Gaylen Grandstaff from the US is especially indignant with the rules in the Russian prisons and special aspects of framed-up criminal prosecution in bad Russian mixed with English. He is held in a cell on the same floor as me. When a warden takes me for a daily walk, we pick up the American, which gives us a chance to talk along the way and while waiting for the meeting. Gaylen is the same age as me: he is 53 and looks very fit, not worse than me before the hunger strike. In the US, Grandstaff had worked as a firefighter, but he had to quit his job because of some backbone issues. In 2007, he married Anna from Russia, who is 31 now, and they have been living in Moscow for the last six years. Gaylen is from New York, and his parents are from Texas. He has a 31-year-old son born in the previous marriage. He is American and lives in South Caroline with his two sons, which means that Gaylen Grandstaff already has two grandchildren. In addition to fitness, the American guy has some more hobbies: growing violets and cooking. He is a Christian and keeps praying from early morning till late evening. He always carries the English to Russian dictionary to talk to the people around. He obviously feels absolutely vulnerable and helpless here, despite his athletic built with the strong muscles. 

Gaylen has been accused of smuggling drugs because of the order he placed with the Chinese online store for the cell regeneration peptide and the cleansing liquid for the metal containing gamma-butyrolactone, which can be used to produce a psychoactive substance.

In 1994, Gaylen was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. In a few years of hormonal treatment, he found out that peptides continue remission and relieve the symptoms.

Gaylen had never taken psychoactive substances before, the medical examination found no addiction, and he is very negative about drugs in general. 

Gaylen Grandstaff has been held in Vodnik, the fifth detention centre, for a year, and he might be sentenced for up to 20 years for smuggling drugs. When I was in Vodnik in June, I heard of that American. He was held in the minimum-security cell, 19 people in cell 414, in terrible conditions with real criminals. Gaylen was beaten up in the cell twice.

I was in the fifth special unit in Vodnik. Cells there are not overcrowded, with hardly any violence. Prisoners with Gaylen’s charges are generally held in the special unit. They obviously wanted to make his life harder by placing him into the terrible environment. According to Grandstaff, the field officers demanded from him to refuse from the American citizenship in exchange for a more lenient sentence, but he refused. Then he was transferred to Krasnaia Presnia, the third detention centre, where he will return right from the hospital.

As soon as he had been detained, he was proposed to tear his American passport in exchange for freedom. The proposal was made again after he had been in prison for a long time. If Gaylen had treated that proposal from a more pragmatic point of view, with no emotions, he would probably have been released long ago. However, I have no right to give him advice: I also gave way to my emotions, overestimated my power and opposed Lesnaia disposal site, ran for the election, posted my video address, and paved my own way to prison by refusing to hear advice by “grand” people.

Still, when I hear such stories as the one by Gaylen Grandstaff, I feel better. He might get 20 years of prison settlement for a parcel worth 11 thousand roubles, and I am threatened with half of a sentence after everything I have done. 

The TV in our cell is always mute and shows Channel 5. The screen shows the time and temperature outside all the time. There are TV series about brave investigators and field officers getting evidence, often risking their life and demonstrating excellent intelligence, on this channel almost around the clock. My cell mates and me know for sure that the picture in the Russian movies has nothing to do with the reality. No chases, shooting or long-term collection of evidence, deduction methods in investigation, moral sufferings by the interrogating officer, criminal villains and other cinema fairy tales.

The first thing most law enforcement officers do, from district officers to generals, is looking for how to earn money. 

Take Grandstaff’s case: it is common knowledge that drugs are sold under the guidance of Federal Drug Control Service and its senior authorities rather than by gangs. Moreover, the control is absolute, even minor sellers have their “support” (I will tell about it later in more detail). Every profitable area is “guided” by the law enforcement authorities. 

For instance, carriage of bulk cargoes, such as chips, sand and gravel, is totally controlled by the road police. The tip trucks carrying inert materials in accordance with the standards cannot compete with the road police officers’ vehicles carrying the double weight instead of the permitted one. The tip truck fleet almost in any Russian city belongs to the road police officers.

Let me say that there is a minority of officers similar to cinema heroes, especially in the Federal Security Service, those for whom honour, Motherland and justice are more than mere words, although they understand how terrible our law enforcement system is. I would call them white crows. 

The real life has no search for evidence or long reflections to expose the criminal patterns. Everything is very simple. All the operating and search cases, analytical certificates and other evidence used in the criminal case are framed-up in 90 % of cases. Nobody tries to think of complex wordings; they just copy the same text. Evidence generally is testimony by the people who are involved in the case; they are often imprisoned (or just threatened to be imprisoned) and then released in exchange for the testimony again the person they “need”, 

All the law enforcement officers know about this horror, nobody is ashamed of that, and many of them even boast. The main thing to be done by the investigator to imprison his suspect is to get the “political” approval from his boss. In this process, he can face additional challenges: for instance, his object might have connections in the prosecutor’s office or the Federal Security Service, which might hinder investigative actions. Then he or his boss has to try hard, make some arrangement, get a permission in exchange for other services involving other people. As there are hardly any verdicts of non-guilty in Russia, the quality of evidence of guilt has reached the indecently low level, and nobody knows when we hit the bottom. The tendency of further mitigation of necessary requirements persists.

I keep writing my prison stories, talk to lots of people from different prisons and prison settlements. I have so many materials that I can write the collected edition. Hundreds of sheets of paper are filled with notes, and I need several months of work to word it all up and present what I have in a book style.

The good thing about hospital is that there are prisoners from all the prisons of Moscow and prison settlements of Russia, several hundreds of people with different fates and tragic stories. Mostly, they are very intelligent people due to their age and opportunities. It is very difficult to get to hospital, even if you are dying.

After Lefortovo, this place feels like heaven. I manage to change my socks and pants every day, the same way as when I was free, and I wash my T-shirts every two days. There is a razor in the cell, so I can always have a shave. In Lefortovo, you get it only for some time. You can order cottage cheese, sour cream, fish from the restaurant1 and anything from the store of the Federal State Unitary Enterprise “Kaluzhskii” every day.

My cell mates Andrei and Ruslan rarely watch TV. They are very friendly and interesting people, who prefer reading. I have been sent lots of books about prisons in different world countries, both fiction and non-fiction ones. They are absorbed by those books and have been especially impressed by the auto-biographical novel by the French writer Henri Charrière Papillon. Henri was convicted of the murder and spent 12 years in different prisons of the world and doing hard labour in French colonies in the South America.

The walking yards are huge here: 20 to 40 square meters with no roof. Yesterday, on Saturday, 15 September, we walked for more than two hours. It was 22 decrees above zero, and the sky was cloudless. I have got a decent tan and feel like at the resort. A wasp flew into our yard and tried to sit on my shoulder. That minor event filled me with joy. An ordinary wasp buzzing causes lots of pleasant associations and memories. The greatest thing is that music is off in the walking yards, which is wonderful. Europe Plus was on in Vodnik. When you have to listen to 10 to 15 top hits all the time daily, you start going crazy; you even know the sequence of the songs. 

In Lefortovo, after I had complained, Europe Plus was substituted with Taxi FM, with more diverse music, more rock and Russian songs of different periods. Music in the walking yards is played loud so that there will be no “inter-cell communication”. It is done this way in all the prisons.

I have been diagnosed with lots of diseases. After the gastroscopic study, the doctor from Krasnogorsk found the duodenal ulcer. When I was on a hunger strike, my glucose level was fine even without pills, but now it exceeds the standard considerably. My ankle joints swell a lot by the evening because of the disturbed metabolism. The doctor says these are consequences of the hunger strike, and proteins are not ingested. My eyesight has deteriorated greatly in prison, and I cannot write without glasses anymore. I will not even mention my looks...


Another essential attribute of a Russian prison is maintenance staff hired by the detention centre out of the convicts with relatively short sentences. “Household criminals” (this is how prisoners call them) are treated without respect. Most prisoners believe it is beneath them. In Vodnik, they were called a “jerk gang”. In Matrosskaia Tishina, the maintenance staff made of 80 people live in separate unit No. 5, 12 people per cell, and the ones having a badge (who have served more than a half of the sentence) live in cells for six people, with a TV and a fridge in there. They have their own canteen and shower room. The “household criminals” are free to get around the detention centre. They are responsible for maintenance of the detention centre: they work as electricians, plumbers, welders, assemblers of surveillance equipment... The “household criminals” working in the dining facilities are called prison food makers. They wear a black uniform with funny caps and may wear a watch.

I see nothing terrible about their activity; moreover, a job must be given to anyone who wants it, the way it is done in Europe. Field and farm labour is especially popular there. I would be happy to do some physical labour in the open air now. I have not walked on green grass for three months.

As a rule, the prisoners from Moscow agree to work as maintenance staff despite the fact that it is much harder and more expensive to be released on parole than in prison settlements. Many agree to be closer to their home and family and avoid the blatnoy rules in prison for sure.

Every morning, afternoon and evening, I hear greetings and “enjoy your meal” from Viktor, a lively food prison maker, who had been imprisoned based on Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation “Drug Traffic”. It is the most common article in all the prisons, including among the “household criminals”. When our lock in the cell door was blocked, and we could not get in for a long time, the wardens kept trying all the keys they had in their huge bunch attached to the belt (exactly like in cartoon) for at least an hour and then claimed,

“We must call Artem from the maintenance staff.” 

He came and opened the lock with a screwer and a knife in two minutes.

“Are you a safe cracker?” I asked Artem.

“No, I have been convicted based on 228, drugs,” the “household criminal” said with a satisfied smile after the work he had done quickly.

Artem, Viktor and Vladimir (accompanying Artem from the maintenance staff) are all from Moscow and have been convicted of drug traffic. They tell me the latest household news of the central prison, but they are not interested in blatnoy tendencies. It is very pleasant to look at their work and positive attitude, especially the things done for the prisoners: giving out prison food, changing bed sheets, bringing orders from the store and the restaurant.


I get greetings from other prisoners almost every day. I was going back from the walk together with Iura Magadanskii (Kornyi), who passed on the best wishes from Governor of Komi Viasheslav Gaizer (they had been taken to court in prison truck together). Gaizer was in an optimistic mood, as usual, although he had a sad anniversary that day, three years of imprisonment. But he never bothers people with his problems. He says he is watching my life and my publications closely, especially when it comes to General of the Federal Security Service Tkachev. I do not really understand how a “black spot” for imprisonment of a governor is given. Viacheslav Gaizer has always been one of the leaders by all the ratings of economic development of the region and political stability.

The next day, my cell mate Ruslan Bashirov was taken by the warden to make a telephone call he had been allowed by the investigator of the Federal Security Service after his confessions. On the way there, he met his neighbour from the sixth special unit. Pavel Marushchak, the Head of the Information Directorate from Governor Gaizer’s Administrative Office, told about his court sessions where the witnesses who had testified against him and Gaizer confessed that the field officers had made them bear testimony under the threat of arrest. However, the judge ignored the fact that the testimony had been provided under the pressure by the law enforcement officers, and tried to confuse the witness with minor details. When he found out that Ruslan was my cell mate in hospital, Marushchak asked to say hello to Aleksandr Shestun and to express gratitude for daring publications he read, because they gave hope to all the detainees imprisoned “by order” and faith in the fact that the public stir would not allow concealing abuse and lawlessness by the court and investigative authorities.

Marushchak has four minor children, and his family has been declared to be the one of low income, which is the main distress for all the prisoners. All of my cell mates, Manashirov, Kubasaev, Bashirov and Murashev, are incredibly worried about how their children can be maintained and raised. All of us were breadwinners, and now we have turned into dependants and parasites taking away the money from allowances and pensions. Does the government not understand it?

When Murashev’s and Bashirov’s four-year-old children see a police officer in the street, they point at him and say,

“This man is bad, he has beaten up and taken away my Dad!”

Roman Manashirov is sure that his four sons will take revenge for the ruined life of their father; the same thought supports me as well. It turns out that the country is depriving them of the future by registering their father as a criminal; they will have to state it in all the questionnaires, which will turn them into public enemies. I will always remember my little Matvei hitting the bailiffs’ arms in the Basmannyi Court,

“Let my Dad go!”

This is a wound that will never close up in our children’s and our hearts. I will never forget the tears rolling down my son Vania’s cheeks when my arrest was extended, I will never forgive them for throwing my daughter Masha onto the floor and pointing at her with a gun, and I will always remember horror in Grisha’s and Matvei’s eyes when the bailiffs twisted my arms and pulled me from the children in the Basmannyi Court all together.


My children, wife, mother and brother are worried about the domestic inconveniences I face in the detention centre, but it also used to be one of the biased opinions about bad life in prison. In fact, the hardest thing is your emotional distress, the fact that you are unable to help your family because of your outcast status in the society. Some domestic inconveniences are the last thing that worries me.

Standard meals in prison are quite decent. In Vodnik, Lefortovo and Matrosskaia Tishina, you can survive without parcels from home and additional food from the store or restaurant. The prisoners from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan say that they did not eat so much tasty food even when they were free. I am not a fussy eater and eat prison food quite often. Its quality is quite satisfactory. In Vodnik, my cell mates often put me to shame for eating the prison food. In Lefortovo, Manashirov mostly refused from prison food.

Breakfast is porridge, a big piece of butter, and I am given half an egg a day and sometimes a cottage cheese pie as a diabetic patient. For lunch, we are given soup with pieces of decent meet, a second fish or meat dish, stewed fruit or fruit starch drink. Bread and sugar are given in unlimited quantities. Dinner is also quite edible. The main thing is that there is no fried or fatty food, which I cannot eat by the doctor’s advice.

The prices in the restaurant and store of the Federal State Unitary Enterprise “Kaluzhskii” servicing all the prisons in Moscow except for Lefortovo are affordable, and the range is huge. I order cottage cheese and sour cream, boiled eggs, perch, beetroot with dried plums, carrots, cottage cheese pie and cranberry, buckthorn and partridge berry fruit drinks from the restaurant. I buy all types of fruit and vegetables, greens, dried fruit, milk, yoghurt, sunflower oil, drinking water, chocolate, coffee, tea, cheese, ice cream, sweets, juices, spices, sauces and porridge from the store. Unfortunately, berries cannot be bought and sent in any form. We cannot eat watermelons, melons, raspberries, strawberries etc. An absolutely stupid rule with no reasoning. A good thing is that you can order housewares from the store without limitations: napkins, rubbish bags, shampoo, shower gel, tooth paste, cremes of all sorts, washing powder, dishes of all types and office supplies, everything you might need in the detention centre.

Paradox! When I was doing my military service in Saint Petersburg and then on the Kola Peninsula in the polar regions, I was admitted to the Leningrad Military Hospital in Suvorovskii Avenue three times because of the rheumatic attacks and I enjoyed my stay there although if you compare the conditions there with pink cell 726 in Matrosskaia Tishina, they were much worse. In hospital, we could not go outside to Saint Petersburg streets, and we had no winter clothes, hospital robes only. There were 12 people in a room, with the beds standing very close to each other. There was no TV or fridge, the food was much worse then in prison, and, of course, we could not buy anything in the store, let alone the restaurant. Only once, we bought a bucket of cucumbers and tomatoes in the hospital store together with a friend and made about ten litres of salad with sunflower oil, garlic and onions purchased at the same place. We ate the salad from the enamelled bucket in one go.

When I was there all those three times, I felt absolutely happy. I slept 14 hours a day and ate and read the rest of the time. I managed to read 300 to 500 pages a day because the information hunger during the military service increased my “appetite” for fiction literature.

When I was young, I absorbed numerous books, and all the librarians of Serpukhov knew me well. Also, I worked in the X ray office in the hospital and processed film in the laboratory; I sometimes washed the floor in the corridor or worked in the canteen.

In 726 cell, there is a TV with 25 channels, a fridge full of food, lots of books, nobody wakes us up in the morning to wash the floor in the corridor, but there is still no happiness... Moreover, we perceive out confinement as divine retribution and feel unhappy. You might ask, “What has changed?”

The main difference is the status of the detainee, the person who is not free to make his own decision about himself and his future and, which is more important, bears a heavy burden of responsibility for maintaining his family. Every day I am tormented by the thought how much money the state spends to hold me in prison, contrary to an ordinary prisoner with the monthly expenditures of approximately 40,000 roubles. As the most conservative estimate, at least 200,000 roubles are spent for me monthly, let alone work of courts, prosecutors, wardens, free mail and 16 investigators from my group. The confinement in Lefortovo is especially expensive because of the great numbers of staff, many more than prisoners themselves. Hospital in Matrosskaia Tishina is neither a cheap pleasure.

By strange chance, in Lefortovo and in hospital in Matrosskaia Tishina, I was held in the same cells 41 and 726 as Nikita Belykh. We both suffer from diabetes and are hated by the senior executives of Lefortovo.

The number of coincidences and overlaps is so big that every time I wonder what a small world it is. For instance, I saw famous Denis Tumarkin, and it turned out I had known him well before. Moreover, he had been in my office together with Aleksandr Shakovets, the Director of Turovskii State Farm. Aleksandr is the world powered paragliding champion and the man full of endless energy. It was him who brought his acquaintance, billionaire Dmitrii Mazepin to privatise the Federal Unitary Enterprise “Turovskii” (former Turovskii State Farm) he had purchased from the Federal Agency for State Property Management for the unspeakable amount. Shakovets was Mazepin’s course office in the Military Translator Institute.

Just like me, Denis Tumarkin had also been to Vodnik, Lefortovo and Matrosskaia Tishina, and told me lots of interesting facts about the local rules. Tumarkin, aka Dionisii Zolotov, knows all the twists and turns of my life, and I was surprised to hear his accurate assessment of the events happening to me.

Our conversation was joined by Ildar Samiev. It turned out I had also met him when I was free. As a deputy of the State Duma, Ildar was responsible for South Moscow Region on behalf of the Just Russia Party. Of course, we have many common friends and even common enemies. Samiev asked me why his former partner Manashirov had been sentenced for so many years. His version of the source of their problems and seizure of Columbus Mall is different. I am very happy that I had a chance to have a frank discussion with Ildar, especially given the fact that all of my acquaintances say he is a good man.

I see Samiev in the attorney offices every day. His defenders come daily, just like mine, although the attorney’s role in our cases is almost zero. My and Ildar’s criminal cases have obviously been ordered by the top-rank officials and are political. Fortunately, my attorneys do not lie to me and admit that they are totally helpless under the given circumstances. They are more like messengers and just pleasant companions from out there although they write complaints and petitions, appeal from everything in court like a rooster running after a hen, “Even if I don’t get her, I’ll at least warm up!”

Even in simple cases, today’s attorneys cannot compete with the prosecution because nobody listens to them, their petitions and arguments are dismissed. Everyone writes about it openly.

“The present-day Russian court has abandoned its role of an objective arbiter between the parties. It has been totally distorted, there is no civil control, and procedural regulations are so casuistic and far from the real life that judges are free to abuse the law and take lawless actions,” writes Vladimir Ivanovich Sergeev, the Doctor of Law and honorary attorney of Russia.

That is why the demand for attorneys is falling day by day while the numbers of law enforcement officers and criminal proceedings are growing. I can see it myself. In Lefortovo, the most elite prison of Russia, only 50 prisoners out of 170 were regularly visited by defenders. It is easy to count because of the huge artificial queue created there on purpose to “freeze” prisoners in the detention centre. There are only six offices, which are also occupied by investigators in priority, although there are lots of possible premises for attorneys in this detention centre. Everyone knows each other because they always communicate while waiting.

There are 2,500 prisoners in Matrosskaia Tishina, but attorneys visit only 300 to 400 clients. I do not take into account free-of-charge specialists who have to be provided by the investigative authorities to put up a good front. This tendency persists not only due to the defenders’ helplessness in the present-day “justice”, but also due to the mass impoverishment of people. Unfortunately, most attorneys work as psychotherapists and “treat” their clients with empty promises of how they will ruin the prosecutor’s arguments and get a verdict of non-guilty. These “defenders” are as virtueless as prosecutors, investigators and judges imprisoning crowds of people with no evidence. They will also burn in hell.

The demand for the “attorneys resolving issues” keeps growing day by day as they are the only ones who can be efficient in the today’s law enforcement system. Their role does not have to be bribing the law enforcement officer only (which is a perfect option to settle the problem). It is often bargaining: pleading guilty in exchange for more lenient punishment and possible plea bargain. Unfortunately, this is the only real method “defence” left for citizens of present-day Russia.

In this regard, I am really surprised how bravely and easily most employees of the administration and businessmen and ordinary people bear false witness against me and ruin my life. I have never asked or instructed to do anything illegal. I have never asked for “special” conditions for my friends and acquaintances. Moreover, I have always emphasised in conversations with my deputies that everything must be absolutely legal, and the law enforcement authorities will watch them closely. All the documents and financial relations must be in the perfect conditions. Let alone the fact that stealing money from the budget is the worst thing to do. The people who have betrayed me think that Shestun is a “shot-down pilot”, and they are probably right, but they fail to take one thing into consideration: I can also bear testimony against them, and it will be even more painful as I can include that into the plea bargain, which will be signed by the investigator and the prosecutor. The investigative authorities demand new accusations in exchange for more lenient punishment, and traitors are perfect candidates for this role. They do not understand how quickly they can find themselves in my shoes, and, the same as in my case, the court and the investigative authorities will need no real evidence of their guilt.




Светлана Астраханцева
Нам выпало время, когда белое становится черным, а черное – белым…
Григорий Михнов-Вайтенко
Пример Шестуна – это пример в истории, я бы сказал. Чаще всего такой человек предпочитает тихо и незаметно, извините за выражение, отползти в угол, и очень редко, когда вступает на путь правдорубца.
Людмила Улицкая
Понимание и попытка разрешения "мусорной" проблемы вызвали конфликт Шестуна с властью. Не просто с властью, а с самым сердцем нашей власти - с ФСБ. Люди должны встать на защиту Александра Шестуна. И к этому я призываю.

Записки Шестуна