For many years, longer then I have been in prison there has been a paper bag making company exploiting workers in Sofia Prison – Bulgaria, the name of the company in Bulgaria is MKD96. This company however only caters to overpriced retail shops in Greece and the orders and contracts are organized by a Greek company trading under the name of Τίγκας Θοδωρής.
The two companies are run by the same group of people on both sides of the borders. The company is supposed to pay prisoners per bag they make in two ways. The first payment is that prisoners should be paid per bag they make, the money of course is small as you can imagine. But the real reason prisoners work is because 2 days of work is considered 3 days served off the sentence. But what the National Prison Authority (ГДИН) has done is based what it considers a working day on the minimum wage divided over the working hours. This means that to be considered as having worked a month a prisoners must earn 460 leva (230€). This is impossible for prisoners to achieve as they earn around 5 stotinki a bag (0.25€), this means they must make 460 bags a day at 5 stotinki a bag, equalling 23 leva a day, over 20 days to reach 460 leva a month. This adds up to 9200 paper bags a month which is totally absurd. The average worker in prison can make between 70 and 100 bags a day, less then a quarter of what the company is demanding from its workers.
The situation gets worse, as if slave labour exploitation was bad enough, but if all the workers worked at maximum pace and they made 100 bags a day, it would only be counted as 4 days work on paper, when in actuality they had worked the entire month. Due to this, the company is stealing the paper bags made by some prisoners and submitting them under the names of prisoners who bribe the management of the company. All of this is done with the full protection of the National Prison Authority (ГДИН). The workers submit their paper bags to a manager of the company MKD96 who then falsifies the tally sheet and puts the paper bags made under the name of the prisoner who has paid them to do so. The worker who has had his work stolen from him will not know that his work has been stolen until a month or longer when the work days accumulated are posted on the wall of the prison shop.
It isn’t hard to work out who the prisoners are who have bribed the management as they are the ones who receive more then 4 work days. Said prisoners can earn up to the full month of 22 work days, which would mean that they would have had to have made almost 10 000 bags, which of course is impossible. When these key prisoners have stolen enough paper bags many more paper bags are not declared as having been made by the victim workers because for every bag made the prison receives a percentage. As little paper bags are declared as possible means that the paper bag company MKD96 doesn’t have to pay the prison their percentage and again doesn’t have to pay taxes either. Of course we don’t care about the company MKD96 embezzling from the National Prison Authority – Prison Works Fund (Фонд затворно дело – ГДИН) because this is the most corrupt institution in Bulgaria where millions are embezzled from the taxpayers and prisoners. Of course it can’t be said that we either sympathize with the company MKD96 not paying their taxes, but when they embezzle and tax dodge the work of the prisoners is not recorded and so they are not paid and more importantly they are not accruing work days so as to reduce their time in prison.
The system is the same and has been for years. Some prisoners don’t check their accumulated work days and so don’t know they are being ripped off. Other prisoners when they realize they are being ripped off are lied to and told that it’s a mistake and that the next month they will receive their work days and of course next month they are ripped off again. Some prisoners are bribed with cigarettes and coffee not to complain about the mass embezzlement. Prison workers who accept the cigarettes and coffee payoffs mostly do so because they feel hopeless and that there is no way to fight this company, but this means literally that these prison workers are selling their freedom so that a few fat capitalists in both Greece and Bulgaria can get richer while the workers get poorer and stay in prison longer.
The company MKD96 is well protected by the National Prison Authority (ГДИН) because they also have government contracts. It is the same in Greece as in Bulgaria. Companies get government contracts illegally and then pay back cash to the government workers who approved the contracts in the first place. This company is also protected by the prison administrations as they get massive contracts for printing and making paper products for the state, of course all the contracts are given without the proper application from multiple companies and current and former staff from the prison authorities, work throughout the process skimming the state funds for their own pockets. So there is massive interest from the staff in the National Prison Authority (ГДИН) to keep this corrupt embezzling machine alive. For sure if the last year is evidence of anything the staff in the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Justice are also participating in these corrupt practices and that is why they witch hunt other staff and prisoners who are pushing for reforms.
Another disgusting aspect of the entire scam is that the paper bags are made to order by overpriced “elite” bourgeois retail outlets. Only so some rich people can put their expensive clothes or shoes in an equally overpriced paper bag with the shop’s logo and design printed on it. None of these ignorant shoppers have any idea the suffering, stress, pain and evil that surrounded their creation. Prisoners are told that if they make these paper bags they will leave prison sooner, they make plans around their early release date. They tell their wives and children that they will be coming home, only when the time comes they are told by the prison administration that they wont be released because the company hasn’t declared the paper bags that they have made for months and months.
This communique is to make comrades in Greece aware of the situation here and to call on them to raise awareness about the activities of the company trading under the name of Τίγκας Θοδωρής. Solidarity actions against this company would also be appreciated and be of great assistance to myself and the other prisoners here at Sofia Prison as well as letting the company know that profiteering from prisoner slave labour is completely unacceptable!
Sofia Prison, Bulgaria
Website of Greek company: http://www.mybags.gr/
Website of Bulgarian company: http://paperbags-bg.com/
This article was a collaboration between Insurrection News and Mpalothia websites. We thank Mpalothia website for translating the text of anti-fascist prisoner Jock Palfreeman into Greek. The Greek version of this text can be viewed here.