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A Riot in the Prison Quarantine

Any prison riot is almost always an uprising of doomed people. A priori the potency of rebels and punishers is not equal, the riot will be suppressed in any case: by de-seg, SHU, beating, driving up the numbers of new sentences or even by killing rebels. The question is only what damage a riot will cause to the existing system and therefore, will the probability of a new riot become a factor that will restrain the officers from the next offence against the prisoners’ rights. That is the purpose of a prison riot. Therefore, every riot in prison is a premise and a guarantee that it will give slightly better living conditions to future generations of inmates. For a long time, there have been no real riots in Belarusian prisons. The times when cons could beat the administrative staff, break the fences and seize the barracks remained in the 90s. That is why nowadays, in the context of the general ‘tranquility’ in prisons and the obedience of the absolute majority of the cons, even a simple insubordination of more than a couple of people is considered to be a riot and an emergency.

I was brought to the correctional colony No. 15 on June 12, 2011. All newcomers are sent to quarantine for two-three weeks. It is a separate section, isolated from others, with a much stricter regime, without labour but with multiple everyday duties like cleaning floors, scrubbing sinks, sweeping the yard twice a day plus some other useless activities. The purpose of quarantine is to let a con understand ‘where he got to’, to single out those who plan to be involved in criminal gangs and be disobedient. It is done through making a prisoner break some informal taboos that are present in the criminal world and subject him to a formal cop discipline. For example, about 15-17 years ago the inner yard of a barrack was swept either by brats or by any type of degraded people. It was considered to be beneath ‘muzhik’ to do it, saying nothing of a ‘blatnoy’. If you were offered a broom in the quarantine, you were expected to proudly refuse and go to the de-seg — and only after that, you would get to the normal housing unit. This taboo was slowly eradicated by the administration, year after year. And nowadays a yard is swept by 99% of cons or even more. If you don’t sweep, you won’t get to the housing unit right from the quarantine, you will get to a de- seg, SHU, and then to a prison, or ‘spinning out’ under article 411 (see ‘The Open Letter’).

In earlier years, only brats washed sinks (as everybody spits there!), now in almost all prisons it is done by ‘muzhiks’. Though thatjobis still considered to be ‘small-time’. In the process of dying out, these rules are going through some funny deformations. For example in the correctional colony No. 15, in the quarantine, all are going through scrubbing sinks but the one who has done it in the housing section automatically will be moved to the ‘brats’ caste. In compliance with the stricter regime in general, there are also stricter punishments for those who break the rules in the quarantine. Collective responsibility is widely used. For example, if a convict smoked in the toilet at night, then a quarantine keeper snitches on him to the cops. They come to the quarantine and organise ‘examination of the outer appearance’ of all the inhabitants (usually about 40-50 people). This lasts an hour or an hour and a half: they send everyone to the yard with their bags and all their stuff, they shakedown the bags, make people stand under the sun or squat with hands on the nape (‘prisoner transport pose’ as it is called by cops) and listen to a lecture on ‘inadmissibility of routine violation’ for half an hour.

The story that happened to me is directly connected with a know-how of No. 15: for a fault of one person, they sent the whole quarantine section to the ground and made them march in circles — in unison. On my arrival to the pen, I decided from the very beginning that I wouldn’t try to live like a ‘blatnoy’ or provoke the cops into reprisals. I would live peacefully according to the routine, mind my own business, read my books and do my things. In general, I wouldn’t ‘show off’, just like I had been advised by old and experienced cons that I happened to meet during the eight months of my previous imprisonment. But when I found out about such brutal collective punishments (nothing like that is in the laws. To make prisoners march in circles is a mere taunt caused by overindulgence of power), I thought that it was better to attract attention to myself and be punished, then to do such humiliating things. By good fortune, I wasn’t the only political prisoner in the quarantine. At that time there were two more people: Yauhen Vaskovich, sentenced to 7 years for arson of the KGB quarters in Bobruisk, and Yauhen Sakret, a prisoner of ‘Ploschcha-2010’, who got three years for striking a riot policeman’s shield with a crowbar three times. Besides us in the quarantine, there were several no-drama guys that seemed not ready to put up with the outrage. Having talked with them several times and discussed what was going on, we decided that refusal to march should be collective. Having got the support of two more guys, Roma and Yegor, and having done an awareness-raising campaign (‘If they take us to the ground, no one marches!”) among all who we knew in the quarantine, Yauhen and I started to wait and see when the cops would decide to use their tactics again so that we would have a chance to deliberately refuse and give an example to others. Yegor especially had a formal reason for refusal: he had no shoes (his shoe size was 47), he walked in slippers in the quarantine. We didn’t have to wait long. Soon Yegor had a verbal confrontation with a quarantine orderly - a little nasty ‘kozyol’.

Yegor promised him to stick a shiv in his side, of course, it was a blind threat, but it was enough and the orderly ran to the quarantine keeper Boroda to complain. Boroda was an exceptional jerkoff (even by the prison standards). He was in his 25th year and was yoked together with the cops by the multiple lives they ruined together. That is why seeing the threat to his ward he ran to the officers of the regime department without thinking twice. Two officers came: Rogovtsev (his nickname was Socket due to his funny upturned nose) and Moskalyov (Dog), who started to chase us out to the parade ground.

Taking the copy of Solzhenitsyn that I was reading at the time, I followed the others (there is no place to leave your things in the quarantine — during the day it is not permitted to enter the sleeping quarters where your drawer unit stands, so you have to carry all your stuff with you). It had been raining lightly since the morning. Having placed the cons in a row on the ground next to the quarantine, Dog started his ‘preventive talk’:

‘Look who you are following! They come — no motherland, no flag — and try to egg you on to something! And you are buying it!”

Those days in the quarantine there were several ‘maximum security prisoners’ from prison No. 4 — it seems that the regime officer was sure that the conflict with the ‘kozly’ was due to their influence.

‘Whoever is in conflict with the activists [kozyols] and break the rules, will go to de-seg right away! And no early parole for you in this case! Did you get it?!

Yegor decided to contradict him while the rest of formation was meekly keeping silent. He said that the activists looked for trouble themselves, they cheeked and demanded to do stupid things. But Dog, being a real cop, wasn’t trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong, but just started to talk back to Yegor, strolling slowly along the formation. Vaskovich jumped in the skirmish:

“You don’t have the right to say so! You degrade his human dignity!

‘He has no dignity?’, Dog replied without any doubt.

‘He has dignity! Everyone has it!”

For sure, such a long hassle with the cons wasn’t in Dog’s cards and it was undermining his authority. Socket came on board:

‘Come on, all fallin fives!”, Rogovtsev started to place everyone at the edge of the ground. Absolutely untimely, the rain turned into a downpour. The smell of wet asphalt and the prospects of solitary confinement spread in the air. Yauhen, Roma and I exchanged glances. All of us fell in fives on the ground. I was in the second five. Yauhen and Yegor were in the first one. In a pretentious manner Dog and Socket strolled along the ‘box’ of the cons, anticipating how they would mock at and laugh their heads off watching the herd marching in circles.

‘And now we will march all the way to that line! And it should be in unison! Start with the left foot! A-a-a-a-nd ONE!’, Socket commanded.

Three people started to move along the ground trying to absurdly imitate the soldiers’ stride. Yegor and Yauhen remained standing. The cops, who were slightly puzzled by such an impudent disobedience didn’t know what to do and simply called them away and ordered them to stand a little way off the formation. Meanwhile, it was the turn of the second five.

‘Left! A-a-a-nd ONE/!’

I was intently observing my neighbours in the five. One just made a slight move to make a step when a scream came from the side of Yauhen:

‘Stand still!!V’

Right away they dragged him to the dungeon. None of our five except for one moved. I looked at Socket: there was bewilderment in his eyes. He probably thought that we hadn’t heard him. He repeated even louder:

‘A-a-a-nd, ONE!!V’

The five was at a standstill as before.

‘What the fuck are you thinking?? Disobedience?!” Socket screamed losing his breath from anger and growing furious. Moskalyov came on board:

‘Everyone squat!!! Hands on the nape!!!”

The line didn’t budge.

‘Everyone fucking squat!!!” Socket yelled repeating after Dog.

“You squat’, I said loud and clear.

‘Who said it?’ Dog asked calmly.

‘I did”.

‘Come here’.

I approached him with a slight sense of anxiety. Moskalyov and a couple of other cops (there was already quite a crowd - emergency in the quarantine!) started to jump on me, to provoke and threaten me. I was expecting a blow, but it didn’t come. I kept silent, giving no answer to them. Suddenly I heard the noise behind — Socket was walking next to the formation and with the yell ‘SIT THE FUCK DOWN!!!" hitting the backs of those who were standing on the fringe, giving them headnuts. I turned away and continued listening to the bullying of the cops. Somehow unnoted, Yegor also managed to quarrel with the cops — and he was also dragged to the de-seg. They told me to go back. I turned around and saw that the whole quarantine was squatting already. Having thought that one’s as good as none I sat down, too (later I put myself down on for it: I should have remained standing). The downpour didn’t stop. For about the ten minutes, we were listening to the ‘disciplinary’ yelling of Socket and his threats to send us all to the de-seg. I was sitting covered by my copy of Solzhenitsyn. Socket couldn’t walk past me without a comment:

‘Is it “The Gulag Archipelago’? Read, read it. It will come useful”

‘What a great title for Radio Freedom’, I thought...

They ordered us to stand up.

‘So, anyone else wants to go to the de-seg?’ Socket continued his attack hinting at Yegor and Yauhen.

‘And if there will be even the slightest conflict with the activists all will be sent there, understood?! And now fall in. Quick march - to the quarantine. A-a-a-nd ONE!

I was in the first five. It was about 20 meters from our line to the quarantine doors. My cards didn’t change: we had agreed with the guys, so I had to do what I had promised to. And that fact that they might lock us in the slammer was clear from the start. Four people in our line started to walk towards the quarantine, ridiculously trying to march in unison. I was the only one who remained standing. Moskalyov called me again. I got surrounded by the whole crowd of cops who started screaming at me interrupting each other:

‘So, you are trying to be strident, aren’t you?!”

‘All the strident ones are going directly to the maximum security, get it!”

‘What are you in for? Three-three-nine? You’re a dumb-ass?!’

‘You won’t get any reduction!’

‘Just write him up, let him stay in the de-seg for a while!’… and so on.

I wasn’t listening to them so much - I got soaked already from the rain and was shaking because of the nerves and rage

  • line by line my neighbours in the quarantine were leaving to the barrack, stepping up. No one remained standing.

This story quickly spread throughout the whole pen, the local ‘rebels’ were happy for us: “The quarantine had a riot!” The cons joked: when ‘zero squad’ (as they called us) carried food canisters along the central alley, they theatrically made room for us: ‘Make space, the ‘blatnoys’ are coming!” Vaskovich and Yegor got their time in the de-seg, were released and properly met by us. Pretty soon Yegor was taken to the pretrial custody because of some newly discovered evidence. I still wonder why I wasn’t sent to the dungeon back then. However, some outcomes were there: first I was called to the office of Slesarev, the head of the operative department (later he became the deputy governor). He threatened me with maximum security prison, article 411 and use of physical force in case of further disobedience (ironically, in the next 4,5 years of imprisonment I came through all of the mentioned by him). Besides, I was put on some sort of preventive control - for the next couple of weeks every evening we had screws dropping by to ‘check Dziadok’: to see that he didn’t run away, didn’t cause any mayhem. After everything that happened people were smoking in the toilets many times, quarreling with ‘kozly’ and violating the regime. Some were sent to the de-seg for it, some were put on unscheduled duty. A couple of times the whole quarantine was even taken to the ground with all the belongings. But that was the last time they tried to make us march.

April 2017