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A look inside France’s ‘most notorious’ prison

The only prison in Paris, the notorious and historic La Santé was open this weekend for guided tours as it sits empty ahead of massive renovations. Here’s a look inside at a place that’s both fascinating and terrifying.

A look inside France's 'most notorious' prison
La Santé was open this weekend for guided tours. Photo: Joshua Melvin/The Local

La Santé (which translates incredibly as Good Health Prison) is famous for being the only prison in the heart of Paris, but also for the unending string of famous captives who’ve passed through its doors.

First opened in 1867, it has held everyone from Carlos the Jackal to French bank robber and killer Jacques Mesrine who never met a prison he couldn’t break out of, including La Santé.

It’s also known for inhumanely harsh conditions which pushed a prison doctor to write a whistle-blowing exposé that detailed filthy inmates, uncontrolled vermin and mentally ill patients left to harm themselves. It's considered by some the most notorious prison in France. 

But now the prison, except for a small day-release programme, is empty ahead of a major renovation project.

It was open this weekend to the public for tours guided by the guards who once kept the place running and who have a remarkable nostalgia for what must have been a trying workplace.

Some people waited all day for a chance to get inside a place that many inmates spent their time trying to get out of.

GALLERY: Welcome to La Santé prison

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CRIME

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

A French court on Thursday convicted eight men for the theft and handling of a Banksy painting paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

Three men in their 30s who admitted to the 2019 theft were given prison sentences, one of four years and two of three, although they will be able to serve them wearing electronic tracking bracelets rather than behind bars.

Another man, a 41-year-old millionaire lottery winner and street art fan accused of being the mastermind of the heist, was given three years in jail for handling stolen goods after judges found the main allegation unproven. His sentence will also be served with a bracelet.

Elsewhere in the capital, the defence was making its final arguments in the trial of the surviving suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks themselves, with a verdict expected on June 29.

‘Acted like vultures’ 

British street artist Banksy painted his “sad girl” stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in memory of the 90 people killed there on November 13th, 2015.

A white van with concealed number-plates was seen stopping on January 26, 2019 in an alleyway running alongside the central Paris music venue.

Many concertgoers fled via the same alley when the Bataclan became the focal point of France’s worst ever attacks since World War II, as Islamic State group jihadists killed 130 people at a string of sites across the capital.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men climbed out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes, in what an investigating judge called a “meticulously prepared” heist.

Prosecutor Valerie Cadignan told the court earlier this month that the perpetrators had not sought to debase the memory of the attack victims, but “being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit”.

She said the thieves “acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent”.

During the trial, Bataclan staff said the theft sparked “deep indignation”, adding that the painted door was a “symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world”.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route across France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 on a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

Three men involved in transporting the door were each jailed for 10 months, while a 58-year-old Italian man who owns a hotel where it was temporarily stored received a six-month suspended sentence.

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