«Homo Carcere "People in prison"»
We hardly ever realize that we can cut anything
out of our lives, anytime, in the blink of an eye.
I catch myself thinking that everything is not as I expected.
Neither worse nor better, just not like that. How I dreamed of this
moment! How I painted the coveted picture with stroke-like
thoughts, tossing on a hard bunk, and inhaling the stale, unfree air.
Out here, even the air is special, enclosed in a shell of indifferent
walls, which, in turn, are like the frame of an internal organ
suspended in the cellular space of a cyclopean prison colossus.
I’ve been dreaming about this every day since my
incarceration. And every day here in Butyrka, at least for a minute,
for a second, for a moment, I was transported to my future. The
moment the court overturns my sentence. I so fervently wanted
to feel this state with all my gut, with every exposed nerve, that
when the future came, instead of the expected all-encompassing
inspiration, I felt only endless emptiness.
I listened to the announcement of the court’s decision via
videoconference — I stood in the jail cell hesitating, shifting my feet;
for some reason I felt cold, as if the walls were oozing frost. I still
didn’t believe it, I thought that a mistake had crept in, that I heard
the verdict of the court incorrectly. In this long string of lies and evil,
any good news becomes impossible, unbelievable, something from
the realm of esotericism, in which one really wants to believe.
I expected a wild inner exultation, but it did not happen; I was
suddenly flled with a desire to immediately tell someone, that
I am already de jure free, that justice, albeit for a short time, but,
nevertheless, had been served. But who was I supposed to share
the impulse with? With cold walls?
— Patlis, what are you standing for? — this is Elena
Vladimirovna, longitudinal (prison slang — foor guard), a little
later, at the watch, when I was brought to our foor, and I am
waiting for the screws (vertukhai — prison slang — warden, guard)
to take me to my cell. There must be three guards to open the cell,
otherwise it is impossible.
— They let me go, — I smile stupidly, as if I’m uttering some
kind of dirty joke and add: — I’m free…
Elena Vladimirovna looks at me like I’m an idiot. She is
basically unable to comprehend the meaning of my phrase. Around
the rough walls of the prison corridor, iron rods, bolts and bars.
What kind of freedom am I talking about? There is no freedom
here as a concept. The fact that a person can remain internally
free, even while in prison… Elena Vladimirovna will never
understand this. In her shining pupils, only the light of electric
bulbs illuminating the corridor is refected, and there is nothing
else behind it: a black, boundless watchman’s emptiness, like
in my dreams before waking up.
And then I feel awkward. To those who will stay here after me.
Doomed to long suffering of soul and body. I’m embarrassed
to upset them with my freedom, and there’s nothing I can do
I have a weak perception of reality. Maybe because everything
is mixed up. Reality and the past. Consciousness and imagination.
Sadness and joy. It was as if a long longing for the will gave rise
to a kind of self-deception in my subconscious — with a change
in reality, your attitude will also change. As if at the click
of a fnger. As after the gesture of the conjurer.
I am torn by contradictions, and a new fear creeps into my
liver. Not having time to gain, I begin to be afraid of freedom.
I go home, to the cell, and the eager glances of my cellmates
immediately turn to me. It’s not hard to read their dumb questions.
How did it go? Where did you go? What did you see? What’s
new? Tell me. Tell me. Tell me!
Here, inside our three-by-fve cell with a barred window with
a philosophical view of the next wall, such questions are more
appropriate than ever.
«They let me go,» I say, as if I’m exhaling a piece of stinking
My cellmates are sincerely happy: without delay, they begin
to divide between themselves my things and and pre-prepared
And I, unable to react to their business fuss, sit down on the
bunks and look at the brakes.
Will they open soon, and I will hear the unthinkable
a week ago:
— Patlis, gather your things and go.
I stare so intently at the cell door that my head begins to spin
painfully, and a layered fog clouds my consciousness. Just a little
more, a little more, and I will see a clear, clear sky! Living sky, not
lined with rectangles of overlapping grids. And under this free,
sheltering reality, sky, there will be my sweet angel, my girl, who
deserves much more than waiting for her father from prison
I remember waiting for the birth of my daughter, pressing my
ear to her mother’s stomach, saying something to her even then:
I told her the news, shared my hopes, rejoiced at our future. Now
the world has turned inside out: Pavla is waiting for me to leave
the womb of a vile, dirty, unjust prison, having proved my right,
albeit temporary, but freedom. Looking ahead — my daughter
Pavla, one of the few who did not betray me and did not forget.
The dearest person, she drank this cup in full, but remained caring,
sincere, loving even more than before. But many of the others
gave me a very unexpected and unpleasant surprise.
It soon turns out that I was stupid in my premonitions about
a cloudless sky — the reality of the free world turned out to be
much scarier. My subconscious didn’t have time to rebuild. The
inertia of my term, my stay «outside» of life, was still spinning
HOMO CARCERE / PEOPLE IN PRISON
in it. I could not comprehend and could not put the obvious facts
in my mind. Because they contradicted my inner essence, they did
not ft into the Procrustean bed of my world order, scratched the
soul with sharp edges.
Could I have foreseen the betrayal? The more I think about it,
the more confdent my denial becomes. No, I couldn’t. For the
simple reason that there is no basis for it. Rather, on the contrary,
I was «owed» a lot. And the obsequious transfers of food and
medicine to the remand center are just proof of their wrongness.
The desire to make amends for the guilt that hung between us like
a fog. Somehow remotely justify yourself. But it is diffcult
to «cover up» mean deeds with cookies and sausage, even though
they are, by the way, more than ever needed, after a chamber three
times day. But these are attributes of a different order, tangible
objects that only allow you to brighten up prison life a little. And
actions are the essence, something else. There is already
a relationship. The human factor. Acts, even if produced under the
yoke of the situation, but which cannot be undone. This has
already happened. Man is weak!
In some ways I understand them. Those who did mean things
to me. After all, they foresaw that someday I would come out, and
they would have to answer me something, looking into my eyes.
That’s where cajoling will help: sausage and cookies sent to me.
They didn’t forget, they cared.
But I was wrong.
Because I recently received a message via messenger from my
business partner Andrey Kataev: «… And don’t forget to repay the
debt for everything I paid you in the remand center — medicine,
letters, transfers, trips to Nizhny Novgorod to talk to lawyers…».
From the same Andrey who wrote me in prison (especially at
frst) such encouraging letters. Who convinced me that everything
was in perfect order and under control. Who so wanted to look (at
least in letters) sympathetic and noble. And thought that he would
be able to replace me «in full», that he would be able to raise
cash, because from the outside it seems to many that it is not so
diffcult to be a successful businessman: get fortunate a couple
of times and go, give instructions to subordinates. Few people
understand the reality as a business is painstakingly built up over
long years, step by step, brick by brick. For the last three years
before my arrest, I didn’t have a single vacation, and you can count
the weekends on your fngers. I usually went to bed, leaving the
computer at 2—3 o’clock in the morning, and in about 6 hours
I was already on my feet. This is the routine of a real businessman
at frst. And only then, when, perhaps, the company will grow, and
the cash fows will become continuous, you will begin to delegate
some of your powers, but for now you are a «locomotive» that
pulls a huge number of cars, and has mostly only obligations and
responsibilities. If you are not ready to work 25 hours a day, don’t
even think about starting your own business!
But Andrey, apparently, thought stereotypically. Previously, he
was engaged in cutting down spruce and pine, transported the
forest to Moscow, where he sold it. A simple scheme worked for
a while, allowing you to have a «proft». But when he saw the real
front of work, when he realized the burden of responsibility from
the ambiguous decisions he had to make, when he realized that
the «case» was incomparable with his strength and desires, he
fucked up. Instead of the necessary daily stay at the facility, he
began to visit it once a month, let everything take its course. As
a result, he blew a bunch of contracts, for which I once fought,
winning tenders: everything was lost, everything was fucked up,
money simply disappeared. Letters with soothing phrases: «Don’t
worry, everything will work, and we will be able to give money for
your daughter’s life and studies» and the like stopped coming. And
when I once wrote my reasonable doubts — gut did not let me
down — I received this answer from a partner who «swore» earlier
«for faith and friendship»:
«… I want to write so many rude and obscene words to you!
I would like to call you an ungrateful person, and in a worse form!…
I understand your situation, but stop pretending to be a victim, stop
HOMO CARCERE / PEOPLE IN PRISON
thinking that everyone owes you and that you are a warm and fussy
sinless angel!.. If it wasn’t for Dima and me, I don’t even know whom
would you have talked to and known at least something from this
I’m holding, there is no other way to say, I’m holding the
«Ozyornyj» … there is no way to make money out of thin air there.
...stop pretending to be a poor lamb, you’re a grown man!!!
…I for my money, plus Dima’s money, pull the" Ozyornyj», we still
going on this object, we bring people out, so as not to let down your,
YOUR REPUTATION in the frst place. There is a million
…have you lost contact with the world??? Wake up, Vitaly!
…I’m already tired of listening to your «whining»! Everyone is
to fucking blame for everything!…
…Many people write letters, has anyone other than Dima and
I done anything??? Just blah, blah, blah. It’s up to you to decide who
you’re with and where you’re going!» (June, 2021)
But in fact I was right. The customer told how Andrey
«worked», how often he appeared at the facility, how his foreman
relaxed, and after stormy night parties he slept in the basement,
how the workers were left to themselves. By the way, they were
doing at least something, honor and praise to them. Needless
to say, Andrey asked for a tidy sum of money in the form of a salary
on my exit. For some reason, he did not think about the fact that
we suffered losses primarily «thanks» to his leadership.
When some people get the impression that a rich but narrowminded person is next to them, the temptation to pinch off a piece
of pie is enormous, they say, the «barin» will not become
impoverished. Those like Andrey or his lawyer friend Vyacheslav
Kizik, apparently, also decided so. But I can count money. And
I fgure out pawns who think they are queens next to the king,
even if not immediately, but always.
But, of course, I will pay you back, Andrey, for the transfers
to the remand center. And I’ll pay the others too. I will tear myself
along with a piece of my soul, glued over numerous scars with
blue duct tape. There’s not much that can break me. Prison proved
everything. So don’t get too excited.
But it will happen a little later, it is still relatively far away. I’m
still walking around the courtyard of Butyrka and, believe it or not,
I’m curious. From what I see now, what has been hidden from me
by the wall for almost a year. I was very close, inside, but I couldn’t
know what it looked like from the outside.
The way to freedom is not fast. Hand over mattresses, beds,
dishes, slippers and other state property. Take fngerprints. Then —
assemble. A place where convicts are collected for any departures.
And only then, after another wait, the offcer takes me to the
backyard. A walk through the courtyard and in front of me is the
cherished door. Behind three barbed wire nets. But I pass it
without touching it, squeezing even closer to freedom. The
procedures are repeated in the last prison outpost on my way.
Three times — fngerprinting. Three times — giving your frstsecond-last name. Charge? When did you get here? What cell were
you in? Last name? Charge? What other remand centers have you
been in? When did you get here? What cell were you in? Charge?
They’re checking to see if I’m the right person.
I answer without thinking for a second. My answers fy off my
lips automatically, smoothly polished by repeated, thousandth
I sign the slipped papers.
The last bolt clanks.
I walk out the door. Darkness embraces me. It’s night outside.
And in the pitch-black darkness, like two yellow sunfowers — car
headlights. For me, this is a lighthouse. I immediately move
towards the light, frmly knowing that I will not stumble over
a rock sticking out of the ground.
The door opens and my Angel, my daughter, runs towards me.
Her arms are open, as if she is afraid not to catch me in her arms.
I drop the bags, and we spin in the long-awaited, welcome waltz
of a meeting. The joyful energy of my daughter absorbs into me
with intoxicating speed, penetrating through ridiculous clothes
HOMO CARCERE / PEOPLE IN PRISON
and squeezing through the pores. «Daddy,» she whispers, tickling
my ear, «I’ve been waiting for you so much!
— Congratulations, — Dima says to me from the driver’s seat
when I get into the car. I raise my head in disbelief. Is it just me, or
is there no sincere concern in his dry greeting? Which I was
undoubtedly expecting to hear from the man who, in fact, became
like a son to me. I took him, a twenty-year-old, under my care,
dressed him, shod him, warmed him, pulled him out of a terrible
swamp, taught him life, put him on the right path.
No, it didn’t seem like it. A heavy suspension of anger and
misunderstanding, emanating from Dima, hangs in the cabin of the
car. Where did it come from? I got out, not the other way around.
I can’t wait to ask these questions, but I want to adapt frst. At
least enjoy a little bit with my girl. We’ll have time. We’ll fgure it
out. We’re going home. To my house. And there even the walls
Outside the car window, Moscow fashes at night. At frst
glance, it is the same as before, but my tired gaze also notices
changes. Although, maybe it was me who changed? Prison doesn’t
leave anyone the same. Through the prism of the days spent there,
the surrounding environment begins to change shape, as if
refected in a curved mirror.
Is it not about us — is the world the problem? No. You are at
the center of any world. Your egocentric model revolves the
universe around you. And everything you do leaves its mark.
The night lasts much longer for me than for the others. We are
at the table celebrating my release, but Dima’s estrangement puts
even more pressure on me. The illusion of my phantom presence
becomes even brighter. I read — oh, how many books I read
in prison! — that released prisoners often experience
depersonalization. Life went on for a long time without you, it
didn’t stop for a second during your incarceration. You weren’t
here. Therefore, if I’m not here now, then little will change. I reentered the world and immediately disappeared into it as a ghost.
I’m sitting at the table, drinking wine, but in fact the light passes
through me. Minutes, hours, days, maybe weeks, maybe forever
before I fnd the ability to coexist with reality. My tongue will be
loosened, the internal barrier that restricts the view will collapse,
and I will see much more than the drawn square of the prison
window. But for now I am a foreign element. My soul does not
keep up with the body.
But the other details begin to clear up. Dima’s insincerity
acquires tangible features and convenient grounds. My frm is
working for him now. All my objects are under his patronage.
Dmitry Viktorovich is a big boss. By the way, he is not alone in his
claims. Some of my former employees are now his team. A team
that has usurped power and does not seek to share it at all. From
this point of view, I am a threat to them. My «resurrection»
provokes fear, anger and hatred. The taste of money is a taste that
is almost impossible to get enough of. Having sipped once, it is
diffcult to stop.
The frst days on the outside after release bounce off
consciousness like a scattered shot. I strive to keep up with myself,
but so far it turns out badly.
I fnally understand that no one is going to return to the roots.
It’s like everyone has selective amnesia. How many years and
efforts I have spent on building a business! I created a company,
carefully selected staff, purchased equipment, transport, found the
largest clients, personally drew projects for them, brought them
But now, after the courtesy calls — to fnd out how things are
with the provision of services and with construction, an angry trill
of a smartphone follows. The caller is Dima.
— Don’t you dare meddle in my affairs and communicate with
my clients! — he shouts into the phone so that I have to move it
a little away from my ear. — It’s mine, don’t you dare!
To hear such a thing from a person whom you, in fact, raised,
is bitter. I nurtured him, taking him out of a dirty alley. I made him
out of the clay of hopelessness, showed him the way, gave him
HOMO CARCERE / PEOPLE IN PRISON
a fashlight. Where did I go wrong? At what point did I lose
vigilance and left a black streak in his upbringing?