When I sent my novel "With the Storm Lamp" to Korydallos prisons, it never occurred to me for a moment that the convicts themselves would find it so interesting as to invite me for a meeting with them.
The idea of sending this novel to the convicts existed since I was writing the book. Because my hero, Samuel of Helen, experienced prison and its misery, then went on a path of inner ascension which is a path to catharsis and self-knowledge.
And all this in a hyperrealistic novel, with supernatural phenomena, which means, a novel where the Invisible overthrows reality and the dead soldier breaks the barrier of cosmic silence.
Ever since the idea was born to send the book, I've been struggling with it. I considered it an expression of respect for them. I expressed my thought to the first publisher, Alexander Kalendis, and he accepted it straight away. After consulting with the Warden, Mr. George Zouganelis, we sent two hundred copies. I told him to distribute them to be read or to be discarded. One morning, I get a phone call that the convicts have expressed a desire to talk to me.
On June 24, at 10:00 am, I was there. Heavy doors that unlocked one after another, a long narrow corridor, so narrow that two people can't fit together, and we reached an auditorium. There were some seventy convicts waiting for us, their age from about thirty-five to forty-five. Along with Mr. Zouganelis was also a philologist, Ms. Antoniadou, and they explained to me that they were all attending the "Second Chance School". I sat on the chair, my hands trembling. Their faces were tensed, their eyes on me were inquisitive. Some said 'welcome', and they gave me courage. Others held the book. I said a few words at the beginning. Simple words, which I believed in. I believed everything I was saying because I felt that these people had a perception that cut across both sides. The first to speak was holding the book in his hand and said, "Samuel made so many mistakes but paid for them and became a different man". I explained to him that the word mistake (λάθος) comes from the word oblivion (λήθη). "Does it mean that when we make mistakes we are in a state of forgetfulness?", asked someone else. “Yes", I replied to them "but by making mistakes we kill our souls. To kill means to plunge someone - or my soul - in the dark (σκότος)." They liked it. And their silence was lifted. The tension in their faces faded and the discussion was now taken to another level, with a bright thought and perception. It was Vassilis, Dimitris, John, Zachos, Eddie, Apostolis. Dimitris asked to read a passage from the novel: "He preferred to recreate life in more humane ways, to invent it, to retrieve from within those other dimensions, the invisible, that only certain creatures doomed, lovers of fate or torment can experience." It was read aloud so everyone could listen. A few minutes of silence followed. Later, John asked to read another part of the book: When everything was burned because the sun had not set for three days but turned back and burned the people and the world. And when it was raining on the third day, Samuel stood in the midst of the rubble, and said, "I want to live, to live again".
I stayed for more than two hours. From the closed windows, the morning light came in and made the room shine. And I, for some moments, forgot that I was in prison, among people who lived to the bone the never-ending night of loneliness. In the course of my life, I have had endless meetings with readers of my books, in endless events, in endless discussions. Today I feel like none was as meaningful as that of the convicted audience. An angry audience trying to find a crack of light in their soul. None of all the meetings with my readers was as meaningful for me. Souls who thirst for a word of compassion. A little respect for them so that they can respect themselves. To be able to help their soul escape the darkness. "We have lived through everything you write in the book as if you wrote it for us ..." Vassilis said. And I was thinking that I might as well have written it for them.
In the end, some came for an autograph. Others stood by me, said thank you, and waited. I hesitated for a few moments and then shook hands. They all shook their hands one by one, and they said thank you. But I thank them. Because I was taught that a book can help a soul.
Published in Eleutherotypia newspaper 27 October 2008