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The Wizard

Introduction Prison

Names of some characters were changed.

An enclosed space with specific ethical norms, with perverted moral principles, where a human being has only one goal - to survive, gives birth to weird cause-effect relations.

You can believe or not in destiny, in the possibility of the Universe to materialize your thoughts and wishes, in karma, in boomerang rule, in Biblical ‘you reap as you sow’, you can consider all of the above a manifestation of Supreme forces or a logical consequence of our own actions, but in certain points of the Earth these rules manifest themselves as an invariable and ultimatum-like fact.

One of these points is located on the territory of Belarus: it is a facility called Prison No. 4, better known among convicts as Mogilev gaol.

Prisonis one of the utmost and cruelest disciplinary sanctions specified by the Correctional Code for ‘worst offenders of established procedure of conviction’. The worse one is probably Article 411 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (see An Open Letter’). A prisoner can get to the gaol from a correctional colony by court order for up to three years. In prison the sentence is served in cell confinement: 3 to 12 people stay in a cell together 24/7 for years; they have an hour of walk per day, strict restrictions on the amount of personal belongings, one care package per year and quite often not everyone is subject to it (taking into account the amount of food available, it means that a prisoner is almost all the time hungry), and one visit per year - 2 hours of talking through the glass that often can be denied by the decision of the prison governor.

But the main point of Mogilev gaol is not in its ‘hunger regime’ but in who is in charge there and who sets up the rules.

Originally prison was created by correctional system for suppression of uprisings in colonies and isolation of those who could start one: crime lords, code-bound thieves, principled and charismatic political prisoners.

From the beginning of the so-called ‘criminal revolution’ in USSR republics in the infamous 90s the gaols became the center of those ‘negators’ — crime lords living by the thieves’ rules that were pain in the ass for the prison administration; criminals that were not accepted neither by prison’s de-seg or the SHU. Their unity, dedication to the ‘code’ and readiness to use violence for enforcing them for sure led to their isolation in the cell system.

But times have changed. Organised crime in Belarus was all strangled (of course, apart from the Family that is control). Partially they were liquidated by death squads, partially the code-bound thieves got smaller in numbers and quarreled over with each other, the prisons were put under the control of the administration, so if we speak about it in cops’ terms, a ‘stable operational mode’ was established there. In theory, gaols were to disappear or at least their number was to go down'. However, the bureaucratic Soviet and of course Lukashenko’s logic was not like that. Every gaol means not less than a hundred of employees of punishment execution department of MIA, consistent budget financing that was consistently siphoned off by the administration, and for sure wide corruptive opportunities for warders and regime officers. To close it all at once just because in Belarus there were no criminal leaders anymore? No way! If there is a prison — somebody should be put into it! The system chose another way: if a common convict got more obedient, we would lower the criteria for sending someone there - and the gaols would be filled with people again! And so already from the middle of 2000s the number of crime lords and ‘enforcers’ in Mogilev, Zhodino and Grodno’s gaols decreased and there were more common convicts (muzhiks). Now you can get to a gaol if you managed to get a cellphone to the prison, prepared home brew, got into a quarrel with the unit supervisor, wrote a complaint on the administration, refused to sweep common spaces, simply had a fight with another convict. When I was in, a guy got into Mogilev gaol for pouring water over a supply manager and told him it was pee. Colony administrations started to actively use gaols as a dumpsite for all who may cause any problem. Somebody lost a big sum of money in a game? Let’s put him into the gaol so no one would smash his head in the prison. Someone stole something from other prisoners? Everyone would start to kick him around and he could commit suicide... Let’s put him into the gaol, to be on a safe side! They even started to send common brats there on some unknown principle.

So, at the time of my arrival there (December 7, 2012) Mogilev gaol represented a prison block with about 220 residents, among

them only about 20 were crime lords and professional criminals. The rest, with few exceptions, were like those mentioned above. The criminals shared the power in prison with the administration, and in such a split-up of a pie everyone had their own benefits: the administration got control and absence of incidents, the criminals got the right to collect their ‘common fund’, superiority feeling over the gray mass of ‘commoners’ and numerous privileges from the cops.

Part 1. Mirror Magician

I spotted him already at the ‘assembly’ when our pack of newcomers to the gaol was frisked and divided among the cells.

His mouth was running like a garbage truck. A ringing voice. He had a Greek name (a rare thing for our part of the world) Kostas and an Armenian last name - Sarkisyan. His personal records were super thick, even thicker than mine (and it was quite a rare case, t0o).

‘I am a complainer’, Kostas gladly explained to all who were interested. ‘T've filed (he told some lofty number)... complaints on the cops!” You could hear genuine pride in his voice.

We were facing the wall, our hands behind the backs, waiting for the search. Meanwhile, Kostas was already talking with the guards:

‘Look what I've got!”

He took a plain school copybook out of the bag and started to flip pages. All pages were in the reddish spots and odd scribbles that resembled signatures. ‘These are souls’, Sarkisyan explained. ‘T have bought them in the prison for a pack of cigarettes’. Having looked closely I saw that the souls he bought were spots of blood of their owners with their signatures next to them.

‘They read a spell and declare that they give their souls to me — Kostas Sarkisyan!’, he was explaining gladly, with his coal black eyes shining. ‘And I give them a pack of “Fest” or “Korona”2. And everybody is happy!’

Kostas was flipping page after page with the reddish spots, implying that there were plenty of people in the pen eager to agree on that bargain.

‘What the f*ck do you do it for?’ The guard was puzzled.

‘They charge me, like batteries’.

‘F*ck, that is some sketchy shit’, the cop noted with a tint of fear. ‘Aren’t you scared of messing up with it?’

‘Huh! My grandma is the strongest witch of Armenia! She was. [ myself am a Master of Mirror Magic. By the way, Kostas turned to another guard, ‘why did you have a row with the red- haired?’

The baffled cop exchanged looks with the colleague. Kostas continued taking by the beard:

“You have a girlfriend, right?’

‘What if I do?’

‘She has red hair, I can see that’, the Wizard narrowed his eyelids looking at the guard point blank. ‘So why did you have arow?

Looking how the Master of Mirror Magic played with the guards made me wonder if magic made easier his prison life in such a complex and dark place like a gaol. Or would it perplex it instead? ‘There are witchers, there are sorcerers. But I am a wizard. Those are totally different things!” Kostas was educating not only cops, but everyone around who was attracted by such an unusual talk. At the time none of us knew that Mogilev gaol could do magic even better than Sarkisyan and that for the next 2.5 years it prepared tons of cruel adventures for him.

After the search the cops took us to ‘triples’. It is a so to say prison quarantine. Eight cells, three people in each, with a higher security and located slightly at the side - in the side hall far from the main prison corridors. There newcomers stayed for 2-3 weeks, steeling themselves for the life in the cell system and going through all possible prison registrations with doctors, psychologists, officers, etc.

Wizard (that was how the crime lords named him) and I ended up in the adjacent houses. I was in No. 150, he got into No. 151. The constructional peculiarity of the triples was the following: thin walls and toilets next to each other through the wall. It meant that by opening the flush tank of the toilet you could talk, and by stretching your hand you could easily pass a thin parcel: a neighbor would take it with his hand, and you just pass it to him.

Not finding common grounds with the cell mates, I started to communicate extensively with Wizard.

He was 30 years old, from Gomel. His sentence was a standard eight years under article 328.3 (drug trafficking). Wizard was transferred from Correctional colony No. 3, Vitba). There he was screwing cops brains and tirelessly writing complaints to all possible authorities starting from the Department of Corrections to KGB. But that was not the reason he got famous there, he got renowned due to his magic activity, of course. Not only had he bought souls of the inmates but also ‘cured’ the sick, made magical charms, spelled, got charged from the trees growing in the yard and one time he even started to put a spell on deputy governor in political field. In front of everyone he started to nail wax nails into his footprints reciting spells. According to the rumors and evidences of other prisoners from No. 3, the latter became the real reason for his transfer to the gaol. Wizards managed to pull through a whole bunch of esoteric literature to the triples: Orlov’s ‘Temptation of the Evil’, Papus’s ‘Traité méthodique de Science Occulte’, a collection of Castaneda’s books, printed copies of all sorts of mantras and chakras... He shared all these with me, he saw in me a person who was at least a little bit familiar with the sphere of his interests (I had been practicing yoga for a year by then and had read almost all Castaneda books even before that), so he started to initiate me not only in the details of his magical profession, but his business plans. They included organization of a sect after his release, he would be declared a prophet, of course, or the enlightened or something of that kind, and would start to train his adepts in ‘battle magic’. Of course, for huge amounts of money. Right upfront he offered me a partnership promising fabulous profits with minimal expenses. I delicately refused. After getting settled in his small company Wizard started his magical experiments. In cell 151 spiritual sessions started. On a piece of paper Kostas drew a magical circle with the letters of alphabet, blotted it with his blood and reciting a spell hold a needle above the center of the circle. The needle pointed to the letters, in such a way a spirit from the portal opened by Kostas talked to him by answering his questions. By the requests of his cell mates Wizard gladly called the souls of their deceased

relatives and for assistance he called all possible archangels for himself. When people from the neighboring cell started to complain on the vent panes that would open by themselves and on cruel nightmares, Wizard promised ‘to close the portal’.

Pretty soon our time in the quarantine ended. First I and then Kostas were transferred to the main block. There Wizard had a vast field for his activities.

Part 2. Fishing

Fishing is a communication means of prisoners, ‘inter-cell contacts’ in the parlance of cops.

There were three types of fishing in prison: air fishing, wet one and kabura. The first two worked like that: a rope (‘a horse’) was stretched between cells by simple engineer devices, by means of which prisoners would pull carefully wrapped parcels or kites® through the windows (air way) or through the draining of the sewer system (wet fishing). But in Mogilev gaol the main means of communication were kaburas - holes in the walls, ceiling or floor that allowed for connecting (working) with neighboring cells directly. Breaking a hole in cement wall without any more or less suitable metal tool took unbelievable amount of time and efforts. That’s why the clever prisoners were carefully hiding their kaburas and were doing everything they could not to let cops find them.

The role of roads and inter-cell communication in the prisoner’s life of Mogilev gaol is hard to overestimate. Every day at strictly appointed time four actuations happened in the prison. Every prisoner could write to anyone: to find a fellow-countrymen, to get the news from another pen, to ask about common friends and so on. ‘Commoners’ could write to blatnoys for a favor to get the ‘necessities’, to clarify some points of the code or to ask them to drop by and help with a conflict in the cell (despite the fact that prison regime meant strict isolation, blatnoys had a right to freely walk into any cells and administrate justice. The doors for them were opened personally by the head guard of the shift - ‘a block guard’).

A kite had the same importance in the prisoners’ life. According to a popular saying, ‘a kite is the face of a prisoner’. Carelessly written word in a kite in the gaol could start a whole bunch of critically non-solvable problems, cause a cruel physical punishment to a lighthearted prisoner, ruin a crime lord’s career. The most seasoned prisoners didn’t even let crossing- outs and corrections in their kites. Some put an eyelash in the rolled kite - so the recipient knew that the kite wasn’t opened along the way (crime lords used such a perlustration to control suspicious communication of the ‘commoners’).

Saying ‘Never write what you dare not sign’ is about kites. In the gaol both oral and written word could extol or bring down (which happened more often) the one who dared to share it with the world.

Four times a day a prisoner in charge of the fishing road was receiving and sending the mail — handfuls of kites — paper capsules carefully rolled up to the size of the stub of a pencil and packed tightly in a plastic bag. In such a way, along the regular life of cell communities, a secret epistolary life of the prison was continuously flowing through the arterial roads — kaburas. Part 3. Snow Ball

After getting into cell 124 Wizard passionately started to practice his usual craft: he helped his cellmates to get rid of jinx, ‘cured’ them, hold hypnosis sessions, and made people stare in his eyes promising to show them ‘their demon’ and so on. Moreover, he started to gather disciples — not only in his own cell but with the help of the fishing road all around the gaol, alluring by the fact that supposedly one of his apprentices took part in a Russian copy of the TV show ‘Psychic Challenge’.

I also was offered to become his apprentice. For that I would have to do only a couple of manipulations with my blood and a mirror (he was indeed a mirror wizard) and of course give an oath of loyalty to Kostas himself.

I delicately refused.

But he had enough people in the gaol who were willing to. Wizard was in correspondence with many and described with flying colors unlimited miraculous qualities that his disciples would have after they became ‘battle mages’ under his skillful leadership. Young prisoners were excited; they were giving him oaths of loyalty and were sending blotches of their blood in the kites.

For some time I was holding correspondence with Wizard, too, as we had been communicating while staying in triples. But truly speaking, soon I started to feel some sort of a hidden agenda in his kites. They all started with ‘Good day, Brother!” or ‘Hi, Mate!” and they all invariably ended by ‘Kolyan, if it is not hard for you, please, send me...” (pens, pencils, pen refills, postcards, envelopes — in general all the things that were in short supply in the gaol and he knew I had some). Of course, a couple of times I shared with him, but Wizard’s wants were only growing, there were no kites without requests of tangible things and pretty soon I ratcheted down correspondence since such kind of ‘friendship’ was not for me.

Soon I happened to spend two weeks in cell 124 and see the life of Wizard in the community and his magical activities. I have to say that his convict’s life was not as successful as the ‘magician’s’ one. Despite the fact that he had a number of apprentices that were attracted by his silver tongue and fanciful promises, in general in his cell for six people he was a butt of a joke and a reason for constant conflicts. His excessive chattiness and vainglory, his constant screw-ups (one time he poured water over the TV set, another time he said something out of place when the crime lords were there and later the whole house had to answer to that), his unwillingness to ‘lead prison life’ didn’t work for Kostas’s credibility at all. He tried to make up his authority by telling the stories of his powerful grandma, about his deadly curses and how once two foes beat him up and both soon tragically died. It didn’t work well. But with the arrival of new people (couple of guys and me) to the cell his mercantile character manifested to the full. Before he had been driving the cellmates mad by telling them about his future pig farm that was supposed to make him rich within a couple of years and he even found partners for the business right there in the house. And now after he found out that my cellmate (the one who, like me, was temporarily transferred to cell 124) had some property in a village, he suggested that he secured it for Kostas in exchange for magic abilities the latter could hand down to him. Somehow he decided that I also was an owner of expensive property so he offered me to give away everything to him and get an amulet instead that would make any wish come true. Any wish! The question why he couldn’t do such an amulet for himself and get out of the prison just hung in the air.

Shortly after my return to the previous cell the relations of Kostas and his cell mates became strained and he had to move to another cell. It was preceded by the visit of blatnoys to cell 124, they had a preventive talk with Wizard and officially prohibited his sorcery.

But in a new one, in cell 120 Wizard didn’t linger. Trying to show that he was much more than he actually was he didn’t get on with the cellmates and was clearly told that he needed to look for another cell for himself. It is worth noting that in the gaol, as in any cell system, frequent moves from one cell to another had a very negative effect on the prisoner’s reputation as it was considered that if he couldn’t get along with one community, he wouldn’t get along with another one either. So every new house strengthened the negative reputation of a prisoner.

Cell 123 - one of the biggest in the block — became a new refuge of Wizard. It was considered a certain ‘settling tank’ where blatnoys would set those who couldn’t get along in other houses, the prisoners who ‘screwed up’ (‘played-outs’, ‘rats’ and such), bird-brain and slightly insane prisoners, and those who couldn’t ‘chip in to the common fund’ (to give blatnoys tea, cigarettes and so on). Psychological climate in such houses was matching their dwellers, it was a tense, evil, aggressive (even in terms of the gaol) environment. Every man defended his own interests. As I have already mentioned, crime lords were doing rounds through the cells from time to time, calling on their ward ‘commoners’, or ‘kozyols’, as they often called them among themselves. Upon such rounds the houses in need got all the necessities (tea and cigarettes), important news and innovations, prisoners were also given instructions on how to deal with the cops and, of course, the justice was enforced: conflicts were solved, those who screwed up were physically punished or given a strict reprimand. And for sure for impudent, self-confident crime lords such rounds were an opportunity to raise themselves once again above the ‘commoners’. Three or four ‘gangrels’ walking skanky and with self-satisfied air in expansive non-prison clothes (while everyone was obliged to wear uniform) entered the cells disrupting their set rhythm of life and right away started to make nipping and mocking comments to all those they thought needed it. Nobody dared to object them to anything, answer back or get into a row. The slightest attempt to set yourself on the same level as crime lords led to a reminder of your status in the best case, in the worst case — to a slap in your face, that’s why most of the prisoners rushed to make tea and take sweets and expensive cigarettes out of the shelves that were stored specially for the visit of blatnoys. Blatnoys saw that cons were afraid of them and it boosted their self-esteem even more.

Upon one of such rounds in the spring of 2014 criminals visited cell 123. At that time Wizard had a row with the cops and served his 10 days in the dungeon. During the conversation the blatnoys (good judges of characters) quickly noticed that something wasn’t right in the cell. Some half words. They didn’t overlook grungy exchanges of looks, odd tints of tones. A cup of strong tea passed around the circle didn’t lower the pressure. Vova the Bald-coot, the enforcer in the prison, decided to ‘break the wall’ right away:

‘Is everything alright in your cell?’

“Yes, yes, everything is okay!” the ‘commoners’ hastily nodded.

But, of course, you couldn’t trust them. They were hiding something.

‘Is there understanding!?” Bald-coot repeated sullenly looking into the frightened eyes.

And there Martyn who moved to the cell recently intervened:

‘On the whole, everything is alright, as it should be. But in general, there is not enough understanding in the cell’.

‘Finally’ - Bald-coot must have thought at the moment. But Martyn didn’t want to explain what he meant, he was too afraid. At that time Shara, an assistant of Bald-coot, transferred Martyn to a different cell where Martyn gave the whole picture: in a community of 12 people the most impudent one — Poacher

  • with the term of 25 years that he got right in the court — stood out. The house had already been divided into conflicting groups, but he destroyed even that fragile order. He gathered around himself a small bunch of guys like himself and they started to defend their interest by fists and kicks, by beating up cellmates because of various reasons: that one ate too much bread, that one said something wrong. These cases were not reported to blatnoys — maybe because of the common agreement, or because of the fear of Poacher, although according to all the rules, such a thing should be reported to blatnoys immediately. So they lived like that, fighting for food and being afraid of those who had bigger fists. Sure thing such a state of affairs was unacceptable for the crime lords. In blatnoy system, just like in the state one, the monopoly of the authority on violence is a crucial element. According to the code, crime lords could beat up ‘commoners’ but ‘commoners’ were not allowed to beat each other.

Shara got back into cell 123, Bald-coot was there all the time. Poacher was beaten and thrown out of the cell. The investigation continued on the following day. Wizard was taken out of the de-seg to the cell on the first floor. They fixed him tea, treated him with chocolate. Casually Bald-coot asked how they lived in cell 123?

‘We lived okay, everything was alright’, Wizard answered without sensing a hidden agenda.

‘Are you sure it was okay?’ Bald-coot specified. ‘Maybe were there some problems?’

‘No, Vova, there were no problems! All was as usual!” Wizard continued to tank himself further.

But in the dungeons physical punishment was prohibited by the code. After his time in the de-seg came to an end Wizard got a couple of days for ‘thinking over’ and when he got back to cell 123, he got slapped in the face with the words ‘for lying to blatnoys’. That would have been the right time for him to calm down, but it seemed that he was so sure that the higher powers were protecting him, that he continued his game and wrote a kite to his former cellmate Martyn (he was in a different cell by that time): ‘Why did you tell everything to blatnoys, why did you rat out Poacher as we all had agreed to keep silence?” Martyn wasn’t confused by getting this kite and out of all options he chose the most sure-fire one. He carefully rolled it up and sent to blatnoys.

Bald-coot with his escort was beating hell out of Kostas diligently and for a long time on the wooden floor of cell 123, they broke him two teeth and made him eat that ill-fated kite. The above-mentioned Shara was so diligent at beating Wizard (who was twice smaller than he) that he tore his snickers in the process. However, later on, trying to cover up all his sins, Kostas sent Shara a new pair of shoes in a parcel. Sure it meant that he told his parents and they sent the shoes.

Kostas Sarkisyan was set free in May 2015 and as far as I know until his release he didn’t do any magic.


From the cradle and till the death everything kind, harmo- nious and truthful that surrounds us dictates us simple and comprehensible rules of humane communal living: do not tell a lie, do not covet what belongs to others, do not act slyly, and do not use other people as your means. In general, treat others like you want to be treated. Almost all world religions talk about it, too. Every one of us to a lesser or greater degree breaks these rules: the necessity to survive among imperfect people forces us to make a compromise with our conscience. However, if deception and self-interest become a central axis around which all your life goes, sooner or later you will inevitably be tangled in your own lies and come up to a very unhappy upshot. It will happen not in the mythical hell, but here in this life. And quite often the snow ball that will roll over you won’t be connected with your actions at all at the first glance. ‘The ways of God are inscrutable’ says a Christian on that. A simple minded villain will tell ‘Bad luck, fuck it’. But I believe that one day scientists will figure out the explanation of why after completing an incomprehensible circle along our social connections, after casually bumping into actions and intentions of others, our actions and even intentions return to us triplicated: by cute gifts of fortune, if we were kind from the start, or by cruel punishments, if we carried rancor, rage and self-interest initially. And I also think that they will explain why in a normal life a cycle of that circle may take dozens of years, and in some places (truly enchanted ones) it goes with a tremendous speed.

I found Wizard in social network Vkontakte in about a year after release. As a profile picture he had a ‘mysterious’ picture of a mage in fantasy style. His status message read “I DON’T PRACTICE MAGIC FOR MONEY!!! I CHOSE APPRENTICIES ON MY OWN!!!” So I sent him a message.

‘Hey, brother!” he answered back. ‘How are you? How is your health, mate?’ he was pouring flattery titles one after another. ‘And where do you live? Here is my number, let’s talk over the phone!” his mateyness was just over the charts. We talked about the gaol, about friends in common, about that story. According to him, he was punished then not because of deception, but because of sorcery against the prison’s deputy governor on disciplinary affairs, when the latter wrote him up for the de- seg. Wizard stretched his arm to him with the words, ‘Let you be cursed by a curse of Satan. Let all your children be stillborn!’ And the officer Vladimirovich ran to blatnoys to complain and they beat Kostas up and asked him, ‘Will you practice witchcraft again!?’

However, pretty soon Wizard changed the subject to more practical topics and shared with me that he was living in Moscow and wanted to start a company for clearing souls off the sins. The full ‘sin-clearing’ of one soul would cost 20 000 euros, but the effect would be breathtaking: not a single sinon a soul, it would become crystal clear as baby’s tears! But Moscow was just a starting point of his business plan. He would open up branches in other post-Soviet countries, himself would stay in Europe and would just collect all the money, and the work would be done by his apprentices, battle mages. He later wrote me, ‘Everyone who takes part in the start-up will become dollar millionaires in less than a year!” To start the project Kostas was missing just one tiny thing - an initial capital (Wizard himself worked as a night guard and lived at his relatives’) - somewhat around 5000 dollars. On my surprised question how I could help him with that as I was living on my scholarship and earned extra as a journalist, he answered also surprised:

‘But your politicians have been investing in you!’

With a thick distrust in his look he listened to my attempts to prove that politicians do not support anarchists financially and once again advised me to think and invest into his business as I could become a millionaire ‘in less than a year’!

I delicately refused.

Transgressors’ Isolation Centre in Minsk March 30 - April 7,2017

Life is Beautiful