I am typing a letter to you all as my hand hurts from hand writing so much and quite frankly no one can read my writing (including myself) so please excuse the non-personalised nature of this letter.
The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association BPRA (officially) was in May 2015 invited to the Ministry of Justice Workgroup on penitentiary reforms. That means that the BPRA has an equal say and vote with all the other members of the Workgroup who are comprised of judges, prosecutors and prison head who are representing their respective institutions.
It stands to reason that the BPRA didn’t have confidence in the system reforming itself even if it wanted to. The judges and prosecutors are on the outside and have absolutely no comprehension of the problems facing Bulgarian prisons and the prison administrations are blatantly opposed to reforms!
Originally the BPRA wasn’t invited to the Workgroup, so we organised a mass petition of about 300 prisoners from around prisons and submitted it to both the Ministry of Justice and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture who is monitoring the reform process. In the petition we explained that without the BPRA to voice the prisoners’ concerns the reform Workgroup was set up to fail. Gathering signatures is extremely difficult in Bulgarian prisons as usually the prison authority will call every single prisoner who has signed a petition and threaten and punish them. The organisers are of course targeted for the worse treatment to act as a deterrent to others. As usually one of our petitions was stolen by a guard but to the credit of the new prison director the petition was later returned. But really this time it was not so difficult to get so many signatures as prisoners were simply put, fed up with everything. The level of violence from guards and corruption from the prison administrations had hit an all time high in 2014 to the point where the prisons were stopping drinking, washing and toilet water (all water) during the hot summer nights creating a pandemic not to mention unbearable conditions in the heat.
The Ministry recognized the difficulties in gathering the signatures and so invited the BPRA to propose a representative. Lucky for us an extremely knowledgeable prisoner had just been granted a Presidential pardon in March! Valentine Ivanov (Valio) had served 22 years prison on a life sentence. For 20 of those years he served in complete isolation where prisoners are alone for 22.5 hours a day, with no work, sport, education or activities. But Valio didn’t waste his time in prison and instead he self educated himself on all laws, regulations and procedures relating to Bulgarian prison institutions, as well as a general understanding of most Bulgarian laws. It would be easy to say that he is the single most knowledgeable person in Bulgaria on laws relating to prisons without any formal education.
Valio is currently volunteering his time as the BPRA representative to the Workgroup and at information meetings and public forums on penitentiary reforms and helping prisoners with legal aid. But in order to put bread on the table Valio obviously must work a paying job. Currently he is labouring for 12€ a day (a work day can be 12 hours as there is little to no workers’ rights) and the problem with that is that the BPRA really needs Valio to work on penitentiary reforms fulltime. The reforms needed are so comprehensive that the workload is overwhelming for people who are working on them fulltime, let alone for someone fitting the reform work around a labouring job.
We would very much like to employ Valio fulltime and although he deserves more, we are being realistic and Valio has agreed to work for the same pay as his labouring job, 12€ a day. Also we can not employ Valio until we are sure that we can guarantee a full years pay, as jobs are hard to find in Bulgaria (not to mention for ex prisoners) and so it wouldn’t be fair to have Valio quit his labouring job only to be made redundant in his work for the BPRA. This means the BPRA needs to raise the following amounts:
6000 leva for Valio’s pay
2400 leva for taxes, pension and health insurance
Roughly it comes to 4307€ in total.
We have raised 500€ already from XminY whose mission statement reads as follows
“XminY believes in the power of people to be the start of change themselves. Every great social transformation starts with brave individuals who take the first steps along the road to change. These are ordinary people who stand up in their communities, encourage bystanders and work together with them in the struggle for a fair, just, sustainable and tolerant world.”
Although this is XminY’s statement I think it is an absolutely appropriate description of the BPRA! So thanx XminY for giving us a good start on the “Valio Fund”. Also XminY said that if we wanted we could display their logo on the project we used their money for. In this respect I think it is only fair that we tattoo Valio’s face with the XminY logo! Failing to tattoo Valio’s face we will think of an alternative J
So I’ve asked in the past for donations and we raised over 6000€! In one year! So thank you to all of you receiving this letter who already donated something! Most of the money we spent was used contracting lawyers to defend the human rights of asylum seekers and prisoners. Some illegally detained and others tortured by guards. Without the BPRA these prisoners (I consider those detained for immigration reasons also prisoners) would not have had legal representation and some would still be illegally held in prisons or continuously beaten and intimidated to stay quiet about torture. When the state knows there is a lawyer in your corner the stakes change.
However now I am putting out a call! Before the money we raised was used as we needed it and so there wasn’t really an urgency. However now we have a set specific goal and target that we need to meet relatively soon so that we can free Valio from his job so that he can work for us fulltime to have a maximum impact on the penitentiary reforms currently in the Ministry that will then be submitted to parliament for consideration.
Please do whatever you can to collect money for us, fundraisers, gigs or even just a whip around the with magic hat! J
Our bank details are:
Donation for Bulgarian Prisoners' Rehabilitation Association
Saint George Office
26 Alexander Stamboliski Boulevard
IBAN: BG29 Texi 95451003928100
BIC: Texi BGSF
(Please note the “TEXI” is the letter ‘i’ not the number ‘1')
Please check out our facebook page, just do a search on facebook for Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association and it is easy to find. We are working on getting a proper website but it is proving to be logistically difficult for us prisoners with basically 1 volunteer in Sofia who knows something about computers and web design! So you can also contact us for the moment through the facebook page.
Alternatively (but not preferably) you can email at:
There is also a blog on Wordpress, same name, a quick search on google will show it, Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association Wordpress something….
If you have upcoming actions planned, please spare a thought for our fund raising goal and ask those around you to contribute or to organise a way of raising money.
We are a legally registered NGO and as such we are officially reformist.
We have already effected extremely important changes in the draft laws, especially in regards to the reform of the parole system. It is on the back of this success that we need to increase our input into the legislative changes.
I have not spoken much about who we are here, because there is already enough information online. But in short we are a registered NGO Association of ONLY current and ex-prisoner. The idea being that without interference from people who are not or have not been prisoners our goals or means of achieving them will not be distorted by outside interference from people who could have alternative or contradictory ideas. This means that the BPRA couldn’t get more grassroots if it tried to.
Our two main goals are:
1. Effect legislative reforms
2. Defend the rights of prisoners
The BPRA is the first of its kind in Bulgaria and possibly the world, as although there are prisoners’ organisations they are as far as I know not registered organisations and/or they’re mixed with non-prisoner members.
We want the BPRA to be of such a scale that whenever a prisoner is tortured, the prisoner will be able to contact the BPRA who will send inspectors and lawyers immediately. For too long the guards and administrations in Bulgarian prisons had free reign to torture and torment who they wanted to. This is slowly changing as the BPRA grows in confidence and experience (and funds for legal defence) and the prison administrations are starting to realise that they can no longer target prisoners who are too poor to afford lawyers.
Not race, financial status or education will be green lights to guards and administrations to target prisoners for abuse as the BPRA will have their backs! In this regard it is true that those who are openly members of the BPRA and who are openly active and supporting the BPRA have been targeted for their solidarity actions. But there is rarely significant social progress without significant risk and we regularly risk our physical health/life as well as our possibilities for freedom.
Please people, help us help ourselves! And help us reach our target budget.
Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association