Grigory Pasko: Life Behind Bars, Part 1

Life Behind Bars – Part 1 By Grigory Pasko, journalist Now, when the prison and camp population of Russia is once again approaching a million (see note below), we need to realize that this number points only to the quantity of persons already convicted by a court. But those who are behind bars, but awaiting trial make up another several hundred thousand. Interest in “behind bars” topics is reviving. Time and again, you encounter on various websites flat little jokes about “the oligarch who sews mittens”, bankers who have supposedly robbed the country blind, terrorists who are supposedly preparing their acts daily practically right under the walls of the Kremlin, and others. zeki012108.JPG Russian prisoners eating balanda – a thin tasteless gruel that forms the staple of the prison diet, day in and day out (Photo courtesy of www.ng.ru).

To joke, of course, is not prohibited. It would be better, true, to do this after a verdict has entered into legal force, and not before it has been pronounced. And it would be better still to analyze the quality of the preliminary investigation and the trial itself in these cases, because after that, it may very likely emerge that both the investigators and the court were strongly engaged by certain “customers”. For example, by the administration of the Guarantor of the Constitution.And this is why I offer readers of the blog several articles on criminal-procedure and criminal-execution [Russian for “penal”—Trans.] topics. But I’ll start by recounting a few things about the life of arrestees in camp. For example, about private life.I’ll say right from the start: it’s hard to write about something that, in essence, doesn’t exist. Furthermore, the private life of prisoners is even not envisions by Article 12 of the Criminal-Execution Code (CEC) of the Russian Federation, which determines the basic rights of convicts.The absolute fundamental right of a convict (Art. 12, para 1) is – to receive information about his duties. Further – in descending order: he has the right – to polite address on the part of the personnel of the institution, to address proposals and even complaints, to conduct correspondence in his native tongue, to the protection of health, to social security (put more simply – to receive a pension in the colony, if this pension had been earned beforehand), to communication with a lawyer, to visitation with relatives. That’s it. Period. About the right to the inviolability of personal life (Article 23 of the Constitution of the RF) – not even half a word.According to the data of the Ombudsman for human rights, in the year 2001 in Russia there were 1 mln. 300 thousand found in places of deprivation of liberty. On average in a strict-regime colony – 1300 persons. On average in one barrack are found 130 persons. The daily routine of a convict is thought up in such a manner that he is not found alone FOR A SINGLE MINUTE. I once calculated that on average, a convict is surrounded by no fewer than ten other convicts. Hour by hour, day by day, month by month, year by year – around you are the same faces, the same monotonous movements, driven to automatism. Such an existence dulls a person and makes his adaptation to a normal environment after release heavy and problemic, at times so conflict-generating that a person ends up in jail once again.In the European Penitentiary Rules is mentioned that the aims of correctional intervention on convicts consists of preserving their health and dignity, contributing to the formation in them of a sense of responsibility and skills that will contribute to their reintegration in society.In the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) of the RF is mentioned that the objective of our penitentiary system is “the correction of convicts”, which assumes “the formation of a respectful attitude towards the person, society, labor, norms, rules, traditions…” About the ability of a convict to reintegrate into society – not a word.The CCP considers the principal means of correction of convicts to be: 1) the regime (the procedure for the execution of punishment), 2) instructional work, 3) social labor, 4) social intervention. The granting of the opportunity for a prisoner to instruct himself, to educate himself, to independently labor is categorically out of the question.And now let’s move on past the preamble to the actual conditions under which there is no place for private life, nor can there be. And so, all convicts are held in common barracks with bunk beds arranged in two levels. In each building – from 70 to 130 persons. According to the norms, there is supposed to be two square meters of floorspace for each person. In reality, there is usually less. There is particular crowding and congestion at the washbasins and the toilet. Washing and shaving takes place in three lines. In the toilet, there are three “holes”, without doors, for 130 people.Reveille is at 6 AM, followed by morning exercises in any weather, breakfast in outer garments, breaking out for work, the work day in the workshop, a common bathhouse after work, supper, inspection of the whole camp – such, in brief, is a typical day “on the zone”. After 19:00 and until lights-out, that is until 22:00, a convict theoretically has personal time. In practice, it is filled with such a huge number of things that you don’t have enough time to get everything done. To mend your clothes, to launder them, to write a letter or an appeal to a court – all this is possible in the event that they haven’t signed you up in the “discipline and order section”, in another “amateur activity” organization. (I will note that on a “red” zone, that is one that is completely controlled by the administration, to not be a “community volunteer” is impossible in practice). Inasmuch as nearly everybody is found in a “section”, a minimum of one hour out of these three the prisoner has to wander about the territory of the camp with an armband on his sleeve or to work in the kitchen as an auxiliary worker.The bathhouse deserves special mention. Work in the workshops is dirty and dusty. You’re not allowed not to wash. But neither are you allowed to wash normally. Judge for yourselves: a work shift at just one workshop is 20 people. People come to the bathhouse from 5 workshops. In the bathhouse there are three “nipples” with a weak flow of water. Half an hour is allocated for washing. You do the arithmetic. Imagine this whole picture for yourselves. It goes without saying that you can’t be late for removal from work. (How can I not recall here those previously mentioned European Rules, in which is mentioned that there must be adequate bath and shower facilities so that each prisoner could, and would have to, make use of them as often as hygiene requires…)Of things personal to which a prisoner has a right, the only one mentioned in the CEC is safety. Article 13 states that upon the arising of a threat of personal danger, a convict may be moved to a safe place. A safe place is considered to be a solitary cell in a penalty isolator (ShIZO), that is, the place where they put you for violation of the regime. They put people in the ShIZO often enough, but I don’t know of a single instance when they did this at the request of the convict. As a rule, danger can threaten only someone who has violated the unwritten rules of the criminal world, as well as informants. But informants the administration will hide, and transfer to another colony, on its own initiative. (True, in reality all this is still no guarantee of the safety of such people. An illusion, no more…)Perhaps the only way in which the right to a private life manifests itself is the granting to a convict of visitations with relatives. According to the law, «on strict regime», you’re supposed to have three short-term and three long-term visitations per year. A short-term visitation must be four hours. In practice, it’s hardly ever longer than two. A long-term visitation is 72 hours on the territory of the correctional institution. During the time of a short-term visitation, the prisoner interacts with relatives through two metal grills under the watchful eye of an employee of the colony. During the time of a long-term visitation, he can live together with his wife, for example, in a tiny room practically without oversight. Why “practically”? Because someone is still keeping a watch on him. For example, the prisoner who fulfills the functions of cleanup man of the facilities. Sometimes, employees of the administration can also stop in to take a look: they will substantiate any pretext as “needs of the service”.Secrecy of correspondence does not exist. All correspondence is subjected to censorship. Even that which by law can not be read, for example the letters of a convict to the procuracy, to the court, to the Human Rights Ombudsman. A telephone conversation (four times per year, 15 minutes each time) is paid for by the convict himself and is monitored by the personnel of the colony.Note: As of 1 November 2007, being held in institutions of the criminal-execution system of Russia (CES) are 886.4 thsd. persons, including in 766 correctional colonies – 720.5 thsd., 216 investigative isolators, 7 jails and 160 “facilities functioning in the regime of investigative isolators” – 154.6 thsd. persons, in 62 instructional colonies for minors – 11.0 thsd. persons. Held in institutions are 63.9 thsd. convicted women, alongside women’s colonies are had 11 houses of the child [orphanages—Trans.], in which reside 714 children.For comparison: under Yeltsin, there were less than 700 thsd. prisoners.