One of Madrid's seven prisons, Navalcarnero, is built around a large sand soccer field and a small swimming pool.
A gallery surrounds the pitch and everyone sarcastically calls it “the M-30″, like the road that circles the center of Madrid.
The Majadahonda dismemberer, the Galician drug trafficker Laureano Oubiña, seven convicted of the
cards , the nationalist leader Arnaldo Otegi, the violent bank robber
Dumbo , have walked along this M-30 of the penitentiary center.
, the Catalan separatist politician Josep Rull, the elevator rapist, the Colombian hitman Ibrahim Arteaga, two of the Ruiz Mateos brothers.
In the Navalcarnero prison there are about 860 inmates, each one belonging to his father and his mother.
35% are foreigners.
This morning with winter sun, the biologists Mar Jabardo and Gema Porta, from the National Museum of Natural Sciences (CSIC), walk through the gallery loaded with fossils.
They're going to teach a paleontology class.
“Have you ever heard the word paleontologist?” Mar Jabardo starts in front of some unusual students.
There are about thirty inmates, whose crimes can range from drug dealing to murder.
Only they themselves know.
75% of the men present in the classroom, almost all foreigners, are illiterate in their own language.
The word paleontologist is not easy, so silence invades the room.
"Have you seen the Indiana Jones movies?" the educator returns to the charge.
“Yes!” they all shout enthusiastically in chorus.
"Well, Indiana Jones was a paleontologist," Jabardo continues, taking a leave of absence, since the adventurer with the whip was actually an archaeologist.
His colleague Gema Porta takes advantage of the renewed public interest to show the petrified remains of an ammonite,
a huge mollusk with a spectacular spiral shell extinct more than 65 million years ago.
“Is this a fossil?” asks Porta.
“That's a milestone!” a young Latin American man in a baseball cap laughs.
The biologists Mar Jabardo and Gema Porta show fossils to the inmates of the Navalcarnero prison.Luis Sevillano
It is no coincidence that prisons are full of illiterates, warned a pioneering report by the European Commission published three decades ago.
“Illiteracy is one of the travel companions of social marginalization, if not the person responsible for it.
The inability to communicate leads to closing in on oneself and ends in misunderstanding, fear, hatred and violence," the document warned.
The nineteenth-century thinker Concepción Arenal summed it up in one sentence: "Hate crime and pity the criminal."
The paleontology classroom is small and overflowing.
All the chairs are occupied, so many inmates attend standing up or sitting on the floor.
“Is there anyone from Morocco?” Jabardo asks.
Many hands go up in the air.
"Well, there are many of these trilobites there, they sell them to you on the roads like hot cakes," he explains, showing the fossil of one of these arthropods, which disappeared some 250 million years ago.
A young Moroccan inmate, with tattoos on his face and hands, carefully observes the trilobite and offers more information: “There are many of these in the Sahara.
People sell them for up to 400 euros in the Marrakech square”.
Being illiterate means that no one has ever given you a chance, not even as a child.
10% of inmates in Spain cannot read or write, according to Penitentiary Institutions.
Today there are more than 4,600 total illiterate prisoners locked up in Spanish prisons, without counting those of Catalonia and the Basque Country.
Pedagogue Álvaro Crespo, head of the prison program of the NGO Solidarios para el Desarrollo, recalls that "another 19% could be functionally illiterate," according to estimates in a 2002 report. They are people who can read and write, but are unable to to use those skills in their daily tasks, such as filling out a document or checking the bus schedule.
Arena soccer field in the heart of the Navalcarnero penitentiary center.Luis Sevillano
The Navalcarnero prison is full of implausible stories.
The Argentine Claudio Gorosito entered prison in 2000 because he was caught with three kilos of cocaine at the Barajas airport.
During his stay, he dedicated himself to weaving a life-size reproduction of Picasso's
with the help of two dozen prisoners.
Gorosito died free in 2020, but the impressive mural of him still hangs in the assembly hall of the correctional facility.
It is said that Arnaldo Otegi, convicted of a crime of integration into the terrorist group ETA, spent hours contemplating the
The Colombian Julián Restrepo, born in Medellín 42 years ago, attends a paleontology class and feels the replica of a huge tyrannosaurus rex tooth.
On his temple and on the Adam's apple he has marks that look like a dinosaur's teeth.
“When I was 21 years old, my mother gave me a motorcycle and to steal it from me they shot me eight times.
I was about to die, ”he says, pointing to his scars.
Restrepo, with shaved hair and a kiki on the crown of his head, does know how to write perfectly.
In his cell, she prepares his autobiography, provisionally titled
The Curse of My Life
He tells that he met drug dealer Pablo Escobar in Medellín when he was 8 years old and that he fell into cocaine addiction as a teenager.
"Here they call me
Because I look like Escobar's hit man," he says with a smile, referring to the former head of the drug traffickers, Jhon Jairo Velásquez, alias
Julián Restrepo, a 42-year-old Colombian inmate in the Navalcarnero prison.Luis Sevillano
"I grew up with the bad example of my father, who mistreated my mother," explains Restrepo, who is in the Navalcarnero prison with a conviction for sexist violence.
On the wall in the corridor he has hung a reflection written by himself, in careful handwriting on orange paper: “We all have the right to make mistakes in life.
I committed a crime, yes, I know, but I think that this does not make me look like a criminal, and I believe that God has already judged me and punished me to never ever do anything against any woman again, since I am very sorry .
No to abuse."
80% of people who go to jail do not commit any crime again, according to the Ministry of the Interior.
Restrepo is a pious Christian and says that in December he sent a letter to Pope Francis through the prison chaplain, Javier Sánchez.
“I asked the Holy Father to reassure my mother, because she has been very nervous since I entered prison.
And the pope called my mother on the phone”, says the Colombian, who landed in Madrid in 2019 as a tourist and stayed in an irregular situation working in a boiler maintenance company.
He has seven months left on his sentence and he fears that he will be expelled from Spain as soon as he sets foot on the street, as has happened to other inmates without a residence permit.
“I just ask that you give me a second chance, please,” he implores.
His mother, Luz Marina Noreña, 69, has been in Spain for more than two decades and already has nationality, after working as an intern in a house in Madrid.
In a telephone conversation with this newspaper, she recounts that she received the call from Pope Francis — "I almost died of emotion" — and took the opportunity to ask him for help so that they do not throw out her son.
“In Medellín he no longer has a family.
If she goes back there they will kill him, ”she maintains.
One of the courtyards of the Navalcarnero penitentiary center. Luis Sevillano
The educator Álvaro Crespo recalls that "the objective of the prison is for people to leave better than they enter."
His NGO has been helping to organize cultural activities in prisons for more than three decades, such as the new monthly workshops at the National Museum of Natural Sciences.
The organization Solidarios para el Desarrollo has also hired retired physicist Antonio Hernando Grande, who invented anti-abuse bracelets in his chair of Magnetism at the Complutense University of Madrid, to give talks, following a request from politician Esperanza Aguirre in 2006. Many of his new students leave prison with their invention on their wrist.
Hernando Grande talks to them about the universe, about atoms, about cells.
“The interest they have in everything is incredible,” he applauds.
The Navalcarnero prison houses an adult education center.
Some 120 of the inmates are illiterate to some degree (14%) and 70 of them attend literacy courses.
The two biologists are working this morning with a group of foreigners who are trying to learn to read and write, as detailed by the school director, Ángel Parra.
“We have more than 40 nationalities in the classes.
There are people who are illiterate in their own language and we are trying to educate them in Spanish”, he points out.
"There is a very broad cultural life here," stresses psychologist Carlos Otero, deputy director of treatment at the prison.
It would look like a normal school if it weren't for the bars and walls topped with sharp concertinas.
A year ago, officials from the Navalcarnero prison, with the help of dogs, seized 680 grams of hashish and nine mobile phones hidden in the prison.
A few months earlier, five civil servants were detained by the Civil Guard as alleged members of a drug trafficking network from abroad.
During the pandemic, three Navalcarnero inmates died of an overdose inside the prison, according to the summary of the case revealed by EL PAÍS.
Rubén Paniagua, a 29-year-old from Talavera, is serving a short sentence in Navalcarnero.Luis Sevillano
Rubén Paniagua, a 29-year-old butcher from Talavera de la Reina, serving a short sentence, also gossips about replicas of a diplodocus vertebra and a stegosaurus plaque.
“I'm in for everything I can!” he proclaims.
Due to his good behavior, like the Colombian Julián Restrepo, he is a trusted prisoner, with work as an orderly in the school module.
Suleiman, a young sub-Saharan man, is also very interested in fossils.
“Can you do a course on this?
I know how to add and subtract, but the multiplications don't stick with me, ”he laments.
Suleiman would not be the first foreigner released from prison to succeed in Spain as a paleontologist.
The German Walter Georg Kühne was imprisoned in 1933 by the Nazis for his communist sympathies.
And in 1939 he was arrested again, this time accused by the British of being a spy.
Fifteen years later, the ex-convict Kühne discovered the remains of an exceptional dinosaur at a site in Lleida: a 14-ton titanosaur.
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