On August 17, 2012, the Judge of Moscow's Khamovniki District Court Marina Syrova classified the “punk prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour as grave offense and convicted Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina under Part 2 Art. 213 (“hooliganism committed by a group of persons, a group of persons in a preliminary conspiracy, or an organized group...”) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, and each was sentenced to two years imprisonment in the general-security women's corrective labour colony.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is serving the remainder of her two-year sentence in the IK-14 women's penal colony in the Republic of Mordovia. Maria Alyokhina is in IK-28 women's penal colony in the Perm Region.
Nadezhda TOLOKONNIKOVA: “I'm not angry with anyone”.
— I attended almost every single day of your trial at the Khamovniki Court. I often think of Judge Syrova. Do you?
— No, I don't. Not at all, she's this kind of grey page for me.
—Hold on, this “grey page” did put you away for two years.
— That's OK.
— At this “grey page” is out there, free, and you are in here.
— And Jesus Christ died.
— So you don't feel any anger or malice towards her?
— Not at all, I don't feel any anger towards Judge Syrova. I'm not really angry with anyone. I have some kind of desire for justice, and I am hurt that it sometimes it doesn't happen. But anger is not the feeling I have right now.
— Nadezhda, and in this situation – what would be the justice for you?
— Justice is built up from every second and every moment of life. But if we're talking about the courts, then justice will definitely be a complete absence of criminal conviction. I don't believe that our actions had anything criminal about then, as we don't have any religious hatred or enmity. I think it's very obvious.
Pussy Riot and the Bible
— Do you regret what you have done back then, in the cathedral?
— No, I don't. How can you regret something like this?!
— After this trial Pussy Riot became an internationally known band. But now Pussy Riot is being mentioned less and less, and there's this information that you are not interested in the future of Pussy Riot.
— At the moment I'm doing other things.
— Like what?
— I sew. I was told that in a bit I'll be sewing half-woolen coats for the officers of the Federal Correction Service. I won't say that all other matters stopped interesting me – my social or political life, or the general life stuff, but I do understand that right now I've no influence on the particular destiny of Pussy Riot. So there's no point in torturing my own heart with the thoughts of Pussy Riot. So now it's less of a concern.
Besides, this band is anti-hierarchy, it doesn't have any leaders or faces, for that matter. So if its former member, former at the moment, meaning me, is in prison, the band just fully passes into the hands of others. I've no influence over what these people do, and how. They can create and reinvent the band however they like. I can only advice, as a person in some way related to this band. But apart from that – they are free to do whatever. I can tell me: guys, don't (for example) commercialize the band, but I can't forbid this. I'm against any kind of forbidding anyway, I've this libertarian approach in this way. I believe that people should do whatever they like, and I can only advice this or other.
— Did you advice Yekaterina Samutsevich not to commercialize?
— Samutsevich doesn't anyway. She doesn't need advices. I think she's a very ideologically correct, leftist artist, she's stick to this line.
— Nadezhda, do you feel any kind of pressing here in the colony?
— No, not really, no pressing. I feel pressure from the Russian state, but not from the colony.
I would also like to add something to that question whether I regret anything. I find the wording of this question a bit wrong – the whole drama of this initiative was created artificially, created artificially by the Russian mass media, Russian state propaganda which represented us as some kind of blasphemers, hooligans and God knows what else. But in reality it was an ironic, fun, and also reckless action, like a heart-cry of our political hearts – which, however, was meant as completely ironical, funny. It wasn't dramatic in its nature, the drama was thrown into it later. For some reason they decided to cut out some bits, didn't show the entire song, the meaning of the song got completely lost, they didn't say that the song was called “Mother of God, Drive Putin Away” and our gesture was represented as some kind of militant atheism. And of course this interpretation really pains me, I'm afraid when I'm being called a theomachist, yet it also is something of a shared destiny of all the people interested in the ways and fates of religion, and in particularly of the Russian Orthodox Church. Berdyaev was also convicted and even put away for a term, for being an alleged theomachist, blasphemer; and even Dostoevsky, his conviction stated that he's being accused of “fighting against God and against the Orthodox Church”.
— Yesterday you told me that the philosophy books that you had in the pretrial custody, the whole lot of them, you donated to this colony's library.
— Yes. So that people can read them.
— And do they?
— Yes, they do. They read Slavoj Žižek.
— Did you tell them about this philosopher?
— No, I don't think that these books require any special presentation. Slavoj Žižek's Violence is in itself quite a noticeable book, not least because of its provocative title. Žižek is very fond of provocation, and fond of Pussy Riot – that's why perhaps. I heard that those who have read this book liked it. The only two books I'm keeping on my bedside now are the Bible and Berdyaev's The Russian Idea.
— To tell you the truth, when you say “Bible”, I feel like asking: why Bible?
— You are asking this question because, as I see it, you also got a little caught up in this state propaganda. Our actions were more pro-religion, rather than anti-. And it's something so obvious for me. For me it was a very natural progression from everything I've read before, everything I was thinking – I've a very profound interest in the Russian religious philosophy, at some point I was reading a lot of Berdyaev, Soloviev, Merezhkovsky, these circles that used to gather in the early XX century. Then Rosanov – they used to meet with the representatives of the Orthodox Church, demanding modernisation of the Orthodox Church. And even back then the Church people used to take it all quite badly, negatively. No modernisation happened. And I just feel that I'm carrying on this tradition of the Russian philosophers, so Bible is quite an organic part of my life.
Besides, I rather sympathize with the Protestant ideas that first of all you have to turn to the original sources, the Church not just as the hierarchy, but the original source, the original revelation.
— Nadezhda, you said that you have registered to visit the church here. Is it to talk to your priest, or for something else?
— I would like to see the local church. It's here, in the territory of the camp.
— And why can't you just visit in on any day?
— Well, perhaps because they need to have a regulated amount of visitors at one time. And then, any movement around the colony is structured and regulated. I would like to see the church, and also meet the priest – I heard there are two of them there. I would like to attend their service. I might manage in January.
— Just as a cultural factor? Not as a person who's looking to turn to the religion?
— I really can't take its ritual side, because so many people fall into some sort of household religion, this kind of hypocrisy, and even Jesus himself condemned this. As for faith – it's a complex thing. I'm rather a believer than not, but precisely out of this fear of the hypocrisy I'll never, or at least, I think never, you can't really say for certain, but at least any time soon going to get Christianized.
— People say that in the detention zones many turn to religion, because there's nothing to hope for, apart for god.
— In terms of my self-awareness, nothing has changed since when I was free. So, I won't say that ending up in prison has suddenly turned me into a religious person. I always had a holistic perception, I've always known that there must, most probably, be some kind of destiny, some call it god, you can call it different names, someone will call it Allah. I tend to call it destiny. And this clear sense of destiny has been with me pretty much always, all my conscious life – so, since I was 13 or 14.
The Zone of correction
— Nadezhda, what's the hardest thing for you here, in the colony?
— The hardest thing has to be not being able to really immerse myself in a book.
— You don't have the time, they don't let you just have some time to yourself?
— Well, how to explain? Here there is a schedule, a routine, common for all things. I would say everyone is pretty much in the same situation, so I wouldn't put it as a complaint. These are the rules of living in a colony, that's it. Then again, if something is to be changed in the penal system – it has to be done on the legislative level. Just changing, correcting the people who end up in this system – it must happen differently. So it's necessary to go the State Duma and start changing these things there.
— Nadezhda, what do you think you'll be doing after you are released?
— I don't think my life and activities would change dramatically. Art and politics, as before.
— Are you gonna finish your degree?
— Yes, naturally, I will graduate. I'll try to do a Ph.D. after that, I think.
— In the Moscow University?
— Yes, I think I'll go to MSU. Well, I don't know how it's gonna go with them, because it is after all quite a mainstream, pro-State university, fully controlled by the State. But I'm hoping we'll find some kind of solution with them. I'd like to continue studying at the MSU, because of certain very interesting staff members, we've already started collaboration together, and I'd like to continue working with them.
— Can't you finish studying while you're here? Distant learning or something like that...
— I deeply dislike all things formal and official. I don't need a paper certificate, I need the time spent with the people whom I find truly interesting. If it can be done in the shape of formal education at the university – then yes, but just the certificate is not something that's so important for me, I don't need any formal state-issued proof of my achievements. I'm my own judge in this respect.
— Nadezhda, how are your relationship with the other inmates in your work team, or in the colony in general?
— Quite OK.
— How did they receive you? I've read that they call you “Madonna's Girlfriend”.
— Nobody calls me “Madonna's Girlfriend”; we haven't talked about Madonna or anything like that at all. This place has its own, particular life, everyone lives the colony life. It's the prose of life, everybody talks about the things that are normally discussed here, so neither Madonna, nor, for that matter, my case, came up much. People do have questions sometimes, but the easy ones. When I first came here, a lot of people were saying that if I come here I'd be beaten up on a daily basis, because people here are very religious, and I'm this evil, nasty anti-religion person. In reality, the question about my attitude to religion never came up.
— Another rumour I heard is that some inmates who have been here for a while already and have a bit of authority here took you under their wing and protect you.
— No, I can't say I noticed anything of this. I was told that there is information that Evgenia Khasis is taking care of me, but of course, that's not true at all. I ran into her several times here, we exchanged a few words, but no more than that. She lives in a different division and works in a different workshop, so it's completely excluded – any such contact. After I've found out that there is this word out there, I came up to her and told her, she said that she's very surprised by such information and will ask her lawyer, the one who gave that interview, to repeal these statements. Because she knows that it's complete nonsense.
As for any other individuals, nobody has taken me under their wing; I live here like any other newcomer.
— And the thing known as “checking in” at the Zone... People say it's always a very painful process.
— I can't say I feel any particular attempts to test me. The only thing that sways the air here a bit is when some certain newspaper ends up here, and the attitude may sway from positive to negative, but literally in a matter of few days it all subsides. The problem of so many people is that they don't have the ability to look at the mass media in a critical way, and take everything and anything that's written at face value. For example, they wrote once that I took part in the “How to Snatch a Chicken” action. And it's useless trying to explain that no, I didn't take part in it. People believe what they read. Then again, this magazine won't write about any of the deeper meanings intended by the St. Petersburg collective Voina when they were staging this action, nobody explains to people what is modern art, how to approach it, who were the Viennese Actionists and who is Oleg Kulik. So everything is taken out of its proper context, and in these moments, of course some stuff is possible...
— Do you explain anything to them?
— I've tried explaining, but it's quite difficult to do. It can be explained using some examples from the cinema, or video, for example.
— Nadezhda, I also heard that some sort of photocopies of your photo during the action in the Museum of Biology are circulating here.
— Well, of course. Newspapers wrote about that. People know that it happened. But I just told the people that I've nothing to be ashamed of – yes, I did take part in the action, it was a political action, a modern art action, a politically-charged action of the collective, and there's nothing shameful about it, not in the slightest. We go to shower and see each other naked here.
— Shower is once a week?
— How do you manage the rest of the week?
— It's OK, you get over it.
— But only cold water?
— Yes, we only have cold water.
—No hot water?
— And what other household difficulties do you find here? Well, apart from the water and that you can't use showers every day?
— Oh, you know, I can't say I'm that much concerned with this household stuff. I'm quite ascetic, myself, household is the least of my concerns.
— And food?
— Food is OK.
—So you've normal food?
— Yes, the food here is quite bearable, you can eat it without any harm.
—Nadezhda, did you manage to break the rules while you've been here?
— Not in the colony.
— In pre-trial detention?
— I did one thing – I tried passing my diary to my lawyer, turns out you can't do that.
I'm in no hurry
— I have a question regarding your statement about suspended sentence. I read that you've applied in November. Have they set the date yet?
— No, they haven't.
— And what's the explanation?
— Well, I guess they didn't have enough time to receive all the necessary documents. To tell the truth, I'm in no hurry.
— But, Nadezhda, if you're in no hurry, why did you apply at all?
— You see, it's not up to me. It's that thing called destiny.
—So you're a complete fatalist?
—Not a complete one, naturally, or else I wouldn't be sitting here, I'd be sitting somewhere at home, in my warm kitchen. There are moments to do certain things, and the moments when these actions won't have any useful consequences, so I'm not too bothered where it's going to be the 16th or the 19th (of February). To tell the truth, I've certain forecasts about the court's decision, so...
—You don't believe?
— It doesn't matter on which particular day of February I get my refusal.
— What do you think, the case of looking for extremist subtexts in your music videos, would it reach the courts?
— I tend to not think about it.
—At all? So you don't care whether your term is gonna get longer or not?
— I do care, but again, it's one of those cases where one shouldn't think of the difficulties before they arrive. When the case starts, then I'll think about it.
But the truth is, I'm quite tired of thinking of this punk-prayer “Mother of God, Drive Putin Away” at all. Because I think people talked about it too much. You just can't spend that much time thinking about one particular project, when you already wanna go and do other, new ones and forget the previous one. And these constant reminders, including coming from the state authorities, of our past works – they are getting quite tiresome. I think it's already been almost a year of the constant milling over and over of something people want to forget, get rid of, ban, and it's just this constant reminder, including this story with giving the Pussy Riot's videos a status of extremist works – it's, on the contrary, another attempt to show it to as many people as possible. So this is getting quite annoying.
— So you want people to stop talking about this action?
— I think enough has been said about it. Maybe some deeper study is required here, maybe some deeper philosophical study conducted by someone, maybe even by me, but for that they'll have to leave me alone. But right now it's not something I can be doing.
— By leave alone you mean free you?
— Yes. But so far it just continues in the same mode, as it was since last March. So for an entire year there's this certain persistent attempt to force our creative works onto as many people as possible. And at that no real attempts are made to understand it, moreover any such attempts are being ferociously cut down – on the federal level it's all presented in these base tones, black-and-white, and that's what's so annoying.
— I sew inserts. Inserts are these things used to pad coats, jackets – in other words, inner padding. The operation is called “Quilting”. The coats are called, I think, “Baltica”, but soon we'll be making different ones. Before that we were making jackets “Meteor”.
—How many do you have to quilt in a day?
—What was your salary for the past month?
— For the past month I got 350 roubles.
—But that seems so little.
— Well, I don't know, maybe. That's after they've deducted the money for utilities, food, clothes. Newcomers always have a very low salary, because you have to pay off for the uniform.
— So you had to pay for this coat (issued by the colony)?
— Yes, well, meaning, I'm paying, it's like I took it on credit.
—And how much does it cost?
— Around 900 roubles.
— And the headscarf as well?
— How much is the headscarf?
— 150, I think.
— And the shoes: yours or from here?
— Yes, I had some visitors recently, they brought me some warm shoes, not from here, so since then, about a week, I'm wearing these.
— And before that you were wearing the ones from here?
— I was.
— And what were those shoes made of?
— I don't know how is this material called, I think synthetic leather.
—Were they cold?
— Quite cold.
Sewing through my fingers
—Nadezhda, do you find it hard, working as a seamstress?
— You know, I never really asked myself that.
— Do you get tired?
— The thing I did ask myself was: why in the detention zones they insist on always making people sew, why is the correction system constructed in such an imperfect way, that there is not alternative at all. Why can't you do something else that might suit you better, in terms of your education or temperament?
— What would you do, if they gave you a choice?
— I heard that in Perm they were trying to make animation. I would have liked that.
— Yes, they did have that project.
— There are many other things I could do, just no sew.
—You don't like sewing?
— It is a bit of a specific task. I can do it, I've learned how to, I can learn to do anything, I was a star-student at school, I'm good with learning new things.
—Nadezhda, what happened to your hands? I remember seeing you in the court room, and you had such neat hands. What happened?
— Back then I was in pre-trial detention. I think a lot of beginner seamstresses have hands like this, it's not something to do specifically with the Zone, it's more to do with the person sitting at the sewing machine. At least at the beginning, I think. Then you probably learn to do it differently, in some way... Sewing through your fingers is very normal. People who have been here sewing for whole five years sew through their fingers just like I do.
— Is it because you have to sew really fast?
— You have to sew fast, of course. Because you don't feel like letting the team down.
— Did you ever let the team down?
— Well, maybe at first. But now I'm quite fast.
— Did you get told off for that?
— Well, they weren't too happy about that. I wouldn't call it properly telling off. Naturally, they understand that I'm new and can't sew properly, but you can really feel it – this annoyance, this tiredness, so you just don't feel like complicating their lives even more.
Lotus to zone out
— I want to sew fast not because I'm afraid to be told off – that's less of a concern for me, because I can always use my meditative practices and go into a lotus pose, figuratively speaking, and go on sewing, while I'm completely detached from the fact that someone is annoyed with me.
— Do they let you do the lotus pose?
— Only figuratively speaking. In that moment you're still sewing, but you're completely detached, zoned out as they call it here.
— Do they zone out a lot here?
— I do it almost all the time.
— Thinking your own thoughts?
— Yea, somewhere in a different land.
— Does it make it easier?
— Of course it does. And when you are late with something, the rest of the team get really upset, because, naturally, they will also be late because of this person.
— What punishment does the team get?
— Well, we've always managed in time, so I don't know yet.
— I heard that the prisoners can get sent out into the drill field…
— I heard that too, but because I've never seen anyone being set out like this yet, I can't really tell…
— Do you sing songs when you are marching with your team?
— We don't really march. I mean, we just walk, move along. I was told that they used to, before, but not anymore.
— Do you Skype with Peter and your daughter often?
— It's not Skype, it's just a phone, with no video. We talk almost every day. It depends on them, how they book it. They book every day. In general, a prisoner has a right to 15 minutes of phone conversations every day.
— And you talk every day?
— And with your daughter too?
— Yes, of course. I spoke to her today on the phone, she recited a poem for me. She's amazingly artistic, much more than me, so I find it even hard to imagine what's gonna happen when she grows up. I think Russia will shudder.
—What did she recite?
— A poem about a hypo, a bulldog, something of Daniil Kharms. She has a very good taste. We read together, she likes Kharms. Kharms is this kind of person with whom we feel inner kinship. Although his fat was much more tragic than mine.
And in conclusion I will say…
— Nadezhda, I would like to tell you that many people worry about your fate, it's true. And maybe there's something you'd like to tell these people, everyone who sincerely supports you?
— I would like them to be doing something about the political situation in Russia. Because I can't see how I can be helped right now, realistically, apart from maybe writing me a letter. I don't need any care packages, because we've agreed with the people I'm close with, including my family, that they will be taking care of packages. It' just – there's a rather complicated bureaucratic procedure for receiving packages, including having to leave work for a bit, to receive it all in person. So, it's easier to get one from my guys, and that's enough. But letters always make me happy. All in all, if people really do empathize, and if they have some strong feeling on this matter, I'd like them to let it out and channel into changing the political situation in Russia. And how – that's everyone's personal choice.
— Anything you'd like to tell President Putin?
— Not really, no, he doesn't exist for me, he's more like a blank space.
Maria ALYOKHINA: “Colony works to form slave-like mentality in people”
— Maria, why do you have so many reports in the colony?
— The thing is that in our colony we have to get up at half six. But I'm at the “safe place”, it's just a disciplinary containment room, just equipped with a power socket, and I'm allowed to keep my personal belongings there. But in essence I'm being kept in a ward-type room. And the wake-up call there happens like this: I'm locked behind a reinforced door, a warden comes to this door at five-thirty in the morning and says “Wakey!”. And in that moment I didn't get up, because I simply didn't hear it, I woke up only when the door opened, at 5.45 am, and the warden came in. I got up immediately and, of course, apologized and tried to explain, but the report was still made, alas.
— So you can't hear when you are being woken up?
— I didn't hear back then, no.
— And you don't have a clock or an alarm-clock in your room?
— I didn't back then. The thing is that this entire procedure – recording of violations and the subsequent disciplinary commission – is quite stressful, because you find yourself under severe psychological pressure, and it's generally humiliating, I suppose.
— Pressure in what way?
— The disciplinary commission happens like this: an inmate is called to a certain room, the chairman of the commission is sitting at the table, and there about 20 more officers in the room as well. The purpose of such disciplinary commission is to find out whether the violation mentioned in the report did take place or not. But in reality it's quite the opposite. Several officers, all interrupting each other and first of all me, start telling me that I'm not behaving correctly, and whatever facts or explanations I might have, are just plainly ignored.
— What started the conflict which led to you being moved to that safe place?
— In my opinion it's a provocation on the part of the operative unit of the corrective colony's administration.
— Why do they do this?
— They did it to keep me isolated from the other inmates, so that I don't have any comprehensive idea of what's really going on in the colony.
— Why would they need to do something like this? Is something happening, something you shouldn't know?
— Yes, it is.
— What exactly?
— Well, here there are plenty of violations of the human rights, the lot: the conditions in the dormitory, salary, how the wardens treat ordinary inmates (not me). Starting from always addressing us in quite an informal, if not over-familiar way. As you might know, colonies used to have Discipline and Order Sections, which used to supervise the matters of discipline. The officers used to maintain order through the inmates. But later these sections were officially dismissed (DOS were banned by the order of the Ministry of Justice in 2010 – E.M.), but they weren't dissolved in actual reality. And now such functions are performed by certain inmates.
— How did the conflict in your division begin?
— After the quarantine I was placed in my division. And after that, two days later, even less, five more people were moved there too from other divisions (not from the quarantine), they were the inmates who have been there already for a while, and I know for sure that some of them have a contract with the administration.
— What exactly is this contract?
— They work for the administration. As far as I know, it's a written contract.
— What are the terms of this contract?
— In exchange for what?
— A privileged position — in terms of treatment from the wardens, in terms of being able to move about the colony, in terms of the position itself, linked to this Discipline and Order Section.
— What are the names of these women?
— Their names are Kochur and Ivanova.
—Maria, did the threats come only from these two women?
— Yes, of course.
— Were there any threats from officers of the colony?
— Oh, not at all, of course. The officers have other ways, they don't need threats. As I'm currently in isolation, I can't really make a comprehensive picture, but the statements of these women (Kochur and Ivanova), who came up to me, were filled with rather coarse logical contradictions. At first, they came to me and offered to do a joint hunger strike protesting against them being transferred to this division against their will. But this was just their cover story. And later, when I said that I think I'm being pressured and I don't want to talk to them, they have already changed their position, it was literally a matter of a couple of minutes. And then they began with their threats, including threats of physical violence.
— How did they sound, these threats, Maria?
— Well, a lot of obscene language. Essentially coming down to: if you stay in this division – you're done for.
— Were you afraid of hearing this?
—So why did you ask to be moved to the safe place?
— The thing is that I went to the warden to clear up the situation a bit. This was at around 8 pm, and the head warden wasn't there. And as I was in that division only since two days, I was quite lost, with all those things happening around me. So when I came to the officer, he just dictated this statement to me. He explained what a “safe place” was. He explained that a certain inmate can be placed there for up to 90 days. But I was told that I'm gonna be placed there while some sort of inspection of the facts was taking place. But this inspection ended up, as far as I know, (again, no written results were shown to me) with them declaring that I'm in danger, from a series of inmates, again, no names, no explanations, so I have to be kept in the safe place.
“Safe place” according to the officer.
—These two women who came up to you – Kochur and Ivanova, – did they express any opinions regarding your actions in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour?
— Did they say that they were Christian and were insulted by your actions?
— No. Their complaints revolved around the fact that after I've arrived at the colony, in their opinion (which has some reasonable grounds, I think), the administration began to reinforce the regime. They didn't like it. As far as I know, Kochur and Ivanova, they are together...
— You mean, they are acouple?
— I think so. They needed to end up in the same division. I think there was some kind of agreement with the administration. These people have already spent many years in the colony, and there's just their personal interest, and the administration has its personal interests. At a certain point (this point being me) their interests crossed paths.
— Maria, as far as I know they both got five days in disciplinary confinement?
— Well, yes, I was working on that.
— Is this enough, you think?
— No, it's not enough. They weren't punished right away, they were punished only after I got in touch with a human rights attorney, and wrote to the prosecutor's office.
“Putin looks good on TV”
— When you've arrived and were with the division for those few days – did the women express any opinions on your actions in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour?
— Well, it was all quite like an interview. I was talking about our political position and was explaining the concept of the band. Some were supportive, said that we were doing the right thing, that we were the only ones openly going against Putin. The proud words. But the thing is, among the inmates too often there is a lot of flattery, base compliance, hypocrisy. But there were some definitely sincere words form the sincere people, I could see it. Many were confused, puzzled as for why we don't like Putin. One girl expressed it quite interestingly, she said: Putin looks good on TV, what's your problem with him. For example, Medvedev didn't look so good on TV, so it's good that he's not the president any more. That's the general level of conversations, and that's sad.
— Were there any who criticized your performance? Did they say that they are Christian and they feel offended – did any women express this kind of reaction?
— No, quite the opposite, quite often I met rather ironic opinions of the members of the Church.
—When these 90 days in the safe place are over, are you afraid or rejoining the division?
— As far as I'm aware the administration doesn't have any particular goal of returning me to the division.
— Did the administration tell you anything about that?
— Indirectly. I'm not so eager to get back there, myself.
— Are you afraid?
— No, I'm not.
—Why not so eager then?
— The conditions in the dormitory. A division has around 100 people, half of which are constantly around you. It's noise and complete inability to have a moment to yourself. Being in the division, it's impossible to read, impossible to concentrate, impossible to write anything. You live in a constant work mode, they just constantly load you up with work. If you are not working in the factory (many of us work up to 12 hours), you are put to do the compulsory household tasks, meaning throwing snow. In the end by the time it's evening you're just flaking out.
IK-28. Four toilets for one hundred inmates
— What do you do in your cell?
— I read. The books my friends send me. I am going to do a readers' conference, it's like a lecture, about the 20's-30's, political collectives which used to exist back then, about the fate of those people, many of them were victims of the repression.
— Where are you planning to hold it?
— So far there is the preliminary agreement that I will do it at the Polytechnic that I attend. I attend the Polytechnic, and sew for 8 hours. Mittens for the Russian Army. I see it as acquiring a new skill, it's interesting. Besides, it's a team of sorts, and an opportunity to observe how the institution works.
Mittens for the Russian Army sown by Alyokhina and other prisoners like her
— And in the Polytechnic, where you study with other girls, do you feel any threat there?
— Do they treat you normally?
—So in the mornings you get up at half six. Then after a bit you have breakfast.
— I make my bed. I cook myself, I don't eat what they offer.
— Is the food bad? Or is it because you're a vegetarian?
— Neither, actually. I prefer fresh products. I feel better this way.
— Do you buy these products, or they get sent to you?
— They get sent to me. There's this person in Berezniki, I write to him asking for the things I need. And loads of people send me packages. I want to really thank them all. For the New Year in one of the packages was a huge box filled to the brim with chocolates, colorful. It was really nice! I do get a lot of packages. Unfortunately, I don't even get to share with anyone, because I'm kept alone.
— So you don't have any issues with food?
— None at all.
—OK. Moving on. After that you go to study.
— Yes, at eight.
— From eight and until lunch. Then lunch. Do you cook for yourself?
— Yes, under supervision. Together with the supervising warden, I go to my cell, have lunch there, then together with the supervising warden go back to the Polytechnic. So all my movements around the colony are under supervision, I always have a warden by my side, which prevents me from talking to anyone.
— Do you want to talk to people?
— Of course I wanna talk to people. I wrote several complaints, that I want to participate in events, that I want to go to the common gym, that I want to participate in the public life of the colony. I got a written refusal.
— Maria, well, look here, you said yourself that you find it more comfortable, being in a single cell, because it's not like at the shared dorms. On the other hand, you want to communicate...
— Yes, it is a bit of a dual position, I understand. Well, if I get brought back to the division I won't protest at all, I'll take it as a natural fact, as the norm.
Ignorance, cowardice, betrayal, denunciations…
—What's the hardest thing for you here, in the colony?
— The hardest thing? The realization of how this system works, how it forms the slave-like mentality in people, how people obey. And these are not some isolated cases, this is the mass, in which there is practically no exceptions. Ignorance, cowardice, betrayal, denunciations — that's all normal here.
— I heard that these unfriendly attitudes from the inmates happened because you started pushing for your rights, complain that you don't get paid enough, that the scarves you get issued with are cold. The women didn't like that. Is that so?
— That's absolutely not true. The thing is, nobody liked that, but I was the one who went to the human rights activists, to the representatives of the Public Supervisory Committee, and at that I was alone. All the rest are afraid of going to them. I wrote to PSC already from the pre-trial detention in Perm, while I was being transferred. They were transporting me for a really long time, it took them a month for the phased transit from Moscow. And I didn't know when I would arrive, and to which colony. Do you know how that phased transit happens? You don't know where you're being taken, you don't know how long it's gonna take.
— Was the transit difficult?
— Well, not so much, in some ways it was fun. I got to see the pre-trial detention centres in several cities…
— Which one did you like most?
— I really like the one here.
— What's so good about it?
— It's such an old prison, I think it's very beautiful. The cell is very beautiful, like a scene from a Godard movie. Earthly-red walls. I like the place, it's very expressive. Shalamov was here. Vladimir Bukovsky was exiled to the Perm Region. It's as if this place keeps some kind of memories.
— But the colony-28 you don't like?
— Colony-28? Hardly I would have liked a colony even with a different number. I dislike the concept itself, I dislike the methods, I don't like that human rights here are a phrase used on par with something like “toilet mop”. That's what I don't like.
From the pre-trial detention unit I wrote to Sergey Isaev, head of the PSC in the Perm Region, saying that I must let my relatives know my whereabouts; that I need legal assistance; that I need a list of legal books and sources, which I can use to know certain things related to the criminal enforcement system. He personally came to the colony, when I was in quarantine. He came to quarantine (it's a separate barrack, similar to that of a division) and said that he'll be seeing us for personal matters in the club, in a private office. I went there and we had a very long conversation. Others went too, but while they were waiting outside, they gave up on their questions, because the administration had a chat with them.
— I don't know, I don't think the administration here will threaten, not that. But there are ways to convince a person, if you really want. I told him a lot about how we get cold scarves, and it gets really cold here, -30 and even lower, and these scarves are thin like muslin. And some don't have anybody to send them something from home, and I believe that the State must provide things like this, because it's people's health we are talking about. The same goes for the shoes, and the lack of hot water, and that at the division people can't wash their hair. I told him about the household staff. I couldn't tell him about the salary, because I wasn't working back then and wasn't aware of the salaries.
—How much do the women get?
— In cash? Sometimes 100 roubles, maybe 200. A good salary is 1 − 1.5 thousand roubles.
And then in an interview Mr. Isaev said that I don't position myself correctly, and that I didn't complain about anything. I felt quite hurt, because I've spent a good hour and a half to explain everything. I do value my time, and I believed that a public representative who is fighting for the right of the convicted inmates – he won't act like that. I was really upset. How is that possible?! But that's what he did, yes.
If I can bear it…
— And if you wouldn't have written any complaints, wouldn't have demanded your rights, etc. would the colony wards be treating you differently?
— I think yes, they would. I think with time it would have just subsided, they would have done everything possible to just consider me an ordinary inmate, or at least make it seem so. But in these conditions it's not possible any more.
—Maybe for you it would have been better to just be an ordinary inmate?
— Ordinary inmates in colony-28 don't write any complaints.
— No one at all, apart from you?
— As far as I'm aware, these are all single, very rare occasions. And everyone insists that the complaints don't leave the colony.
— As far as I understand, in women's colonies women usually don't complain, they are afraid to, unlike in men's colonies.
— Yes, and that's very sad. Unfortunately, there really is this tendency, alas. But I'm a woman, and I'm complaining. So things do change.
I will bear it all, nothing will happen to me. I am perfectly fine. If they try to pressure me, I'll go on a hunger strike and end up in disciplinary detention unit, nothing horrid will happen to me. I don't know what's all the fuss about here. Men get locked up in ward-type rooms, get sent “on the roll” (transferred from division to division), transferred from colony to another colony, they starve there, and nothing bad happens. How am I different from them? I'll try. At least, that would be some new experiences.
I don't understand where does this constant blind fear come from. Some people have to go through conditions way harsher than this. I'm not giving up on my ideas, and I will continue talking about them.
— Maria, what are your complaints about the colony?
— For starters, I'd like them to respond to the complaints I've already written, I'd like the prosecutor's office to start working, finally, and sent me written decisions resulting from the submitted complaints. Two complaints about officers opening and unlawfully inspecting the papers that I take to my lawyer. This violates Part 2 Art. 91 of the CPC RF. Then: the fact that my lawyer wasn't shown the materials from the disciplinary commissions, and the fact that neither was I. Then I would also like to get the written answers to the questions regarding certain household matters that I complained about, and results of investigations that took place when I was moved to the safe place. In other words, I'd like to receive these decisions from the prosecutor, the Federal Service for Execution of Punishment, the human rights attorney (for the Perm Region) in writing. But the human rights attorney has already done everything in his power (he has sent requests to the Federal Service for Execution of Punishment), and they can answer only after the FSEP and the prosecutor answer. They did it all by themselves, and I'm very thankful for that. So I'm waiting for the written responses. And if they aren't satisfactory, I'll complain again. Or I won't – if they do satisfy me.
Judge Syrova as a function
— Maria, do you think of Judge Syrova often?
— To tell the truth, I don't. I don't see her as a person, really... A figure, a function. It's very sad, that in our country a person is often only identified by one such function, but unfortunately I didn't get to see any manifestations of anything personal in her.
—Maria, what about when she wouldn't allow you to go to the toilet? And the dog? When you didn't have time to sleep, when you didn't have time to meet with your lawyer? Can you really forget all that?
— You can, once you see things that are even worse, here in the colony.
—But she was the one who put you away for two years.
— Well, other people do it in an equally disgusting way.
— Maria, maybe you've heard, Putin... You are smiling already?
— You're talking about the stuffed Jew's?
— No, it's not about the stuffed Jew. I'm talking about him saying that it's right that you got convicted and put away for a “2-spot”.
— Well, right now I do think that Feigin (Marc Feigin – former lawyer of Pussy Riot. –E.M.) was right, when at the cassational hearing he was asking to define him (Putin). Despite his status, he has no right to make statements like that in front of the court.
— A personal definition of Putin?
— Well, of course. What is he, not a RF citizen, or what? I agreed with Feigin.
I find myself in an informational siege…
— Maria, did you son come to visit you here?
— No, my husband did, my mum, my girlfriend. I decided that he's too little, he'll get used to me being there very quickly, and then having to separate once again will be traumatic for him, I think it will only make the situation worse, and first of all for him. So yes, I asked them not to bring him.
— What about video-calls?
— Yes, we talked.
— Did you tell him where you are?
— I told him the truth, he knows.
— That you are in a colony?
— Yes. Well, he doesn't know the difference between a prison and a colony. He calls it all prison.
— There are many people who support you and are sincerely concerned about you...
— Yes, I got so many good wishes for the New Year.
— Maybe there's something you'd like to tell them?
— First of all, many thanks for understanding us and for understanding that any letters, wishes, and type of attention in the colony is the most important thing that can be. I am, essentially, in an informational siege, and when an odd envelope breaks through it – it's great happiness. Nothing can be better.
Watch for Maria
— Maria, here's a wrist watch with an alarm-clock, take a look…
— Oh, thanks a lot, so cool.
— We just wanted to make sure they don't have any reasons, to...
— Well, as you can see, here in the colony we can't really rely on the Constitution...
— Giving you this watch and you wearing it was agreed with the head of the Perm Region FSEP…
— That's great. So they won't take it away during the search.
— …even in front of the Governor of the Perm Region.
— The thing is, if talking to junior officer I make a reference to the Governor of the Perm Region, or the head of FSEP, they would just laugh at my face, most probably.
— You're entitled by the law to wear a watch, just this one also has an alarm.
— That's really great. Thanks a bunch. These words that you are using here: “You are entitled by the law...”, you can't imagine the reaction of the colony's officers and wardens, when I say something like this to them. It's a grin, at best a smile. These are the words that in our country, unfortunately, have no real meaning. That's the saddest thing. Nothing is more burdensome than this thing, because it's everywhere. And when every single little element begins to work on this scenario, all this put together gives us the result that we have, and the situations of people that we have. People are very afraid, and especially here. I want everyone to know the amount of fear they are constantly in. And these base, these small methods used to manipulate them. This bloody parole. It all happens, and at such a large scale, that in effect it's one big crime, a prosecutable and punishable crime. And I believe, I hope, that one day, finally, these people will be charged and tried.
— Maria, do you regret what you've done at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour?
— No, not at all.
— Even despite the two years term?
— Absolutely, in spite of these two years. Or, if you wish, looking very closely, very carefully living every moment of these two years, every second – I don't regret anything.
* * *
Excerpt from material of a visiting session in the State FSEP in the Perm Region of the working group to promote the PSC and the reform of the penitentiary system of the Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights:
“On November 14, 2012, Alena Kochur, a repeatedly convicted inmate of the 5th division of IK-28, and Nonna (Valentina) Ivanova, a repeatedly convicted inmate of the 10th division of IK-28 were transferred to the 11th division, where the first time convicted women are being detained. On November 21, 2012 a convict Maria Alyokhina was transferred into the 11th division from the quarantine, which is a gross violation of prisoners' rights, because, according to Art. 80 of the RF Criminal Procedure Code, “a person sentenced to imprisonment for the first time shall be kept separate from convicted person, repeatedly sentenced to the deprivation of freedom”...
In an interview with the members of the Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights, the chief of IK-28 Internal Service Colonel Margarita Martynova explained why repeatedly convicted women are being held in the same division with the first offenders: “They (the repeatedly convicted) are the backbone of the division, for in order to avoid confusion and indiscretion among the “first-timers”.
Convicted offender Nonna (Valentina) Ivanova
42 years of, of which 22 spent in places of detention (convicted three times). At the moment convicted under Art. 228 CC RF (“Illegal Making, Acquisition, Storage, Transportation, Sending, or Sale of Narcotic Drugs or Psychotropic Substances”) and sentenced to 8 years in women's colony IK-28.
From the statements of N. (V.) Ivanova about the conflict with M. Alyokhina:
— We started talking to her, asking: why did you do that (in the Cathedral)? And she was just answering something else. Like, us here in the colony, we are being tricked, we're being deprive of everything, can't you see? That offended us. She just wasn't thinking who she was speaking to. The inmates in the Zone listen to us, pay attention to our words. So we said, who you think you are, coming here to decide our fates, how we live, who do you think you are? I understand that you're loaded there, so go get out of here yourself. There are a lot of people here, can't please everyone. We are each responsible for our own lives. Who cares, who lives and how. We're surviving. It's a colony here, not a resort or something. We get food, we get clothes, we don't run around barefoot, we sleep well, in the warm. What else can you want? If you look at it, more than a half here are homeless anyway, at least here they get fed and clothed. And the same salary, the same thousand, the same five hundred, the same sweets – they go buy their stuff, they see that, and out there, free, they don't see anything.
<…> Well, I believe that it's probably for the best, how it all happened to her. It's just, some of the convicts can be unrestrained, and you never know what might come to their heads next. I'm in here for the third time already. It's all child's play for me now. I'm probably used to all that by now. If I was here only for the first time, maybe... But now none of this bothers me. But my parole got taken away, because of Alyokhina. Now I'll have to do something, to get a reward. Do something public. Like stage a sketch, or write something, something of that sort.
I have siblings. No husband, no kids either. Here in the Zone I have a partner, Alena Kochur. We're partners, pretty much a family. We eat from the same plate, we've been friends for so many years already. We've met at the colony. I am a seamstress, I earn 2-2.5 thousand roubles. I make winter uniforms for the police. We keep up the regime, go to work – that's all we need, − the term is ticking, all is good. And now because of her it has all changed. We've been both waiting for our parole.
There have never been any problems with the other women, only with Alyokhina. 5 days of disciplinary detention I got because of her. How would I forgive her? I'm OK while I don't see her, I don't care. But if I do see her, I don't know, I can't tell what might happen to me in that moment. Honestly, I just can't tell. She (Alyokhina) really pisses me off. Nobody does like she. Maybe by the time I see her, I don't know what my reaction will be, I don't know, I can't tell. Right now I can tell that I might be doing just fine, and then I see her and I'll just get hysterical, or something, I might attack her, well I don't know, I can't tell.
I think she'd better stay in the safe place. Because if not me, then somebody else, or other. Might do something to her. Because they have heard about her at the Zone. Things might be different, but a person is known by the rumors. She won't survive at our Zone. There are a lot of people here, and they are all against her, all of them.
Convicted offender Alena Kochur
35 years old, of which 18 have been spent in places of detention (three previous convictions). At the moment convicted under Art. 105 CC RF (murder) for 19 years, detained in women's colony IK-28.
From the statements of A. Kochur about the conflict with M. Alyokhina:
— Alyokhina arrived, people started talking, I got curious. I started trying to find out, people were telling me things. Then I saw her and started talking to her. I really didn't like how she was acting. She is very arrogant. She was talking to me, and looking at me like I'm some kind of a plant. I was asking her questions, I was curious. Why did she go there? And she says to me: “What do you care? None of your business, why do I have to stand here and answer you?” So she comes here to the colony where I live already for 13 years. Right? I know everything here, it's my home, I live here. She comes to my home and starts pushing for her rights. We here have everything. Everything you need to live, to be a woman, we have it all. I don't get any packages from the outside. I live like I live, with my salary. I earn money, it's enough. One and a half thousand roubles. I'm a seamstress, I know the work well. I work 12 hours shifts. I earn money, not just go to sit on my ass in the factory, I earn money for myself, because I know that no one is going to come and bring me anything, and I want to live, have a life not worse than the others do. That's all.
So, as it went, I didn't ask, I just got transferred there (11th division). There I spoke with her (Alyokhina). Yes, the 11th has all the “first-timers”. Yes, I did threaten Alyokhina. I understand, they live out there free, they have money, they have everything. She comes to the Zone, she's gada live with the people, right? She gada live with us, she's got a term. So I was trying to explain to her, and she was just trying to humiliate me like some scum. I wasn't threatening her as such, I just didn't want to share a roof with her. I told her to go. I don't know where she could go. But she did go somewhere in the end, didn't she. I'm not gonna stay in the same room with her.
I got 5 days in the disciplinary. Now I don't have my parole, I'll have to earn it again somehow. There are all these social lifts. My term ends in 2018. It's another 6 years. I can't take this person, cut me. Tell me anything you like, I can't tolerate her, I've a reaction against her. And there's half the colony who thinks the same way.
You have to understand that here it's our world. She comes here, I understand, she comes here and she's never been here. When I come out maybe I'll find it all very hard too, no objection... I've no parents. No husband or children. I've siblings. Here I have people who are very dear to me, I do. With Ivanova we've been together for 10 years. We are practically a family. I am planning to come out with her. I've met here in the colony. Betrayal is the hardest thing in the colony. It's all over the place here. All over the place. It's so hard to find a person you can trust. And I do trust my girlfriend.
I can't, I'm just shaking. I'm not gonna beat her (Alyokhina) up. I'll just talk to her. Nobody has taken my right to speak. I'll speak, wherever I see her, I will speak. These might be the words that will take away my parole again. We're all prisoners here, right? I'll get punished for all this. I know, I will get punished. Yes, insulting another person, for example. I don't even have the right to call her names, but in moments like that I just don't control myself. I might just call her the word that she deserves in that moment. Honestly! Nobody has ever annoyed me as much as Alyokhina does. So I've this aggression.
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