Interview with Denis Yurinsky, Khodorkovsky’s Prison Supervisor

denis1.jpgIn light of the AFP story today, we are re-posting Grigory Pasko’s interview of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s former cellmate, Denis Yurinsky, from April 27, 2007.  Good to see the mainstream media finally getting around to talking with this guy.

I’m 25 years old. They locked me up at age 16 for murder. I was born in Krasnokamensk. I did more than eight years. That was my first time in jail, and I hope it will be my last. At first I did time in a colony not far from Chita, and then at No. 10, in Krasnokamensk.

Of course it was hard to learn what the world behind the barbed wire is like at such a young age. Eventually I got used to it. A colony is a small world with its own laws. Laws that are established by the prisoners themselves, and the laws of the colony administration. They rarely coincide in anything. By the way, the laws of the administration are far from always the same as the laws that have been adopted by the state.

Which laws are more just? That’s hard to say. For example, thou shalt not kill and thou shalt not steal – that’s from the Bible. And in the criminal world, stealing from a convict is also punishable. Someone who steals from a comrade is a rat. True, the punishment for ratting is different, a lot more severe.

And another thing. Zeks don’t punish innocent people, in contrast with the state.

Yes, I also sat in the punishment isolator. You can end up therefor just about anything. You can’t smoke in an unauthorized area, andthere’s a whole slew of unauthorized areas. You can’t talk when you’rein lineup and on the parade ground. But in the colony we’re alwayseither in lineup or on the parade ground.

How does the day go in the colony? Well, you should know what it’slike yourself, but let me tell your readers. Reveille at 6 o’clock, youmake your bed, breakfast, and go off to work… I had it easier: as awork supervisor, I lived on the territory of the industrial zone. I hadmy own room there. So after a certain point I was “denied the pleasure”of having to get in a lineup for another roll call a hundred times aday.

I was a work supervisor; I had over a hundred people under me. Weworked in the sewing shop: cutting, sewing camouflage uniforms forpolice and employees, bedding… Before that I sat at a sewing machinemyself for five years; I can sew practically anything.

We had lunch in the work area at 11 o’clock. In the “zone” it wasat 12. At 2 o’clock – the mid-day roll call. They do a head count ofthe entire colony, without going out of the situation of thefacilities. If the numbers don’t match up, the zone just stands therewhile they search for each and every single person. We had times wherewe’d stand like that for half the day. We had some escapes – mostly thenon-convoyed ones. Convicts didn’t escape from the zone – they weresimply shot. If a zek escapes, the vertyhai* will get strung up from the watchtower. So it’s just easier to shoot the escapee.

After supper, everybody does his own thing. Some read, some wash,people do whatever… And that’s how the days pass by. And that’s howlife passed by.

My first meeting with Khodorkovsky went like this. Once theyannounced to everybody in the camp: get everything in order, a bigcommission has arrived. They were getting the camp ready for something,they were putting everything in order, even the cops [as the zeks callthe colony staff – G.P.] were taking out garbage. They were saying thatthey were bringing 20 Chechens. Then the stage arrives and I see thatthey’ve brought just one guy. In glasses, average height, squat andcompact. I says to the cops – that’s all your Chechens? That’s how Ifound out that they’d brought Khodorkovsky.

They usually put all new arrivals in quarantine for 15 days, inseparate barracks. Only then do they bring them out into the “zone”.Mikhail Borisovich was brought out to barrack No. 8. Then he ended upon my work team – a packer of finished output. He packed bedding,folding it up. We chatted, a normal guy. I called him Misha. There’s nosuch thing as using formal address, or calling someone byname-and-patronymic [e.g. Mikhail Borisovich – Trans.], among zeks.It’s easier to use the informal form of address, and that’s thecustomary way. Yes, I noticed immediately that this is a guy who isn’tafraid of work.

He came in 2005, in the autumn. The two of us worked together fornearly a year. Until August 2006. Everything that took place with himtook place on my watch. I even took part in one process, when they wereremoving Yevstratov, the chief of the colony. The first time theylocked up Khodorkovsky for not being at his workplace. He came to me,he asks how the sewing machines work. And right then the duty guardshows up – to do a head count of people at the workplaces. And that’show Khodorkovsky ended up in the punishment isolator. This had neverhappened before, that they locked someone up in the punishment isolatorfor something like that. I was often not in one place. My workplace wasthe entire industrial zone. And lots of people can come and go likethat – on business. The fact that they locked Mikhail up – this was aspecial action, they were looking for a reason to lock him up.

I then found out through my sources that there was an instructionfrom above: Khodorkovsky has to have one constant violation of therules of confinement. It doesn’t matter for what. What matters is thatit be and that it be all the time.

So the cops tried hard. But Mikhail Borisovich is no fool, and hadlearned a lot in Matrosskaya Tishina. He wouldn’t let them pull a fastone on him, he’d studied the laws well. So sometimes they even firedstaff who, I guess, weren’t able to handle the assignment – to announcereprimands to him.

The incident with the lemons – you know, when Khodorkovsky sharedwith someone – is also wild. They say that they specially invented anew edict about the alienation of other’s property just to punishMikhail. This is how they explained it: if you give someone a smoke,for example, then you’re driving him into debt. Total drivel! We’vealways given and have always shared everything, because that’s how it’salways been done. Even the staff gave us cigarettes. But after thisedict some kind of idiocy started to take place.

In short, they punished Khodorkovsky specially the second time too.
I can’t imagine that every convict in every Russian colony is carrying out this edict.

The third incident was the one with convict Kuchma. Yevgeni was hisname. He was with Khodorkovsky in the 8th detachment. I’ve known him along time. Kuchma lived in Chita before the colony. Now, rumor has it,he’s in another “zone”.

“The situation, as I understood it, was like this: Kuchma hadentered into a conflict with certain criminals. And he needed to comeup with a reason for them to transfer him to another “zone”. I don’tknow if he thought of that himself, to stab Khodorkovsky, or if someonesuggested it to him. But it worked. He stabbed Mikhail, and theytransferred him to another colony. They didn’t even throw him in thepunishment isolator. But they let fly a rumor that Khodorkovsky hadpaid him 500 dollars to create such an incident, so that Khodorkovskywould end up looking like a martyr.

Dozens of commissions came to the colony after they’d broughtKhodorkovsky there. So Yevstratov had no chance to hold on to his jobas chief of the colony. I heard that they’re already locking up some ofthe staff too. This has to do with the fact that their relations amongeach other have gotten more brutal. They’re all being searched,stripped down to their underwear. It didn’t used to be that way. Beforethey could probably even bring an elephant into the “zone” for theprisoners. No more. And after they’re fired, they’ll never be able toget a job as a cop anywhere else ever again.

Yes, I know that Khodorkovsky is now sitting in the investigativeisolator in Chita. Different people have different feelings about him.I’m positive about him, because I’ve had a chance to talk with him andsee what he’s like in real life. He told me how he’d earned his money.People will never understand this. They don’t believe that you can earnbig money honestly. And then there’s those who think that this is alljust politics, that he’s an opponent of Putin’s.

I got early release. I literally bough my release with camouflage.I sewed a good uniform, and they did the documents for me for this.

Now I’m married to a woman with children, I’m busy with the house.If everything will be normal, we’ll have our wedding in the summer.