Joëlle Aubron Interview

“Prison is not a dead time”

Translated from 'Libération', 28th August 2004

Joëlle Aubron, former member of Action Directe, has been released in June for medical reasons:

On 14th June Joëlle Aubron, 45 years old, has been released after 17 years of imprisonment from Bapaume prison (Pas-de-Calais). A cancer with metastasis in her brain has been the reason for the suspension of her punishment. The former member of Action Directe (AD) was sentenced for life for two murders in the years 1985 and 1986 of General René Audran, general inspector of the army, and Georges Besse, head of Renault. For Libération she recalls her years in prison and AD.

How does time pass in prison?

I knew our punishment from the moment they handcuffed me. So later on, that wasn’t a surprise anymore. I used to look at the time in prison as a long road. During the years, I’ve been taking the curves. The principle was, to summon up enough energy to keep the walls away. When I walked up and down in the section’s corridor to think, I’ve been seeing women hanging around, especially on weekends, waiting for something to happen… I was never bored. I always had loads to do: reading, answering letters, translating texts, making collages, painting in watercolours and on top of that those never ending applications. For literally everything: To get books in and give them out; for buying or to get an extension of visits. This is a systematically organised dependency, against which you´ve got to fight. Still, prison is not a dead time. In the worst case your metabolism adjusts to the slow down.

How are the relations between the inmates in a woman’s prison?

Loads of women were forgotten. By the way, in contrast to men’s prisons, the visiting hours are never booked up. In almost four years in Bapaume, I had only once problems to expand a visit for the visitor’s cells being full. The emotional misery is so big, that you don’t need to wonder about the lack of solidarity between the inmates. But when our comrades came in September and demonstrated in front of the wall, the women were happy. They were touched by the fact, that after so many years there were people out there thinking about us and showing their solidarity. This was a celebration, as if it was them as well coming out of the forgotten. The atmosphere changed after that. It was more cheerful, with more solidarity. And for my part, I’m making a joke: I was married for 20 years with Regis Schleicher, but I lived for 20 years with Nathalie Ménigon. Together, day by day, we established a very solid relationship as comrades.

Like the other prisoners from AD, you spent years in total isolation. How did you experience this time?

Nathalie used to have a very good formula to describe that: "When you´´re isolated, you’re losing time, losing the day and finally yourself." In isolation you’re facing no one, except for the screws. You need someone else’s look at you, in order to live, in order to know, that you exist. You start wondering about that after so many months spent alone. Some are cutting themselves. Not necessarily from desperation, but simply to see the blood running and proving, that you’re alive. During all those hunger strikes we did, I incidentally learned that it’s impossible to separate the body from the mind. In the strike, the mind takes the lead. When you stop, the body takes revenge. In isolation, it’s not a big deal if the body can take control. The risk is that if it doesn’t, the mind is going to take it all. That’s what happened to Georges after six years of isolation and several hunger strikes.

How did you find out about your illness?

I started not feeling well. I told myself, that it doesn’t mean anything, that’s simply internal exhaustion. Then I fell over. In the hospital in Lille, they made a MRI and the radiologist told me, that I got a malignant tumour in my brain. I didn’t say anything. He repeated, but I didn’t react. He thought I might be irritated by the oedema in brain, so he repeated again what he’d just told me: “Do you understand?” I said: “Yes, but what shall I do?” The screw who accompayed me, and who knows me pretty well, was stunned. But I always react very cold, very rational, without being fatalistic at all. Now I’m asking myself, how can I look after my health, what can I do, that would be useful? When the pigs handcuffed me to the bed, it was the same. Screaming would have only annoyed the other patients and they’d tied up my feet as well. In the report of the medical experts for the suspension of my sentence, my future is looking dark. Initially my lawyer hesitated, and didn’t want me to read it. But I prefer to know what’s the matter with me. The most important thing to me now is to live as calmly as possible, surrounded by my family and friends; and to spend most of my energy to fight against this illness.

What happened on your release?

I didn’t expect it; I didn’t see the slightest chance that anyone of us will be released. The illness changed the situation. But I told myself: “Don’t connect your survival with your release.” I rarely had the time to realise the hope for release and finally the sudden release itself. Since my first steps outside, there was this mass of journalists, cameras, flashlights. I’ve hidden my face behind my hands. The comrades protected me. Later we went to friends’ homes. Some of them I haven’t seen in 20 years; there were other’s greeting me, whom I didn’t know before, others again were calling, and our conversations were very brief and torn apart. I’m looking at several things and am saying to myself: “I’m seeing that for the first time in 17 years.” That’s extraordinary and absolutely normal, both at the same time. Well, the extraordinary was before. To be sentenced to a horizon limited by walls, a bleak corridor and yard exercise on concrete. Now I’m an observer. I’m not planning to put my hands on to something; I listen, I look, I absorb. Also, I appreciate my phenomenal chance: I’m coming out and there’re plenty of people I can meet, I can count on. That’s a huge difference to most prisoners, who are released into social and financial misery.

What are you doing all day long?

I’m dividing my day up into times to rest and times to care for myself, and times to be spent with friends. I’m visiting those, who made long journeys to visit me in prison. I’ve even been to Corsica and Germany, which I also told my supervisory judge, who’s summoning me regularly. My comrades from AD, who are still suffering exemplary sentences, are always in my mind.

How do you look at the AD’s actions today? The killings?

Ethically and from a humanist point of view, it’s not about justifying the death of anybody. But I can neither formulate regret nor remorse; I’d feel indecent towards the victims and towards those who stay… I’m having a responsibility, not only because I was sentenced, but also because I used to be a member of this organisation. It was a decision at that particular time; it was the reality of the struggle. We thought, I thought, that it’s possible to bring about a dual power. We thought, we could defend the barricades. I’m being pretty vague; I’m absolutely clear about that. The historical and political context, the whole atmosphere, of the 80´s is missing. I could explain it, but it would fill several pages. On top of that, AD didn’t appear out of nothing. We were part of a long history and we were many, who believed in a verve, counted on it, that finally didn’t happen. Our hypothesis failed. That’s clear. But I can’t simply bin 17 or even 20 years of my life. I’d ask myself: “All that for nothing?” Anyway, there’s nothing I have to deny. Even if it’s only the fact, that the pressure to renounce was very present in our 17 years of imprisonment. Today my comrades are still confronted with that.

As found in: (French/German)

Joelle Aubron died of cancer on the 1st of March 2006




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