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Tolokonnikova writes: "Why is it important for me to work with the Russian prison system? The answer is simple. Because girls and women behind bars tell me: 'My dream is to get TB (tuberculosis) to just get out of the IK-2 prison!' These women have somewhere to go after their release, they have parents and children."

Pussy Riot's Nadia Tolokonnikova attends a court hearing in Khamovniki district court. (photo: Aleshkovsky Mitya/Itar-Tass/Corbis)
Pussy Riot's Nadia Tolokonnikova attends a court hearing in Khamovniki district court. (photo: Aleshkovsky Mitya/Itar-Tass/Corbis)

Help the Women Being Tortured in Russian Prisons

By Nadia Tolokonnikova, Reader Supported News

06 January 14


hy is it important for me to work with the Russian prison system? The answer is simple. Because girls and women behind bars tell me: "My dream is to get TB (tuberculosis) to just get out of the IK-2 prison!" These women have somewhere to go after their release, they have parents and children. But they are humiliated, repressed, devoid of the will to live so much that they are ready to catch a serious disease on purpose -- for only one reason -- to leave the prison for a prison hospital. Prison, where they are beaten with clubs, bars and ankle boots, where they sleep only few hours a day, where they are hauling concrete blocks and where they are tortured and killed.

Therefore we are creating "Justice Zone." This is a platform which will be the basis for collective action of people united by a concern regarding the fate of those prisoners whose lives are crumbling under the Russian penal system.

During our prison term, the administration tried to get me and Masha Aloykhina to be silent, putting pressure on those prisoners who were dear to us. Now they also are trying to clamp down on activities of "Justice Zone" by taking hostage a girlfriend of one of our colleagues in human rights work.

Kira Sagaydarova, our colleague in Justice Zone, was freed five months ago from the same IK-2 prison and is now actively involved in the work with us on changing the situation in the prisons. Kira recently gave several interviews in which she spoke about the flagrant violations and systemic violence in IK- 2. Here are just some of the evidence moments Kira shared:

"For the first six months they are just killing you. Rizhov, Industrial Zone Chief, requires sewing shop supervisors to meet a certain quota, but they do not meet the quota since new girls do not know how to sew yet. So supervisors beat them. They beat you once, then may come grab your hair, hit your head on the sewing machine or take you into a punishment cell, there they kick you using hands, legs, or remove the belt from a sewing machine and thrash you with it.

"Supervisors are the ones who can be blamed for the majority of violence that occurs in the colony. They do what they want and handle other people's lives as they wish. They beat my back with all their might, my head, without any difference where. I fell and cried many times, and I cannot even list all the things that happened there. They do not care. There was a period when they poured cold water on us in a cold punishment cell in the winter! "

Vika Dubrovina is a friend of Kira's who is still in prison. Since mid-November Kira suddenly stopped receiving letters from Vika. On December 25, Vika managed to call her mom, she told her that the whole last month, she spent in the punishment cell chamber.

Here are the words of Vika's mom: "Vika called all in tears and told me that because of an interview Kira gave, Vika was put twice already into the punishment cell for 15 days and told to get ready to move into SUS."

SUS is lockable barracks where you are prohibited to see your family/friends and to make telephone calls. Prison chiefs in the IK-2 do not hide the fact that Vika will be mistreated until her friend Kira, who is free now, won't stop talking about the prisons of Mordovia.

The first time Vika was thrown into the punishment cell was for a tag. She was approached by a prison employee who tore off her name tag and announced that being in prison without a tag is a violation for which she will be punished 15 days in the ice insulator (cold punishment cell).

After 15 days, Vika came from the punishment cell. She spent the night in the main barracks with all the prisoners. Next day, she was summoned to the boss who told her that she was again being punished for the shape of her garment, for some irregularities on her jacket, and will be sent to a punishment cell for a second term of 15 days.

On Dec. 26, the day after the end of the second 15 days in solitary in a punishment cell -- Vika was enclosed for a third term in the insulator under the pretext of another absurdity . As a result, Vika now was held for 45 days in a punishment cell. In mid-January when she will be released again in the squad, the bosses of IK-2 will come up with another plan on how to punish her ??again for the fact that her friend Kira is disclosing what is happening in the prison.

Together with Vika's mother, we have already sent a complaint to the Prosecutor General and the Prosecutor's Office of Mordovia and have sent a request to Zubova Polyana Mordovia court demanding that all three episodes of placing Vika into solitary punishment cells be declared illegal actions of prison administration IK-2.

The reaction of prosecutors and the court will take a couple of weeks, but we need immediate response, today, right now. We need to make it clear to the prison directors in the IK-2 and the Mordovian prison system that they cannot punish Vika Dubrovina with impunity to avenge that her friend writes about the situation in the prison.

For that reason, we encourage all who have not remained indifferent to evil, which is what is happening with Vika, please show Mordovia prison officials that their actions will be punished. Currently, hundreds of complaints have been submitted by those who responded to our request, who are not indifferent.

We hope that public scrutiny will lead to the fact that the illegal sanctions will be removed and new ones will not be imposed.

1) Call here to stop the torturing of Vika.

Person on Duty at IK-2 prison in Mordovia: 011-7-834-572-26-40

Person on Duty on the Federal Prison System in Mordovia:

011-7-834-572-28-74, 011-7-834-575-02-57

Person on Duty in the FSIN of Russia: 011-7-495-982-19-00

Person on Duty in the FSIN of Russia: 011-7-495-982-19-00

2) Send the online foster supervisory authorities text of the complaint, which is laid out here in English and here in Russian.

3) Share this post on your social networks, and ask a couple of your friends to make a couple of calls and send a couple of complaints.

Vika still has three more years to serve in that prison. After spending 10 minutes and doing these three simple steps above, you can influence the fate of the girl who now sits in an icy punishment cell because her friend spoke out so we all are able read the stories about what happens in the IK-2 prison in Mordovia.

Nadia Tolokonnikova was recently released from a Siberian prison where she was incarcerated -- along with fellow Pussy Riot band members -- for more than 21 months for her participation in the "punk prayer" protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Nadia shares with The Huffington Post her reflections on her time in prison. Translated by Natasha Fissiak, a producer of the documentary Free Pussy Riot! your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+6 # Billy Bob 2014-01-06 10:01
I'm sorry, but it's just a bit difficult for me to think we have much say over Russia's government, when we can't even get our own government to stop torturing people.

The bit about them "dreaming of getting TB", to get out, sounds pretty humane to me, since our own government prevents people from committing suicide, so it can keep torturing them longer.
-1 # RobertMStahl 2014-01-06 11:26
I make phone calls to my senators and congress all the time. I feel there are some crossroads that have been overcome for the caring, more than the calls themselves, but both are united. I wish the means existed to express to criminals anywhere sharing this world with us that evil is not a human trait. I am not able to phone the other side of the planet for reasons that connect to the 2008 crash, a problem we have done little to solve today for the agendas involved, so mechanical. I just can't sit idle and think this is not the same sickness throughout an ill-equipped pool of DNA riddled in that they cannot wake up or, for that matter, sleep soundly. Does anyone disagree that 7&7 is better than 7-11?
-1 # RMDC 2014-01-06 19:39
"dreaming of getting TB just to get out" -- this actually comes from Russian novels in the 19th century. It was a stock response from loser characters who wanted to appear heroic and tragic but in reality were hopeless. The best of these characters is in Doctoyevsky's "Notes from the Underground." He does not use this exact phrase but he is part of the tradition, the culmination of the tradition of "superfluous men."

Nadia says this because she knows Russian readers will get it. It is deep in Russian culture. It places her in the tradition of Russia's "underground men" or nihilist heroes. Too bad she does not also understand that these are not heroes. They are just losers. But they do appeal to punks and contemporary losers who are just not very smart or educated. And that is the aim of her appeal.

TB can be cured now with penicillin. They no longer let people out of prison for TB. They just send them down to the infirmary and give them shots and cure them. They don't die as in the 19th century. They live.

Too bad so few RSN readers can spot a phoney when one appears. I guess very few americans can spot these phonies. But very, very few Russians are fooled. Only the kids are.
-1 # Billy Bob 2014-01-06 21:00
Very interesting, RMDC. I took it seriously, because the sad truth is that TB is no longer easily cured. The dairy industry has used enough antibiotics that TB is one of the diseases once again on the rise.

That's a side note, really. Anyway, good comment. I need to read more Russian literature. Honestly, I never did, because I never knew which translations were considered scholarly.
0 # RMDC 2014-01-07 08:04
Dostoyevsky's novel about the time he spent in a prison labor camp is "Notes from the House of the Dead." Living conditions were pretty dismal but he did manage to meet a girlfriend from the village around the prison and get married. There was real social interaction.

But Tolstoy's "Resurrection" is a better novel and a really profound look at the prison labor camps. The prisoners actually play an important role in governing the camp. Nadia's article here shows the tradition of Russia's Siberian prisons. They are centers of activism and always were.

Russia's prison labor camps have an interesting history, but much like the same history of europe in the 1600s-1800s. Prison camps were used to populate Siberia and Russia's far east in the same way that Britian populated Austrialia snd Georgia with its prisoners.

Sakhalin Island, the topmost island in the Japanese archipelego, was populated with Russian prisoners whose descendents make up the majority of the population today. Really it should be part of Japan and Russia and Japan have fought over the island several times.

The prison camps were more like the American western settlements. The prisoners developed a great sense of independence and self-government .

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelego" is the novel from which most Americans know about the Russian prison system. But it is trash, a bitter accusation of the whole USSR by someone who hates communism and blames it for everything.
+4 # Johnny 2014-01-06 11:00
Welcome to capitalism. Let's hope the Russian government does not graduate to the U.S. model of privately owned prisons for profit, life terms in solitary confinement, secret torture chambers, and international kidnappings.
Nadia should be glad she is not Carlos Padilla or one of the thousands of other polical prisoners in the U.S. torture system.
-8 # RMDC 2014-01-06 11:06
So Pussy Riot is now "Justice Zone." This appeal will fall flat. Their followers were always the punks and anarchists who got energized by their literal pussy riots. There is nothing to excite the punks and anarchists in this new appeal. It is a rational appeal and not a shock doctrine performance (like shoving chicken up their twats in the grocery store).

It fails on rational grounds. There is NO evidence or argument anywhere that Russian prisons are any worse than prisons in any other nation. In fact they are a lot better. The US has the worst prisons in the world -- by a very long measure. And most Americans don't know or don't care. They are not going to be interested in Russian prisons.

I would be all in favor of releasing all political prisoners -- in the US, Russia, and everywhere. But I'm not interested in "Justice Zone" because they are a front for organizations that are anti-democratic regimes that imprison far more people than Russia now does.

Sharing all of this on social networks is just to old now and boring. She obviously does not know much about contemporary prison conditions --

"During our prison term, the administration tried to get me and Masha Aloykhina to be silent, putting pressure on those prisoners who were dear to us."

Try total sensory deprivation. Then sensory overload. Extreme heat, then extreme cold. Some political prisoners in the US are in total solitary confinements. Russian prisoners get to associate with others.
-2 # barbaratodish 2014-01-06 13:18
I wondered why this article annoyed me, then I understood why. According to Nadia,(please correct me if I'm wrong) women in prison have somewhere to go: and that somewhere is, according to what NAdia writes: "They have parents and children". So, forgive me for being without parents or children, but maybe according to Nadia, I don't count as having someplace to go if I don't have parents or children! Maybe I am just expecting too much, like a little consideration for being without FAMILY? But, instead you will probably all give me thumbs down for WHINING about having no family. But having zero family does have its advantages. I can LAUGH hysterically at anyone who takes family seriously, because (as a result of being a "black sheep" of my family-not because I was an orphan, or without family due to being an orphan)I have learned, perhaps by lucky default, that when you take family too seriously, (blood related) family (often)TAKES you("down"). So I have become a "family" to myself, and I have somewhere to go: to bed, because I sleep a lot! And I am loving it! Oh, and if this REALLY bothers you (I expect to get 100's of thumbs down, because yes, I am finding fault with the holiest of holies: FAMILY) give yourself a thumbs down too, for BEING SO DEFENSIVE! What WOULD you be without family? Free from all custom, tradition, ritual, perhaps. you might even regenerate your IMAGINATION to take the place of THE MYTH OF what is really a construct: FAMILY!
-1 # 2014-01-06 13:42
I too have no birth family left, due to alcoholism, but this doesn't prevent me from caring about other people. Why can't you ignore this one facet of the problem and go on to support this movement? Try forming a "family of choice", which will be stronger than a blood family rather than retreating to bed.
-4 # barbaratodish 2014-01-06 14:07
I too have no birth family left, due to alcoholism, but this doesn't prevent me from caring about other people. Why can't you ignore this one facet of the problem and go on to support this movement? Try forming a "family of choice", which will be stronger than a blood family rather than retreating to bed.

Yeah, you sure do show with your criticism of me that you care about me! And you sure do show that you are unable to read closely. Again, I HAVE made my "FAMILY OF CHOICE", I am a family to myself! You are right, though, namely that being a family to myself IS stronger than the sentimental myth construct of blood ties. For me, all the blood ties did was TIE UP MY IMAGINATION. When I broke free from the "BLOOD TIES" I released my imagination, at least to myself! Try sleeping more, maybe you will read better! lol

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