Grigory Pasko: Women’s Prison Colonies in Russia

Women’s colony – hell bedecked in flowers By Grigory Pasko, journalist Если Вы хотите прочитать оригинал данной статьи на русском языке, нажмите сюда. From the editor: Former YUKOS lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina has been transferred to colony № 21, which is a prison hospital. About this reports the website “Избранное” citing a source in the administration of the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments for the Republic of Mordovia. It is known that they had transferred her a week ago already. About the reasons for the hospitalization they did not report. However, the website reminds that Svetlana Bakhmina now is found in the seventh month of pregnancy. That is, it is entirely possible that Svetlana is going to have to give birth behind barbed wire, and then to raise the child in the same place. We will remind that former YUKOS lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina was convicted on 19 April of the year 2006 by the Simonovsky district court of Moscow on charges of stealing the property of OAO “Tomskneft” and evading the payment of taxes and was sentenced to 7 years of deprivation of liberty. By a cassational ruling of the Moscow city court of 24 August of the year 2006 the sentence was changed, while the term of deprivation of liberty was reduced to 6.5 years. Until the present time Bakhmina has spent 3 years 9 months in confinement. Not that long ago, our correspondent Grigory Pasko spent time in the capacity of a journalist in the Mozhaisk women’s colony not far from Moscow. We asked him to tell us about what a women’s colony in today’s Russia is like and what is a “house of the child” in this colony.

* * *First a few numbers. In the institutions of the FSIN [the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishments, the renamed direct successor of the infamous GULag—Trans.] of Russia are held 55 and a half thousand convicted women. Alongside women’s colonies are had 11 houses of the child, in which live 634 children. This is data as of the year 2006. Specialists note that not infrequently children born in captivity then fill out the ranks of juvenile inmates. We will note that in pre-revolutionary Russia, with a population of 170 million people, only 15 thousand minors were found in jails. In Soviet Russia with a population of 220 million people at the end of the twenties in places of deprivation of liberty were held 18 thousand adolescents. At the present time in Russia reside around 142 million people, at the same time the number of underage convicts exceeds 15 thousand.* * *I don’t know how and what to write about a women’s colony. How and what can be written about something that goes against nature? I am convinced that humanity should have thought up something so that women who have committed crimes would not sit in correctional colonies. Even such exemplary ones as the Mozhaisk colony.* * *In all the time of the existence of colonies for women normal people have understood and have said: the main problem of holding women in the penitentiary system of Russia is that the conditions for serving punishment do not take into account the psychological and physiological specifics inherent to women. That is, women are held just like men. Or like some kind of “median” human being without consideration of gender, age, psychophysical and other specifics.* * *Having looked over a bunch of photographs in various publications, on which is imprinted life in the Mordovia, Oryol, and Vladimir women’s colonies, and having compared all this with what I saw in the Mozhaisk colony, I come to a conclusion: they’re as similar as twins. Everywhere are the flowers in the flowerbeds, the cheap calico of the dresses and kerchiefs, the old sewing machines… There are lots of flowers. They permit them to be planted by the imprisoned women themselves. And they plant: flowers in a hell on earth.* * *My conversation by the main office of the Mozhaisk women’s colony with a boy (see photo):“What’s your name, little boy?”“Nikita.”“And how old are you?”“Four.”“Have you come to see your mommy?”“Yes, she’s sitting here a long time and will be sitting for a long time still.”“And for what is she sitting?”“For a girl.”“What happened with the girl?”“She died.”“How did she die?”“Oh, she was old, and that’s why she died.”“And do you have a daddy?”“No, he died…”colony2101308Nikita comes to visit his mother at the prison colony where he was born (photo by Grigory Pasko)I didn’t start asking the poor boy what his father had died from. Nikita’s grandmother explained that he had been born and until the age of three had lived in the Mozhaisk women’s colony. Look at the face of this boy, and you will see that his gaze differs from the gaze of children born at liberty.Good looking kid. But with a profound world-weary sadness in the eyes. For some reason I thought: that boy whom president Putin once kissed on the tummy was also named Nikita. This Nikita – even his own mother very rarely has an opportunity to see and to kiss him.…And then they told me that Nikita’s mom is sitting because she killed a person – that same “girl”.* * *At first glance – and indeed at second glance as well – the Mozhaisk colony – is all so gay and flowery, just like the calico from which the dresses of the convicts are sewn. Only if you look carefully at the faces of many of the women-zechki [the grammatically feminine form of the word “zek”—Trans.] do you begin to understand how they find it here. A “zone” – even if it be all bedecked in flowers and gingerbread – still remains a “zone”.* * *“It’s good for them here. Many don’t live like this at liberty. But there are very cunning ones, real actresses: they’ll deceive you in the blink of an eye”. Thus said the female employees of the colony. But for some reason their own faces remained sad as they said this. Maybe because they understand perfectly well: what the hell kind of “good” can it be, if all around are fences, barbed wire, regime, constructions… Life does go on, of course. Yet everybody’s life is the same as everybody else’s. Yet one wants to start a family, if one doesn’t have one yet. Yet one wants to go back to mom and dad and to one’s child, if one has them… Yet ahead are years and years of dull and pointless sitting behind a fence.And yet, life goes on…colony101308Women prisoners – zechki – at the Mozhaisk women’s prison colony (photo by Grigory Pasko)* * *The industrial zone – the promka – looks like every other promka in Russia, including the one where I had worked in the Ussuri strict regime colony. A large, well-lit workshop. The din of work being done. We planed down boards, but here the women sew dresses and linens, uniforms and toys. I look at the uniforms and think: lord, all zones sew uniforms. How can one country have so many military and militarized people? And the main thing – why are there so many of them?The production equipment in the workshop is all ancient. I ask the chief of production: “Tatiana Viktorovna, how can this be? Look at what good things your women are sewing. Don’t you feel sorry for them?”“Yes”, major of the internal service Matviyevskaya agrees, “the machines are old. There’s no money for new ones…”According to official data, the fixed production assets of the enterprises of the Criminal Execution System are 80% obsolete.And I recall the miners who perish because there is no new equipment. I recall the sailors who perish because there is no new lifesaving equipment. I recall the pilots who perish together with passengers because there is no new equipment for ground services at aerodromes…* * *A wonderful House of the Child at the Mozhaisk colony! Large, well-lit, joyous. We walked there with presents and were thinking about the gleeful noise with which the kids would meet us: children are the same everywhere, after all, no matter on which side of the fence they are. At least, that’s what we thought.In the House of the Child we were met with silence. (I’m reluctant to apply epithets to this silence). The woman accompanying us explained: it was “quiet hour” [after-lunch nap time—Trans.] until four o’clock. The hour was as quiet as… Well, let’s just say it was very quiet indeed. All seventeen children, as they clarified for us, were sleeping.…In my day I often visited pre-school day-care centers: I used to take my own children there. And I don’t recall a single instance when ALL the children were really asleep during the “quiet hour” at a day-care center. It’s just that in this house, inside the cage, the children are already disciplined to a level not at all befitting a child.But the House of the Child is very beautiful. In it, within the framework of a humanization program, is envisioned the joint permanent living of moms with their children. Spacious and cozy residential rooms, play halls, domestic rooms… And through the large windows can be seen a large fence with barbed wire. The detachment chief accompanying us, Tatiana Vinogradova, kept repeating all the time: you won’t see something like this everywhere at liberty. This is true. Just like it’s true that it would be best if such beauty existed only at liberty.* * *From the newspaper «Kazenny dom» [“Government-issue house”] № 6, 2006 : «Over the year 2006 it is planned to increase the limit of filling SIZOs [investigative isolator prisons] by 15 thousand places…One place in a new investigative isolator costs 1.5 mln. rubles… Financing of a series of programs has been increased. Thus, for the Federal Targeted Program «Children of Russia» – by 33 percent…»In translation to a language humans can understand, this signifies that in Russia, as before, is planned an increase in the quantity of convicts. Just in investigative isolators (SIZOs) alone – by 15 thousand persons per year. But there are also the jails and the camps… And financing under federal targeted programs for the holding of children in places of the deprivation of liberty is also planned to increase. Because the leadership of the country knows in advance: the quantity of children behind the Russian barbed wire fence is also going to grow.