Наверх

REBELLIOUS PRISONER. CHAPTER ONE

NOTES FROM VODNIK

NOTES FROM VODNIK

When asked about my main phobia, I replied my greatest fear was to get into prison. Confined space, restriction of liberty in its harshest sense, lack of information and fresh air, dubious companions, bad food and feeling like a criminal, an outcast seemed the worst thing that might ever happen. Now here I am, in this hell…

The first thing I was wrong about was dubious company. In the fifth detention centre in Moscow, Vodnik, they try to keep first-time convicts with the other newcomers. I hear this reasonable practice is common for prisons. I have already changed three cells for two weeks and a half in this gloomy place, and the people I have met are mostly well educated and smart in the least. There were probably simpler people in the quarantine cell only: an Uzbek convicted of stealing bicycles, or tall and handsome sixty-year-old Iura from Moscow detained for exchanging pornography photos online. A Mexican fan with the scarred face picked up another person’s hand luggage with lots of cash at the airport. Gipsy Boria from Vilnius was caught red-handed when he was withdrawing money from the bankcard. Vitalii Stovpets, my kindred spirit, introduced his friend to a police fixer. 

Vitalii, who had a spacious mind and copious vocabulary, helped me write complaints. I have spent all my free time, especially on the first days, drawing up statements regarding the arbitrary treatment of my family and outrageous frame-up of the criminal case. I have no idea of how long I will keep writing, I realise that all the senior executives of the law enforcement bodies and lawyers have seen my video address to the president, and they understand it all in the end. Nevertheless, I have made up my mind to keep fighting. Unfortunately, the only method the detention centre offers is paper.

While I was in quarantine, I was visited by the members of the public monitoring commission, Kogershyn Sagieva and Eva Merkacheva. They both are journalists: Kogershyn works for Dozhd TV channel whereas Eva is a reporter at The Moskovskii Komsomolets. Their visit was a ray of light in the realm of darkness. They expressed their human sympathy and promised to fight and send a journalist inquiry to Bastrykin. I should say that representatives of the public monitoring commission come to the fifth detention centre quite often. For instance, Ivan Melnikov, the most active member, has already visited me twice. I spoke to him and another member of the public monitoring commission, in the gym for almost an hour. Ivan also came to the third camera, where I am now.

The officers of the detention centre take the comments by the members of the public monitoring commission into consideration, and communication with the observers is of real use. For example, after we had complained that there was no fridge and TV, they were immediately brought into the cell. In fact, I was not eager to get a TV as I supposed that my cell mates would keep it on from early morning till late evening, and it will be inconvenient to draw up my addresses. But as soon as I had mentioned it to the public monitoring commission, all the cell mates accused me of being selfish and said that the detainees had to think about each other.

After I had spent three days in quarantine, I was transferred to cell 502. It was a cell for eight people, with no “overload”: eight beds for eight people. Almost all the detainees in cell 502 have been imprisoned based on Article 159, so they are people of keen intellect, mostly bankers of the similar views on life and age. There are only two young people, Ivan and Roma, but they do not change the overall atmosphere. Vania is a kind of the underboss in the cell, but he is only responsible for the general hygiene rules. When he is on duty, he cleans the toilet as thoroughly as the others do.

Cell 502 was a role model of well-being and living environment. It had everything: a modern TV with a large screen, a huge fridge, all types of tableware, heaters, basins, drop lights and only one two-tier bed. You could even wash all your body in the toilet (which was not a separate cabin, just some space behind the small partition). All the cell mates have already been there for a long time: for a year or two. I wanted to stay in that cell, but I enjoyed the comfort for two days only. 

When I was transferred to cell 509, I was transferred to the so-called “house of thieves” so that I would not think that life was all wine and roses: two two-tier beds, no TV or fridge, broken ventilation system, toilet with no walls up to the ceiling because there had been no air extraction system from the very start, a table of the terrible grey colour with no oil cloth, and terrible wardrobes, shabby radiators, walls and ceilings. I have been here for almost two weeks, since 18 June. One of my cell mates is 41-year-old builder Aleksei accused based on Article 159. He is experienced, he has already been to this detention centre. Vladimir, the representative of the diamond company called ALROSA, who has lived all his life in America and married the girl from Japan; they have two kids. He had been selling diamonds on the New York Market until he was screwed over by the Russian Jew, who took the stones and did not pay. When Volodia came to Moscow to his father’s burial, he, 55-year-old cultured person, was detained and taken to prison.

After Ramzan Isaev, a Chechen from Rostov Region owning the machine building plant, had been drawn away from our cell, they brought Vadim from Sevastopol, who had also been detained based on Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. His looks are most vibrant, and he weighs about 160 kilos. He supplied fuel for the boiler rooms of the Federal Protective Service, and he warned his customers in advance that there was no pure euro-diesel in Crimea, and the quality would be different. Vadim fell victim to the clearing campaign in Crimea: he was arrested for his 20-million contract and fuel regrading. 

I am 100 % sure that at least half of the people should not be kept behind the bars during the investigation. Vadim could have been released on bail and kept working because his case was arbitration proceedings. All the national authorities have often said that it is no use keeping people behind the bars based on Article 159, the economic one, until the court decision is delivered. However, there are more and more detainees like that, prisons are overcrowded, and the Russian economy keeps stagnating. As a result of the increasing pressure, many businessmen move to the West, to stay free rather than earn a lot. These people are not opposition: even oligarchs and top-rank officials prefer keeping their money and families abroad.

My relations with the officials of the detention centre are not very smooth, and I understand why. The Federal Security Service has ordered to keep transferring me from one cell to another to break my spirit and be aware of everything I do. The officials of the detention centre do not like my communication with the public monitoring commission and Anna Karetnikova, the advisor of the Director of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia responsible for the prisoners’ rights in Moscow. She is very democratic and serious-minded and does her best to ensure fair and legal treatment of prisoners. All the senior executives of the detention centre have been to my cell and invited me to their offices, where ordinary armchairs seem top comfort and well-being. I am even afraid to sit down, and I have only been here for three weeks.

The most unpleasant thing about cell 509 where I am now is boiling heat and no ventilation. Two people smoke, so I also have to breath in this poison. They have started pressing me down here as well, in minor things, because of all the complaints I keep writing to the senior executives of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia by inertia. For instance, they say it on purpose that my attorney is here, and that it is time to go for a walk. I have to refuse from a walk, but I still keep waiting for the convoy for an hour and a half to be taken to the attorney. They take away my newspapers and carbon paper, do not let me into the gym. I have been there only once in three weeks. By the way, a visit to the gym is 300 roubles, a show after the exercise is 200 roubles. A daily hourly walk in 20-meter attic room on the top floor of the building gives me a chance to breath in fresh air and exercise at the horizontal bar. Also, I pour water into a litre and a half plastic bottles and use them as dumb bells to exercise. My only pleasures are walking and sports. 

The prison is made of several parts. The fifth corridor where my cell is has the harshest conditions: no telephones, alcohol or cards are allowed. There are several cameras in each camera. Yet, it can hardly be called overcrowded.

Both sixth and fifth corridors have cells with mostly businessmen and public officials, but there is much more freedom. They are also overcrowded: as a rule, there are 17 or 18 people in a cell with 15 beds.

The common building is a “corridor of thieves”. There is everything in there. First of all, there are “roads” (the ropes along which everything one might need, including the kites, are transferred at night). The cells are overcrowded, and the detainees take it in turns to sleep. There are mostly real repeat offenders rather than pioneers. They have underbosses who maintain order and enjoy great authority. 

I see detainees from all the corridors when I am taken to my attorney, which happens almost every day, and when I am taken to court sessions held to extend the arrest. When you are kept in the same premises for a long time, you discuss your living conditions, like it or not.

In fact, lots of people know me in the central prison and hug me when we meet although expression of sentiments is not welcome in prison. “Prisoners have the same lifestyle” – this is the chant you can often hear shouted in the corridors of the common building. 

Trips to court are a special torture so most detainees participate in the hearing by video conference directly from the detention centre. My last trip to the Moscow City Court started at 6 a.m., and I was back in the cell by midnight, totally exhausted. The detainees are gathered in a KamAZ for a long time and packed like sardines in a tin in there. It is hot and dark. You are searched thoroughly in the Moscow City Court: you are fully undressed and taken to the cell (called a “glass”) of approximately two and a half square meters to wait with another person. So you keep sitting and waiting for the court session like that, and then you have to wait in the same “glass” for many hours. Your arms and legs go numb. The dry ration you are given is inedible. Then follow many hours on the way home. Terrible! Terrible! But it is worth bearing it all to see you family, to look the judge, the investigator and the prosecutor in the eye. The investigator and the prosecutor avoiding speaking eloquently and wordily. They stare at the floor and almost whisper, “We ask to extend the arrest.”

 

***

They started gathering us for the trip to the Moscow City Court at 6 a.m. Long searches, fingerprinting, breakdown by vehicles. Thanks God the smokers and non-smokers were separated. When taken to court, you can communicate with lots of people. To start with, you have to wait for a long time in the internal yard in front of prison trucks. About 30 to 40 detainees keep standing together for an hour, and then there is more than an hour on the way. There are about 14 people in a section, where you can also talk.

There are lots of detainees from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, at least a half, and they are most optimistic. I met a 50-year-old Russian man, an ordinary worker adjusting blinders for shops; he is accused based on the Terrorism Article. He says that he was taken to a meeting of Aum Shinrikyo sect in an ordinary apartment by his acquaintance twice. There were three or four people. He did not participate in discussion and just cooked. Now he might be sentenced to 15 years. When you hear that, you feel better automatically, and your injustice gets minor and insignificant in comparison with his. 

I spoke to three Dagestanis from Khasavyurt who were accused of having raped the girl and did not even deny their crime. She demanded nine million of roubles to ease her claims, but they supposed it was too much, so they would be sentenced to at least ten years in prison. They remained optimistic and were kept in the cell with ordinary confinement conditions. Night live bustled there, and they told me in living colours who merry life was there, although they slept in turns. 

Thanks God, I was not kept in that hell hole where even telephones would not compensate for this restless life filled with eternal smoke, queue to the toilet and inability to draw up necessary papers, including because the table was always occupied.

As I have said, all the tortures of the prison transfer and waiting hours are more than outweighed by the chance to see your family and friends. It is so hard to look them in the eye as all you see is terror! When I see so much pain in their eyes, I start feeling self-conscious.

I look at them, and my love to them tears my heart apart. I see how hard it is for my son Vania to see me in a cell, I see endless love in the eyes of my daughter Masha, and I see how exhausted my wife Iulia is. It is incredibly hard to realise how much I am making them suffer. How have I let this nightmare happen to my family?! I try to persuade myself that it will be a good life lesson for them, that the thick and thin they must go through will teach them to value simple sweets of life and treat their actions with more responsibility. But it is still so painful! Unbearable! You start cursing yourself! Even now tears are running down my face while I am writing these lines, and I do not remember when I last cried. I will keep going to court as much as I can, to see my family and friends, because the happiness of seeing them outweighs the bitterness and self-torture because of the unreasonable risks.

Lawyer Genri Reznik supported Iuliia at the stairs of the Moscow City Court in the hour of need,

“Let me tell you something. Judging by the information I have (and I use the same information as the others), I like your spouse.”

***

On around 7 July 2018, I was transferred into cell 500 from cell 509. It was very hot since there was a shared shower room behind the wall, and I slept on the second tier. The bunk bed was old, about 15 centimetres shorter then me. No ventilation made my existence even more uncomfortable. Moreover, two cell mates smoked, and the cell was always filled with blue grey mist. I am 99.9 % sure that a troublesome guy called Aleksei Belkov imprisoned based on Part 3 of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation “Fraud by Abuse of Power or on a Large Scale” was trying to work me out. So I was very glad to see Ivan and Stas from cell 502 when I was transferred into cell 500.

The bad thing was that there was a powerful smell of paint in cell 500 after the redecoration, and I suffered from the head and heart ache for the first few days. Nevertheless, I spent ten days in a spacious cell, with good one-tier beds and adequate companions.

Stas, an intelligent and well-educated 42-year-old man with the good family, was a banker and established UIFs, unit investment funds. The owner of the bank on which his UIFs were based left for London because his small bank had gone bankrupt, the same way as most of them in the country, and Stas was thrown under the bus because they could not get the owner, although all his money remain on the accounts and had not been siphoned off.

160-year-old Vadim from Sevastopol was also transferred from cell 509 together with me. There was also Sasha Shlapak, a real estate agent accused based on Article 210 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. He had been kept behind the bars for almost three years. 40-year-old Sasha had already been to another prison and had been kept under ordinary confinement conditions in Vodnik. He was the most experienced prisoner and entertained us with different prison stories. Both Sasha and Stas had travelled the world a lot, so we always had the TV channel about travelling on; the hosts kept relaxing in the azure sea or jacuzzi and hiked along picturesque mountains. I found it stressful as the beautiful pictures stood in sharp contrast to our harsh prison conditions. 

I spent ten days in that cell; it was the happiest time since the beginning of my imprisonment (who knows, may be, not only since the beginning). I am really grateful to all the mates who accompanied me in the gym, improved the cell and had chess tournaments together for these wonderful ten days.

By the way, we elected 25-year-old Vania an underboss. Let me remind that he was also an underboss in cell 502 although 40 and 50-year-old bankers and businessmen there were very charming and well-educated. Despite his young age, Vania was surprisingly fair and optimistic and had a pedagogical talent.

During those days, I was not terrified when I woke up and opened my eyes, “Oh no! I’m in prison!” Those ten days were happy not only because of the spacious cell and good mates, but also the hopes and good prospects. I was regularly attended by the members of the public monitoring commission, and Ivan Melnikov once told me that Ella Pamfilova, the Chairperson of the Central Election Commission, expressed her public resentment with the fact that I was not granted a power of attorney to participate in the election for the office of the Head of Serpukhov District, and she was even going to visit me in the fifth detention centre. “Nobody can prevent Shestun from running for the election,” she claimed. The prison bosses fussed and rushed around me because all the leading mass media of the country had quoted her words.

In fact, my publicity and activity during 35 days I spent in Vodnik were great, and I believe that the only thing that could save me was considerable public stir. My name was often in top Yandex news together with my comments and reviews by the famous people. Many leading politicians and political news analysts, directors and public figures considered my case as a political one. Pavel Grudinin and Evgenii Roizman spoke highly of me, Aleksei Navalnyi claimed that my case was political, and the charges were shallow, but still kicked me out of habit. Valerii Rashkin, a deputy of the State Duma and a communist, made a lot of inquiries and was openly indignant at the framed-up case in response to “telling the truth”.

One of the reasons of my activity and publicity is that the fifth detention centre and all the other prisons, except for Lefortovo, permitted electronic correspondence. Although there is censorship, if you hand in a letter at 9 p.m., it must be delivered to the recipient’s mail box in the morning. I received letters from lots of people from all over the country, and I responded to them. My address was published on my social media pages and in the mass media, so I was brought a huge pack of letters daily.

Moreover, in Vodnik, I had daily visits by my attorney, who told me about the events on the outside, and I shared my news and plans for fighting the werewolves. My daily conversations with the defender in a light room with large windows and fresh air were a great driver for my activity. I was aware of everything happening and promptly responded to all new issues and challenges. Of course, the Investigative Committee, the Federal Security Service and the Federal Penitentiary Service hated that. Their patience ran out when Mikhail Fedotov had come to visit me in the fifth detention centre “Vodnik”.

 

Новости

Мнения

Записки Шестуна