Pussy Riot member’s letter from prison stirs Russian public

By Slava Tsukerman

“Pussy Riot” rock band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, protesting the conditions of life in Russian prison, started a hunger strike and wrote a letter that was reposted by many Russian Internet Sites. Unexpectedly this publication became the main event of the week in Russia.

Well known writer Nikita Podgornov noted:

“No doubt this week is a week of Tolokonnikova. It seems there is not a person who doesn’t write about her. Those who’ve been expected, and those who have not been expected at all – everybody has decided to join the trend.”

In her letter Tolokonnikova described condition of life in the prison colony for women. All these facts were always more or less known to Russians. But now finally came a moment when Russian society had chosen to hear the message.

Tolokonnikova witnesses that women in her colony are working as seamstresses, sowing police uniforms 16–17 hours a day, having one free day in two and a half weeks. They are paid about a 29 rubles ($1) a month. For not achieving daily working rate prisoners are punished by ban for using toilet, water or food during the entire day.

The temperature in the prison never rises above 43 F.  Wearing warm clothes is forbidden. Those being punished are held for hours outdoors without warm clothes. There is a woman in the prison whose leg and fingers were amputated as a result of the frostbite after such punishment.

Here some quotes from the Tolokonnikova’s letter:

“Sanitary conditions of the colony are arranged to make convicts feel like powerless dirty animals. In the colony with 800 inmates there is a single ‘General hygiene room’. Only five people at a time can use this small room. There is a constant jam in the room and girls, perched on each other’s heads, with basins of cold water in their hands (there is no hot water in the colony) are trying to wash their providers’ (the term used for female genitals over there). We have a right to wash our hair once a week. However, this bath day from time to time is canceled. The reason: the pump failure or congestion in the sewers. Sometimes this failure continues for two or three weeks.

“When the drain is clogged, urine fountains and clusters of feces are flying from the door of the ‘hygiene room’. We have to learn how to clean the pipes ourselves, but in several days they clog up again. Laundry is permitted once a week. Laundry room is small and has three faucets, of which a thin stream of cold water runs.

“Inmates are always given only stale bread and rotten potatoes, milk is generously watered. Apparently for the educational reasons.

“The inmates who have connections with the colony administration say: ‘If you were not Tolokonnikova (who has privileges of world fame), you would have already been killed’. That’s right.  The other women are beaten up very often for a failure to make daily working rates. They hit them in their kidneys, in their faces.

“A year ago, prior to my arrival, a gypsy girl in the 3rd squad was beaten to death. (3rd squad is a ‘pressing’ squad; there they put those who should be subjected to daily beatings). She died in the infirmary. Administration had managed to hide the fact of death from beatings. They stated that she died from stroke. In another squad young new seamstresses who couldn’t make daily rate were stripped naked and forced to work naked all day long.”

The director of the colony threatened Tolokonnikova, that she will be killed, if she doesn’t stop protesting.

As a result of the letter’s publication, President’s Human Rights Committee visited the colony, described in Tolokonnikova’s letter.

Colony’s administration managed to hide some of the facts described by Tolokonnikova.

Here is the comment written by the Coordinator of the organization “NO to Gulag “, a human rights activist Inna Zhogoleva:

“Well, they have installed one exemplary cabin shower, so what? There are thousands of people over there.  How to use it? And most importantly:  there is no hot water, just no. Nearly in all women’s prisons there is no hot water. There is no normal sewage system. Up to now, there are cesspools in colonies.

“When a commission comes, they may install 10 shower booths. In one colony they did so: they installed showers and washing machines, which were not connected to water pipes. That was a show-off.

“There are drying towels near the sink. But not only the prisoners are not allowed to use them, the sink is not connected to the sewage system; there is no water there. This is decoration.

“It’s a shame to pretend that we live in a civilized society, when women – mothers, wives, sisters, girlfriends, brides are kept in such conditions.! It is Middle Ages!

“I think all my colleagues will agree that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has done a good job!  She had brought attention to ‘system problem’. Now society should react to it”.

Here is one of the most typical comments to Tolokonnikova’s letter made by Anna Norinskaya, a correspondent of the most popular Russian paper “Kommersant”:

Pussy Riot Action in the Temple of Christ the Savior has done what the real art should do, a real humanistic art. The Action finally manifested the prominent features of today’s reality. In this case it was the most disgusting features. One can repeat endlessly: ‘Look:  we conceal our cruelty, self-righteousness, love of money and power under crucified Christ”, still no one wants to listen to it. The Pussy Riot’s prayer ‘Mother of God, please put Putin away’ was heard by everyone.

“The Tolokonnikova’s letter from the colony has the same quality as the punk prayer: everybody heard it.

Several pages of the letter should certainly be considered the best pages of Russian literature in the current year. And in the past as well”.

There are also comments expressing a different point of view in the Russian media.

Here is the comment of the official representative of the Russian Orthodox Church Vsevolod Chaplin:

“A person who commits a crime should understand that imprisonment is not accompanied by resort conditions… Yes, our prison system needs more control and humanization… But it is inevitably should be connected with the physical discomforts… Moreover, when God punishes a man, the man finds himself in a very unenviable position of losing health, and sometimes life.  God sometimes punishes entire nations this way; we know that from the Scripture and Traditions of the Church”.

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Updated: September 29, 2013 — 7:37 am
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