Who has not read Papillon?

I remember Henry Charrières book very well.  I started reading in the evening, and did not put the book down till next morning, reading it all in one go. Later it turned out that Charrières had cheated. An inscription " Papillon "in cell No. 47 proves that he had been imprisoned here, but Charrières had usurped the adventures of other convicts, making them his owns. The movie, Papillon, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffmann became a blockbuster.

And here I stand now, at the entrance of the Camp of Transportation in the city centre of St. Laurent du Maroni. The infamous prison, established under Napoleon III, functioned a hundred years. 67,000 prisoners entered this camp. Some 50,000 of them died here, in French Guiana, the average life expectancy was 3-5 years.

The prisoners were divided into 4 groups:

The Deportees: Political prisoners, the most famous certainly prisoner Nr 1: Alfred Dreyfus, leading to Emile Zola’s famous “J’accuse” . There were about 300 political prisoners overall.
The Transported: common law prisoners: approximately 52,000. ¾ of them were convicted of theft, the other for murder.
The Relegated: Repeat offenders: approximately 15,000. They had committed only minor crimes, but had been convicted twice in a period of 10 years.
The Released: Once the prisoners had served their sentence, they were required to remain in Guyana for a certain time, called the dubbing. For those who had received a sentence of less than 8 years, they were to remain in Guyana for a time equivalent to their sentences, for all the others,  dubbing meant assignment for life.

There were about fifty executions.

Escapes are estimated at 16%. As soon as an escape was discovered, a cannon shot was fired, and all the population of St. Laurent began to search for the fugitive, hoping to pocket the premium of 100 francs for his capture. But they were not the only ones to hear the cannon shoot, previously escaped prisoners hiding in the jungle heard it too, and began to search for the fugitive as well. But it was not to help him, nor to pocket the100 franc; what they were after was the escapee’s Plan. A Plan was a small tube resembling a cigar case, in which the convict hid his most precious things: Money, photos, escapes plans (hence the name) .The only place to hide the Plan was the prisoners gut where it was introduced rectally. So, when other escaped prisoners put their hands on a fugitive, they often killed and gutted him, just to retrieve his Plan.

Only some 4,000 prisoners have returned to France.

The guillautine was placed on the platform in the middle; the death-row cells were to the right.fg7.jpg

The death rowfg5.jpg

"Papillon" , ingraved in the floor of cell 47


Devil's Island, where Alfred Deyfus was jailed for 5 years


The cimetery on Saint Joseph island; only for guardians and people working here, the dead prisoners were buried at see, the mouillage