Last time Christopher Bartolo was in prison, he lost a kidney, and was released by an extraordinary cabinet decision.
The Gozitan man, and new young father, was charged as a drug trafficker after allegedly being found with cannabis while suffering from kidney disease.
As Malta continues to liberalise its cannabis laws, Bartolo is stuck in the system, and has been for seven years now – and as his court case is set to resume in January, he may yet be thrown into a jail cell.
Even though he was interrogated by police without a lawyer present and was in a vulnerable state – officers picked him up as he was leaving Mater Dei after undergoing dialysis, which he does at least twice a week and takes four hours each time – his case continues.
Yet, even though he’s been dealing with court for a decade now over his cannabis use, the courts aren’t done with him yet.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, Bartolo wants to be a major part of the new cafeteria his partner just opened, as well as be there for his baby son who was born last month.
Yet, here he is again, worrying about major jail time for something legal in other countries.
“This is my worst nightmare,” Bartolo told Lovin Malta. “Leaving Rachel alone with the new cafeteria and baby Gianni…”
Bartolo recently recovered from COVID-19, where he was forced to quarantine as his son was born. Living with kidney disease and at the mercy of the dialysis machine, Bartolo’s life expectancy is much lower than most people’s – but his battle with COVID-19 has left him even more terrified.
“When I got COVID-19 from the hospital, I thought I was going to die,” he said forlornly. “I just got to see my son for the first time recently – I’m trying to spend as much time with him as possible just in case they sentence me in January.”
Having undergone a parathyroid operation recently, Bartolo is trying to stay focused on his family. But with the court constantly coming for him, he finds it hard to settle in and be there for is loved ones.
“I’ve developed walking issues due to too much calcium in my bones,” he said. “I could barely walk – and after the operation, while in hospital recovering, I got COVID-19. I couldn’t even stay with Rachel during her birth,” he says.
“I was so scared I wasn’t going to be able to see my son, but I felt so good when the pregnancy was successful,” he beamed.
Accused of being a big time drug trafficker by the state, Bartolo just dreams of a day when he’ll be able to live and work with his family in peace, giving back to the community in any way he can.
“It’s a small place, but it’s very cosy – we designed it together,” he says proudly of his partner’s cafeteria, Tazza Te’, in Pieta. “I did the finishings myself.”
“It’s always been my dream to have something like this – but this case has been going on for seven years,” he says.
He mentioned the case of Maltese youth Mason Nehls, who has been waiting for his court case to end for over a decade.
“This is my fear – I never got a chance to speak about my case, they don’t know who I am and what my life is, what I’ve been through. I’ve still got a year and a half left on my sentence…”
“This system punishes us – and the worst thing is, you don’t even know what you are being punished for in reality.”
“But you can’t make plans, and you can’t plan with your family, and now, instead of just me suffering, it’s my family who suffers. Actually, no, for them it’s worse, having to take me to hospital every two days…” he trails off.
Malta’s courts oftentimes come down hard on cases involving drugs, especially those dating back a number of years ago. However, Bartolo said that during his time in prison, even other prisoners couldn’t understand what he was doing in there, especially in the sickly and vulnerable position he was in.
Between his young family, ongoing serious health issues, and the chances of being sent to prison for something that happened a lifetime ago, Bartolo has been left feeling like he’s being pushed to his limit.
“I have too much on my plate to deal with. It’s been years of waiting and spending months in prison whilst fighting for my health. I just wish the court could have given me the chance to speak during my appeal and actually learnt who I was,” he ended.