How much for prison comfort?

Pakistani resident Ali was able to find an answer to such question after spending several months in Russian prison in St. Petersburg.

The story began back in 1990. Back then, thirty-year-old Pakistan-born Ali, talented programmer, arrived to Moscow after getting his Master's in the US. Upon his arrival to the Russia's capital, the programmer got acquainted with a young fellow who was showing immense interest in the Pakistani's talent. Later, this Russian fellow suggested hacking the electronic system of the MDM bank in order to access foreign bank accounts of all its clients. Some of the bank’s employees were also supposedly involved in the “plan”.

Ali refused to participate in the “affair” and promptly informed local police of the imminent crime. He then attempted to escape to St. Petersburg in order to hide from his new “friend.” At the time, Ali was absolutely unaware of the fact that in order to punish him, his Russian friend had reported his supposedly missing computer to the police. He accused Ali in stealing his $300 USD PC.

After about four years, Ali was on a business trip in Moscow. He discovered that his temporary residence permit was not enough to get a hotel registration. It turned out, he needed to go to the police in order to acquire special permit. The lawful Pakistani did as he was told. While at the police, Ali was told he was on the police's “wanted list” since May 2001.

The foreigner spent three weeks in an isolated cell; afterwards, he was transferred to “Matrosskaya tishina” (Moscow's prison) and later, to St’Petersburg’s prison “Kristy”. In the end, Ali pleaded guilty [to the crime he did not commit] in order to escape further imprisonment. He was sentenced to a year of community services. He now shares his impressions of the Russian prison.

“Reds” and “Greens”

For some, this might not be something new, but the foreigner soon learned the fact that all prisons in our country are divided into the “Reds” and the “Greens”.
In the so-called “Green” prisons internal rules are being dictated by thieves’ laws. First, prison guards admit the newcomers; then search them and send them off to different cells. The future of the inmates depends solely on their personal abilities to adjust. All inner problems/conflicts are resolved by the so called “observers”—heads of the inmates. They watch over the overall situation in prison and possess certain level of freedom, says Ali. These guys walk down the corridors, talk on their cell phones. “I once heard that they are even allowed to walk freely in the city.”

The prison has very well-developed postal services. Each cell is equipped with the so-called 5-way connection. Aside from the metal bars that allow you to communicate with a guard, cells have several openings in the ceiling and the floor that allow communication with other inmates. There are also so-called “passages” that stretch from a cell's window in one building to another. Such passages carry various parcels or notes from one cell to another.

When you find yourself here for the first time, you receive such note from the “chief” right away. The note explains the prison's rules, regulations and also tells whom to address for various sorts of problems.

“For instance, if one needs a razor or tea,” continues Ali, “one can forward a note to one of the acquaintances in the prison. One can be assured that his note will surely find its recipient.” Something like “from 8 to 12” will be written on it. Such inscription would indicate the parcel’s sender (8) and the parcel's receiver (12). Plus, more numbers indicate the so-called “through cells”. If a razor makes it way to the recipient a tea bag, for instance, does not, then they'll know who's to blame.

Those who receive parcels from their relatives, must give tenth of the stuff to “observers.”  Another tenth is distributed among inmates who never get parcels from the outside. The stuff inmates receive can also be sold; they could use the money to pay prison guards.

“Matrosskaya Tishina” located in Moscow is considered such “Green” prison.

Necessities included

St. Petersburg's prison “Kresty” is a “Red” prison. There are no “bullies” among inmates there. The prison’s administration however is actively involved in the internal affairs of the isolation ward. There is practically no connection between cells. Notes are rare. However, one can learn anything from guards, for additional pay of course.

During the first interview in “Kresty”, guards try to find out inmate's business activity, his income, income of his relatives, friends in order to find out how much they are willing to pay, the so-called maintenance fee. For instance, to avoid constant transfers from one cell to the next, inmate has to pay 300-400 rubles monthly.

 When someone receives a parcel with 4 cartons of cigarettes, he usually sells two cartons to the “balander”—a prisoner who distributes food from cell to cell. That way the inmate gets a chance to save for the “levy”. To leave the cell for 5-10 minutes costs 100 rubles. One can also visit someone else’s cell for half an hour; it will cost him 200-300 rubles.

It is also possible to communicate with the relatives from “Kresty” by means of a cell phone. However, to receive a parcel from him, one must first pay 1500 rubles; and another 1500 rubles every month to be able to use the stuff that is in the parcel.

To avoid daily searches in the cell, one must also pay. Almost everyone has some of the forbidden items in excess. For instance, it is forbidden to use portable electric ovens; but almost everyone has them.

According to Ali, one can easily improve his living conditions in “Kresty”. It costs $200 USD to renovate one’s toilet/bathroom.  Normally, there is no hot water in cells. That's not a problem though. It can be done! In the end, after special equipment will be installed, hot water will reach only that cell which regularly pays its “utility charges.”

In addition, one can also through a party. One litter plastic bottle of beer costs 100 rubles and half a liter bottle of vodka costs 500 rubles. And in case a bunch of inmates get in a fight during the party, 500 rubles is enough to settle the matter with guards.

“Kresty” prison staff saves on everything. Even finger printing procedure is conducted by an inmate; after all, he doesn't need to be paid. Food is terrible. We were all fed like pigs. It was impossible to get whole parcels; guards disemboweled everything in search of money. Those who can afford to pay easily escape such troubles. Their existence is bad, but bearable. Such “stay” at “Kresty” costs them approximately $500 USD per month.

Ekaterina Romanenko

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Author`s name Andrey Mikhailov