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The Release

I dedicate it to all the past, current and future political prisoners of progressive thoughts with the hope that all prisons will be destroyed.

It was a usual evening on Dobrolubova St., 16 in Gorky town. Cell number 19. Correctional colony N29. It was August.

The dinner was over, as well as the evening inspection round. In any secure institution, the human body starts to follow the regime too: it wants to eat, sleep, drink and go to the bathroom according to the schedule. So Grinya (my cellmate) and I were preparing to perform our traditional ritual in our five square metres of space — to have an evening tea. We had plenty of tea and sweets, a week before there was shopping time. We were ready; we stored some “goodies” and were looking forward to tomorrow’s feast in honor of my birthday. In the cement box with the total sameness, there was not much joy, so coffee with chocolate was one of those things that at least from time to time made our brains emit endorphins in our blood.

We’d just finished our tea when we heard a clang of the door. That was somewhat strange. It was around 6 pm, an unreasonable time, and usually, no one came at that time. The door opened and after it, the bars opened too. Two officers appeared at the door: a security officer and the duty assistant governor:

‘Dziadok, get all your stuff and pack. Let’s go’.

I felt alarmed. Usually, such changes didn’t end up well. Where would I go? Why? And why at that time? Sure I wasn’t in a hurry to follow the order: ‘For what should I get ready? Why? Another cell? Or another prison? What’s the matter?’

‘Pack quicker, we’ll tell you later! But take all your stuff, every single thing’.

‘Why later? Tell me now! Where are we going? I won’t go anywhere!’

But the cops refused to tell, no matter what. I don’t go; I try to solve the mystery. Another cell? What was the point? Another prison? But it was done at a different time and in a different way. Maybe against all odds, the SHU stay had been canceled and they would move me back to the camp? But why didn’t they tell it to me directly?

After quite long disputes the security officer said:

‘Kolya. Everything’s going to be alright. You’ll see. Pack’.

Of course, you cannot trust cops. But I looked him in the eyes and it seemed he wasn’t lying to me. I remembered that for the past half a year that particular cop in that facility hadn’t done anything particularly bad to me. What was I to do — I had to go, if they wanted, they would have carried me away anyway. [ packed almost all my things. All the sweets, half of the envelopes, postcards, and pens I left to Grinya — he wasn’t going anywhere, he needed them more than I did.

I'was led out of the cell and to the checkpoint (the inner one, between different parts of the colony). On the way I asked the security officer one more time where we were going:

‘Home’, he answered.

Of course, I didn’t believe him, the anger started to build up - you don’t joke like that.

We came to the checkpoint, went up to the second floor. And I saw that all my bags that I had left in the colony (all that I wasn’t allowed to keep in the cell) were there. The cop told me that I was released and they would walk me out of the facility.

It was like a blow to the head. It seemed to me like a show, I was ready to believe that a cop in a clown costume would jump out of the door and start roaring with laughter: You got owned! But nothing happened. I sat down and probably turned pale. Seeing my condition, the security officer got nervous and even wanted to call a doctor.

‘How come released? On what account? Where is the document?’ I tried to get it together and understand what was going on.

‘I don’t know anything, listen... was told to release you and I am doing it

A kozyol comes to the checkpoint, takes my bags (I couldn’t take them all at once) and walks me to the checkpoint at the front gate. The cops are laughing; it is quite an unusual thing for them too. There were several coded doors at the checkpoint leading to the outside. We walked through one. Next to the second one, there was another cop behind the window, he started to verify my identity. He asked my first name, last name, date of birth, address. On the birthdate, I confused days and months and asked him, my brain was busy with the other stuff. The cop started to act up, to scream at me:

‘Can you speak or what?! I ask you! What’s hard here?!”

‘Don’t raise your voice at me! I haven’t screamed at you! I'll tell you when I remember it! And you can look up all you need in your papers anyway!”

The hassle lasted half a minute, the cops accompanying me stopped it. But the rudeness of the cop didn’t influence my mood - I wonder that I remember it at all. They gave me a certificate of release.Intheline ‘release cause’it said ‘Presidential decree on pardon’. Finally, I had the whole picture...

The doors opened. In front of me, there was a free world.

Did I feel joy? Excitement? Euphoria? Nothing like that. I didn’t understand what was going on around me. I was anxious, suspicious. I was shocked. ‘Like a fish out of water’ would be the best way to describe my condition in that moment. It seemed I should have been happy that finally something I had waited for so long happened and that it happened so quickly and unconditionally. But I was lost. I left the world where there were total predictability and order. Confidence in the future (do not laugh!). The world with bars of Bobruisk halvah at the shop, the library once a week, cellmate Grinya with his stories. I had known how to move, how to live, what to be sure of and of what not. And then I was in a new universe and I had no idea what to expect there.

There was an old ‘Lada’ next to the entrance. And there were two guys next to it. KGBs, for sure. They approached me.

‘Get in, let’s go’.

‘0K, let’s go’, I threw my bags in the trunk.

I'tried to get them to talk, asked what department they were, locals or not. They kept silent. The sun was going down. I was glued to the window. I couldn’t believe it. Fields, forest. Some cows were grazing. It was like watching a movie. No, it couldn’t be possibly happening to me.

Throughout the trip, I didn’t ask them once where we were going. I decided it was either Orsha or Mogilev. We arrived at the train station in Orsha. I went to the bathroom, changed my clothes there: I had lots of warm clothes on me, almost all that I had been allowed. And suddenly it was hot there. No, not hot, but comfortable. I wasn’t cold. In the cell you are never comfortable, it is almost all the time too cold (and you put on tons of layers) or too hot (and you are in your underwear). And there it was normal and there was no need to wrap myself up in layers...Thad to take off extra ones. And there I also threw away half of my stuff. Before I left the camp I had tried to leave it for those who would need it, even to brats. The cops hadn’t let me. I had no desire to bring all that junk home! An old padded jacket, quilted pants (all handmade from the gaol), slippers I used all five years, toilet paper, a couple of packs of cigarettes, a dozen of melted bonbons, slightly fused plastic cup, faded jumpsuit... Wait, I decided to keep the jumpsuit as a token. Then I decided against it. I packed the bag but couldn’t make myself throw the jumpsuit to the garbage. In the prison, the jumpsuit had been the whole treasure, but it was useless on the outside... In the end, I left it next to the garbage bin right in the bag, maybe some hobo would take them. The jumpsuit was pretty good in general...

In the chest pocket of the KGB, I saw a train ticket. It was clear that he waited to put me on the train. I tried to talk him into giving me the ticket. I said, ‘I can go on my own; I won’t get into trouble’ and so on. He didn’t give it. That was the order, of course...

The train arrived. They saw me off all the way to the train car. The KGB produced the ticket. I walked into the car, looked around. I had two huge checkered bags. I looked like a strange mix of an orphan and a suitcase trader. I was trying to get myself together...

Then I called my family using the phone of the fellow passengers — strange, but very nice people — a woman and her mother-in-law returning from Kobrin. After they learned that I had just left the prison, they started to fix me tea, feed me bananas and Snickers. I talked with them the whole trip and 2.5 hours just flew. I got off the train. There was already a rat in civilian clothes with video-camera, you bet... From the pass about a dozen people were almost flying towards me: some were running, some were on bikes. I threw the bags down and hugged everyone, one by one. Gosh, how you all have changed... And it may very well be that I have changed a lot too. It took me some time to recognize some of them. And people kept coming. All who were a part of my past life, whom I hadn’t seen for five years. They didn’t forget me. They came rushing up the minute they found out that I had been released. I didn’t expect to see many of them, for example, Olga Nikolaychik and Dima Dashkevich. And journalists were there too. They asked questions and I shot back some typical anti-regime flub-dubs. But I was on the verge of killing them for one question: ‘What are your plans?’ What plans, guys? I had just got out of a cement box 2 by 2 metres in size, my world narrowed to a point. I didn’t realize yet where I was. My brain, soul, and senses were still in cell 19. My plans were to clean up the cell in the morning, do some yoga and check out ‘Jack London’ in the library. What the hell were you asking about?!

It happened that none of my family were at home at the time I'was released but before midnight we met. That night I couldn’t fall asleep. My body was in a very strange condition. I roamed the apartment and without thinking I was doing some things that I hadn’t been doing for years: opened the fridge, surfed the Internet, washed with hot water. My hands remembered how to do all that but my mind didn’t. It took me four days to realize that I wasn’t living in prison anymore. Before that, if they returned me there I wouldn’t have felt anything at all: that short-term release would have been forgotten as a regular walk in the yard of the prison. But if you looked closely, there was a deep philosophical meaning in that. As all that happened to me was that I just transferred from one prison to another.

Only the regimes were different.