Grigory Pasko – Zek Week Special

Release Day Is Very Hard Grigory Pasko, journalist In one of the Soviet songs about the war [the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945)—Trans.] there are the words: “the last battle – it is the most difficult one”. Former prisoners have told me that in prison and in camp, the hardest day is the last one – the day you’re going to be released. Now, I’m not going to say that 23 January 2003 was the most difficult day of my entire 3 years of imprisonment. But it certainly left an indelible impression. As, indeed, did the entire month preceding this day. zekweek2.jpg I remember that I practically didn’t sleep at all during those days. When I found out from my lawyers that there would be a court hearing on 23 January to consider my early release on parole, I started preparing for it. I wrote all the necessary motions and petitions. I answered all the letters. And, most importantly, I tried not to give the camp administration any excuse to issue me a reprimand for violating the confinement regime so it could then ask the court not to release me. On the morning of 23 January, the chief of the detachment announced to me that the colony boss (that’s what the chief of the colony is called) had signed a character reference for me. I could guess what was written in this character reference. Then, in the morning after roll call, when we were all going off to our work assignments, an acquaintance from the neighboring detachment came up to me and whispered in my ear that he knows an attempt against me is being prepared. He said that a “torpedo” – specially prepared from among the prisoners – had received an assignment to kill me. Naturally, this news didn’t fill me with optimism. Working in the carpentry workshop, I was distracted for a while from gloomy thoughts about the upcoming court hearing. I remembered the stories I’d heard about how the traveling courts [judges that come to the camp to hear parole cases—Trans.] actually did on rare occasion adopt a ruling to release a prisoner. I remember that whole day, 23 January, very well. It began with me being sent out to work, contrary to the rules. In so doing, the detachment chief said that the court hearing could take place even without my participation. True, later on he came for me and personally escorted me to the court room, where the procurator, the judge, and my defenders were all gathered already. The first to speak was the procurator. He said that I must not be released on any account. Because I had committed a grave state crime, having reported to the world about the secret dumping of radioactive wastes in the Sea of Japan. Because I had not admitted my guilt and had not chosen to take the path towards reforming myself. The detachment chief read out my character reference. Listening to it, you’d think the best thing anyone could have done would have been to shoot me the moment I was born. Among the more or less true facts contained in the character reference, he did mention that during my time at the camp I had not participated in any amateur talent groups and likewise did not write articles for the camp newspaper even though I was the only professional journalist in the camp. After this, the judge asked me when the work day in the camp begins and ends. I replied that going off to work assignments and coming back from them and actually being in the workshop last from 7 AM to 7 PM, six days a week. That is, I’m busy laboring in the carpentry workshop at exactly the same time when some prisoners are involved in amateur talent groups [there is a severe job shortage in Russian labor camps, and most inmates do not have work assignments—Trans.]. I explained my lack of desire to write for the camp newspaper by saying that my Russian language skills were not of a sufficiently high level to conform with the style of this newspaper. Besides, the job duties of a camp carpenter – the post to which I had been assigned – did not mention anything about journalism. Then my defenders spoke. They brought to the court’s attention that I had been issued a reprimand for violating the camp regime several days before the hearing. And that it had been the very first one I had received during the half year I had been at the camp. … The judge spent several hours issuing her ruling. All this time I was in the barrack. I don’t remember what I was thinking or doing at this time. But I very clearly remember that I did not pack my things, the way prisoners usually do when they’re preparing for release. Then came the ruling – early release on parole. The procurator and camp officer clearly weren’t prepared for such a turn of events. They ran off someplace, flustered and confused. And I was told that an extract from the court’s ruling would be received by the camp in 10 days. And that I would have to spend all those next 10 days in the camp. I knew for sure that anything at all could happen with me in those 10 days. My lawyers knew this too. Which is why they told the camp administration officer to come together with them to the courthouse to get the excerpt of the court ruling. I was given 10 minutes to pack all my things. It took me far less time than that. Outside the camp gates were journalists waiting for me. I was torn inside between feelings of happiness and anxiety – I kept thinking that the authorities could still suddenly change their minds and turn me right around and march me back into the barracks. Thank goodness, justice prevailed on that day. Right now I’m thinking that there are many hard days in the life of a prisoner. For example, in the life of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, such days were no doubt the day of arrest, and the last day of the pronouncement of the verdict, and the day of the attack on him in the camp, and the day that new charges were filed… And release day won’t be easy for him either. But this day will come. I firmly believe this.