Prison inmate refused permission to wed, tells court he wants to begin a new life

A prison inmate has claimed in court that he had ended up being singled out for punishment by the prison director after he asked to get married

A prison inmate has claimed in court that he had ended up being singled out for punishment by the prison director after he asked to get married.

Yousef Essesi, a 29-year old St Julian’s man, is currently serving a jail term after being found guilty of the aggravated theft of jewellery, cash and other items from two Gzira residences in 2014 and 2015. He was also convicted, in 2018, of harassing a woman.

Whilst in prison, Essesi reportedly got into numerous fights with his fellow inmates and had been given additional jail time for assaulting a prison warder. He had at least 107 disciplinary cases pending before the prison director.

In January, Prison Director Col. Alexander Dalli had told a court that Essesi had been involved in a fight just three days before the sitting. During that sitting, Dalli had said that prison leave was granted at the discretion of the Prison Director and that he had decided not to grant Essesi leave because of his “totally undignified behaviour in jail.”

Essesi took the witness stand this afternoon, telling the court that his “torture” had begun during the period between January and August 2018. He had spent 7 months alone inside Division 15, a little-used subterranean division of prison, he said. “I was going to go mad, and had asked several times to speak to a psychiatrist or psychologist but had remained alone. They’d just bring me food and that’s it.” He had asked why he was “abandoned” for 6 months underground and was told that it was for his own protection, Essesi claimed in court.

“The only thing that kept me going was the thought that I was going to marry Meliza, but they even took that away from me because 10 days before the wedding they came up to me and told me that I was not going to be allowed to marry, without any reason being given.”

He had called up his fiancée and she had burst into tears, he said. “I felt responsible.” The experience was humiliating, he said, as all the preparations had been made and his fiancée then had to tell her family that she was not getting married. “She had to change job she was so embarrassed…I felt so depressed and wanted to commit suicide as there was no longer any point in living.”

The inmate, who said he was abandoned as a child and raised in an orphanage, explained that for the first time in his life he had found “the love of a father, mother, sister and wife” in the woman only to then be cruelly deprived of it.

“They had stopped my schooling – I was about to sit for my exams, my contact with everyone but I held on because I was going to get married, but when they cut that off I couldn’t take it any more.”

After that, Essesi said, he had been placed in the maximum-security division 5, where normally those serving life sentences are held, for three months.

Then the Director had approached him and told him that he was going to give him an opportunity to spend two weeks in division 13 – a punishment division where cells are locked at 4pm instead of 7pm – and then would send him to division 7. Essesi had accepted the opportunity but claims to have then been held in division 13 for 6 months.

“All I asked for was permission to phone Meliza because she worked office hours and I had to be in my cell at 4pm, so I couldn’t talk to her during the week. But they even denied me this.”

Essesi had asked again for permission to wed his fiancée but this was dismissed immediately, he told the court. After speaking to the woman, he had filed a judicial protest, which was mentioned in the media. “As soon as the director found out about this, he sent 6 men from the SRT (Special Response Team) to arrest me and put me in handcuffs…I asked why and they said nothing.”

“On my way down to division six, I saw the director and he told me these precise words: ‘you will never marry under my watch, say thank you to your lawyer and girlfriend.”

 Essesi said he was then thrown into a cell, naked, without a mattress or bedding.

After that, he said, his fiancée was not allowed to visit him in prison for six months, adding that his letters to and from her were also seized by the prison authorities.

“She couldn’t get inside so she had to send her sister – a vendetta aimed at me and Meliza simply because we filed a judicial protest.”

Through the intervention of his lawyer, Essesi said he had been brought out of division 6 but was then placed in a division with people who he was supposed to be protected from in his seven-month stay underground, he said.

“Marriage is important to me because in Meliza I see the future that I never had,” said the man, adding that for the first time in his life, he had hope and had something to lose. “I want to put my criminal life behind me. I did prison time and it was very hard prison time as I explained. All I want is hope to marry the only love of my life and begin a new life.”

The case continues.

Lawyer Mario Mifsud is appearing for Lt. Col. Dalli, whilst lawyers Shaun Zammit, Mark Vassallo and Edward Gatt are representing Essesi in the proceedings.