Serving time for peace in Sweden

17th of June 2010. I am led into the central office of the prison Skenäs outside of Norrköping. Two guards help me to carry my stuff. “It looks like you are moving in here!” says one guard. “That’s exactly what I am doing, temporary any way”, says I. “Do you have your sentence papers with you?” asks another guard. “Yes” I answer and hands them the papers which says that I was convicted to four months in prison. I am asked to step out and wait while they handle some of my paperwork. I take a seat on the stairs. The sun is shining. I start reading yesterdays paper. Two inmates come out from their dorms. Sitting on a bench on the other side of the yard one of them shouts to me ”Are you new here?” “Yes” I shout back. “What are you in for?” he continues. ”Criminal damage” I answer. “What have you destroyed?” “Bazookas” I answer. ”Really!” he says. I walk over the yard and sit down next to them to avoid screaming. The older man sits quiet smoking on his cigarette. The younger one continues to ask about our disarmament action. I tell them about how we went into Saab Bofors Dynamics in Eskilstuna in October 2008. There we hammered on the bazookas as a part of a campaign within our antimilitaristic network called “Mischief” (Ofog). “Did you really call the police and waited for them at the scene of the crime?” the young guy asks in disbelief. “Yep, it is a part of civil disobedience. To take responsibility for your actions” I say. Is he also a part of your network” asks the young man and point at the picture of St Francis of Assisi on my t-shirt. “No” I answer “but it is fair to say that the shared our conviction of nonviolence.

I get called back in to the guards’ office. A middle aged guard smiles when he sees me. “Hi Martin! Do you remember where we met the first time?” ”Sure I do” I answer. ”Last year at the ’Drags prison’ when I was newly employed.” He puts on an electronic tag on my leg – a small plastic box. The young attractive guard, who registers me in their computer, tells me that I am not allowed to go outside of the designated area of the prison. “You can tell where the line goes by the small signs put up along the perimeter of the prison. If you pass this there will go off an alarm and we will know that you have escaped.” she says. I am asked to stand up against a wall for a “photo op” with a compact camera. I don’t get to hold a sign with a number, like I have seen it been done in American movies. Instead my inmate number, 10-174, is added with a layout program in the computer. But my number plays an insignificant role here. I am always referred to as “Martin” by the guards, and by other inmates.

“Do you have any special food requirements?” asks the male guard. “Vegan” I say. “Vegetarian?” he asks. ”No, vegan” says the female guard. ”It is spelled as it sounds” she adds. The prison kitchen provides me with excellent vegan food from day one.

“If you come here again I don’t want you to bring this much with you” said the guard sternly when I came to this prison last year. So I was a bit nervous when the guards looked through everything I brought with me: 20 books, magazines, lots of printed papers, envelopes, stamps, table tennis racket, badminton racket, ergonomic key board, computer mouse, pillow, a framed picture of Martin Luther King, pens, jogging shoes, etc. This time I don’t even hear a grunt from the guards when they search my things and I get to bring in everything to my cell except a table cloth and a pillow. Sweet!

Two guards drive me the very short distance to my dorm. They take me to room 64. Here I will live until the 6th of September when I am released (you always serve two thirds of your sentence in Sweden). A foam madras, a night stand, a desk, a wardrobe, a bookshelf on the wall, a small TV – that’s the furniture in my room. I am very happy to have my own room. That is not the case in every prison in Sweden. I put down my stuff on the bed and go to the cleaning cabinet out in the hall. After a while with a dust rag, a vacuum cleaner and a mop my room starts to shape up. At some hard to get to places the dust seems to have been there for years. Tired after cleaning I lie down on my new bed. The pillow is unexpectedly soft. Resting on the bed I look out of my window. The view is not blocked by any bars – nice! I see many beautiful trees. If you look a bit further you can even see a body of water. The birds are chipping cheerfully in the sun outside. I can open the window but only a few inches. A big padlock and a chain prevent it to go any further.

In the corridor I meet some of my new neighbors. They seem nice. One of them says “Skenäs is not a prison. It is a daycare center for adults.” Another one asks if I want coffee. ”That would be lovely” I answer. Over a cup of java we stand and chat in the corridor. When a female guard passes we stop talking. When she is out of sight we continue. “Why didn’t you put dynamite around the whole weapon factory” asks a young inmate with Middle Eastern looks. I answer him that it would be too big of a risk for both us and anyone who possibly would be present at the factory. And even if nobody would get hurt it would still send the wrong signals, that we are willing to risk lives during our actions. “If I would have blown up a weapon factory I would been called a terrorist, but if you had done the same thing you would have been called a rebel. Because, we look differently” says the young man with dark complexion and black eyebrows. “But why didn’t you steal the bazookas?” he asks. “But we are opposed to any violence” I try to explain. “Could you do a disarmament action on your own” he asks. “Yes, maybe” I say “but it would be difficult. We discovered that it would have been much easier to break into the factory with two crowbars. We only had one.” ”Isn’t it better to kidnap a guard and to force him to open the door? Then you don’t have to use violence” he says. “But don’t you have to have some kind of weapon to force him with?” I ask. “Yeah, maybe a small knife” he admits.

That was some memories of my first day in prison this year. When writing this I have been here a month. My days are spent sitting in the prison school at a computer writing on what I hope can become a book (in Swedish) on how we can create a better and happier world with activism. I also spend a better part of the day reading, mainly books that can give me information and inspiration for my own book. In my “free time” I call friends and family, write letters, work out and watch TV. I feel very happy here. Sometimes actually happier than on the outside. I don’t have any pressing dead lines. I am not expected to earn money and I don’t have to do boring stuff like washing, cleaning (except my small room) and cooking. I really enjoy having the time to read and write on a bigger project. And, perhaps the biggest perk of them all, I get to have interesting conversations almost every day. The other inmates introduce me to a world before unknown to me, with a different set of rules and ideas to which I am not familiar. Another great thing about doing disarmament actions is that many people appreciate what we are doing. My inmates are greatly envious of all the mail I get from supporters and I greatly appreciate it. The best time of the day is defiantly when I pick up my mail.

Martin Smedjeback

Prison address:
Martin Smedjeback
Fack 11
610 31 Vikbolandet

Martin Smedjeback