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Luba Nebrenchina

Drug Policy in Russia:

Drug users’ stories of repression


Luba Nebrenchina

Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression

Moscow, 2009


AUTHOR

Luba Nebrenchina TR ANSL AT ION BY

Liana Ibragimova ENGLISH EDITOR

Roxanne Saucier

Thanks to Maria Golovanevskaya and Marina Smelyanskaya for their help with editing Published by The Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice with the support of the International Harm Reduction Development Program of the Open Society Institute To get additional copies please contact ARF at rylkov.foundation@gmail.com CONTAC T S:

Ogorodny proezd, 5, str. 3, Moscow, 127254, Russia T E L . : +7 (495) 663-21-02 F A X : +7 (495) 663-21-03 W E B : www.harmreduction.ru E - M A I L : info@harmreduction.ru ADDRESS:

Please note that the events described in this book took place in early 2000s and represent personal experiences of the book’s heroes. Mention of names of certain substances and medicines and routes of administration does is not constitute endorsement.

Thanks to Anna Moshkova, Lev Levinson, Ludmila Alpern, Dasha Ocheret, Vitaly Djuma, and Sergey Koren — for their support and ideas. To the heroes of this book — for sincerely and trustfully sharing their stories. To Sergey Tikhonov — for assistance and co-authorship.


Table of Contents Dedication • 5 Introduction • 7 Luyda Karpova:

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I know where I come from” • 9 Natasha Demjanova:

“My sisters moved to a rented apartment … so that they did not have to live with me, an HIV-infected person” • 22 Vlad Osovsky :

The house of expectation • 31 Masha Kudryashova:

Another “tick mark” for the quotas • 35 Sasha “Azazelo”:

Prison: revelations from the punishment cell • 40 Rosa Mikhailovna K.

About sons and codependence • 50 Oksana B.:

“I contracted HIV in prison” • 56 Svetlana N.:

High security • 59 Gregory Ter-Asaturov:

Gulag for drug addicts • 64 Yura D.:

“When I recollect that life it makes me shudder” • 70


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Table of Contents

Ekaterina Lavrinovich:

A female prisoner’s case • 80 Alexander G.:

“I suffered from health problems in the colony. I was rotting.” • 82 Lev Levinson: Nothing will change unless everything changes • 87 Reasons for imprisonment: A portrait of a convicted drug user • 91


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Dedication

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t the end of 2003 and beginning of 2004, the Russian government reviewed Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and adopted new amendments. Possession of drugs for individual use was changed from a criminal offense to an administrative violation. Heated discussions in the mass media accompanied the review of the amendments and, following their adoption, the revised average individual doses led to widespread debates about whether imprisonment helps to deal with drug addiction. We often heard that “prison cures” and that imprisonment was an opportunity—an opportunity for a drug-free life. Luba Nebrenchina did not share this optimistic outlook on the role of prison in the lives of those who use drugs; in fact, she strongly disagreed with the idea. Luba herself had served a sentence; she had also worked in the system of post-release rehabilitation and was constantly in communication with those imprisoned under Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code. To her there was never any question about the fact that prison does not create additional opportunities for people to stop using drugs; rather, Luba believed it actually eliminates any chance they might have had to do so. Luba found it shocking that this ever needed to be explained. To change the minds of supporters of the theory that “prison cures,” Luba told stories of people who had been to prison and of the impact this experience had had on their lives; she spoke of what they had encountered while in prison and of their difficult path of reintegration into society. She spoke of the hopes these people had prior to their release and the reality they faced once outside of prison. And so, the idea to write this book was born. Luba did not want this book to be an academic study or a collection of essays about the fate of those behind bars. She wanted it to tell the

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Dedication

story of those whose voices are rarely heard—drug users released from prison and trying to get their lives back on track—trying to find housing, reestablish personal relationships, find a job, get treatment… Luba spent more than two years collecting materials for this book. The number of people who wanted to share their stories continued to grow and the length of the book kept increasing. The editor had the difficult task of paring down the book. Luba did not live to see the publication of the book—she died on June 10, 2007. Luba’s contribution toward advocacy efforts for more humane drug policies has been enormous. Because of her work, today we are able to hear from those whose voices would otherwise be silent. We are able to hear firsthand accounts of what it means to be a prisoner and a drug user; we are able to learn about lives pierced with fear, humiliation, pain, loss and undying hope—the hope that the situation can still take a turn for the better. Dasha Ocheret, former president, Charity Foundation for the Development of Self-Support, “Kolodetz”

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Introduction

E

verything described in these pages is the reality of our time. The reality where there are drugs and drug users, drug dealers and law enforcement officials, overdoses and withdrawal, prostitution, gang rivalry, terminal illnesses, and many other things that the general public knows about only from the TV news. Some people aren’t ready to face such a reality. But drugs and the associated problems have long been a central part of our life. When we encounter this problem, we often try to avert our gaze and step aside. This book is about people who, like anyone else, are able to love and empathize, feel pain and hate, suffer, create, and dream. The only thing that makes them different is their dependence on drugs. Medication-assisted treatment (with methadone or buprenorphine) could be one way to solve the problem of drug addiction. These medications are recommended by the World Health Organization and have been effectively implemented in many countries for years. However, these therapeutic resources have never been used in our country. It is illegal to give opiates to drug users for the treatment of drug addiction in Russia. Detoxification in the hospital is the only treatment scheme approved in the Russian Federation for serious cases of opiate addiction. However, in reality, it is not always possible. So there are, as yet, no other treatment options for drug users. In addition, in light of the HIV epidemic in Russia (with a high percentage of HIV-positive cases among drug users) and the introduction of antiretroviral therapy, methadone or buprenorphine treatment for HIV-positive people is essential. Antiretroviral therapy delays for years the development of AIDS, but it requires patients to adhere to a complicated scheme of treatment where interruptions in the intake of medications are not acceptable. When we deal with drug users, who are focused on finding drugs while trying

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Introduction

to avoid the law, it is very difficult to ensure their commitment to treatment and adherence to the necessary medical regimens without offering them methadone or buprenorphine. There is the potential for a resistant form of the virus to develop when people do not adhere to antiretroviral treatment regimens; resistance could lead to the premature deaths of a great number of HIV-positive people. It is clear that the solution to the complicated task of providing assistance to drug users requires the cooperation of a great number of people. The results are directly dependent on how well all interested parties, and society in general, are able to work together. We hope that the hard work of nongovernmental organizations will eventually result in improved understanding between drug users and the government. Like all human beings, government officials also have a heart. This means that the harsh life stories told in this book cannot leave them unmoved. Sergei Koren, psychiatrist and drug treatment doctor

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Luyda Karpova:

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I know where I come from” Prelude to my arrest We lived on the top floor of a nine-story apartment building. On the first floor there was a grocery store and crowds of people were jostling near the store right under my balcony. I remember at that time my parents booted me out of my apartment because they were afraid that I would turn it into a brothel. They planned to take me to live with them until I was “cured” of drug addiction and, in the meantime, lock up my apartment. They said that if I didn’t agree to live with them I would end up living on the street. To make a long story short, that evening I was supposed to go back to my parents’ place. This would mean that I had accepted their terms and conditions for my recovery. The first time I went to get medical help for my addiction it was anonymous. I went to a narcologist.1 However, two months after that, I started receiving notices from the narcological dispensary2 requesting that I come for testing. They registered me without my consent. My parents believed that drug addiction was curable and that my incurability was because of my lack of desire to be cured. As if I wanted to live the rest of my life like this – constantly starving, without money, kicked by “menty,”3 spending months and years in prison, being stung by needles all over my body and going through withdrawal. They also were sure that 1 • medical doctor specializing in treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. 2 • in-patient medical facility for treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. 3 • police (slang) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Luyda Karpova • “I don’t know where I’m going,

but I know where I come from”

years spent in captivity could obliterate from my consciousness my past as a drug addict and erase my psychological dependence on “kaif”4. At that time I didn’t have a single crumb or any money. Depression was practically driving me crazy. I was going through such severe withdrawal that I was passing out periodically. Every cell of my body was twisted and curled up into a knot. My mind was working in only one direction — where to find money to get drugs to end this withdrawal. My boyfriend was lying on the couch unable to get up. I went to the balcony and looked down. People were scurrying from store to store; they were spending money, and here we are — in complete hopelessness. Should I throw myself off the balcony? I did not want to live; there was no reason to live. When I stood there and looked down enviously at the rich people, I decided that I would not go to my parents, and that I would not go for treatment in the madhouse either — a useless waste of time, money, and nerves. I figured I’d have the life of a drug addict till I died from an overdose — there was no other way to escape from drugs. At that time I was not a “hard-boiled drug addict” — I had only been using drugs for one year, and I certainly didn’t imagine that the most dreadful ordeals were still to come. On the same day a few buddies dropped by and gave us “chernyashka.”5 That evening my boyfriend went to his parents and I went to mine. We openly asked them for money to buy drugs. We said we wanted to buy a whole lot to boil a solution and then take it gradually decreasing the dose. We would inject just a little bit and then go to a clinic and get our blood purified by hemodez6. However, these plans were not destined to be fulfilled. Naturally, talk about decreasing our dose was just bait for our parents, to persuade them to give us money and not throw us out of the apartment. All the money that we got was spent on drugs and the only thing that stopped us was getting arrested.

My arrest They approached from behind and I immediately knew they were “menty,” though their appearance was calculated to suggest a criminal lifestyle. They wore counterfeit expensive watches of golden metal and all of them had shoulder bags, sheepskin coats, and dull faces. They asked me if I’d ever had the honor to be arrested by the Piotrs7. They quickly flashed their IDs so that I was not able to read anything and “dressed” my hands in handcuffs. When they walked me to the car I knew who had turned me in: I saw my sidekick under police escort. They crammed him in the trunk and pushed me into the back of the 4 • state of being high (slang). 5 • opiate drug made at home (slang). 6 • serum given through an IV. Many believe that this medical procedure removes toxins from the blood. 7 • investigators from Moscow Criminal Investigation Department call themselves “Piotr”. Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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car, grabbing my neck with all five fingers and pressing my head to my chest so that I couldn’t see the road. I felt scared and hopeless. During the drive I wanted to look out the window and calm the scary feeling of not knowing where I was being taken, but five sweaty fingers grasped my neck harder. Upon arrival we were met by a huge, stocky man. He had a holster and was wearing tight jeans and a tight T-shirt. “Here is your father, he works in the Gestapo,” joked one of the “menty” pointing at the man. I realized that it would be this “father” who would deal with me. Horror was surging up inside me. These “opers”8 treated us like dirt. They beat us severely. They would force us into iron chairs fixed to the floor and try to get confessions on all the cold cases in their department. They could make me confess to being a “drug mule” who’d just arrived from Bangladesh or a serial killer who’d murdered an entire kindergarten. One of my torturers told me that several thousand detainees confessed to the murder of Alexandr Meng9. What drove them especially crazy was that I was a drug addict. They figured it out from the needle marks on my arms when they stripped me naked to shake me down. They felt out all the stitches on my clothing and then checked my vagina. There were several criminal investigation officers in the room — all male, and they all took turns searching me. They beat me hard and painfully with a table leg that they had there for beatings. They strangled me with my own belt while telling me that if I died they would throw me into the Moscow River and send out a search for me as a missing person. They tried to make me disclose my drug dealer. They raped my sidekick just for the hell of it. They did it after he confessed to everything he could. The detainees signed for by the prosecutor for arrest were driven to the detention center at night — at least that’s when I was taken to the pretrial detention center. I could barely walk: I had a wound on my head, vaginal bleeding, huge bruises all over my body, bruised kidneys and a swollen liver.

Prison life Prison begins with violence and the door slammed behind your back. In the newly painted prison people are humiliated by well-rehearsed schemes of psychological abuse. Sometimes they would throw us a couple of potatoes. Invariably they’d give us tea with bromide to anesthetize emotional outbursts. Moscow prison for women doesn’t look like other prisons. Its walls are not painted in horrible dark green but shine with the color of steel, and are smooth and not bumpy. Doors threaten you with glass peepholes. There are video cameras and barred doors every five or six meters. The prison ward consists of three rooms — in a way a suite of rooms: bedroom, kitchen, 8 • slang name for the officers of the criminal investigation department (operational department) 9 • unsolved case of a Russian priest brutally murdered in 1990 Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Luyda Karpova • “I don’t know where I’m going,

but I know where I come from”

and a toilet. The personnel are all women except for a few “nice guys” for intimidation. These guys are also present during shakedowns and don’t mind rummaging through women’s belongings themselves. They are almost always accompanied by a dog in an unpredictable mood: sometimes it strains on its leash or sometimes indifferently watches all the fuss with its tongue hanging out. The senior “auntie,” a woman with tattoos, orders you to choose a shkonka10. At that time the prison was not yet overcrowded, but later prisoners had to sleep in the kitchen under the tables and in the passage between the plank beds. They were not going to provide treatment for drug addiction — this became clear when we were admitted to the isolation ward. We had “dry” withdrawal — without any medication. Some girls’ relatives brought vitamins, but this wasn’t a salvation. We drank chifir11. In prison it is easier to undergo withdrawal, because your brain is occupied with survival, thinking about your future and your criminal case. Therefore physical suffering moves to the background. But as soon as you become used to prison conditions you start craving an injection. The drug itself is just a part of addiction: you are also addicted to the act of injecting — needle obsession — and to the movements involved in the search for heroin, cooking and preparing an injection. There was a strong desire to get a spoon, pour out a little pile of heroin, boil it with the lighter, suck it into a syringe through a cotton swab or cigarette filter and inject the vein. I knew clearly that prison would not cure me of addiction, and that after serving my term the first thing I would do would be to set up connections, get a spoon, pour out a little pile of heroin and… There was an incident in the prison: doctors brought a few packs of pentalgine12 to one girl, Natasha, which her parents included in the package at her request. Somebody said that if you inject it in the vein it can make you feel high. One girl smuggled a shortened insulin syringe in her anus. They dissolved the tablets in the boiled water and all four girls injected it. When I was already in the penal colony I learned that one of them was HIV positive. All three girls contracted HIV. How did I learn about it? One of them was transferred to the same camp where I was. For two months Natasha stayed in the healthy brigade. (At that time there was only one HIVpositive prisoner, Dinara. At the beginning Dinara was kept in the punishment cell and later they isolated her in the medical unit.) In two months Natasha’s tests were confirmed. She was diagnosed with HIV and transferred to the medical unit. Prison was practically without “roads”13, love intrigues or any of the other attributes often present when men and women serve their term together. We 10 • two-tier bed. In old provincial prisons there are sometimes three-tier beds made from iron and concrete. 11 • very strong tea. 12 • analgesic painkiller pills. 13 • routes by which prisoners communicate with other blocks or with people on the outside. Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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were transporting a lot of malyavas14 hidden inside our bodies to make sure we’d pass a shakedown. Then we handed them over to men from Matrosskaya Tishina15 and Butyrka16 while we were transported in the special car for prisoners. This is how correspondence was carried out. A shakedown before going to a trial or crime re-enactment is a horrible experience. You have to pass examination in a gynecology chair: they feel inside you with the same glove that was used for the previous patient and fumble there hoping to find a malyava about a criminal case. If they catch you the punishment cell is guaranteed. I often read over my “naked diary,” the lines that I wrote after the initial shock: “….I entered a tunnel. I was cold and scared. I was scared of the future and the present, scared even for a bowl of soup — I was afraid it would get cold. Swearing, toothless people deprived me of my thoughts and hard candies. Beds here are shared in turns, and there is almost never soap or air….” I did not stay long in the same ward. Perekid17 was one of the preventive measures used by the officers. As soon as you feel settled they order you to collect your belongings and move to another ward lest you feel relaxed. During one year I changed wards 11 times. Three times I was put into a punishment cell; once it was after the trial. At that time they allowed me to have a pencil and paper so that I could write an appeal. Each time I went on a hunger strike and wrote a claim to the head of the prison. In my private meetings with her she always said: “I pardon you.” I remember at first being in denial about what had been happening to me. It was only about half a year later that I began understanding prison reality — don’t believe, don’t be scared, and don’t ask for anything. But at that time I was scared, had blind faith and sometimes asked for something. I was scared of everything — the looming endless term, visits by the investigator I wanted to deceive, the impudence of ward bitches whom I still managed to rebuff and once even had a fight with. I was scared of old age that would come along with the end of my term. I was scared of losing my family. I believed in anything — even fake fortunetelling with homemade cards. I believed in dreams and superstitions, believed in my appeals to courts and in courts. I believed that I would withstand. I asked for advice and cigarettes. I asked them to pardon me. In half a year I realized that the only thing that could be scarier than prison would be another prison: for example, a wheelchair. My fears will not change anything; instead they would make things worse. To ask and give in later just emphasizes your weakness. Believe only in yourself, but not 100 percent. 14 • a little rolled note sealed into plastic for convenient transportation and hiding 15 • name of a prison in Moscow 16 • name of a prison in Moscow 17 • transfer from one ward to another Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Luyda Karpova • “I don’t know where I’m going,

but I know where I come from”

Questions without answers Many things were unclear. Why did they put a drug user unable to kick the habit into this hell? It was unclear: if they were going to put a person in jail for several years, why did they deprive that person of toilet paper, soap, air, vitamins, water, and everything else that the government fails to provide (due to poverty, frugality, or theft by the prison staff) in pretrial detention centers and labor camps? Who will help a person to regain the freedom lost when he/she became a drug addict? What have we done to justify depriving us of our health, which was already damaged when we were free? Thyroid gland enlargement in prisoners was almost universal. Women’s reproductive health deteriorated due to long hours of standing outdoors for role-calls at freezing temperatures, due to lack of exercise, and sitting on concrete benches and iron beds, and the damp walls, due to tuberculosis, which is very dangerous for HIV-positive prisoners. The future for these people is aktirovka18 — so the prison can avoid having a corpse on its hands. Almost always the prisoners released by aktirovka die very soon after release.

Operational summaries Often we were called for a meeting with interrogators and forced to write acknowledgment of guilt notes and expose heroin dealers. I went to jail at the very climax of the anti-drug campaign in early 1997. In prison wards you would meet heroin and hanka19 carriers and distributors. Later heroin was replaced by poppy seeds from the market. The terms for these crimes were enormous, unfair and unjustified. Everybody was aware that the Narcotics Chart, which was used for determining the sentence, was a delusion. Here are examples of some of the inconsistent sentences people received: For possession of 0.002 g of heroin – 6 years in a high security penal colony For possession of 0.04 g of heroin – 12 years in a high security penal colony For possession of 0.001g of heroin — 10 years in a high security penal colony For possession of 15 g of raw opium — 15 years in a high security penal colony For possession of 0.0005 g of heroin — 11 years in a high security penal colony 18 • release from the prison due to health condition 19 • raw material for manufacturing opiate drugs Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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For possession of 0.3 g of heroin – 8 years in a high security penal colony For possession of 0.87 g and 0.91 g of raw opium — 7.5 years in a high security penal colony For possession of 0.172 g of heroin — 10 years in a high security penal colony For possession of 0.055 g of heroin — 9 years in a high security penal colony For possession of 0.203 g of heroin — 13 years in a high security penal colony For possession of 0.94 g of heroin — 11 years in a high security penal colony For cotton swabs used for filtering the drug solution with traces of 0.0002 g of heroin — 7 years in the high security penal colony. All confiscated substances were cut with other substances (sugar, chalk, etc.), but this was never taken into account during sentencing. The penalty for drug users depended on the judge’s mood and the drug situation in the city. Judges could impose a sentence ranging from the lowest to highest limit in accordance with this crazy chart and procedural and criminal codes, sympathy or antipathy toward the accused, and even their mood. The average sentence depended on a few factors, including the conscience and professionalism of the judge or public prosecutor. Sometimes previous convictions meant you would receive the highest level. It was these unpredictable factors and moods that brought us to our reality in prison — crowding into “Stolypin carriages”20 in hot and cold weather, using plastic bottles or bags for executing bodily functions, and sleeping in turns.

Drug treatment All convicted women prescribed compulsory drug treatment (Article 97 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) were registered in the colony. This meant being under the constant surveillance of the on-duty personnel. You have to sleep in the most visible and well-lit spot. You are constantly bothered by criminal investigation officers for check-ups. If you receive a parcel they thoroughly check the contents, cut it up in long strips in all directions and inspect all the seams. In the men’s colony, drugs are thrown in over the wall from outside and smuggled in by the warden for a bribe or brought by 20 • P. Stolypin – Russian reformer (beginning of 20th century) who invented special carriages for transportation of prisoners. Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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relatives and friends. Drug use in a women’s colony is almost nonexistent. But rarely, drugs appear in women’s colony too. It is hashish or heroin. The criminal investigation department finds out about this very rarely or it is the last thing they become aware of. Nobody in the prison provided treatment for drug addiction even though it was prescribed by law. In our medical ward we had to meet with a doctor who was either a former psychiatrist or general practitioner. It was obligatory to come to these meetings to talk about drug dependence. When during the meeting I had a nervous breakdown, the doctor prescribed me Korvalol or Valeryana21 drops and recommended that I write my relatives to send vitamins. However, everybody attended these useless meetings because this was the only way you could get this Article lifted (compulsory treatment of drug addiction), and apply for a conventional early release. You could not even suggest early release before having this Article lifted. Prison food was sometimes tasty, sometimes bad, but it was always inadequate. Twice a day there was a roll-call to make sure nobody escaped, and continuous work and more work. You could choose to attend school or professional training. The sleeping ward resembled a stable that housed many people for long years, everyone having her own quirks. Privacy was a luxury attainable only in the bathroom, although there was always a queue: Toilets simultaneously served as a place for smoking and chifir-drinking during cold seasons. The “bathhouse” consists of six water taps, four wash-basins and five showers releasing a thin trickle of water. Bathing is always a rush because bath day is only once a week for each barrack. In figures it works out like this: from 70 to 100 people for each five to 10 prison washbasins and three hours for bathing and washing once a week. The bathhouse is also concrete seats, steam from boiling water in a big room with dirty, sleek walls, and fussing ugly naked bodies often mangled by tattoos, scars, and time, and a piece of laundry soap for a month. You cut it in two by a dull knife: one piece for laundry and another for hair and body. If you are lucky and they bring shampoo or nice smelling soap to the kiosk you can buy it, making your choice in favor of shampoo or soap rather than jam or cookies. Some exchanged bread for soap or bought soap for working an extra shift. However, selling and buying is strictly prohibited. For many drug addicts, these small bits of happiness were all they could look forward to for many years.

Degradation of personality The prisons and colonies morally crippled people. Childish behavior that appeared in many women prisoners was not an infantile game: It was a way to protect themselves, to avoid getting rejected, or plead for what they needed. It is a habit that becomes a 21 • korvalol and valeryana are both sedatives Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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part of you like your second skin, which you physically feel, and you know when you have to turn on the “baby talk.” All the women prisoners liked to pose for photos: they took off the obligatory head kerchiefs and put them on their shoulders, posed in front of the camera. Those who were younger ran to the barracks to put on lipstick. The most sassy ones who knew about the arrival of visitors ahead of time would come in the morning all “dressed up” wearing sports pants with the obligatory skirt (but a chic one with shiny threads or flowers) over their pants and high-heel peep-toe shoes, and stand there waiting in the lokalka22. Make-up would complete the image. I liked to pose for photos too and always asked people to send me a copy. I understood this passion when I was free again: Practically all women, irrespective of their age, cease, on a subconscious level, to feel their womanhood when they are in jail. Perhaps they cut it off unconsciously, as if by cutting off their past they anesthetize their present and future. They adopt the persona of a person on remand and then of a sentenced creature. A woman inside a woman dies as she acquires different identities: “vichevkaspidovka,”23 “chahotochnya,”24 thief, murderer, drug addict, homeless, etc. Therefore this desire is understandable: women want to look at themselves from the outside, through the photo, and through other people’s eyes, especially the eyes of somebody from the free world. There is a desire to see yourself as a woman who did not lose her human appearance, her femininity covered by the gray awkward outfit. Many wanted to look better. Some women went down totally, turning into buggered up souls with dull faces, wearing unattractive overalls, sucking roll-up cigarettes greedily, and having just one gray dream — to smoke a cigarette with a filter and get their hands on some tea.

Plans for the future I don’t know what brought about my breaking point. Perhaps because I came to the edge of my own threshold, which I set for myself to prevent going crazy? I gathered all my letters that I’d kept for three long years in a beautiful candy box, arranging shabby envelopes by date. I took my collection of cactuses outside — which were like my children in that closed space. I pressed the envelopes to my chest and parted with the run of time enclosed in those pages. Then I lit a match and burned my past. I will never again be the person I was before. Filled with experiences and saturated with everyday routine, prison life would haunt me till the end of my term, which was given to me not by God, but by people who took the liberty to judge me for a disease despite the fact that 90 percent of our society consists of addicted people — some are addicted to vodka, some to beer, and some to cigarettes. It fact, these are also drugs but they are “legal drugs.” How would it be if people were sentenced 22 • fenced-in area 23 • HIV/AIDS positive (slang) 24 • to have tuberculosis (slang) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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but I know where I come from”

to the lower limit for a shot of vodka and to the highest level for a bottle of vodka? I am wasting years leaving only sand after myself where nothing will grow. Fire hastily consumed my material values. In the camp I was made to work as a seamstress and as help staff. Sick of intrigue and tortured by the regime and excessive labor, I realized that I would not inject again. I didn’t want to feel high or to sweat for it behind bars. I wanted to live like others — get married, have a baby, get a job. No more heroin, cocaine, friends who get high on anything — nothing from the past. My term of nine years and six months was reduced due to a granted pardon. In three-and-a-half years I was leaving the prison feeling the eyes of those left behind piercing my back. I innocently believed that my internal prison – drug addiction — was a dream from long ago.

Freedom according to plan My family accepted me back. I came home. Having lived with acquaintances for a long time and later in the colony, I’d become unaccustomed to home to such a degree that I felt uneasy getting food from the refrigerator because I hadn’t bought it myself. My parents took me shopping for clothes, make-up and perfume. Somehow very quickly there was a groom for me. I tried to find a job but, tired of the search, I left for another city. I didn’t even dare to think about drugs. I was offered a good job in Moscow. I lived in the capital for a month, working and being relatively calm, till I met a young man. With him thoughts of heroin returned. Thinking back I understand that it was not only this young man who played a role in this; it was because of loneliness, indifference, and feeling useless and unsettled. It is now that I know: I should have gone through rehabilitation after spending time behind the bars, but nobody was there to help me. Again believing in my own willpower and thinking that I was stronger than heroin, I started using again. At the beginning it was once a week — on Sundays. Then it became twice a week, killing all my weekends, for I had to look for drugs and take them. I kept injecting to the point that I nearly died from peritonitis.25 Neglecting my health, I understood too late that I was pregnant. I had a miscarriage because they did not accept me at the hospital — they delayed till I lost the baby. I lost my job. I had to go back home. I was finally taken to the hospital, but when they learned that I was a drug user they refused to give me narcotics. I did not stop using drugs and increased the dose because I was in pain. Had they helped me at the hospital, perhaps I would have overcome withdrawal. By that time I had already tried to hang myself. Cheap drugs in the province aggravated my situation. My parents tried to help: They would take me to mental hospitals because there was no narcological dispensary where I could go for in-patient treatment. It’s typical for drug users to be put in the “madhouse.” I tried to 25 • inflammation of the abdominal lining, caused by bacterial or fungal infection Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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get treatment in both out-patient and in-patient facilities, but it was all useless. On the second or third day I would break down and go to a dealer. Treatment did not help and everyone knew that — patients, doctors, and parents. Parents would bring their kids there with a glimmer of hope and partially because they wanted to get a break from their children, their withdrawal symptoms, theft, and fear for their lives. Many times I wanted to have an overdose. But after I had to save a few people from overdose by pinning their tongue to their cheek to prevent them from choking, I gave up that idea. I too had unintentional overdoses — I was lucky they called for an ambulance. However, after the second call at my address, physicians came with a team of special police who turned everything upside down in my apartment. After that they would come every other day to check if it was a drug den. During that time I lived with a pickpocket. We had a lot of money. After a while he went to jail for four months and I was supported by his friends. However, they could not do it for a long time. Who would share their own dose with a friend’s girlfriend, especially during the days when luck turned away from him? I had to think about my own “food.” Nobody wanted to hire me. If they accepted me it didn’t last long. I could not survive withdrawal and left my job early, which resulted in my firing. Sometimes in a day or two they would guess about my addiction and show me the way to the door. Finally I lost any hope. I did not have a place to live. When evening came I panicked: Where to go to spend the night? It was scary and shameful to sleep in the stairwell of the building. My family refused to let me come home. Fellow drug users like you will not accept you without a dose. There was no money to buy a dose; my body was in pain due to withdrawal. I dreamt of lying on a soft couch in a warm flat…my stomach was twisted into a tube, not a single crumb in my mouth. I didn’t even have five rubles to go home and ask my mother for food, so she could shove a couple of pies through the crack of the slightly opened door so my stepfather wouldn’t see. My relatives didn’t understand, no matter how hard I tried to explain, that I could not cope with it on my own. They believed that I was weak-willed but not sick. They tried to get me treated for addiction because all parents come to narcologists full of such hope. I would ask my relatives to help me but then, having endured for two or three days, I would go wrong again. After this they would think that I was a cheater and say that I didn’t really want to get rid of my problem. Finally, they would throw me out into empty obscurity…to cold, benches, porches, prisons, or drug dens. Sometimes they would do that offering a “golden injection.”26 I don’t blame them; I understand they were tired — tired of being scared for me, of carrying parcels to prison, theft of their valuables, and of shame. But we are their children — sick and lonely children who are unable to fight addiction on our own and get out of this hell. I had girlfriends who agreed to sell hanka and heroin in small amounts. They’d 26 • high dose of drugs causing terminal overdose Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Luyda Karpova • “I don’t know where I’m going,

but I know where I come from”

get a small commission from the deals in the form of heroin or hanka. I saw no other way out, so I decided to join them. Gypsies who provided the drugs we sold paid bribes to “menty” to allowing us to sell drugs undisturbed. Later when I could not repay the Gypsies because I had injected all the drugs myself, I started stealing. Sometimes I took things from my parents; I sold all my belongings. “Menty” detained me many times. They raped me, beat me, and tortured me with electrical currents, but did not open a criminal case. My parents did not want to know me. As time passed I did not care about them at all but at the beginning I suffered a lot because of their attitude toward me. Later I came to them just to take money; no further contacts. My boyfriend who came back from prison let it slip that he had HIV. We parted ways. I learned about his death accidentally. He died about one-and-a-half or two months after we parted. He had sepsis. At the beginning he did not pay attention. He had problems with his veins and often missed veins, injecting the solution under the skin, which resulted in furuncles and abscesses. His condition became so bad that he howled from pain. One night when he was howling his stepfather could not bear it anymore and threw him out. The guy asked his stepfather to call for an ambulance, but he did not react to his cries. Finally he called for an ambulance. Doctors came in 15 minutes, looked at him with disgust and went away leaving him on the porch with a verdict: “We don’t need a corpse in the car, and he will not survive until we get to the hospital.” His stepfather did not let him back in. He died in an hour or two. They could have saved him or at least could have allowed him to die as a human being in his own bed.

Escape I realized that in this city where prostitutes sell themselves for the price of a dose, in every other house in the Gypsy’s quarter you could buy the drug of your choice: • Hanka — 50 rubles for one dose, can be used by two people; • Check (a dose of heroin) — from 150 to 200 rubles, also can be used by two; • One gram of heroin — 500 rubles, number of people per gram depends on the size of a dose. In this city where 60–70% of people between13 and 50 years old use drugs, I knew I would not be able to get out of this. I would not stop. There wasn’t a place to hide in this small city. I took money from my parents and bought a train ticket on the upper berth. Having just 40 rubles to pay for sheets, I boarded the train and left for Moscow. All my belongings in the bag consisted of a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of soda, a couple of buns, one sweater, and a pair of underpants. While on the train, I spent most of the time on my upper berth, leaving it only to smoke and go to the bathroom. I suffered terribly from withdrawal. I did not have a single pill to ease my pain and my bottle of Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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water was empty halfway to my destination. At night women conductors treated me with tea. During the day I was doubled over in pain. I very much wanted to live.

Life No. 3 A girlfriend agreed to host me till I could find a place to live. I was still in withdrawal at the time I came to live with her. My friend managed to get some “Tramadol” pills — an opiate pain reliever — under the counter at some pharmacy. It was my salvation. However, once I nearly overdosed on these pills. In about a month or month-and-ahalf I came to myself. I started working at my former job and moved in with a guy who didn’t use drugs. At times when I was down I always knew that I’d been in even worse situations… I became stronger. There was a time when I thought that prison, rejection by my relatives who threw me away as a drug user, torture by “menty,” and everything that I’d experienced, was as bad as it could get. However, my ordeals had not yet come to an end. I had an HIV test. I was sitting on a leatherette couch waiting for my results and biting my nails — I wanted to live. After some time they announced that I was HIV positive without explaining what I should do next. I died… I died from HIV while I continued going to work, dating, and just living.

My fourth life About six months later I had to go to a hospital with what doctors thought was appendicitis. I did not tell them about my HIV status. I was not registered at the AIDS center because I did not have a Moscow propiska27. They offered for me to be their guinea-pig — to test new AIDS vaccines. However, this was up in the air because I did not have my latest HIV test results. In the hospital they started preparing me for surgery. Naturally, I had to go through various tests. Rather than appendicitis, it turned out that I had a women’s ailment, and my HIV test results were negative! I rushed to the Sklifosofski Institute28 and had my test repeated, and again it was negative! And again nothing changed in my life. I don’t feel like I am not HIV positive. I just don’t divide people into those who have HIV and those who don’t. I live with them and remember that, in part, the epidemic spreads from rejection, from discrimination, from dividing people into categories, like drug consumers and bread consumers. Secretly, I’m envious of people who, despite everything, have children. I don’t know where I’m going, but I know where I come from.

27 • government-issued registration within certain city, town, or village 28 • leading medical research center and a hospital in Moscow Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Natasha Demjanova:

“ My sisters moved

to a rented apartment... so that they did not have to live with me, an HIV-infected person“ Natasha Demjanova — HIV positive, 28 years old — was sentenced to seven years and six months in the high security women’s colony in the small town of Shakhovo, Orlovskaya province. After serving seven years, she was released six months early. Below is the transcript of an interview with her..

Natasha, please tell me when and why you started taking drugs? My friends told me a lot of good things about drugs and I wanted to try them for myself. They described to me the sensations brought on by the drugs. One friend gave me some drugs to try and I liked it. He visited me every day for three months and I took drugs every day. Only after three months did I start experiencing withdrawal symptoms. However, at that time I thought that I had caught the flu. When my friend called to tell me that he wasn’t coming I told him I had fallen ill. He asked me how I was feeling and I explained and said Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


Natasha Demjanova • “My sisters moved to a rented apartment... so that they did not have to live with me, an HIV-infected person“

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that perhaps I had the flu. Then he asked me to come to his place. Later he explained to me that it was not the flu but withdrawal. He helped me get rid of the withdrawal symptoms. I took drugs for three years in total. Five times my parents placed me in various hospitals for treatment. This is how I became registered at the narcological hospital. I myself did not want to get registered. The hospital treatment did not help. It was only in prison that I was able to stop taking drugs. When I came home from prison I took drugs on the second day I was out and then I continued taking them non-stop. Later, when I was jailed again, I had to survive withdrawal there. While I lived outside prison I always took precautions and used clean syringes. How many times have you been arrested and under what charges? I have four convictions. The first conviction was when I was 15 years old. I was charged with being involved in a murder. I spent one year in prison. I was not scared in prison and I wasn’t homesick: I knew that they would let me go home because I did not kill anyone; I just helped a friend hide the body and did not report him. While in prison, I burst into tears only once, on New Year’s Eve. It happened when I watched the celebration of the New Year on TV. Everything looked so beautiful. Later I was convicted of robbery and was released on amnesty. In 1997, I was 20 years old and already addicted to opiates. Sometimes I smoked marijuana. Once, a girlfriend called me on the phone begging me to bring her some heroin: she had severe withdrawal. I told her that I did not have heroin but that I could bring her some marijuana. She asked me to come and at least bring marijuana. I had a little box of marijuana that I took with me and to relieve my friend. As soon as I entered her door I was handcuffed. To make a long story short I was arrested. The prosecutor didn’t sign the sanction for my arrest because of the small size of the box of marijuana, and they let me free under a written pledge not to leave town. However, when they started the investigation I did not come for interrogation because I was injecting heroin. I was not hiding from them, but when you are on heroin you don’t care about other things. I was arrested because I didn’t come. They came to my home and took me to pretrial detention facility number six. They gave me five years of prison with a two-year furlough. In four months I got into trouble. One of my girlfriends was selling heroin and I gave her $50 U.S. for half a gram but she stood me up — she did not bring the heroin. After a couple of hours a few of my friends and I went to her house. She was not at home but her drunken father opened the door and let us in. We waited for her for a while and then took a TV set from her room as compensation for my money and left the house. They filed a claim against us. Actually we should have been charged for vigilante justice but they charged us for robbery Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Natasha Demjanova • ”My sisters moved to a rented apartment... so that they did not have to live with me, an HIV-infected person”

with extreme violence. We all received prison sentences. I got seven-and-ahalf years in high-security prison. In addition to that I got Article 97 of the Criminal Code — mandatory treatment of drug addiction. Did they cure your addiction at the colony? What did the treatment include? No they did not cure me. People can cure themselves if they want. It is impossible to make somebody want to get cured. They treated me with the vitamins that were available at the medical unit. Actually they had a very limited supply of medicines or even vitamins there. They asked us to tell our relatives to bring us those medicines from home. Our former head of the medical unit (now he is a narcologist) would call us to his office and read lectures about the harm caused by drugs. These lectures were useless because they did not do anything for us, but they were obligatory. If you didn’t come to the lecture they would not lift the Article. If they didn’t lift the Article you would be tortured by registration29 and you would be granted neither early parole nor early pardon. Our narcologist was a great “castle-builder:” he liked to experiment. He invented an ointment for removing tattoos. When you applied his ointment it would remove the tattoo together with the skin or sometimes the skin would come off but not the tattoo. Once he did an experiment where he called a group of drug users and treated them under hypnosis. I was in that group. They put headphones on us, turned on the music and the doctor started reciting the text. He believed that this would help us kick our dependence on drugs. Perhaps it could have helped but the experiment was quickly scaled down due to low attendance. Those who wanted could get aminazin30. Later when we started receiving donations from humanitarian groups, we were given one pill of phenozepam — a tranquilizer that allegedly can cure drug dependence. How did it happen that you were diagnosed with HIV? I did not want to part with my girlfriends because by that time we had all gotten our terms and were waiting for a transfer. We were all assigned to different colonies. So we decided to “zamostyritsya”31 in order to infect ourselves with hepatitis so that they’d announce quarantine in our cell and put all three of us together in the hospital at Matrosskaya Tishina32. By doing this we could delay being split up for about 40 days. A new girl came to our cell. She said that 29 • State registration as a drug user can inhibit people from finding jobs, getting housing, etc. 30 • tranquilizer 31 • voluntarily infect oneself in order to be placed in a hospital or delay transfer to another institution. 32 • name of prison (slang) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


Natasha Demjanova • ”My sisters moved to a rented apartment...

so that they did not have to live with me, an HIV-infected person”

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she had hepatitis and we decided to inject her blood. At that time none of us suspected that instead of hepatitis we were injecting a virus of human immunodeficiency. Somebody in the cell had a syringe – now I don’t remember who it was. We dissolved a few pills containing codeine in water, took blood from the new girl’s vein and mixed it with the solution. After that all three of us injected this solution. The new girl did not inject since she already had hepatitis. Later we found out that she knew about her HIV status but for some reason didn’t tell us about it, and even suggested that we inject her blood when she heard us discussing ways of delaying transfer to different colonies. Later we learned that she was transferred to the cell for HIV-positive prisoners. I learned about it much later because on that day I was transferred to another institution, but my two friends had found out and were living in fear of whether or not they had HIV. I was diagnosed with HIV infection a month later, after arrival at the colony. This news shocked me. All that time I was living in peace and was getting used to the zone. I had a blood test as everybody does upon admission to the colony. On that day I was not feeling well; I had been suffering from diarrhea for two weeks already. That day I reached the breaking point and came to the medical unit but they did not give me any pills and said that the diarrhea was from the water and that I would soon adapt to the environment in the zone. They recommended that I drink the water left after boiling rice33 and didn’t even ask if I had rice to boil! I could not go and buy rice in the shop or buy pills in the pharmacy. I came back from the medical unit and fell asleep. Then I was awakened by the nurse from the medical unit who asked me to come to the medical unit. She discreetly told my cellmate to collect all my belongings and bring them to the medical unit after we left. (I’d recently had a meeting with my relatives and they brought me some of my things.) My cellmate stole more than a half of my belongings. We came to the head of the medical unit and he told me my HIV status. He gave me a lecture about HIV and how to live with it and spoke about precautionary measures and about the ways the infection is transferred. He was mostly trying to calm me. I was flipping out. I thought that I would die soon. It was 1999 and we did not know much about HIV then. However, I was mostly worried about my parents. I thought that my mother would have a heart attack. They took another blood test and HIV was confirmed. Then I called my sister and told her about my diagnosis. I never talked to my mother about this subject. Only shortly before my release from the colony did my mother mention that my sisters were scared of living with me because I had HIV. They hid my 33 • natural remedy to help stop diarrhea Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Natasha Demjanova • ”My sisters moved to a rented apartment... so that they did not have to live with me, an HIV-infected person”

very existence from their fiancйs. One of my sisters is 22 and the other is 23 years old. Did many HIV-positive women who served their term with you survive until release? Tanya P. — 40 years old, died in the colony from a stroke. Tanja T. — 42 years old, died after release from sarcoma and TB. She was released on early parole. Lena Zh. — 28 years old, left prison due to aktirovka.34 Natasha Prozorova — 24 years old, died from an overdose. She was released due to the end of her term. Inna Z. — 22 years old, died from heart failure. She was released on early parole due to the reform of May 2004.35 Marina D. was released on early parole due to the reform. These are women who I know. Many women got “lost” after the release and did not keep in touch with others of us in the zone. Normally very few people receive medical release, although there are many people who you could tell should have been released, just by one look at them. TB is quite common in the zone. About eight percent of inmates have TB. They either live with us or are transferred to the hospital at the pretrial detention facility. During six years in prison I was tested for HIV twice following the original detection at entry; they never tested me for viral load. Every six months they tested me for TB. It is very uncommon for them to take blood tests of the prisoners. The head of the medical unit told us that the AIDS center of the city of Orel did not have the capacity for blood tests for such a large number of people. People waited in line to get tested and they sent this blood to the laboratory at the city of Orel. These tests were expensive and they did not have resources for that. Therefore it was impossible to identify the stage of HIV infection. By the time people get released they already have AIDS. By the time the person prepares all the necessary documents — insurance, passport, registration at the residence, etc., the time is lost and the person dies without blood testing and treatment. A lot of people die — very many. How did you live at the colony? When they detected my HIV status there were just two of us with HIV in the entire colony. We lived at the medical unit. They put metal nets on our windows. Healthy people were not allowed to communicate with us. The opers36 did not allow anybody to approach our windows. They did not allow us to communicate. When the number of HIV-positive women increased they allocated separate premises for us 34 • medical release 35 • in May of 2004, new amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offences established a fixed legal procedure for determining sentences in proportion to the amount of illegal substances found 36 • slang name for the officers of the criminal investigation department (operational department) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


Natasha Demjanova • ”My sisters moved to a rented apartment...

so that they did not have to live with me, an HIV-infected person”

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near the solitary confinement cells and stringent conditions barracks. They took us for a walk for two hours a day inside a little courtyard paved with concrete and with a net over the top, although we needed fresh air to avoid contracting TB. We spent eight months there. Later even those premises became too small: HIV-infected girls were arriving continuously. Where and how did you work? They did not allow us to work in the sewing workshop because they were afraid that we would interact with healthy prisoners and infect them. They brought cords into our cell and we braided nets for storing potatoes and other vegetables. There was a production quota of five nets a day. It was practically impossible to meet this quota. You need time to learn how to make them and acquire the necessary skills. However, from the beginning they demanded that we meet the quota. Later they started punishing us for the failure to meet this quota: they wrote reports that were filed in our personal records. All this impacted the chance of early parole and our personal characteristics for pardoning. Some of the “violators” who could not meet the quota were locked in a solitary confinement cell. This was something they did not have the right to do. I was put in such a cell but it was not for failure to meet work quotas but for insubordination to the administration: I left a meeting. They gave me 10 days and nights in solitary confinement. The conditions of the solitary confinement are the following: they would not give you a mattress at all, even for the night. During the day they lifted the shkonka37 and attached it to the wall so that you could neither sit nor lie down. All day you would sit on a tiny narrow bench. It was December and it was impossible even to crouch on that bench not to mention lie down because, although it was made of wood, it had a metal piece by the sides. It was very cold. You were allowed to have the following clothes: underpants, cotton socks, T-shirt, canvas dress with long sleeves, and slippers. No pantyhose or a jacket were allowed. You could have a towel so small it wouldn’t allow you to cover yourself. Food, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner was always the same: a thin slice of bread, a mug of hot water, and a pinch of salt. There was no mush or soup. I did not sleep on the plank bed because it was very cold. I used to lie on the floor under the radiator and while away the night there. Once they discovered how I spent the night and took me out of the cell and three of them beat me with their batons for refusing to lie down on the freezing plank bed. They beat me on my rear, legs, and shoulders. They did not beat me on the kidneys or liver. It happened that at the very same time there was a heating system failure and they turned off the heat for 48 hours. I thought that my reproductive system and limbs would be frozen. I stayed in this cell for ten days and nights. One can never forget such a nightmare. 37 • plank bed (slang) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Natasha Demjanova • ”My sisters moved to a rented apartment... so that they did not have to live with me, an HIV-infected person”

It was only for one single night (when the outage happened) that Nina Anatojevna Kolosova, the head of the shift on duty, took action and gave us telogreika38 till the morning. She knew that we were freezing and showed her humanity. She did it discreetly so that the authorities were not able to find out, otherwise she could have been in big trouble with the warden. They could have fired her for this. How did you live when a lot of HIV-infected women were admitted to the colony? Many women prisoners, mostly the “old” ones who had second or multiple convictions did not communicate with us because they were scared: “Don’t use our toilet, don’t use our wash tubs, and don’t come to our dining room…” Others who were more informed treated us normally; however they were secretly scared too. We lived for a long time in one brigade. They built a separate bathhouse for us: tiled walls, good shower, trays…it looked beautiful. Previously we’d washed ourselves in the common bathhouse that had slick walls, six shower tubs with water hardly dripping, and concrete benches. We started working at the sewing workshop. However, it was compulsory work. They expected from us the same quota as from the healthy prisoners. If you needed to take sick leave or leave work early after seven hours (in accordance with the medical certificate for HIV-positive status) and didn’t stay to work overtime (when we had urgent orders you had to work for 12 hours without weekends) the forewoman would transfer you to another operation. And this meant you had to learn new skills and it was impossible to meet the quota. This could lead to a written reprimand or solitary confinement. I hurt myself in order to get a release from work because it was impossible to work like that: I had constant conflicts with the forewoman. I had a neck vertebra injury before and my left hand didn’t feel anything. Five times I burned my hand with boiling water (I didn’t feel the pain at all) in order to get a sick leave due to the burn. When we acquired syringes in our brigade we used to dilute condensed milk with water and inject this solution into our veins. This caused a high fever and we could get a sick leave for three to five days. Another option was to inject this solution under the skin, which caused abscesses and furuncles. A sick leave for this was long: you could be released from work for a month and a half. Food was not bad — some meat, butter, milk, cottage cheese, and hard boiled eggs. Did you use drugs in the colony? There were no drugs circulating in the colony; there were no people who could deliver them there. Women’s colonies do not obtain staff through criminal networks like at 38 • rough quilted jackets for workers Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


Natasha Demjanova • ”My sisters moved to a rented apartment...

so that they did not have to live with me, an HIV-infected person”

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the men’s prisons. If somebody did bring drugs to the women’s colony they did it very discreetly; therefore we were not aware of it. Once, the husband of one of the prisoners living in our barrack brought her heroin. She managed to take it in the meeting room but was busted. One of the prisoners working as a floor cleaner in the meeting room noticed that the woman had narrowed pupils and ratted on her to the opers. The opers saw for themselves that she looked like she was under the influence of drugs. The meeting was terminated and the husband sent home while she was taken to Kromy (a small city in Orlovskaya province) for a blood test. The analysis confirmed that she had used drugs and the woman was registered under the label of “prone to drug use at penitentiary institutions.” Such registration means strict surveillance and additional “educational” work. She was denied meetings with her husband and son for a long period. Later she had to deal with a lot of red tape before they allowed her to visit with them. The parcels and packages that came to her were especially carefully shaken down: they cut everything into pieces, and opened all wrapped items. Some prisoners would receive marijuana, but heroin was not brought in that often. Instead of drugs we had a “circulation” of pills: karbamazepin, phenobarbital, and codeine-containing medicines. The medical unit would give out these pills to the epilepsy patients. We would buy those pills from them for cigarettes and sweets. In the zone only cigarettes with filters had any value. No one smoked Prima39 in the zone. Nowadays in the zone you can get nice items like coffee and candies. Previously, instead of cigarettes there was tobacco and tea of the same quality as straw; you considered yourself lucky if you could get a jar of condensed milk, canned herring in tomato sauce, and a piece of laundry soap (for both bathing and washing your laundry). Even these items were brought to the zone in limited amounts — they would last for just five or six days. What is scariest in the zone? Dirty tricks and treachery. What is the most valuable? Faith in somebody around you. Photos and keepsakes. What was the happiest event? It was when they lifted six months of my sentence (which I received for that little box of marijuana) due to the reform of the narcological Article. When they charged me for that box I was already on probation. So when they made the decision about my sentence they added these six months. That term was lifted. 39 • name of cheap unfiltered brand of cigarettes Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Natasha Demjanova • ”My sisters moved to a rented apartment... so that they did not have to live with me, an HIV-infected person”

How were you released? After serving for seven years, I left the prison at the end of my sentence. I served a full sentence till the very ring of the bell. My father came to the colony to take me home. My parents met me happily but my sisters did not want to live with me because they were scared. I still have not seen my elder sister. But they bought presents for my release and left them at my parents’ house for me. My parents gave me a separate room and utensils with different pictures on them so that they don’t mix them with theirs. There are pictures of a monkey on my mug and plate, and my spoons and forks are kept in a separate place. I have separate soap, toothbrush and sponge. When my mother gave me a separate soap I did not understand why. But I took it without offense as a matter of course. I am not offended; I just see that they don’t understand many things and I don’t want to explain these things to them. If this makes them feel more secure, let everything be their way. How do you live now? Do you have problems? I managed to get my passport. My parents provide me with food and clothes but they don’t give me pocket money. I have a boyfriend. He divorced recently and quit his job. He went on a binge and then started taking drugs. He is still not working. Sometimes I stay overnight with him at his parents’ house — he lives with his parents. Only one thing turned bad — we stated taking drugs together, but I will not get to the point of becoming dependent. I control myself — so I think. Do you think that the prison helps people to get cured from drug dependence? No. No. One needs to have a desire to get cured. If one doesn’t want to quit, nothing can help. It is absurd to put people in jail for drug possession and use. What plans do you have for your life? First to find a job and all the rest will come later. We will see what prospects there will be.

Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


31

Vlad Osovsky:

The house of expectation

“H

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ands behind... Face the wall!” irritably ordered the sergeant with a peasant face, rattling a bunch of keys. Having finally found the right key, he opened a massive door and pushed me in. The IVC40 is one of the transition stages leading to the final destination — the zone. I was not alone in the small cell, which was lit 24 hours a day by a dull lamp. Someone who reminded me of a woodpecker was sitting cross-legged on the wooden plank. I limply crouched down on the vacant shkonka41 with checks drawn on it for playing a dice game. The first question a prisoner asks another prisoner is: “What are you here for? Under what Article were you charged?” The woodpecker guessed, noticing my condition. “Article 228? What section?” “The first” — I could hardly push out the answer and trailed away for a long time. During the last couple of months I had increased my dose to one gram and was now experiencing the “pleasures” of withdrawal on a full scale. On the way here the “musors”42 had given me additional “prophylaxis kicks” and I felt like a piece of meat that had gone through a mincing machine. And now there was this woodpecker with his questions… Meanwhile he was carrying on: “They will let you free in three days. You will see for yourself. I bet my tooth that they will let you free (his front teeth were already missing). The Krests43 is already packed with guys like you. There is simply no room to keep you in.” He was getting on my nerves but I could do nothing in my condition at that moment. I suffered silently, lying on the hard

isolator of temporary detention plank-bed nickname for militia (literally it means “trash”) one of the most notorious prisons in St. Petersburg

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Vlad Osovsky • The house of expectation

plank bed and gazing at the graffiti left by my predecessors. He, like a great many other 20-year-old young men in Peter,44 was also a drug user. He was busted for stealing a car CD player and they added a charge of resisting arrest.” They took him the next morning and I was left alone for some time. I thought: “What a strange thing is this institution of propiska45: Some people tear their asses to get it in the capital city, but if you travel just 600 km away from the capital you become a stranger from a different jurisdiction.” This stamp in my passport became the reason that I had to sweat in the Krests until my trial — because they would not release me to my own recognizance46. I thought about how foolishly I was busted with this “check”47 which I wanted to keep till the morning of the day that according to all forecasts was going to be the end of the world. For me it also became the end of my freedom and the start of three long months that I had to spend in the overcrowded cell at the Krests — the second stage before being sent somewhere in Leningrad oblast or wherever they send people. On the third day it was my turn to get a ride in the autozak48 together with a couple of tattooed men who paid absolutely no attention to me. They understood everything at first glance and I was of no interest to them. However, there was a vivid interest in me when I entered a cell, stinky from unwashed socks and cheap cigarettes, carrying my mattress and sheets. I felt many pairs of eyes following me. I was looking around, searching for a vacant place and suddenly noticed one of my acquaintances, who, having moved his neighbor, emptied a space for me. “F--!” How did you end up here?” It seemed that he was sincerely glad to see me. In the past, when we were at the same hospital, he knew me as the correspondent of a popular youth magazine and was very much surprised to find me in such a place as this. Perhaps he thought that journalists could get away with anything. “We will sleep in turns,” he said and started telling me how he was busted for blackmailing. Blackmailing was his major source of income. Extorting bribes from businessmen brought him enough money to be able to change cars almost every month. We did not have thieves in our cell, and the “show” was run by thugs — heavies with money and cell phones, which they used to take care of business. It was great luck that I happened to be in the same cell as Vadik. The thugs did not bother him. Once he even got a dose of heroin through them and shared it with me, noticing my suffering. The cost of heroin in prison is twice as much as outside. 44 45 46 47 48

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nickname of St. Petersburg government-issued registration within a certain city, town, or village they would not release him because he had a Moscow propiska rather than a St. Petersburg propiska a dose (slang) a car for transporting prisoners Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Heroin is brought to prison by “musors” and they get paid for that. Actually, if you have money, you can peacefully live in a separate cell with a TV set and a CD player. If you go through the controllers you can get anything into prison. A controller’s salary is very low; therefore practically all of them can be bought. In the morning by the time the controllers come to start their shift they are already expected by the “brothers”49 or relatives of the prisoners. Usually they pass money, drugs… I digress. My reality was much more prosaic: there were 20 guys in a cell designed for eight people. I did not have any hope of getting a package, therefore I was just dully spending my term here watching “a chase of the devil.”50 It seemed that even the laziest prisoner always had energy to give a hit, kick, or a box on the ear to a “devil.” “Devils” are a category of prisoners convicted under the “xxx”51 Article, for example, for rape, molesting children, and prisoners known as “stukachi”52 or “rats” who steal from their own. Drug users in prisons are not favored either, although lately almost every third prisoner was a drug user. The poor pestered creatures didn’t even have a chance to shit normally. The minute one of them sat on the “parasha”53 somebody would start roaring something like: “What the hell, you bitch, you started stinking here, are you crazy? There is already no air to breathe!” “Chasing the devil” was a kind of entertainment for the prisoners dizzy from heat and stench. Sometimes one of the “devils” was brought to the point that he started desperately knocking at the cell door just to hear the standard reply of the warden: “I am here not to guard your dumb ass.” Sometimes I was summoned to the investigator’s office to sign some paper or clarify certain details. This also was considered entertainment – walks along the long corridors, a normal cigarette in the investigator’s office. To my question: “When will I actually have my trial?” I always got a standard answer: “Don’t know.” Some prisoners stay in prison for two to three years and are released directly from the court hall as persons who already served their term. As time passes you get used to everything: you start feeling apathy and having erotically tinged dreams. The day I was taken to court was the best day of my life after my demobilization from the army. The door to my cell opened one wonderful November morning just before my birthday, and I heard: “… with your belongings to the exit!” By that time I felt cured from my heroin dependence; there was only the usual heavy depression. Again I was pushed 49 • members of the criminal “family” 50 • harassment of certain groups of prisoners by other prisoners 51 • a street word for a specific Article of the Criminal Code. The prisoners themselves often punish people convicted under this Article 52 • informants (slang) 53 • toilet bowl (prison slang) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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into the autozak where, dressed in wrinkled summer clothes, I was frozen to the bone. I was brought to the court building from where I was set free to go in any of four directions with a light sentence — one year probation. Thank God, Olga was waiting for me. She brought me some clothes. I got back the laces of my “Martens” shoes and a belt for my pants that were now dropping off my waist (during those months I lost 7 kg). Tears welled up in my eyes. I was standing again on the Neva river quay and heard my own voice trying to convince this girl that “never again…” When we approached a subway near Griboedov’s canal I saw the dealers, who, as usual, were standing there and whom I knew by name. Having noticed, or to be more precise, having felt what would happen next, my girlfriend forcefully squeezed my hand and pulled me to the subway entrance. I stopped. “Olya, I need one hundred rubles. For the last time…” She burst into tears and reached into her purse, cursing me. She handed me money, turned sharply and left. I felt horrible. I prepared a solution for five minutes convincing myself that tomorrow I would start a new life; that Olga would not cry again, but simultaneously I heard the nasty giggling of the beast that was living in my head and was again spreading its tentacles…

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Masha Kudryashova:

Another “tick mark” for the quotas

M

asha was born on March 9, 1974 in the village of Golovino in Vladimir province, where the famous correctional institution “for mommies”54 is located. Masha’s mother, Antonina, was a nurse who’d worked in the city hospital, and her father was a professional gambler who’d periodically relaxed with the help of morphine and other opiates. Antonina had provided him with these substances, which she discretely stole from the hospital’s vault, where, as a nurse, she’d had access to, them. Antonina was caught between her love for her husband and her fear of being caught. Both of Masha’s parents were arrested and sentenced under different sections of the same Article. Her mother received five years in the common security prison and her father seven years. Masha, being in her mother’s womb, received her own term — a few months. After some time Antonina gave her daughter to her parents to look after. Masha was relocated to St. Petersburg and became a citizen of the city. After serving three years, Antonina was released on amnesty “for mommies.” After the release she easily found a job as a nurse at a shipbuilding enterprise. She divorced her first husband while he was still serving his term. Masha saw her father only once when she was five or six years old. He came to visit Masha’s mother. The couple spoke in the kitchen behind the closed door and he did not play with Masha. Only after he left did her mother tell her that he was her father. Masha graduated from the ninth grade and after graduation went to vocational college to become a knitter. She did not finish her training 54 • pregnant prisoners or women who give birth in prison and keep their babies with them

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Masha Kudryashova • Another “tick mark” for the quotas

and transferred to radio equipment assembly. In the end she was trained as a shop girl. Masha had her first consensual sexual experience at the age of 13 with a girl who played field hockey on the same team. Prior to that experience, Masha had been raped and beaten by a young man and this experience changed her attitude toward men. After a while, Masha formed a circle of girl friends who shared a similar lifestyle. Their first experience of using “hanka”55 happened when she was 16 years old. “I was the one who offered it to my girl friends. I had heard some time before what it was and how it was prepared. It was trendy and cool to inject or inhale drugs. We found a drug dealer and asked him how to prepare the solution. Then we made the solution for ourselves to inject. It was only later when I was 20 years old that I started using drugs regularly. Before that we just messed around with drugs occasionally. We did not use them often,” Masha explained. At 17, Masha’s life took a new turn. She fell in love with a soldier who was serving in the army in St. Petersburg. She left with him for Chelyabinsk56 after his service was over. After living with him for two years as a common-law partner and learning how to run a household (including gardening, looking after the livestock and getting smacked around by her “husband”) Masha ran away and came back home. Below is Masha’s story as she tells it:

“I went to prison for the first time when I was 22 for stealing groceries. I swapped them for drugs. I spent two months at the pretrial detention facility and was released under probation. By that time my friend Olya had become dependent on “chernyashka”57. When I was released I got together with Olya and we started using drugs together. “Olya started earning money at the age of 13 by selling her body on the street. She spent her money buying chocolate bars, dresses, and lipstick. At 13, Olya already looked like a 16- or 17-year-old. She used to visit her aunt in Moscow who also made her living on the street. The clients would come to her aunt’s apartment where she provided her services and took money. Her aunt was the one who found Olya her first clients. After that Olya’s life became untethered. She often 55 • raw material for manufacturing opiate drugs (slang) 56 • city in Russia 57 • opiate drug made at home (slang) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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went to Moscow to earn money, but by the time she turned 17 all the money she earned doing sex work was spent on drugs and alcohol, because by that time she had become a regular drug user. I tried to prohibit her from working as a prostitute and we fought because of that, but it was useless. This is how we lived: She was involved in prostitution and I was involved in stealing or robberies. “I earned my second term at the age of 24 for assault. We attacked a family because we needed money for drugs. Of course it was foolish. I feel very sorry for what I have done. I ‘went’ for seven years and three months in the high security prison. There were four of us when we attacked the family: my brother, a female friend, a male friend, and myself. “It was hard in the prison but not scary. While I was in pretrial detention I was very nervous because I did not know what term they would give me. My legs were covered with abscesses; they started to appear before I went to detention. My veins are bad and sometimes I injected under the skin and my wounds started to rot. In the damp cell of the pretrial detention facility the abscesses became even worse. I have scars all over my legs that will be there for the rest of my life. They did not give me any medicine or pills — I went through withdrawal without pills or medical assistance. I lived with Olya before that arrest, and after my imprisonment Olya started injecting drugs more intensively. In prison they gave me a blood test. At that time we did not think about HIV; I came across this issue only in the zone. My test results were good except that I had hepatitis. I spent one week in the sobachhik58 — an eight-meter box of a room with 30 people living in it. Some people stayed on plank beds and the rest were on the floor. I was under investigation for nine months. My brother was missing, so they sentenced me without him. He was caught one year later. The girl who had committed the crime with me has a grandfather living in Austria. He came to the trial and bribed the judge. Her sentence was changed from assault to looting. There was nobody to make efforts on behalf of the rest of us, so I got seven years and three months and my male friend got seven years, although we did the same thing as her. But money can do a lot — had he paid more she could have turned from a criminal to a witness. My brother got eight years when he was caught. “It wasn’t bad in the zone. I didn’t use drugs there because there was no way to get drugs. One of my friends took drugs in the zone twice: once her girlfriend brought her drugs when she came to visit her and she used them a second time when she was on leave. There was a case where one girl asked her husband to bring hashish for her but he didn’t hide it properly. They found it when they searched him and he was jailed for six months. 58 • slang word that literally means a dog kennel

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Masha Kudryashova • Another “tick mark” for the quotas

“I drank vodka only a few times while in prison. Free women workers from the sewing factory would bring me vodka in exchange for clothes. Sometimes when prisoners received parcels from home with nice, new clothes I swapped them for tea and cigarettes and then gave these clothes to free forewomen for vodka. Everybody wants to dress nicely, especially if you live in a rural settlement. Going to the city is like going abroad for them. “I was released under early parole in five-and-a-half years. I did not pass the early parole commission right away. They lingered over my case for a long time and then rejected me — at the beginning the reason was that I still had to serve a long term and later they invented my alleged violations. I filed a complaint with the court and they released me. “I didn’t think I would begin injecting again. I just wanted to fool around one time and here is what I got. I am still fooling around with drugs but now it is serious. I injected on the second day after my release. A friend, Luyda was released from the zone before me and she started living with my Olya. They started injecting together and finally hit rock bottom completely. Olya didn’t stop using drugs while I was in prison. When I came back I visited them. They bought heroin and we all injected it. Even then I did not believe I would go back to injecting regularly. I was abstinent for a long time. Sometimes I would go to Peter59 to allow myself to relax. I knew that if I lived in Peter I would become addicted again. I don’t have anybody there. My friends are drug users and I did not want to get in touch with them, and my parents are drinkers. It is impossible to get a job there because I don’t have any acquaintances that could help.”

Epilogue I took Masha to my place and helped her get a job. She would occasionally go to St. Petersburg and it was only after a while that I learned that she was injecting drugs again there. Actually this was the reason for her trips there. In Moscow she got acquainted with our neighbor and fell in love with him. They started living together. When there were problems in their relationship she invariably would “run away” to Petersburg and come back after a week or two of him begging, during which time she’d inject heroin. It was hard to understand why she relapsed because she had everything – family, job, love; she was earning money herself…What else did she need? She could not answer this question. She thought she would be able to trick her dependence but she failed. 59 • short name for St. Petersburg

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After a serious argument with her man he left and vanished. It turned out that she had gotten involved with her former “friends” and started stealing and injecting. She says that she was injecting because of the longing and loneliness while she was staying in St. Petersburg. Her mother and sister were drinking, she did not have a job — what else did she have to do there? One day her friend Luyda asked Masha to buy a quarter of a gram of heroin for Luyda’s acquaintance. She said he would thank Masha by giving her 300 rubles. Masha agreed. She bought the heroin and gave it to him and he gave her 300 rubles. At that moment Masha was detained. They opened a criminal case not against the drug dealer from whom Masha had bought the drugs, but against Masha. They charged her for selling the drugs for 300 rubles even though it was actually a gratuity for buying the drugs for Luyda’s friend. It turned out that the money was marked. She faced a conviction under Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation for drug dealing. The police aren’t interested in real drug dealers; real drug dealers pay them bribes. But they needed to meet their quotas — to prove that they were making arrests. The trial date was fixed but Masha did not go. The reason was her pregnancy — Masha was scared of delivering a baby in the zone. She wishes she could quit injecting drugs. She says that she needs substitution therapy or detoxification, otherwise it is difficult to quit — it is practically impossible. After Masha gave birth to her child she was arrested. She spent two weeks at the pretrial detention facility. The judge turned out to be a humane woman: she gave Masha four years with a deferment until her child turns 14 years old. Mother and the son are together now, but for how long? Masha continues using drugs.

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Sasha “Azazelo”:

Prison: revelations from the punishment cell

Т

he metallic clank of the door was grating to the ears but for me it was like the sweetest music. The cool, fresh winter morning embracing my face felt like heaven after two-and-a-half months of isolation in the punishment cell. I felt dizzy either from the air of freedom or from the amount of hormones released into my blood, making it boil. I turned around for the last time and caught the eyes of Vasya Pavlovski — the “oper”60 of the “blatnoi”61 brigade, who with a cunning smile exclaimed, “From the punishment cell directly to freedom! Aren’t you lucky?” Vasya, what a bitch. Two days before my release he came to our punishment cell and ransacked me, taking away my cell phone. I told him, “Vasya, it’s no thanks to your prayers that I am getting released.” I turned around, put my bundle with pictures under my arm, and left without looking back. Two-and-a-half years had passed since I first crossed those gates, but in the opposite direction. There is an enormous gulf between now and two-and-a-half years ago. The man who was passing through these gates now was an absolutely different person: so much had happened during those years that most peo60 • slang name for the officers of the criminal investigation department (operational department) 61 • trickster Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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ple never experience during their lifetime. There were betrayals, ratting for drugs, fights for power, pressure from the “menty,”62 treachery, diplomacy, defending your interests, and a lot of other things. There was hardly any other place where I could have been trained to such a level of endurance—and this helped me understand what I was worth in this life. I realized my endurance and strength, and that it is very difficult to break me down. Although I am currently 24, I feel like a 35-year-old. My adolescent extreme has vanished and I’ve obtained some sort of real-life wisdom and understanding of human relationships. I discovered that my nature would not allow me to quietly serve my term lying on the plank bed like a log as 95 percent of prisoners did. It is hard to pass through this ordeal and not get rotten. Shrewdness acquired in the zone—when you count ten steps ahead before you start anything—has become my permanent trait. You have to think over all the steps very carefully inside and out because what I was doing in the zone was very serious and could lead to a life sentence (participation in a criminal group and drug dealing within a penitentiary institution). My revelation will not become a textbook on “how to organize an OPG63” or “methods of drug dealing in the zone;” I will omit technical issues on how the system works because there are still people inside who would be harmed by that. This is, however, an episode of my life. I am not going to give an assessment of myself or profess whether I was doing right or wrong. Perhaps later I will be able to assess everything. I know I gained enormous experience and that this is an asset that will never hurt; I don’t have any doubts about that. I will start from the end — the end of my punishment in isolation.

Punishment cell The punishment cell, also known as “kicha” (slang), solitary confinement, or “isolator”, is the place where I spent two-and-a-half months of my life. I was lucky that my term came to an end, because by the time of my release I had already been assigned 240 days and nights of isolation. I realized that, with my nature, I would continuously be cycling in and out of there, earning additional “rations” of 35 days and nights. Eight months in “kicha” is not an easy test, although it was easy to get it, given how much drug use we had in the zone. Just one refusal of a drug test could result in 45 days and nights in the punishment cell. I had three refusals in one year. But I didn’t have other options: If I had my blood tested, it would have shown amphetamines, THC64 and heroin, which could add from three months to one year to my origi62 • police (slang) 63 • organized criminal group

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nal term. If it was your first time, you could get a 35-day isolation “ration” instead of 45, but this would mean an extension of your jail term. Naturally, I would rather go for 45 days and nights than extend my term. Actually I am amazed myself how I managed to survive without being caught: my entire zone’s “family members65” already had a few confessions, but I was lucky. There were extreme situations: once I was heading to the dining room carrying 10 grams of hashish that I needed to pass on to the solitary confinement cell. In the dining room I saw “masky”66 and realized that this was the end. However, I was reluctant to get rid of the drugs. If they catch you it is not only that you get more time —they could also beat you to death with their batons. Or, for example, if they catch you randomly and take you to the guard room and you have 15 grams of white matter in one of your socks — this is a real extreme. But I will talk about this later. So when I learned that I would be locked in the isolator I already knew that I would stay there till my release and not be sent back to the zone. My close friend, Ezhik, had already been locked there for 10 days, and I knew I would be sent to his cell. At that time I had been heavily dependent on heroin for three moths and the prospect of withdrawal in isolation was no joy. The dose that I needed was substantial: I needed to inject every three to four hours. Hence I had grave thoughts. I was locked up because I became such a pain in the ass for everyone: I was brazenly high, semi-conscious during roll call, and threw up walking from the dining room in view of the guard and other cells. Of course the brigade head and the “menty” knew in general that our “family” was one of the central teams involved in drug trafficking in the prison. But nobody could prove it since they didn’t catch us. When we became such a pain because we were high and supplying drugs for half the prison’s inmates, the “menty” decided to lock us all up and cut the source of the drugs at its root. At first they locked up Ezhik and then me, and in a week our entire brigade was assigned a year of BUR67 and locked in the punishment cells. The zone gave a collective wail: the drug supply was interrupted and people started experiencing the tortures of withdrawal. Adjusting from a well-established drug supply system to “throwing over the fence” takes time and, in fact, the throwing system is actually a lottery—you never know it if it will reach its destination. Can you imagine being sick all day and waiting for a throw-over? Finally the “kaif”68 is acquired and the car is coming in the direction of the zone. Everybody is waiting—and to wait for the “kaif” is to wait for the “kaif,” especially in the zone, where there won’t be a second 64 65 66 67 68

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Tetrahydrocannabinol people living together and having ties of close friendship slang nickname for prison special task force) medium security barrack stuff (slang for drugs) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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attempt. Everybody’s heart skips a beat in anticipation, but the battery filled with heroin flies nicely and lands in the restricted zone and is picked up by the “menty.” This is a real wreck—a catastrophe: to feel sick to your stomach for an entire day and finally to feel such disappointment. That is why we originally refused to rely on the throw-over system. The punishment cell is a tiny room for two people. It is so small that when plank-beds are lowered there is practically no room at all—just a sink and a pit. That’s all. At 7 a.m. you have to hand in your mattress and lower the plank bed, and at 10 p.m. you get back your mattress and raise your plank bed. Tea, smoking, and books are forbidden—actually nothing at all is allowed. These were the conditions I found myself in, and where I had to survive withdrawal. The only thing that I had with me was one sleeping pill; my friends injected me with a farewell dose. The day I was brought to the punishment cell happened to be during a shift when the guards with whom I had a confrontation were on: all “menty” in this shift hated me; they’d been after me for the entire year. They did not allow me to take anything with me, even a towel. Finally, they brought me to the 9th block and the door shut behind me. Here is a little digression about the 9th block: It is a closed block. A two-story building shaped in the form of a letter “O,” where windows face the inner courtyard and you cannot see even the tiniest piece of sky from the window. It was built during the “red era”69 and it was constructed in such a way that dampness could not escape the walls of the block. What does it mean to be continuously in a damp environment? After some time you start to rot alive. Any tiny scratch on your skin starts to fester, the smallest cuts take a long time to heal, and the skin becomes very irritable. In short, you have all the conditions for “healthy life.” On the first floor there were punishment cells, on the second floor the department for lifetime prisoners and the medium security barrack. This block contained all those skimmed from the zone—the cream of society, all the challengers, and most troublesome prisoners: 70 percent of them were drug users. In general, it was a varicolored place, where you experienced all the joys of life on a full scale. This is how my isolation period started. I vaguely remember my first days there. My block acquaintance gave me sleeping pills to make it easier for me. Tea and cigarettes were supplied every day from the common fund,70 so there were no problems with that. The worst thing in the isolator is mornings. You have to wake up at 6:30 and hand in your mattress and then hide all contraband on your person, then wrap the blanket around your body so that they don’t feel it out during the pat-down. After 69 • Soviet time 70 • a fund where prisoners pool their money together Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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the morning check you can relax on the floor on a pile of quilted vests, blankets, and other clothes and sleep comfortably. I called it polovaya zhizn—floor life.71 Moreover, there is a paradox: when you get back your mattress you don’t want to sleep at all. Sometimes you are awake till 4 a.m. and then during the day you can be out like a light. All days in the punishment cell are alike but you get used to it after a while; adapt to it and the days start to run faster. We often smoked hashish, and in addition to that our acquaintances shared their cigarettes, when they could manage to get them. A few times they gave us “phen,”72 but in those cells, where there is no physical activity, it really affects one’s mind. The “balander”—the person who distributes food in the cells—was my close acquaintance. In the summer we had some business together, and before prison he was a neighbor of a friend of mine in the zone. So we had a “green light,” including access to food from the kitchen. One day Chapai, as we called the “balander”, brought us a radio and our life became more joyful. The silence in the cell is very depressing, so the radio was like a balm for our ears. However, I needed a cell phone and I did not want to waste time looking for one. Therefore, I decided to go though Chapai. In a couple of days he brought me a Nokia 3210 on the condition that I would pay for it later. Here is another digression: the most difficult thing while you are in the isolation cell is to find a place to hide all the items prohibited by the administration. The cell is very tiny; you cannot pick at the wall: they will quickly come after you. They search you every day. Actually, prisoners are the craftiest people in terms of finding places to hide things. For example, I hid a cell phone inside the Gillette [shaving cream] container. The “menty” took it a few times, whirled it in their hands and put it back without suspecting anything. When I saw that, the adrenalin level in my blood jumped off the charts. It seemed that everything started the best way it could: I survived withdrawal, had a telephone and the radio in my possession, and other pleasures sent by friends. What else do you need? However, problems began, starting with the repair. Some cells in the 9th block were being repaired to make them comply with European standards. It included the following: all day long you hear the sound of the shriek of a grinder, which felt like someone was using sandpaper on your brain, and the roar of a drill. But at night was the most “pleasant treat.” Since during the day the “menty” are on their shift, the process of painting was delayed till night. The smell of solvent and paint penetrated into the cell from everywhere. All my efforts to seal the slots in the door with cloth were in vain. We could not escape this smell. It drove us mad and squeezed my head in a hammerlock of pain. 71 • it is a pun meaning “sex life” 72 • amphetamine (slang) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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On the second day at 2 a.m., half of us in the isolator decided to rebel and not hand in our mattresses and in general refuse to obey the “menty,” in an expression of protest. The other half, who did not have the heart for such protests, did not participate in this act of disobedience. Among the cells that supported this action, my cell was the first. In the morning we heard a clank of the door. Edik, a young 24-year-old guy working this shift, opened the door. Noticing that we didn’t move, he said, “hand in the mattresses.” In reply he heard a lot of phrases, the general gist of which were that we were not going to hand in anything, and that the “menty” had gone too far. Not only did they lock us up in isolation, but now they deprived us of our sleep with the paint. Show us the law that says that we must be deprived of sleep while we are locked in the punishment cell. Edik did not have much experience and we saw on his face that he was lost and didn’t know what he should do. Having contemplated for a minute, he closed the door and went to the next cell. Predicting what would happen next, my cellmate and I already knew that as soon as the shift was over the head of the shift would report to the guard about disobedience in the isolator and the block would be visited by the entire guard squadron. Therefore, everything that could have been taken from us was in advance transported though the window to the second floor BUR where we had our storage. In half an hour our door opened and we saw the entire guard behind the threshold. They forced us out to nulevka. Nulevka is a cell that has nothing except a cot for one person. It is used for violent prisoners and for additional punishment. In 15 minutes they had brought everyone there who had refused to obey. We stood cheek to jowl but everybody was in high spirits. First of all, these were all reckless and strong-spirited guys; secondly, we had shown at least some resistance to the “menty” who treated us like animals; and thirdly, it was some change in our cell life. Meanwhile inside the block the guards were causing turmoil: they threw out everything from the cells—extra vests, shelves, tea, and other common trifles. Nevertheless, the associate of the head of the colony came to us and asked us what our complaints were. We explained. He replied that he would try to solve the problem. In half an hour we were taken back to our cells, which looked like a tropical storm had been raging there for weeks. They stopped painting at night after that. We were happy that we had managed so easily to get what we wanted. What fools we were. We did not know yet that in three weeks they would bring a special prison taskforce to this block lest we get more impudent. On December 28, 2004, in the morning they took us to shower, so the beginning of the day was not bad. We took showers and planned to have a walk in the courtyard. Relaxed and warm from the shower, we were drying ourselves, and suddenly we heard shouts and the tramp of many feet. The thought flashed in my head: could it be true that it was “masky?” Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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It was indeed them. “Masky-show73”—the prison special task force, the squadron for oppressing prisoners—was a most “pleasant” beginning to the day. It was the second time in six months that I was at a “masky-show.” They deploy them when there is a threat to prison security, and when it is deemed necessary to suppress prisoners psychologically and morally. The first time they came to our block it was because of the large amount of drugs coming from it; many people ran away from the block and hid in the cells in fear for their lives. This time, in the isolation block, the special task force was deployed because of our act of disobedience in retaliation for the painting at night, and because of an attempted attack on one cop a week earlier. My first thought was that we were in a trap — naked after our shower. If they beat us with their batons on our naked bodies it would be especially unpleasant. I heard the voices behind the door and the sound of running and orders made in brisk barks. During one of the pauses while the “masky” regrouped, we were quickly forced into our cells. We started hastily putting on our clothes, wrapping the blankets around our bodies and getting into thick jackets and quilted vests. I thought that we were in for a serious baton beating. And then it started: The doors in the block started clanking open and the shouting began. It did not sound joyful. “LAY DOWN!” “HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!” “DON’T MOVE!” “RUN, RUN!” The “masky” rushed in, forced everyone to the floor, and gave a couple of choice blows with their fists or feet, depending on your luck, and then forced us outdoors and into the courtyard. The sounds approaching our cells felt like a wave that would absorb you in an instant. The adrenalin was pumping, my mind was clear, but there was no fear. On the contrary, there was a feeling of readiness and concentration. There were sounds of kicked doors, thumps and stomping. At this moment Danila on the second floor turned on his music equipment. Rammstein started singing to the max his “Du hast.” This was exactly the right music: shouts, clanks, stomping, and the hard guitar chords. There was an explosion of laughter in the prison. The most interesting part was that, having very strict instructions, the special task forces could not turn off the music. One of them was keeping the door half closed, the other two controlled the prisoners, and nobody could change position without threatening their safety. Everything that was happening seemed like a movie with a Rammstein soundtrack. The armor of the special task force looks very serious; they threaten just by their appearance—light armor vest, knee-caps, elbow-pads, armored gloves (it is impossible to cut them with a knife), armored helmet, pump-action shotgun, rubber baton and boots for “tender stroking.” 73 • refers to a popular television show — here used as a nickname for masked guards

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Finally, the door of our cell swung open but we, being experienced prisoners already, took our basic position lying on the floor legs apart, hands on the back of the head. Nevertheless, the loud, coarse voice bawled out: “LAY DOWN! HANDS ON THE BACK OF THE HEAD!” I felt a couple of tender kicks under my ribs and a tough shakedown. They pushed us to the corridor and turned us to the wall in “zyu”74 position, searched us once more, and roared in our ears: “RUN! LOOK DOWN!” to convince us as their batons gave us friendly pats on the kidneys. I was unlucky, taking very strong hits on my legs while my cellmate slipped by me like a dogfish. They left us in the courtyard to rot for three hours until they brought us back into the cell. It was totally wrecked. They took everything: even bowls and spoons, toothbrushes, pens and paper—everything that we had earned in such a hard way. This was the end. Later of course we got everything back but it cost us a four-day hunger strike.

Hunger strike The “masky” left, leaving us with a nasty and painful feeling. The coziness of our home, created with such difficulty, was demolished, crushed. It felt like we were morally raped and our souls were spat on. Suddenly the silence was broken by a thunderous clank. Here and there the doors started dinging and the punishment block became full of such a loud noise that it seemed that my head would explode. I grabbed a mop and started frantically tapping it on the door, adding my share to the general chaos. All “menty” who were in the block ran to the noise but they were no better off than we: all of our wrath now came upon them, and they were the ones who had to deal with the consequences of the “masky-show.” On the first day, nothing was done to solve the problem of our belongings. In general, those who worked in the block were small fish and they themselves did not know where our belongings were. Our minds, clouded by emotions, refused to understand that. Everybody climbed to the windows and started to think together about the situation. Emotions were so strong that the entire block was raging. Gradually we came to the conclusion that if we wanted to get everything back and be taken seriously, the only way was a hunger strike. A hunger strike in solitary confinement is not the same as in freedom or in the zone. It is much tougher. First, it is permanently cold and the body needs calories to keep warm. Second is the unsatisfactory quality of food: Even without a hunger strike you lose weight. For those who have already been in the punishment cell for two weeks, a hunger strike is a heavy load for an already exhausted body. By that time I had already been there for more than a month. Finally, the decision was made: At mealtime we rejected food, looking sadly at the trolley. But we were not depressed because the endeavor was launched with 74 • uncomfortable police search position Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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a purpose and we cheered up one another. By the evening we felt stomach cramps. When one gets used to receiving food regularly by a certain time, then your stomach starts intense production of gastric juices by that time, like Pavlov’s dog. The body rings an alarm bell demanding food. However, it was tolerable. The only inconvenience was that it was hard to fall asleep. Actually, I partially attributed this to the excitement—the “masky” and adrenalin kept me awake. The next morning was not so bad; there was no terrible feeling of hunger. Tea and cigarettes were sent from the common fund. I smoked and it nearly made me throw up. I felt dizzy and weak in my legs. At that very moment I had one bright idea — to quit smoking. Everybody expected that this morning all our problems resulting from the scuffle would begin to be resolved, but the “menty” also decided to wait and spend the day quietly. By lunchtime we felt a general fatigue. It was hard to get up, we were dizzy and unstable and the stomach cramps remained. People still talked to each other through the windows but our energy level was much lower. To distract myself from thinking about food I buried myself in a book, but was aggressively pursued by thoughts of food, my mind imagined a colorful parade of courses and my mouth filled with saliva. By the evening, the cravings had subsided a bit, but it was still hard to fall asleep. On the third day, acute hunger faded, leaving just a dull feeling in the stomach. Energy rushed from my body. It was hard to lay my quilted vest on the floor; it was hard to get up and even hard to talk. In the morning “menty” came in and asked us to make a list of the belongings that were taken from our cells. They tried to persuade us to eat something, assuring us that we would get back all our belongings anyway, and our problems would be solved. Pressure to stop the hunger strike started coming from all directions. At every visit and every check-up, we were told that our belongings would be brought back in a moment. By the middle of the day, voices from certain cells were talking about ending the strike. The mood was very depressing and all kinds of grave thoughts came to mind. But I was astounded by the amazing clearness of my brain. It was like meditation: The inner dialogue would at times stop and the senses became as transparent as morning dew. It seemed like consciousness existed separately from the drained body. Everything became unusually clear and sharp and the colors deep. It was a real trip. Perhaps the body switched to lower energy consumption or maybe the brain changed its work due to lack of hydrocarbons in the blood. I don’t know, but I’ll remember that feeling for the rest of my life. We were practically immobile, lying on the floor till the end of the day. Thoughts about food became deliriously obsessive—they would appear in my head from time to time, and it was practically impossible to get rid of them. Then they would go away and come back three times stronger. Everything seemed to be in a trance state. On the fourth day I lost my balance and collapsed. I did not have strength to Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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get up, and it was so pleasant to loll on the cold concrete floor that I did not want to get up for a long time. By noon they started bringing back our belongings, but we didn’t even have energy to rejoice. We could not get up to pull down the pile but just lay there gazing at it. The hunger strike was coming to an end and we were waiting until everyone got their belongings. Everything was like in a dream. I did not have energy to be glad at the thought that in the evening I would eat food, although my brain was counting the minutes and seconds till that moment. We decided to end the strike carefully and not to gorge on food. It was easy in theory but so difficult to actually stick to. Prison gruel, which normally you had to force into your stomach, seemed on that day like the best and most delicious fare in the world. The food smell made you dizzy and drove you crazy. The body swept away all barriers to meeting its demands. We had a little bit of sticky macaroni and washed it down with sweetened tea and a roll. We chewed everything very thoroughly lest we harm our stomachs. Oh food, you are God! What I felt afterward was inimitable: all heroin and opium highs paled in comparison. I felt such a quantity of endorphins that I sensed waves of opium warmth and the tender caress of Morpheus. I was lazing around on the floor deeply high from the sticky macaroni, tea and a bun. My eyes were closed, and I felt energy coming back into my drained body. My blood returned and waves of goosebumps ran through my body. On that night I was feeling happy. Freedom was looming up ahead — it was very close….

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Rosa Mikhailovna K.

About sons and codependence The following is the transcript of an interview with Rosa Mikhailovna K. — the mother of a drug user who, at the time of the interview, was serving a term in the high-security colony in Mordovia75 (sentenced under the Article 224.4 of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation).

Please tell us about your son. When I found out that my son used drugs I did not know what to do. You always think that such things could happen to anyone but not to you. I had always thought that my son had brains and that he would never become a drug user. In other words, I thought that there were people somewhere who used drugs but they wouldn’t be my son. Later, when I saw him boiling that poison and making an injection for himself…it was a horrifying picture. We were visiting my parents who lived in Cheboksary.76 While we were there he couldn’t find a place to hide from me and I accidentally saw it. Lots of guys – younger than Igor, older, or of the same age as him injected drugs. This stunned me because the city did not seem to be a “drug artery.” Moreover they did not use any precautionary measures while injecting. They didn’t know anything about sterility or how to take safety measures. They were totally ignorant in this respect. 75 • prison colony in the Republic of Mordovia — part of the Russian Federation 76 • provincial city in Russia Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Don’t they have any information about the risks related to drug use? I don’t even know where he boiled this solution. It was only after he confessed to me about his disease that he started injecting at home, knowing that I was in the next room and would help if something went wrong. This was after his friends brought him overdosed and almost dying, pushed him out of the car and left. This is the manifestation of their solidarity. There is no real friendship when drugs are involved. They have just one interest — to get and take drugs. I cannot tell you how many such “friends” leave their overdosed buddies in the lobbies of apartment buildings. If they see that somebody is not feeling well they instantly run away instead of helping them. Sometimes they call an ambulance but doctors come with police, so they’re scared to stay. Their human qualities become blunt, especially when drug users experience cravings for a drug. Withdrawal? Yes, withdrawal. When I found out what constituted his life I was dismayed. He’d wake up in the morning with frantic thoughts about where to get drugs. He’d call one, a second, a third person… he’d receive some calls. Only after he’d found out where and from whom he could get drugs would he relax and go and have his breakfast. It is awful for the relatives. I feel such pity for my son. We both are hopeless…it is hard… very hard to live this way. However, it seems to me that now, since he started attending church, his mindset has completely changed. Does he go to the church at the colony? Yes he does. Before the colony I could not convince him to go. He said: “Leave me alone, you don’t understand anything.” This is how his relationship with God was. When he found himself in the colony his talk changed. One can see that he has become a different person. God willing, he’ll remain like this. Will you be able to deal with his problem after his release? Will you be able to cope with his drug problems if they appear in his life again? I don’t know. Honestly, I am asking myself this question but somehow I believe that everything will be overcome. I mean in my case. I don’t know how others cope with that. It seems to me that he’s had an understanding, an awakening. He is very sorry for the wasted years. He did not finish his education. Where did he study? At the beginning he was accepted to the Moscow State University of Transportation. He studied there for a year and did not like it. Later when Moscow Humanitarian University started paid courses he entered the Department of Economics. I don’t think he even finished the first course when he was jailed Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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for the first time. When he came back from prison he received an invitation to continue his studies. But again, it was too late. How old was he when he was jailed for the first time? He was 21 years old and now he is 31. He has been in prison for five years now. In 1995 he was jailed for the first time. He wasted 10 years. I don’t even consider that he was released after the first imprisonment. These two terms for me are like one long term. In any case he says that to serve his term in this remote region in Mordovia is much better than to be in prison in the city of Krukovo near Moscow. He’s changed his view about many things since being there. He’s reconsidered many things I think. But when he comes back from prison everything could start again. Sometimes I think that won’t happen. Perhaps I think so because he has a long sentence. There are no drugs at all in Mordovia, unlike Moscow and its provinces where drugs are available in prisons. The closer to Moscow, the worse the situation with drugs. Is there a solution to the drug problem? Is it possible to cope with the problem? If “yes” then how? It is difficult for me to answer this question. Where there is a market there will always be distribution. You should understand yourself what amount of money is involved in this business. Let’s start with the fact that drug users sell all their possessions. We lost our car and a TV set. It is a typical situation for drug users’ families. All drug users are involved in stealing. Later when there is nothing to steal they use the following system: I will get heroin for somebody and they will give me some heroin. This is a known system. But at the beginning of course they sell everything from home. At the right moment one could even make them sell their apartment. If they’re in withdrawal and don’t have money, they’d sign any document put in front of them. I should admit that I don’t know what they feel at that moment, but my son told me: “Mother, even being ‘high’ doesn’t bring me any joy anymore. I don’t need anything now. It is just the irresistible desire to inject. Do you know the feeling when you want to smoke? Imagine this desire is one hundred times stronger.” I smoke, so he used this example to explain his dependence. Do you feel more relaxed now when he’s in the colony? It is easier for me to visit him in prison and bring him parcels than to see how he is injecting and killing himself. I lived his life. From the time I woke up in the morning I would start thinking: “where will he get drugs today?” I had the same problems. I even experienced something similar to his withdrawal symptoms. Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Do these people need rehabilitation? I’ve always wished that there was a special reservation for drug-addicted people where they could work and earn money for a dose. Where there would be conditions for taking drugs so that there was surveillance of them and at the same time they would do something useful. Like previously there were labor camps. It would keep them from stealing if they knew where to go. For example, they could go there when they needed, work to earn money for a dose, take a dose there and sleep. I wish that the State would give them a way to legally get drugs. But I think nobody would go for this. Do you mean that people will go there and work and get their dose? Yes. Work in any case. This should be the first and mandatory requirement because when they are idle they behave badly. I know it from my own experience: When I do nothing I smoke more than when I am busy. It is the same with drugs. Let them be focused on some work and if this work is interesting for them, they will forget about drug use completely. When your son was put in the jail for the first time he was studying. He had a year and a half in between his two terms; did he try to find a job during that time? Yes, he did because he needed money. But it is very difficult for them to find a job. Now I am terrified to think: “When he comes back where will he work?” Firstly he will be a person who came from prison; secondly, he is drug user. All doors are closed for them. He would not even be hired to work as a driver. Perhaps he could hope to be hired as a loader. Everybody is scared of drug users. Notably men are more scared than women; women are more accommodating. It is enough for men just to hear “a drug user.” “Go to work anywhere but only not with us.” Recently I came across an article: Some monastery in Yaroslavskaya province organized a rehabilitation center. You can come, work, and earn money. They don’t hold you. So these drug users started creating problems at this center. Things started to disappear. Drug users would come and eat there but did not work. They would just come there in order to get food and afterward leave. The project was closed. It was not even called a “rehabilitation center” it was like “come if you wish and work.” They provided a bed and food for such people, but those drug users turned out to be ungrateful. My son would tell me: “Drug users are not to be trusted. They can tell you anything.” His friends or acquaintances that used drugs would come and say: “We can help send a parcel.” They’d take your money and vanish. Or they always try to borrow money and make up any story to achieve their goal. One of them even told me that he needed money to bury his father but his father wasn’t even close to dying. They Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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have rich imaginations. At the same time, they are acting badly. They think that they are smartest and that other people don’t understand anything. At the time when my son was arrested he had a buddy who lived next door to us. This man rushed to my place when he heard about the arrest. He was not interested in whether Igor was jailed or not and where he was sent, for how long, or how he was. He just asked me: “Did he have some leftovers?” I said: “I threw everything away.” He said: “Where?” “I threw it down from the balcony.” He was searching under the balcony for a whole week. He is an adult man with two kids. I asked him: “Do you have problems?” “What problems? I don’t have any problems,” was his reply. Have you ever thought about why your son started taking drugs? He just wanted to be like everyone else. I know that all his classmates were carried away by the same current. I am waiting now hoping that he will not go back to drugs.

Epilogue Igor had a sentence of 11 years and six months in prison with confiscation of property for possession of an “especially large amount” of heroin — 0.009 grams, and for possession with intent to sell of 0.95 grams, although this was not proved during the investigation. If the legislation had not been changed, the young man would have had to stay in prison until 2010. It is not clear if his mother would have been there to meet him when he got out. Changes in the drug legislation as of May 2004, allowed Igor to be released early, in the fall of 2004. Rosa Mikhailovna had hired an attorney to write an application for reconsideration of her son’s case due to the legislative changes. Unfortunately the attorney was interested in illicit gain instead of defending the interests of the client. He took the payment and disappeared. Rosa Mikhailovna not only had to support her son, but she also had to look for that man. Now all those troubles are behind her. After the release, mother and son had to face new problems. Igor was not able to get his passport for two months. The issuance of his documents was delayed without any apparent reason. Employment was also a problem. Nobody wanted to hire a former prisoner. For some time Igor scraped by with occasional jobs, practically depending on his mother’s pension. For unknown reasons he was registered at the labor exchange agency at the Timiryazevski district of MosDrug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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cow, not immediately after his application but only when some time had passed after his release. In accordance with the established procedure, the labor exchange agency must offer people registered there at least three organizations that seek workers and employees. In cases when the employers refuse to hire the potential worker, they must provide a written refusal; in this case the person will receive unemployment benefits. Igor was invited to apply to two organizations but both organizations refused to hire him. Rosa Mikhailovna believes that the labor exchange knowingly sends “non prospective” unemployed people to those enterprises where there are no vacancies and they know beforehand that these people will be rejected. The best jobs are kept for the people with a clean reputation. Igor started getting unemployment allowance. Igor doesn’t want to use drugs. He avoids old friends using heroin and he has not made new acquaintances. He doesn’t have a girlfriend. Igor was left alone with his problems. He cannot share all his problems with his mother. Rosa Mikhailovna is ready to give up, realizing that the system is continuing to break her son through unemployment and social inadaptability, after six years in high-security prison.

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Oksana B.:

“I contracted HIV in prison”

I

met Oksana when I started visiting prisons for women. I was distributing humanitarian aid and providing psychological support and information to HIV-positive women in penal institutions. We used to bring clothes, shoes, tea, cigarettes, and hard candies, the main “currencies” in every prison. We also brought informational materials. Women often asked me to bring them new articles about medicines for AIDS treatment that were widely advertised in the yellow press. We gave envelopes, notebooks, and postcards to the women who did not get assistance from home. “Happy birthday” postcards for children were in the highest demand. After conversations with HIV-positive prisoners we had some time for discussion and solving other women’s problems: There were a lot of problems. Oksana came up to me with a friend and asked for a private conversation. It was lunchtime and we had to finish our work and leave the institution, but I managed to persuade my escort to wait a few minutes. Oksana started telling me at length about her child. She asked me to find him in a boarding house. Her story was the familiar story of many women prisoners. Oksana had already been taking drugs for a few years when she met a young man. Even when she became pregnant she continued taking drugs. She did not go to a gynecologist at the beginning, and when she finally saw a doctor for the first time, the doctor insisted on an abortion. Oksana and the doctor did not get along and Oksana just stopped seeing her Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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doctor. Therefore her pregnancy developed without any supervision. Oksana took all the measures that she could and decreased her dose, but she was not able to stop using heroin. She went to work so that she could afford adequate nutrition. The young man dumped her when she was in her fifth month of pregnancy. She was left alone to deal with her problems. Oksana took a tenant — a girl who made her living as a sex worker. The girl paid her rent with a daily dose of heroin. Oksana spent her income only on food and baby items for her future child. Before delivery Oksana had an HIV test. The results were negative. She delivered a son. After a while Oksana, overwhelmed by her problems, returned to regular drug use. Her house became a drug den. Oksana’s relatives rejected her and her baby. One day one of her buddies asked her to help buy drugs for him. He gave her money to pay for the drugs. Oksana was detained by the militia at the moment when she was handing her buddy the heroin. The militia did not find any marked bills on her, and they did not ask her to expose the dealer: They just planted marked bills in Oksana’s pocket and took her to the militia station. The baby was left at home alone, but despite this, she was not allowed to go home. Oksana’s neighbors wrote a letter to the social service department demanding that Oksana be deprived of her rights to the child. They called her a “drug user” and a “drug den owner.” Oksana’s child stayed at home alone for several days. Sometimes the sex worker who lived in Oksana’s apartment took care of the child. Later social workers took the child and sealed Oksana’s apartment. After a few weeks in prison Oksana got acquainted with a girl who had just arrived. The girl was in withdrawal and she managed to get “pentalgine”77 pills. She also managed to bring a syringe into the prison. The girls crushed the pills, diluted them in water and injected the solution using the same syringe. In a few months, when Oksana was in the transit78 prison she found out about her HIV-positive status. The source of infection was the newcomer, who knew about her own status but did not find it necessary to warn Oksana about it. Oksana learned about losing her rights to custody of her baby when she received a reply from the social service department after her inquiry. She was informed that her rights to her child had been revoked and that they were not authorized to inform her of the baby’s whereabouts. Now Oksana was asking me to find her baby. I agreed to help. After numerous written inquiries the child was found in an orphanage. Oksana started 77 • an analgesic painkiller 78 • a prison where people are held until they’re shipped off to a prison where they’ll serve most of their sentence Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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sending parcels for her baby. At this point she was experiencing serious health problems. Her body was getting weaker and her immune system could not fight infection. In two months when the new amendments to Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation came into force, Oksana applied for a review of her sentence. Her sentence was reviewed and her term decreased. Taking into account the fact that Oksana had a little baby and that she was ill, they released her. However, Oksana had to wait a long time for a new trial: Judges rarely rush in such cases. After her release from prison, Oksana was not allowed to regain custody of her baby and she was denied a job. She found that all the valuables in her apartment were missing. She had spent all the money she had earned in the colony on the parcels for her child. Oksana started taking drugs again. Her neighbors wrote a petition to the militia, but by that time she was able to find a job as a seamstress, a profession she had learned in the colony. Oksana managed to get her baby back, but the social workers and police always kept an eye on her. Oksana met a young man who was using drugs and everything turned full circle once again. Six months after her release from prison, the baby was again taken from her. They opened a criminal file on Oksana but released her under a written pledge not to leave town. In two or three weeks Oksana died of sepsis. She did not go to the hospital and instead died at home. Perhaps if she had been offered effective drug dependence treatment instead of being sent to prison everything would have been different. Her baby is in an orphanage: He never got to know his mother.

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Svetlana N.:

High security Svetlana’s letter is published with her permission. The author of this book is the recipient of the letter. The name of the heroine has been changed.

Hello Luba! It is Sveta from Shahovskaya colony writing you this letter. I am very glad to have met you. When you came to our colony in the spring I wanted to ask you to bring me some clothes from humanitarian aid that I could wear on my release day. I will be released on January 18, 2005. But I could not come up to you because during that period we worked overtime up to 12 hours in the sewing workshop. Your questionnaire helped me; remember you gave all the HIV-positive women forms to fill in? Now I can communicate with you; one can deteriorate without normal communication with people outside the colony. As you asked me, I am writing to you about myself. But I don’t know what I should start with and what in my life will be of interest to you. I was born in Moscow in 1975. I am here under Article 228, Section 1.4 of the criminal Code of Russian Federation (for 0.002 grams of heroin). To be quite precise, they confiscated not heroin but cotton balls, used for when you boil heroin in water and then draw the solution into a syringe through these cotton balls in order to filter the solution. I had five such cotton balls in a jar, so those were confiscated and I was sentenced to five years. It was an accident that I was arrested. Since I did not have a passport (it had been torn up by the police investigators earlier) the prosecutor gave his sanction for my arrest. I started using drugs at the age of 17. I was drawn into using heroin by my boyfriend, who started using it first. My parents Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Svetlana N.: • High security

drank a lot. They did not educate me at home. My mother tried to do some things for my well being but it didn’t always work. My mother drank only because she wanted less alcohol available for my father. I think the same happened in many other Soviet families. It was only my grandmother who made some efforts toward my education. After school I entered the Moscow Institute of Transportation and studied there for only three years, although I was doing well in my studies. I did not graduate because I was arrested for the first time. I needed to earn money for drugs; I had horrible withdrawals. I was not able to quit drugs on my own. I was treated at hospital No. 1779 but it did not help. Then one “baryga”80 offered me a dose to work for her. She took money for heroin from the drug users, and I was supposed to take the drugs from her place and pass them to these people. This is how the sales worked. I was arrested when I went to deliver heroin. By the way, the dealer was cheating on the drug users: Instead of one gram of heroin she was selling them 0.6 grams, and I was arrested for that amount. After seven months [in pretrial detention], at the trial I received probation. I was released and decided to start a new life from scratch. I met a guy. Some time passed and I realized that I was pregnant. We moved in together. My sweetheart started coming home later and he was rarely in a normal state. I understood what it was: He had become drug addicted. Once I lost my temper and told him everything that bothered me, but it made him become brutal. At the beginning we were just arguing then he kicked me down and continued kicking me in the stomach. This is how I lost my baby. I was still in a state of shock when my mother died 27 days after I lost the baby. My father went on a binge and my beloved man dumped me because I did not forgive him for the loss of the baby. Thanks to my neighbors, I was able to bury my mother. Actually I buried my mother alone without any relatives. After the funeral I relapsed and started using drugs again. Once I went to my friend’s house with a syringe pre-filled with heroin (I kept it for myself to use in the morning to prevent withdrawal). I was leaving my friend when I saw the “opers”81 coming to check on her — they knew that at her place there were often gatherings. I was taken to the district police station. Instead of opening a criminal case against me, the “opers” offered for me to work for them on the highway as a prostitute. I am telling you this, Luba, because among women drug users it is not shameful to be involved in prostitution, but stealing is shameful. Almost all of the drug users in our zone were involved in prostitution for a dose. 79 • one of the clinics in Moscow treating drug addiction 80 • drug dealer (slang) 81 • slang name for the officers of the criminal investigation department (operational department) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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It turned out that the “opers” were a “krisha.”82 I was afraid to go to prison because this time I was already on probation; that’s why I agreed. They asked me to come the next day dressed up provocatively. They delivered me to the point. That first time it felt disgusting. Since I was “fresh” they paid me 1,500 rubles for sex in the car with two men; one after another for one or two hours. Later I got used to it. In the evening the “opers” would come and take the money. Sometimes they brought drugs and sold them to us for a cheap price. They gave heroin for free to those who slept with them or who earned the largest amounts of money. Few clients, “opers,” or their friends asked about or insisted on using condoms. The girls had to take care of it on their own. Some girls did not care about it or did not want to spend money on condoms. This is how I managed to live for two years. Once, some “menty”83 came to our point. We did not know which police unit they were from. They took the girls who did not have their passports to the police office and tore up my passport out of anger because I was a Muscovite, and they were temporary resident workers from other regions. They kept a few pages from my passport for themselves and told me arrogantly: “Now pay us a fine of 2,000 rubles for not having a passport.” I gave them the money: I did not want to deal with them because I’ve heard that they can beat and incapacitate you or even “pass you around.”84 This is how I was left without a passport. Then I complained to our “opers,” who were protecting us. I even memorized the numbers of their cars and told them. They promised to take action, but who will stand up for prostitutes? In a month, I realized that I was pregnant. I went to the clinic to have tests done. In two weeks they phoned me and asked me to come in. This is how I learned that I was HIV positive. Something broke inside me. At that time I did not think about what would happen to me, I did not see the future. There was only one thought: “How long is left for me to live?” Although my life can hardly be called a life, I still wanted to live. I got myself registered at the AIDS center. At the women’s clinic the doctor told me: “You would be crazy to give birth. You are a drug user, you have HIV, and your baby is doomed to die.” In June I gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. It was the last straw; I knew that there would be a moment when I would commit suicide. I started using drugs more often and increased the dose. I injected heroin in an attempt at self-destruction” and went back to prostitution. It is hard to describe what I had to 82 • literally meaning “roof,” in this instance, an organized criminal group overseeing the sex trade in one of the districts or the entire city. They deal with problems arising with clients (when they don’t pay for the services or beat the sex workers, etc.). Sex workers pay them interest from their earnings or provide sexual services. The “krisha” may beat the girls, lock them in a cell without food for few days or shave their head to force them into submission (mostly for hiding their earnings). 83 • police (slang) 84 • gang rape Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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go through — humiliation, beatings, “subbotniks”85. They took the money that we earned. I started stealing money from the clients. I could not quit using heroin and spent all my earned and stolen money for a dose. Finally, I was put into prison for half a year and then they sentenced me and sent me to the colony. My withdrawal in prison went quickly. Although I’d been in prison before and it was nothing new for me, it was terrible anyway. You are afraid of people because you cannot hide from them anywhere — you have to eat at the same table and sleep in the same room with them. If you don’t get used to it at the beginning it will be very hard to serve a term. Therefore, during the days and at night when withdrawal did not allow me to fall asleep, I thought about how I should present my case at the trial so that I could benefit from it and get a lighter punishment. I hadn’t committed murder. How could I survive among this mixed crowd and not to fall low; how could I avoid becoming a rat for a pack of tea or lighter sentence; how could I make sure I didn’t absorb prison morals and culture? However, for the time, I learned prison slang and wailed songs of the criminal world with the other women. And I had a lesbian experience as well because when you are a long time drug user and are involved in sex work and forced to have sex with “menty,” you do not get the same sexual satisfaction as a non-drug-using girl living a normal life. So, Luba, I am getting released soon. If it were not for the changes in the “Colombian” Article 228 (this is how we jokingly refer to it amongst ourselves), I would have to be here for while. I will need assistance upon release and I very much hope that you will help me. I need to get my passport and restore my propiska86. I will need to restore my rights at the AIDS Center and have myself tested in order to get treatment. A young girl that served her term in our colony was released recently. She was also HIV positive. In prison she contracted tuberculosis. Shortly after release she died from TB. At the AIDS Center she was denied treatment. Nobody gets treatment while in the colony, but they are responsible for treatment if there are indications for it. Here you can’t even have your tests done, although it is necessary. I don’t want to die like her. Help me. What do I want and dream about after my release? I want to get treatment for HIV. I want to give birth to a healthy baby and marry an HIV-positive guy. I understand that healthy guys will not care about me. Remember you brought us addresses of HIV-infected guys from the Voronezh87 colony? So, our girls are still corresponding with some of them — our Gypsy girl writes to someone, and those two girls who sent their pardon applications on the same day — you asked them about the results, remember? They also write them and send their pictures. 85 • days when militia or bandits come to the prostitution point to rape sex workers. They also make them wash their cars and clean houses or offices. 86 • government-issued registration within certain city, town, or village 87 • name of a provincial city in Russia Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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I also want to find a job and will find one. I learned sewing here. Also, I want to help my father quit drinking. And I have a dream: I dream to go to Paris. I don’t know if they will let me in since I was convicted twice. Luba, can you find out for me? I believe that I will succeed in everything. I managed to have my immune status test done, and the results were given to me. Have you heard what they do in the AIDS center? They hardly perform the test and they don’t tell you about the results. I screamed at them and they showed me the results and told me that they would not perform any tests for me again. My [viral load] count is 280 which is not good, but I will get better for sure. I am scared of contracting tuberculosis here: It is damp in our room and there is mold on the walls. By the way, it is no use painting or plastering the walls because we wash our laundry here. But I take care of my health. Luba, I will certainly visit you in your office when I get out of here. I hope you will help me with treatment and documents. Thank you for the clothes. With regards, Sveta N., November 11, brigade No. 18

Epilogue Sveta was released before the Epiphany during a fierce frost, which was especially felt outside the gates of the colony, where a city of “those who had erred and were abandoned” sprouted up. Sveta called me at work and we met. We restored her documents and I went to the militia with her to save her from humiliation during her registration as a former prisoner. We found her a job at a trading facility. Sveta’s immune status improved and her viral load dropped. She did not need antiretroviral therapy. Everything was coming up nicely for her and it was impossible to imagine that everything would collapse, like it had some time ago when her happy life was ruined — her study at the MADI,88 loving guy, alive and considerate mother, and no drugs on the horizon. Sveta died from a heroin overdose three months after her release. A baby, an HIVpositive husband and France remained unfulfilled dreams.

88 • Moscow Institute of Transportation Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Gregory Ter-Asaturov:

Gulag for people suffering from drug addiction

I

was introduced to Gregory (Grisha) by his mother. At that time, our organization was launching a new project entitled “For the Future of Children.” Grisha’s mother used to come to the meetings of the Alliance and became engaged in our activities in an effort to get her son released from the colony. We assisted in the release of a few young men and Grisha was one of them. After his release, he came to our office holding a huge pile of documentation about the criminal cases of his jail mates, which he had taken upon himself to bring. Grisha turned 38 years old recently. He was formerly charged under Article 228, p.1–4 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (0.22 g of heroin were confiscated from him at his house and, according to Grisha, an additional 0.47 g of heroin were planted on him by the militia staff). According to the standards of that time, he received a short term — five years in a high-security colony. Having served fourand-a-half years, he was released due to the amendment of Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Grisha had a few previous convictions under the drug Article: in 1990 — Article 224: probation in 1997 — Article 228 : three years in prison in 2000 — Article 228: four-and-a-half years in prison Before his arrest, Grisha worked as a sound technician at the studio of the cinema actors’ theater. He began experimenting with drugs in 1984 by taking “jeff” (a stimulant made from Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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ephedrine). In 1989, Grisha started regularly using opiates. In 1990, during the arrest, he tried to commit suicide and was placed in the psychiatric hospital. Grisha underwent a course of treatment at the narcological dispensary No. 13. The treatment helped him to not think about drugs for a few months. Currently, Grisha is disabled. He acquired his disease, which started from frostbite, during his service in the Army in the far North. It developed into deep vein thrombosis brought on by a disease of the skin and subcutaneous tissue. Grisha “earned” the status of “disabled” in the colony as a result of punishment inflicted for disorderly behavior; he spent two years in the BUR-46 (Medium Security Barracks): “When I arrived at the penitentiary institution in Mordovia89. I was carrying documents stating that I needed a number of surgical operations. I demanded the treatment and refused to work, for which I was declared a ‘systematic regime violator.’” An excerpt from Grisha’s written complaint about the medical unit of the colony: “I am deprived of specialized medical intervention, which means I am denied the right to life, since my illness is potentially deadly.” An excerpt from Grisha’s character reference: “…legal requirements are perceived by him as a violation of his constitutional rights and freedoms.” What was the reason that you started taking drugs? There were various reasons. Drugs were available and accessible. I had personal problems — my girlfriend with whom I lived before the conviction and after my release from the colony had been periodically taking drugs. There was not a single rehabilitation program for former prisoners. After the colony one needs to recover but it is impossible to deal with it without assistance. A few days after the release you start feeling depressed and realize that you are not able to adjust to your new life because you are very behind in everything. What problems did you encounter after your release from the colony? I did not receive my passport for four months because the passport agency didn’t have a certificate from the colony stating that they hadn’t given me my passport. Although I was holding such a certificate, they wouldn’t accept it, saying instead that it was not properly issued and did not have a registration 89 • Republic of Mordovia is a part of the Russian Federation Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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number. I started writing complaints to the Interior Affairs Agency, Passportand-Visa Agency, and the Prosecutor’s office. I filed a criminal lawsuit against the head of the Passport Agency in response to his negligence. As soon as it came to court I was suddenly given a passport. However, they threw out a hint that in these circumstances it was in my favor to be friendly with them instead of arguing. They wanted a $100 (USD) bribe as a symbol of friendship. They gave me the passport but did not include a stamp of registration for my mother’s apartment. In the course of the trial it was found that I was illegally de-registered before the end of the trial. Actually, I was de-registered before the court convicted me as a criminal. Perhaps they wanted to take my apartment. My mother was born in 1934, so they probably thought that if I went to prison and my mother died due to her old age, the apartment would become property of the State. What are you doing now? Where do you work? Now I am engaged in solving my own and other people’s problems. For small gratuities I help relatives of convicted people write complaints of any nature — requesting that parole be granted, medical certification, elimination of medical violations related to denial of treatment. For example, my friend is serving his term in the colony. He hasn’t been able to walk for four years — he is even taken to the toilet on stretchers. He still hasn’t passed the certification of the medication and occupational expert commission in order to get adequate treatment. The administration refuses to provide the treatment, saying that a specialist in his type of illness is unavailable. At the same time they don’t want to transfer him to another prison because they don’t want to pay the transportation costs. It appears that this man has been deprived of social protection for five years, and apparently is a candidate for aktirovka90. At the penitentiary institutions in Mordovia they do not practice aktirovka: they prefer a dead body in the colony to releasing people and allowing them to die outside of prison, or letting them get treatment in the clinic outside of prison. I often spent time in the prison medical ward. A lot of people were dying there, including HIV-infected prisoners. Most people die from TB and various inflammatory illnesses. While I was there I witnessed the deaths of many people. The bodies of dead prisoners were given to the relatives if they managed to come in time to pick them up. They only keep bodies there for a certain period of time. When relatives come late they find out that the body has been buried in the unmarked cemetery for convicts. Why don’t they allow aktirovka? It is quite possible that aktirovka is a privilege for sale and is available only to those who can pay money. Prison officials are able to meet their numbers through bribe payers. 90 • medical release Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Why does it happen this way? The institution ZH-3851 has been in existence since 1920. It belonged to the Amalgamated Governmental Political Agency. The administrative staff of the institution developed into a clan system that historically hated the convicts and exterminated political prisoners. In our time these traditions are transferred onto the prisoners convicted under certain criminal articles and the inmates of the medical ward. What is the medical situation at the penitentiary institutions? People are caught between the regime (the internal rules of the institution) and medicine as between the hammer and anvil. For example, when the convict falls ill the administration does not take this into account, and uses coercive measures to make the sick person work. If this person loses consciousness while working, they think he’s faking. If the person dies they believe it was his own fault: he did not visit a doctor in time. I wasn’t sentenced under Article 97 (compulsory treatment of drug addiction) but I know that nobody provides treatment to anybody there. Why wasn’t I sentenced under Article 97? This is because they suspected that I had “lymphogranulomatosis” — a cancerous tumor. The court did not prescribe treatment for me under Article 97 because compulsory drug treatment addiction would aggravate my condition. A course of treatment for drug addiction includes prescriptions of Nootropil, piratcetam,92 vitamins, exercise, and labor therapy. However there is a lack of medicine, and they don’t treat people as prescribed under Article 97. What do you think rehabilitation should include? It should include a spectrum of services and should create conditions where the person feels motivated to participate in social life, and where he is not treated as an outcast. It should also include timely employment in accordance with the interests and professional skills of the person. If the person has a religious faith, s/he adjusts to life much faster than non-religious persons. The church provides support, and a spiritual advisor keeps the person from relapse. However, only a few people are able to adjust completely. Do you think that substitution therapy should be provided at the pretrial detention facility? 91 • administration of penitentiary institutions that includes about two dozens of colonies in Mordovia. Among them: colonies for women, higher security colonies and a special colony for foreigners. 92 • piracetam (brand name Nootropil) – part of a class of drugs (nootropics) said to improve cognitive abilities Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Of course it is needed there, although while in prison people are generally busy building the defense for their criminal case, and focusing on survival and communication with their jail mates. It is also easier to survive withdrawal in prison. Why do you think repression measures are not helping to decrease the level of relapses? Repression does not create a spiritual basis that can prevent a relapse. In addition to that, any pressure on the person who is inclined to use drugs, whether it is moral prohibition or physical pressure, pushes them toward drug use. Along with that, there are problems that they have to face after release. What did you dream about while in the colony? Which of your dreams came true? Dreams that came true? I managed to help the people whom I wanted to help. I learned to use the computer and restored my relationship with the girl I loved and wanted to marry before entering the colony. We’ve already filed an application at the Civil Registry Office for registration of our marriage. Dreams that did not come true…I could not find employment. It is pretty hard to find a job as a former prisoner, especially if you have a rare profession like a sound technician. Due to the lack of financial resources I was not able to make appeals on many complaints and convictions. When after your release did you start using drugs again? It happened a week and a half after my release. I had a stash hidden in a secret place in my house before my arrest. I was not interested in this stash until I received a phone call from my girlfriend who offered to meet me. We failed to meet because I could not find her address and got lost. Kind people tried to help me but it was to no avail. I had sore legs, you know…I came home disappointed and tired with pain in my legs. I felt really bad. This is when I remembered about the stash. I took heroin and it made me feel better. When I took heroin for the second time I got scared of relapse and drug dependence, so I gave the rest of the heroin to my drug-using acquaintances. My network of buddies consisted of drug users. They started calling me and I gave in to an invitation from an old friend to come to his place and take drugs together. This is how I started taking drugs here and there. My problems, periodic pain, and inability to get treatment due to lack of time (I was busy solving my girlfriend’s problems) played a role as well. It is impossible to eliminate drug addiction completely. It will always exist as a disease, as an evil. Instead of being eradicated, drug users should be helped to get off drugs. This is practically impossible in our unfortunate society because it involves enormous costs, and our government is unable to establish programs for drug users and prisoners. Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Why do I mention prisoners? Because the majority of drug users have problems with the law. It is possible to train drug users in harm reduction measures so that they decrease the harm caused to themselves and their relatives, but our government would not agree to do that. Repression measures against drug users are used by the drug mafia to make profits. The higher the risk of drug use, the higher the price of illegal substances. Alcohol also causes physical and psychological dependence that is similar to drug dependence. Consequently, alcohol could be called a legal drug. Along with that it is cheap and available, in contrast to other drugs. Imprisonment of drug users is not a panacea. Detention can stop beginners but it cannot stop those who have been taking drugs for years. I am absolutely sure that I can stop using; however, after being in remission for a few years I suspect that a certain combination of circumstances can lead to relapse. It is hard to answer a question on whether or not drug addiction can be cured completely. Among my acquaintances there are people who have been in remission for three to four years. Do you think that controlled use of drugs is possible? It is possible. I would like to learn how to control the use of drugs, but at the same time I want to find an incentive to quit forever.

Epilogue Three months have passed since we met with Grisha. During that time there were adverse changes in Grisha’s life. His girlfriend disappeared, and the wedding never took place. Grisha could not walk for a long time. His veins were inflamed due to thrombosis. The medical examination confirmed that he needed a surgical intervention. Surgery in the private clinic is very expensive. Although Grisha does not have money for treatment, he would not agree to go for free treatment because he does not believe in free medicine. His few buddies ask for his help to get heroin. As a rule they thank him not by paying money, but by giving him a cut of the drug. Today Grisha is a drug addict once again; however, he does not use drugs as often as he used to. He did not find a job. He lives on his mother’s pension and the money they recover from renting a room in her apartment. Grisha has just started the process of collecting the documentation for his own pension. He needs the approval of a number of authorities, but he can hardly move, even with crutches. His health condition is very serious. He could develop arterial occlusion at any moment, and this could be lethal. Grisha’s mother can hardly move either. Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Yura D.:

When I recollect that life it makes me shudder How long have you been using drugs? I was born in the city on Novokuznetsk. I started using drugs sometime in 1989. I am 33 years old now. I have been injecting drugs for about 15 years. However, these 15 years include the years spent in prison as well. I have five convictions. Some of my convictions were under Article 224 — at that time this Article included a paragraph for drug use. Some of my convictions were for theft — I was trying to get money for drugs. Our city is entirely criminal. We were a few friends. We used power, theft, and racketeering to get out of poverty. We wanted to win our own place in the sun from the other wise guys. We fought between ourselves (various gangs). Once my friend was shot in his leg in an effort to stop our attempts to gain recognition in the criminal underworld. But it did not scare us. Drugs came when we got money. At that time there was no heroin — I don’t like it even now. We used “chernyashka”93 in those days. It was cool to take drugs because it implied power, authority, and wealth. It was kind of trendy at that time to be a drug user. So we started injecting. In our group there was a girl — she was like our sister. She helped us with everything: we would get together at her place; when we had fights she 93 • opiate drug made at home (slang) 94 • police (slang) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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bandaged our wounds, gave us medicine or dealt with the “menty”94 for us — bribed them or sorted out our problem in other ways so that they let us free. She used to come to the detention facility with parcels for us when we were arrested. I loved her. Later we started living together. So originally we started using drugs ourselves and later on her birthday we presented her with a dose. She liked it. In short, we gave her a leg up on drug addiction without even realizing it. All the problems we had with the “menty” were related either to drugs or robberies and thefts. We were also involved in racketeering but it happened extremely rarely. One time a few of our buddies were suspected of committing a murder. They got arrested and stayed at the pretrial detention center for three or four months. Somebody murdered the porter of the train Novokuznetsk–Kyrgyzstan. Some porters of this train were transporting anasha95 to sell it in our city. The entire city would come to them to buy the grass. Our guys came there ten minutes after the murder was committed and they were arrested. They had nothing to do with the murder. Our girl was held as a witness in this case and a lot depended on her. So they were freed from the charge. Most of the time we just paid bribes to the “menty” and this helped to solve our problems with them. But later when we became drug addicted each of us got many convictions because all our money was spent on drugs and we couldn’t pay off the “menty” anymore. Did you experience illegal searches, drug planting by the cops, coercion or beatings? Of course I did. They searched my house about 10 times. And those personal searches….. If you get caught by the “menty” when you come to the “spot” to buy drugs they would immediately search you. If they find something that interests them, for example a charm or a wallet, a lighter or cigarettes, they would take it for themselves without even asking. They could make you strip naked on the street in winter and stand barefoot on the snow while they checked your clothes. They wouldn’t give you back your clothes until they finished checking each item. Meanwhile you are standing there naked and freezing: you were already shivering because of the withdrawal and now it is getting to the point when you wish you were dead. When you take drugs your body becomes weak and even minor things can make you ill. It is very bad when you get sick because you don’t have energy to get money to buy drugs and there is nobody to take care of you. Drug users don’t have friends. You just have buddies who take drugs with you when you have money. And when they have money and you don’t and are not going to have it in the near future, they will not share their drugs. In addition, the “menty” can take your money and you will be left to suffer with95 • cannabis Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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drawal. Gypsies rarely give drugs on credit; they might do this only if you are their permanent customer. Some “menty” who are scared to take money openly use blackmail: they might fine you just for the fact that you happened to be in a criminal district, or for the track marks on your arms or legs. If they find drugs on you, you have to pay a fine. They might let you free and not file a case against you but they still keep your money for themselves. When “menty” need money or need to meet arrest quotas, they’ll catch you and if they don’t find anything criminal about you they might put you in handcuffs and plant drugs in your pocket from behind. After that they call the attesting witnesses and those witnesses are just district dwellers who are already sick of drug users and Gypsy drug dealers. They are scared of the Gypsies and they hate drug users. So they make excellent witnesses: they will confirm anything even if they see how the “menty” planted drugs in your pocket. They will sign a statement that the drugs were confiscated from you. In this case you have to either pay a bribe or face the charge. It is useless to try to prove that you did not buy drugs and that they were planted on you. In the best scenario you will get probation; in the worst you will be jailed. Once I was caught with a syringe containing anhydrite solution96: however, I had not managed to buy “hanka”97 yet. The “menty” were so mad that they did not find anything except for the acid solution that they stuck the needle in my ass through my pants and injected the contents. I got a terrible burn and the skin on my bum sloughed off. I could not sit or lie on that side and it was hard to walk. When you are going through withdrawal all your health problems become especially acute and you experience unbearable pain. I howled from the pain but the “menty” were laughing at me while they injected me. They can detain you for nothing and make a statement about disorderly conduct, for example swearing at the passersby or peeing in a public place. They also practice torture methods on you. For example they read about torture from different books and practice the “swallow”98 or “crucifixion” on you. They might use an electric current — attach the wires to your ears and to some kind of device with a handle on the side. Then they start spinning this handle and you feel an electric shock, sparks start coming out of your eyes. When they beat you with their baton on your heels and kidneys you feel like you’ve reached the end. Or they beat you on your liver. They would practice for a couple of hours and then let you go free. When they beat you severely and afterwards see that you are not pretending they might give you some drugs so that you don’t complain 96 • precursor chemical for making heroin 97 • raw material for manufacturing opiate drugs (slang) 98 • tying one’s hands behind their back and then hanging them by their hands Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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or try to document the beating. However, it is very rare that people do that: everybody is scared of the “menty” because they can find you wherever you are and seek revenge. They make you work for them to disclose the identities of other drug users and drug dealers. They need the names of drug users to support crime disclosure statistics and the names of drug dealers for making them pay kickbacks. They pay you in drugs for ratting on other drug users and dealers or sometimes give you money to buy bread; one still has to eat. They can make you their agent if you start really working for them: they will give you an agent’s nickname, pay you a salary of about 1,500 rubles and in addition provide you with some “hanka” from every successful operation. If you get into a mess in another district and you have a criminal charge pending, they get you off the hook. If you get beaten by the Gypsies or drug users for ratting on them they might organize a police bust. However, later after you get spotted everywhere and nobody will sell you drugs anymore (our city is small and information spreads fast) the “opers”99 themselves will put you down for a criminal charge because you have become useless to them. More than that, the agent knows everything about their tricks. There were cases when the agents were found dead in a ditch. There were rumors that the “menty” got rid of those agents because they knew too much about them. Being their agent is a dangerous business but sometimes they use such methods to make you work for them that it is impossible to refuse. In general, to the “menty” drug users are “meat,” for society they are outcasts, for their relatives they are subhuman creatures who strip the house of all valuables for drugs. A drug user is a lonely sick person cared for by nobody. They are left alone with their problems. Girls end up on the street: they don’t live long either. Have you been registered at the narcological dispensary? Yes I was. I thought that perhaps it would help and I would get off drugs. However, when I was charged the investigator sent an inquiry to the narcological dispensary on whether or not I was registered with them. This impacted my charges and the term as an aggravating circumstance. I could have been charged for two years but instead got three years because of this registration. I know that one can get a detox but it costs 15 thousand rubles and doesn’t cure you. It only helps you go through withdrawal painlessly. You come back after treatment in the hospital but are not used to work and more to the point, nobody wants to hire you. The years when you were using drugs are crossed out of your life completely, everything has changed. Your non-user friends already 99 • slang name for the officers of the criminal investigation department (operational department) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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have families, their own apartments, and a career, but you are in the same spot as you were before. Nobody wants to have anything to do with you; even your relatives don’t trust you. If they kicked you out of the house and you found money and got through withdrawal they might let you back, but before leaving for work they kick you out for the day, fearing that you might sell something from the house again. In a while after useless attempts to find occupation or a job, a girlfriend, or the trust of your relatives, you start injecting again. You practically live on the street — rent a space for a night from other drug users paying them in a dose for one night, or you find yourself a basement. It is unrealistic to find money for detoxification but doctors say: “You always find money for the drugs so you can find money for the treatment as well.” They don’t understand that it is easier to find money for drugs — it is cheaper than the 15 thousand rubles you need for treatment. I asked the doctors to clean100 me and offered to work for free in their hospital or at their summer houses but they wouldn’t agree to that. Once I felt so weary of life that I came to the point where I wanted to take a rope and hang myself. Even my mother said to me: “Be a human being at least once — take a rope and hang yourself, release me and yourself from the torture.” My own mother wished for the death of her son — this is how close to the edge I brought her! My situation was hopeless: I lived in the basement because my mother would not let me in the house; I had not eaten for three days and rarely injected. I chopped logs and carried water for Gypsies and they gave me some “hanka” and a piece of bread with a small slice of cheese. I was feeling so dreary. At one point I found myself standing in front of a church where I saw a few priests arrive in a Volga101. I came to them and said: “Help me with anything!” I told them about myself. They listened to me through the slightly lowered window, nodded their heads and said: “There is nothing we can do for you.” I told them: “At least give me a shelter under your church. I will work for you and will not inject!” And it was true — I would not inject if I had a place to live and a piece of bread to eat. It is hard to survive on the streets without drugs or vodka especially when you live in a basement. I cannot drink vodka because I have hepatitis C and vodka’s very smell makes me sick to my stomach. When I drink vodka it immediately makes me vomit. The priests left without helping me and later I learned that there was a rehabilitation camp for recovering drug users who lived and worked at the church. However, they have to pay a fee of 1,500 rubles. For comparison, a loaf of bread costs 50 rubles. I did not have money even to buy bread, not to mention 1,500 rubles. It sounds like a minor thing but the priests did not accept me for free. It made me lose faith in the church and its ministers. 100 • Sometimes drug treatment is called “cleaning” 101 • a brand of Russian car Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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How long have you been registered at the narcological dispensary? I have been registered since 1996. Have not you been de-registered in accordance with the abolition of the article on compulsory treatment? No I have not. They practically forgot about me. How long was your sentence? I have served in total about seven years, including pretrial detention. Have your rights been violated outside of prison because of your drug use? Constantly. To the State, people who take drugs are not human, so they don’t have to have rights. This is how society thinks. In what cases? When I applied for a job and when I was denied medical assistance because I was a drug user. I don’t have an insurance policy and doctors treat patients without an insurance policy only in exceptional cases. I had an abscess. I came to the hospital and they told me: “You need surgery. Do you have an insurance policy?” I said: “No I don’t have it.” “Then we cannot help you,” they said. “Go and get your policy as soon as you can and then come for surgery, but be quick – the contamination can spread and then we would have to chop off not just your hand but the entire arm.” Naturally I was not able to get the insurance policy: I came to the clinic and they referred me to my employer. I told them that I was not working and honestly said that I was using drugs and therefore nobody would hire me. They told me that they couldn’t give me insurance. They give insurance only to pensioners, disabled people, children, and pregnant women. To make a long story short, my hand had swollen to the size of a soccer ball and it was burning so much that I could not stand. At the beginning I could ease the pain by taking drugs: after the injection the pain would go away, but later it did not help anymore. The hand started pulsing and the swelling spread up to the elbow. Then I went to another hospital. They accepted me because there weren’t other choices: they realized that before long they would have to chop off my entire arm. They put me on the stretcher, prepared the instruments, and were about to start the surgery when I asked them about anesthesia. “You are not entitled to it,” they said. “We cannot even give you local anesthesia.” So they cut me alive, cleaned the wound and let me lay there for half an hour. I’d come there late on purpose thinking that if I came late they would keep me until morning, but after an hour they gave me a couple of painkiller pills and “goodbye!” I told them: “Let me stay on the stretcher till morning — I have no place to go.” The nurse would not agree by any means, saying that she Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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could not let me stay in the corridor and that there were no spare beds in the ward. I went to the surgeon and told him everything about myself and my current situation. He happened to be a nice lad and he let me stay until the next morning and ordered them to feed me some mush. But in general we are treated like animals. Once I collected some alms from passersby: some gave me 10, some 50 kopeks. I came to the bakery counter at the grocery store, poured out my coins on the saucer in front of the sales girl and asked her to sell me a loaf of French bread for six rubles. They deliver fresh loafs of bread at certain times, while it is still warm and crunchy and very delicious. But she told me: “We don’t accept change.” I said: “What difference does it make, it is still money?” But she defiantly pushed the saucer back and shouted: “I will not accept this. Give me normal money!” and she turned away from me. Half of the coins rolled onto the floor through the whole department and under the counter. While I was crawling on the floor picking up the coins I wanted to kill her. I collected the coins but there was one ruble missing. It had rolled under her counter. Tears filled my eyes. Even though I am a guy my eyes began stinging with tears. I did not want to show her my tears and bowed my head and told her: “Some coins went under your counter, can you check?” She looked down, stepped on a 50 kopeck coin and carelessly pushed it to my side. I never found the second 50 kopecks. I came to an old babulya102 and asked her to buy me the bread: I was so afraid that if I went out to beg for 50 kopecks the bread in the store would get cold. The kind old woman agreed to buy me bread and added her own 50 kopecks. The same sales girl sold her the bread. Babulya gave me the loaf and three bars of glazed cottage cheese she had bought. She said to me: “Son, help me carry my bag. I want to buy some potatoes as well but am afraid I would not be able to carry it myself.” Of course I agreed to help her and carried her load to her apartment. She also gave me a bun and poured some milk into a plastic bottle. This is how it happens sometimes. In other words, you experienced the negative attitude of society? Of course. However, sometimes I met humane people like this babulya. On my second-to-last conviction I consciously “went” for a term. I did not have any energy to live like that anymore. I was not able to inject and did not want to because it was just torture: my veins became very bad, I often missed them and injected the solution under the skin, my limbs started to rot and I had a lot of abscesses. I could no longer lead a homeless and half-hungry life. I came to my old school friend. He gave me food but I stole his mother’s gold jewelry. He did not want to file a claim with the militia, but his mother did. I told my friend where I was living. I did it on purpose. I was arrested in one day. I kept all the jewelry except for one ring that I exchanged for “hanka” with Gypsies. During the trial I told my friend the truth. He asked the judge not to jail me but the judge gave me two-and-a-half years. 102 • affectionate word for grandmother (usually applied to an old and kind woman) Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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For the first time I was glad to get a term. I thought that at least I would withdrawal there and would be fed and washed and sleep in a clean bed. While I was in prison I restored my relations with my mother, but when I left the zone I started using drugs again: I had neither job nor family nor friends. I relapsed. Look, why does it happen like this? I did not crave drugs in the zone; I was psychologically balanced and did not have any physical withdrawal. Why did I relapse? Have you been treated for drug addiction? Yes I was, several times — but nothing came of it. They gave me an IV, vitamins, sleeping pills, antidepressants. I suffered from withdrawal — the pain would not stop. A few times they gave me sulphasin103 and haloperidol but they caused such severe withdrawal symptoms that I wanted to die. My temperature went up, the pain in my bones increased and my muscles felt like they were turned inside out. I had terrible headaches. Such treatment was never effective. Will you continue taking drugs again after release from prison? I think I will. The attitude toward drug users has not changed. There are only a few social programs for drug users. However, I read that in Peter104 they even supply drug users with new syringes. And what do we have here? That will never happen here. In Holland they treat with drugs (I mean opiates, substitution therapy). There they understand that people cannot handle such a problem on their own. They all help them. All their narcologists are well-educated — they have studied the problem. In our country nothing will change until the attitude toward drug users is changed and new treatment methods are introduced. This disease is considered to be untreatable. People will continue injecting drugs as they were doing before; this serves the interests of drug dealers and the police. What difficulties do you envision after your release? Employment, family, housing problems: your relatives can de-register you from the apartment through the court because to them you are not a human being anymore. Problems coming from the healthcare system, social services, and society in general. I have not been de-registered from the apartment so far. It will take a long time to get a job — nobody will hire me. I don’t really have any profession. I graduated from a professional technical college but I don’t have any work experience. I am at peace with my mom now but she doesn’t trust me. She expects that I will start injecting again. I don’t have medical insurance. It means that I will not get treatment if I get seriously ill. What other difficulties does one need to relapse? 103 • a neuroleptic that is used in some psychiatric clinics for treatment of mentally ill people. 104 • Short name for St. Petersburg Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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What do you need personally in order to stop using drugs? I need a job. I want to learn how to earn money and spend it in the right way — on food, clothes and an apartment. I dream of buying a cell phone. I want to find a girlfriend and create a family, have a child, and raise my child. I want to restore my relatives’ and neighbors’ trust. It is necessary to create services where people could come and share their problems when they feel that they have come to the edge of relapse. Perhaps this would save them from taking the crack-brained step. We need drug treatment like in England: if the person cannot live without drugs don’t let them fall to the very bottom. Medical opiates should be available at pharmacies — methadone, for example, it is cheap. It would keep people from stealing, being poisoned, and dying from overdose. People would use only their own syringes, which would mean they would not spread viruses. It would be even better if those substances were in pills or a liquid form. Drug dealers who make money on drugs should be jailed. I don’t need much for a normal life: I just need normal attitudes and conditions, like in Europe. What makes my country worse than those countries? How do you envision your life after release? I envision it without drugs. I am tired of them. I am tired of such a life — poor, humiliating, hopeless, and wild. I am tired of being a tracked animal for the “menty,” tired of the suspicions of my relatives, tired of begging for alms and for food from my mother. I am ashamed that I have not accomplished anything in my life. I want to make a career, have children. I want to travel around the world, buy a car, and an apartment. I want to have a normal life like everybody does. Tell me about the cruelest treatment that you have ever experienced. Once the “menty” detained me and filed a charge of disorderly conduct. Allegedly I was swearing and used obscene words. They left me at the facility for a night. At night they took me out of the cell and brought me to the office and started beating me. They made me lower my pants and threatened to rape me with a bottle. Later however they ordered me to put my pants back on, but when they started doing a “swallow” on me I could not help peeing in my pants. So they ordered me to take off my shirt and dry the floor with it. Then they made me put on this shirt. They beat me on my hands with their baton. I came home in the morning (at that time I still lived at home) and could not get my key from my pocket, my fingers were so swollen. The neighbor, an old woman, helped me open the door. While she was doing this she turned her face away from me because my pants and shirt smelled of urine. When I recollect that life it makes me shudder. Although my current life is little different from that period, I don’t sleep in basements, don’t work for Gypsies for a dose and a piece of bread. We need to change people’s attitude to drug users and to narcology. Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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We should create special centers for drug users in remission where they can live till they know that they are ready for independent life. We need to give drug users an opportunity to learn skills. They waste their lives being high and cannot do anything except prepare injections. Wouldn’t it be good if all of us could go to a medical college! I am joking. We need to dig deep inside ourselves although it is painful. We need to pull out everything from inside of us even if it is pulled out with blood, but it will allow us to get stronger.

Postscript: Yura’s younger brother, Volodya, started using drugs as well. The brothers were left without a father at early age. Their mother had to work at three jobs. Yura was spending more and more time on the streets and practically was raised there and learned the smell of easy money. He committed theft in order to buy a sports suit, running shoes and take a girl to the movie theatre. In the ‘80s it became in fashion to use drugs. In those years it was considered a sign of prosperity. Yura was carried away by this wave. He had easy money, but he had to take risks for it: burglary, and pickpocketing, small scale racketeering, sometimes embezzlement. He spent money as easily as he obtained it — on being “high,” expensive cigarettes, taxis, and restaurants. At that time you could find poppies in the village gardens. They traded groceries for poppies from the old women who grew poppies in their flower beds or they paid them small amounts of money to cut poppies from their garden plantations. They injected only during the “season.”1 In winter they used alcohol. Withdrawal was not so painful. For about two or three years, Yura used drugs without major damage to his health and psyche. When “chernyashka” and “poppy straw2” became widespread Yura became seriously dependent on the dose. It was then when he earned his first convictions. Acute pain forced him find ways to get money; he committed crimes spontaneously. When Yura understood that he needed to quit it was too late. No narcology doctor could help him. Now his younger brother, whom Yura used to educate, has started down the same heroin path. What future awaits him?

105 • during cultivation of poppies from June to September 106 • broken pieces of the poppy pod left after opium seeds are extracted Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Ekaterina Lavrinovich:

A female prisoner’s case

K

atja was born in 1971. According to people who value the material over the spiritual, Katja’s childhood was quite nice. Her parents believed that, through an apartment on the Frunzenskaya quay, an attorney for a father, and a school with advanced French language classes, they were providing all the vital components that shelter a child from the negative influence of the street. Ekaterina took interest in horseback riding, wrote poems and studied psychology. However, her family relationships did not work out. She met a man who was a drug addict. Katja decided to accept his way of life. Her attempts to understand her sweetheart did not get her anywhere, nor did her struggle against the drugs. Katja continued working, and being a professional realtor, earned a good deal of money. After some time her young man was sent to jail. She continued using heroin and tried to avoid taking risks: she used a regular dealer. Compassionate Katja could not refuse her drug user acquaintances their requests for drugs. She was arrested at one such moment. She bought 0.12g of heroin for her acquaintances. The bills that she passed to the dealer turned out to be marked. During the arrest the police found two more doses of heroin on her; doses that she had bought for herself. The court judged her case as a purchase of three doses for further sale, since agents had witnessed the passing of money for the purchase. It turned out that Katja, who has never sold drugs, was convicted as a drug distributor. Katja was sentenced to seven years in prison. Her daughter became an orphan with a living mother. The Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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court has not taken into consideration that, since December 8, 2003, following the enactment of the amendments to Article 228 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, the amount of drugs that was found on her is no longer considered a “large amount.” Katja’s friend convicted as part of the same case managed to exercise her right to apply for reconsideration of her case in accordance with the new legislation. She was released few months ago. Katja is still serving an unfair term.

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Alexander G.:

“I suffered from health problems in the colony. I was rotting.”

A

lexander G. is 31 years old. He is a poly-drug user. From the perspective of a man in the street, he is certainly a hostile element, but in fact, Alexander is a deeply sick person who cannot live without drugs or alcohol. Alexander is a peaceful man: during 15 years of drug addiction he never committed a single unlawful act in order to get money for drugs. He would have continued to live the relatively quiet life meted out to him had he not been detained when he was buying a half-gram dose at the request of a young lady who had been sent by the militia. He would not have received any benefit for buying drugs for this lady: Alexander neither sold drugs nor bought any for himself. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to seven years in prison, and was included in the statistics as a “long-time pusher.” Later the article he was sentenced under was changed to “drug possession,” but this did not change the official statistics of the number of drug dealers detained. By May 2004 there were 65,000 people serving sentences for illegal drug dealing. Probably less than half of these people were true dealers; the rest were just drug users.

“Initially, I was sentenced to seven years in a high security prison colony for illegal dealing. When I was already in the colony my relatives and lawyer started taking action to get me out of Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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there. They sent a claim to the Supreme Court, and as a result my charge was changed from “dealing” to “possession,” which meant two years in the minimum security colony. In principle, the regular court could have sentenced me to this term. By that time I had already served two years in the high security colony and they released me. “One day during the first two weeks in the colony, we were drinking tea and getting acquainted with one another. I fell into a conversation with one man. I told him that I was sentenced for half a gram of heroin, and he said: ‘I killed a person. I am sentenced to four years…’ Can you imagine how I felt when I heard that: I was sentenced to seven years just because I had a bad habit? “I was already in the colony when the new law amendments (increasing the amount of an illegal dose) came into force. That started such turmoil in the colony! We were called to the courtyard and they read us all these amendments. The administration told us: ‘Guys, write motions to the local court.’ They even prepared a schedule establishing certain days of the week for every brigade to submit their motions. They tried to somehow organize us because everybody was anxious to get their freedom. Later a lot of people were released. “At the beginning, I was serving my term in two prisons in Moscow, and later was transferred to Rzhev then to Tver and, finally, to the Andriapol107 colony. It was nice to be in Moscow prisons, although living conditions there were certainly very bad. There were two people per bed: we had to sleep in turns. However, people do not sleep all 24 hours, therefore I had enough time to sleep and allow another unfortunate man to get some sleep too. Everybody should be “human,” i.e. decent to one another. Compared to other prisons, it was heaven. Many people there were serving sentences related to drugs. “At the beginning, due to the stress of realizing that you will have to spend at least seven years of your life here, you don’t think about drugs. Naturally, when you get settled you start thinking about ways to relax. Then you start brewing samogon.108 We brew it from sugar and bread using a bucket, plate, water heater, and plastic. By the way, it used to be very delicious. There were ways to get heroin as well. They say that it was sold by the prison administration. This was not the case when I was there. The only commodity we sometimes bought from the administration was alcohol. Usually, a lot of drugs got into prison through the parcels. At some point in the prison in Presnya109 it was forbidden to include toothpaste tubes in parcels: you could only buy it in the prison shop. Heroin and prepaid cell phone sim-cards valued up to $100 U.S. were sent via parcels. 107 • Rzhev, Tver and Andriapol are all towns in Russia. 108 • home-brewed alcohol 109 • name of prison in Moscow Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Alexander G. • “I suffered from health problems

in the colony. I was rotting.”

“There are such terms as ‘freedom road’ and ‘big road.’ A ‘big road’ is a connection between the prison buildings. A rope is shot from the window of one building to the window of another. This rope is used to transport letters, malyavas110 or anything you want. Even bottles of samogon are transported this way. “A ‘freedom road’ is the same rope (we had to weave it for a long time), but it must land outside the prison – in the free zone. At first, you need to make a wooden arrow: you also need a pipe and rubber. The arrow is attached to a rope and shot at a certain point outside the prison where a person is already waiting. It is not a secret that in every cell there are mobile phones and about 10 to 20 phone cards — everybody has their own. You can rent a phone for an hour and call home or make arrangements for delivering heroin. On the other side a parcel is attached to the arrow and then the rope is pulled by hand back to the prison. You could get anything you wanted — anything that could be slipped between the bars. In fact, we could even pull apart the bars (we had crow-bars and other tools we’d made by hand) so that even a three-liter glass jar could be thrust through them. The only commodity that was in short supply was syringes. There was such a thing as ‘shmon.’111 Once a week about 10 people in masks break into the cell. They flog and kick everyone out. Then they start ransacking clothes-sacks and mattresses. Usually they find a couple of mobile phones, which we later buy back from the administration. They would confiscate them and about two hours later come and offer to sell a mobile phone for 500 rubles ransom. Of course, we would pay. They found syringes too. This commodity was worth its weight in gold. It was extremely difficult to get them in the prison. “I remember that my first parcel delivered by the ‘freedom road’ included a pack of Marlboros, a water heater and a one-liter tankard. The minute I mentioned that syringes should be boiled the jailer dissuaded me from encouraging people to do this. ‘Don’t try to force it onto them’ — he said, ‘Nobody is doing it here. Something like that could make people think you have a negative attitude.’ In my cell the prisoners were already HIV-positive, so this did not make any difference. My sentence was the shortest one. Imagine an 18-year-old person with HIV sentenced to 22 years. He is sitting there and crying: ‘I will die in prison…’ and here I was with my idea of boiling syringes. At the same time, I never met real drug dealers in the colony. You see them on TV, but I never saw a single drug dealer in prison. “After Moscow we were transferred to Rzhev. This is where all our misfortunes started. It was not Moscow where you felt like you were serving a term at home. 110 • a little rolled note sealed into plastic, convenient for transportation and hiding 111 • jail shakedown Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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When we were on our way to Rzhev the cops already gave us the creeps, telling stories about the horrible things that were going to happen in the new prison. We came to Rzhev already shaking from fear of being beaten and were waiting for it to start. It was hard to cope with the anticipation of bad things, and I wished that it could start sooner if it was inevitable: at least after that we could go to sleep. “After Moscow we were transferred to Rzhev. This is where all our misfortunes started. It was not Moscow where you felt like you were serving a term at home. When we were on our way to Rzhev the cops already gave us the creeps, telling stories about the horrible things that were going to happen in the new prison. We came to Rzhev already shaking from fear of being beaten and were waiting for it to start. It was hard to cope with the anticipation of bad things, and I wished that it could start sooner if it was inevitable: at least after that we could go to sleep. “When we arrived there it was the end of winter and there was snow on the ground, but in our cell there were pools water on the floor and it was foggy. It was a transit cell. They did not give us any bed sheets and we slept on our quilted jackets and everything that was in our clothes-sacks. My quilted jacket was soaked with water: if you pressed it hard, water dripped from it. We lived in these conditions for ten days. It was hell. We survived only because we joked and laughed at everything that was happening. Humor was our only salvation. I would have gone mad if this life continued for a month. “There was a ‘regimen’ in Rzhev prison. In Moscow prison there couldn’t be any notion of a set time to sleep because a cell is built to accommodate 22 people and there were 22 shkonkas112 but in fact, 60 people lived there. How can anybody talk about ‘lights out’ when people have to stand up? There was simply no place to lie down. Therefore in Moscow prisons there was no ‘regimen’ at all — they were all overcrowded. “In Rzhev ‘lights out’ was announced on the radio at 10 pm and immediately the light was turned down. In the darkness, wet from the pools of water on the floor, we could not even make tea and warm ourselves. But they played the anthem of the USSR — to-to-to — to-to-to… “At eight in the morning the doors opened and we were ordered to get up. We would all be kicked out of the cell and made to squat, hands behind our heads. This was to count us. Then they pushed us back into the cell; in two hours ransacking started again. This lasted for almost two weeks. I thought: ‘Oh Lord, will this last longer?’ This was a kind of psychological attack. You begin to see your limits: if it lasted a little longer you would feel that you were going to break down. 112 • two-tier beds Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Alexander G. • “I suffered from health problems

in the colony. I was rotting.”

“I was assigned to serve my sentence in the city of Andriapol. In accordance with Article 97 of Criminal Code of Russian Federation (compulsory treatment of drug addiction), I was sent to the narcozona for drug users. This law is abolished now. The idea was that they would treat me there. The treatment included the following: as soon as they bring you to the institution you have to pass through a one-month quarantine period. Then they put you in the prison hospital for another month where you become subjected to a treatment ‘scheme’ that included taking some kind of pill and vitamins. This was all the treatment consisted of. After that they start “labor therapy,” which lasts for seven years. I worked at a furniture manufacturing workshop and they even paid me a salary of 18 rubles a month. “In the colony there were no other drugs stronger than chifir.113 They had a CDP114 section in the colony. It consisted of prisoners just like you, but they all rat on you. God forbid you blurt something out. They would report it immediately and you would find yourself in the isolation unit. I suffered from health problems in the colony. I was rotting. Everyone had their own problems but mostly people rotted there. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was from neverending dampness. My legs were rotting: they are still black up to my knees. I lost my teeth there; all my front teeth are gone. I am now replacing them with artificial ones.”

113 • very strong tea (as black as coffee) 114 • section of discipline and order Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Nothing will change unless everything changes Lev Levinson

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magine a dark room filled with a heavy, stale stench. Now, imagine that one of the walls comes crashing down, and fresh air and light streams in. Such was the effect of the criminal legislative reform of December 8, 2003. Ratified during a time when the nascent liberties of the early ’90s were being trampled, the new law was an unexpected but decisive gesture of humanism in contrast to the public’s lust for “revenge” and “reaction”115. And despite all the attempts of the prosecutors, police, and Duma116 to find a way to patch this “gaping hole” in the penal system, the new criminal code has now been in effect for years. Their attempts will soon become obsolete, just like the articles of the old code with its language about multiple charges, increased responsibility for repeat offences, and confiscation of property. Even hooliganism117 is no longer considered to be

115 • the author is likely referring to the public uproar evoked by the terrorist acts of 2002-2003 beginning with the large-scale hostage-taking at the Moscow theatre, and continuing with a bombing at a rock concert in Moscow and a series of terrorist acts in the northern Caucasus, in the most notorious of which a truck filled with explosives bombed a Russian military hospital. 116 • the lower house of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation 117 • in the Soviet Union, hooliganism (хулиганство) was made a criminal offence under the penal codes of the 15 Soviet republics. Article 213 of the penal code defined hooliganism as “any deliberate behavior which violates public order and expresses explicit disrespect towards the society.” This law was put forth by the Soviet authorities to ensure the harshest punishment for unsanctioned public meetings of any sort and was often used against dissidents Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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a criminal activity; unless the use of weapons, or items that can be used as such, is proved. Radical changes were made to the criminal laws to expand the concept of juvenile offenders. Teens under the age of 16118 are no longer incarcerated for committing their first small- or medium-degree offence. And even for serious felonies, a new sentencing scheme has been devised for juvenile offenders where the lower bracket has been brought down by half. Better explained by example — for a serious crime, such as armed robbery, adults can be punished by a three- to eight-year prison sentence, while the “window” for juveniles is 1.5 to eight years. Even in cases when a teen has committed a petty crime while on probation, courts can now repeatedly decide in favor of new probationary periods. What progress, in comparison to the arithmetic of the past when sentences were not reduced but added up! The growth of the young prison population at that time was not due to dangerous juveniles posing a threat to society with their crimes, but due to the gargantuan sentences they received for parole violations. Now even juveniles sentenced for serious felonies can be released on parole after serving one third of their sentence instead of one half. The review of the criminal code articles related to drugs has mainly affected the population of 20- to 24-year-olds, already barricaded in the walls of the adult colonies and out of the juvenile prisons. These changes were amazing, as they were introduced in the face of the worsening drug war and the birth of Narkokontrol — the special anti-drug police. The first version of the amended criminal code that was effective until May 12, 2004 had one main problem – the failure to include concrete definitions of what constitutes small, medium, large and extremely large amounts of illicit substances. This allowed for authorities to continue their previous practices: investigators and judges based their decisions on the data from a reference document of questionable validity. The document, titled “Consolidated Table of Conclusions of the Standing Committee on Drug Control” indeed included a table, which was approved by a committee of experts led by Professor E.A. Babayan. Despite the fact that this expert body never had any authority to issue regulatory documents, the data from the table had been utilized for all criminal cases without exception, which meant that by May 2004 it brought more than 850 thousand people to trial. In quantitative terms this meant that the table cited any amount starting from 0.1 grams of marijuana and 0.005 grams of heroin as “large.” In terms of human life, this meant that anyone caught for possession of either an invisible 0.005 grams or 100 kilograms of heroin would serve a sentence from seven to 15 years with or without confiscation of property. This strategy of widespread incarceration of people caught buying, carrying, or 118 • the age of 16 signifies legal adulthood for Russian citizens who are eligible to receive their passport (the main document verifying citizenship), seek employment, and receive other benefits at that age Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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selling and transporting miniscule amounts of drugs was like fishing for plankton in a sea full of “drug sharks” [i.e., dealers] left to swim freely. Young drug users, along with their first sentence, got the stigmatizing stamp of a “criminal” and a ticket to a broken life. First caught as juveniles they would be sentenced with suspension,119 but the second time around, caught as adults, they would be locked up for a long time. After serving their time, they would be caught in an endless loop. Had they not been branded by the prison system, eventually the drugs would likely have been replaced with maturity, family, and jobs; or even if the drugs remained, they would have occupied a much less damaging and more controllable place. But the years in prison made their minds focus on the illegal substance. Even when prisoners are forced into temporary withdrawal while in prison (although in many detention facilities and colonies drugs are easily available) it is hardly a voluntary abstinence, leading to a healthy, conscious recovery; it is rather a painful pause, filled with tedious waiting. After release, they would return to drugs, because they had nothing else to resort to. The institutions that were meant to get them clean, to “correct” them, returned them to society raw and unprotected. Effective May 12, 2004, the new amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offences established a fixed legal procedure for determining sentences in proportion to the amount of illegal substances found. The “large” amount was defined as that which exceeded an average one-time dose by tenfold or more, while an “especially large” amount was set at that which exceeded an average dose by 50-fold or more. Those individuals who were arrested for purchasing, possession, preparation, processing, or transportation of illegal substances in the amount of up to 10 one-time doses no longer had criminal charges brought against them, but instead were charged with an administrative offence punishable with a fine from 500 to 1,000 Rubles120 or administrative arrest of up to 15 days. But even setting reasonable criteria for the definitions of the amounts wasn’t enough. It was necessary to update relevant legislative and regulatory documents; otherwise the amendment would have been a farce. The Governmental Decree of the Russian Federation No. 231, of May 2004, was a breakthrough in this regard. It set in stone the amount of the average one-time dose. Instead of the bogus amounts prescribed by Babayan’s expert committee table and promoted by the drug control agency the Decree set forth acceptable street amounts: 2 grams for marijuana; 0.5 for hashish; and 0.1 for heroin. The new rule meant that individuals would no longer face criminal charges for possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana or 1 gram of heroin. In addition, compulsory treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction in prison was abolished. While this was previously used as an “alternative” form of punish119 • in Russia the initiation of the sentence is sometimes delayed, or suspended 120 •at the time these amounts were equal to approximately US$14 -$28 respectively Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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ment, in reality it stood as a barrier to more humane alternatives, such as administrative charges or amnesty. Compulsory treatment of prisoners had little medical or health rationale; instead this “alternative” form of punishment was in reality additional punishment. Since the amendments to the Criminal Code responsible for improvements in the sentencing scheme had retroactive effect, tens of thousands of drug-related offences were reconsidered after May 12, 2004.121 More than 12,000 prisoners were released and the sentences of another 30,000 were significantly reduced. Just a year before the changes took place, the only prescription made by the State was imprisonment. Now, for drug users, prison became an exception rather than the norm, despite the objections from supporters of harsher measures. There were fewer arrests for drug possession; even those caught with a glass122 of dried marijuana would be released with just a mild warning, unless there was proof of intent to sell; and tens of thousand of prisoners were released. But some of the aftermath wasn’t actually that great. There was an immediate spike in overdoses and mortality, like a chemical reaction as drug users returned to abandoned streets, houses, hallways,123 and basements. There was a theory that the overdoses were provoked by those who wanted to sabotage the May Decree and prove that the situation would get worse. The drug users’ online forums propagated the legend of “China white”: “We still don’t know what it is exactly. Some say that it is fentanyl124 or one of its derivatives; others think that it is a completely new synthetic opiate. However, one thing is absolutely clear: it has hit the streets again…” Despite these rumors, the doctors attributed the vast majority of the overdose cases to heroin and not fentanyl. Nevertheless, it was obvious that decriminalizing drug use was not enough. What could we do next? Should we demolish the existing State narcological services? Absolutely! To do that we need to get rid of the outdated and useless model of registration and drug testing whose sole responsibility is that of keeping track of drug users. Instead, we need rehabilitative, healing space and therapeutic freedom.

121 • the date on which the new version of Article 228 of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation was enacted 122 • in Russia, marijuana is often sold and bought in fractions of a glass. A standard glass in Russia is 200 ml or about 7 oz. in volume 123 • many buildings in Russian cities and provinces are built in series of connected high rises. Their vast and usually dark and dirty entry hallways and stairwells have become spots where drug users typically hang out 124 • a strong synthetic opiate, more toxic and much more potent than morphine; in Russia used as one of the first drugs in a series of medications delivered to provide anesthesia; in the U.S. it is often used for pain management Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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Reasons for imprisonment: A portrait of a convicted drug user A human rights center in the city of Chita, Russia, implemented a project entitled “Human rights monitoring of the activities of the Federal Drug Control Agency,” under the guidance of the Moscow-based charitable foundation “For a Healthy Society.” As part of the project, the center conducted a survey among prisoners sentenced under Article 228 of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation. The survey, called “Illegal dealing, possession, transportation, production and possession of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances or their equivalents,” allows us to sketch a portrait of a convicted drug user. The results are below.

Portrait of a drug user • IDU – Injection drug user • Age – between 25 and 55 years old • The majority (77.8 %) of respondents did not have a permanent job and were not enrolled as a student prior to their arrest • 72.2% had completed secondary education125 125 • equivalent to finishing high school Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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• 5.6% had attended some higher (post-secondary) education • More than a half of convicted IDUs (61.1%) had previously served time in prison • 77.8% of IDUs thought that Russia’s “correctional” institutions had no correctional value • The shortest sentence of convicted IDUs was two years; the longest was 14 Ѕ years • 72.2% of the IDUs were arrested by police; the rest were arrested by the representatives of the State Drug Control Agency or other law enforcement agencies • 44.5% of respondents said that the grounds for their arrest were: routine document checks126 and drugs found during personal searches. 33.3% stated that they couldn’t clearly explain the reason for their detention. Some said that drugs were planted on them. • Many of the convicted (77.8%) noted that the reasons for bringing a criminal case against them were never clearly explained to them. During the investigation, 66.7% of respondents were kept in detention facilities while the rest signed a paper promising not to leave the city where they lived. • 38.9% admitted that they used drugs. At the same time, 100% of respondents did not think that they were addicted to drugs. The majority of the drug users held in custody during the investigation (88.9%) did not go through withdrawal or withdrawal went smoothly. • 72.2% said that during the course of the investigation they were subjected to drug and psychiatric testing; a large number of IDUs (66.7%) were not classified as addicted. Almost all respondents (88.9%) didn’t think that their behavior was dangerous to society. • HIV testing was conducted for 94.4% of the respondents. During pretrial detention and while in prison, 77.8% were not offered any assistance related to social adaptation, treatment of drug addiction, etc. • 94.4% of respondents said that they were not informed about the possibility of getting any assistance that was not related to their case

126 • document checks in large cities became routine in the mid 1990s when crime was on the rise; they are a part of a Russian Federation law that states that Russian police can request documents from anyone they deem suspicious or suspect in any current investigations. While any citizen of or visitor to the Russian Federation can be subjected to random passport checks, they are rarely random in reality, as police screen crowds for “suspects” based on nationality, gender, and age, and are especially keen to check documents of those they suspect to be easy sources of illegal income acquired through bribes, such as drug users and sex workers. Drug Policy in Russia: Drug users’ stories of repression.


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1. Luba Nebrenchina at the entrance to Shakhovo colony. P H O T O : Okun 2. Luba visiting HIV positive inmates 3. Vlad Ubik 4. Correctional facility in Mariinsk. P H O T O : Gurianova

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1. Response of V.V. Pokrovsky to a request by a lawyer, Danishevskaya, on the possibility of receiving HIV treatment in correctional institutions

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2. Collecting signatures in support of Uliana B., a journalist from Moscow, accused in selling drugs

3. Visiting an isolation barrack in a women’s colony. P H O T O : Nebrenchina


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1. A letter notifying that an appeal was denied

3. Natasha Demjanova, HIV+, IDU in Shakhovo colony. PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN

2. Svetlana’s letter 5

4. Azazelo.

PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN

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5. Unfair resolution refusing parole. 6. Newspaper article on a project to monitor violations of human rights of inmates in Penza colony.


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1. Released inmates in Mariinskaya colony, medical correctional facility 4

2. Gregory Ter-Asaturov 3. Zhenya and Sergey D.

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4. Maria Kudryashova in the colony.

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Nebrenchina

5. Lena Z. HIV+, died of TB a month after released on parole. PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN

5 小ollecting signatures in support of Uliana B., a journalist from Moscow, accused of selling drugs.


Luba Nebrenchina

Drug Policy in Russia:

Drug users’ stories of repression


Drug Policyin Russia: Drug users’ storiesof repression