Irina Biryukova: Write letters

19 June 2024

Source: Facebook


Kara-Murza and Ilya Yashin have been moved to PKTs. These are ward-type cells. I have read on Telegram channels that the PKT is the harshest form of disciplinary punishment. I may be pleasing or disappointing someone, but that is not entirely true. There is a so-called hierarchy of disciplinary measures in penal colonies: reprimand, disciplinary fine (even I am amazed that in one prison where one of the defendants is serving his sentence the fine is applied so actively), ShIZO, SUS, PKT, EPKT, prison, and solitary cells.

Briefly, what this is about. Well, reprimand, fine, and ShIZO [punishment cell]—these are more or less understood. After that it gets more complicated. SUS (SUON) refers to strict detention and punishment completion terms. These are locked cells. That is, a closed barracks without movement through the penal colony. Leaving the immediate area without the administration’s permission is prohibited. And this goes on to apply to packages and visitation restrictions.

After the SUS, if the convict is brought up for a disciplinary infraction again, then, after all kinds of ShIZOs, he is given a stretch in a PKT—a ward-type cell. Previously this was called a BUR—a strict-regime barracks. Conditions there might be a little better than in a ShIZO. Generally speaking, though, all conditions depend on the camp boss. That is, the penal colony’s head. The case office plays a certain role here, too. Generally speaking, the most important person in a penal colony after the head, in my opinion, is the head of the case office. Well, something like the person recently taken hostage, which I found somewhat perplexing. This is basically a kind of grey cardinal in the prison camp. 

In a PKT (an EPKT, too), people sleep on pull-down cots, that is, the cots are attached to the wall during the day and taken down at night. As a rule, there are small tables and chairs bolted to the floor. In addition, though, there are also resetrictions on packages and visits, on food purchases, and on exercise hours.

After the PKT comes the EPKT—a single-space facility. This is what we call a “prison within a prison.” If the convict serves all the other disciplinary punishments in his own penal colony, then there may be only one EPKT for a region. That is, if a boss sends a convict to an EPKT, and this doesn’t require a court decision, then he can be transferred to another colony that has an EPKT, or to a neighboring region if his region doesn’t have one. There, it’s all very harsh. An orange robe is issued and the convicts are put in locked cells. Usually one each, occasionally two or three. There are very strict terms for packages, exercise, and visits. The EPKT is a kind of closed separate zone. Usually each cell is under round-the-clock surveillance. Most often they have a separate schedule so they won’t cross paths with anyone.

Then the regime gets changed to a prison regime. This is only by court decision. Which, as you can guess, happens in 99% of cases. The convict is transferred to a prison either in the nearest region that has a prison per se or else, if the charges are of a terrorist or extremist nature, to any region that has a prison. 

Another disciplinary punishment is placement in solitary cells. Habitual offenders in a strict-regime penal colony or prison can be given “solitary” for up to six months. This means total isolation for the convict. This is torture in and of itself.

I don’t mean to say that any of the regimes or disciplinary measures are nicer or better. Even one day in isolation in Russia is torture. They do everything they can to humiliate you, to assure you that you are not a human being and no one needs you. They try to break and subjugate you. From the moment of confinement, if not from the moment of arrest (some are luckier than others), they cultivate in you the notion that your life is over. And this continues for the entire length of your sentence. To say nothing of how much this robs you of your health. Both psychological and physical. 

Therefore, write letters to anyone you think needs one on remand, in a penal colony, or prison. There are no limits on letters other than censorship. You can use the FSIN [Federal Penitentiary Service] post, Zonatelekom, or ordinary post. Write about the cucumbers growing at your dacha, a book you read, a show you saw, an exhibit you visited. That’s appropriate. That’s ordinary life, which, as my principals assure me, is exactly what is lacking behind bars.


Translated by Marian Schwartz


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