as they are in here,” added actor Costas Fragolias, one of the guest players at Korydallos prison.

Built in the 1960s, Korydallos complex is located in the “heart” of a municipality of 80,000 inhabitants, next to a dozen of schools. Students have often witnessed throughout the years escapes and riots mainly in protest of overcrowding.

The prison was constructed to hold up to 800 inmates, but actually with some 2,000 inmates for now. Enditem

Source: Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh