Predetention Center security guard: «At first, I was treating the prisoners as human beings»
A predetention center (SIZO) security guard is ashamed of his shape, afraid of crime bosses and does not trust anyone. He pays no attention to the complaints of prisoners on health conditions and ignores tearful requests of their relatives. Why does the Federal Penitentiary Service inspector do that? He explained himself.
An employee of one of the prison system institutions of the Astrakhan Region told about the hard service on condition of complete anonymity. He did not hide anything, telling about his mistakes and the tricks of the prisoners he fell for. Told about how the murderer spifflicated his cellmate using a poisonous spider, and how a good woman got to jail.
The Astrakhan SIZO-2 is located approximately 40 kilometers away from the regional center. Here, to the outskirts of the village Volzhskoye of the Narimanov District women with large and heavy bags regularly come. They hop off the bus at the road sign and wait for a passing car. These women of all ages can be spotted from afar: all of them are not locals, they’re tense and somehow thoughtful.
Taxi drivers willingly give lifts to such passengers because they usually do not stint to pay. Is there any other choice though? There is no other way to get to the prison, which is located away from the village (two-three kilometers), with such heavy bags.
There is a high gray fence edged with barbed wire on top. In front of the gate there hangs a poster advertising a relatively new service, provided by relatives of inmates: ordering products for prisoners via the Internet. Allegedly, one can pay for a food parcel, select authorized products, and the agency staff will bring them directly into the cell of the addressee.
At the check point where parcels are to be delivered it is now lunch time. I approach to the women who are standing with their bags on the street. I introduce myself and ask:
- Why? Don’t you order on the Internet?
Women are just smiling sadly. One of them, who introduced herself as Larisa Pavlovna, replies:
Larisa Pavlovna came from the Ikryaninskiy District of the Astrakhan Region. This spring, her son, a hereditary fisherman, was caught by the police who conducted the raid against the illegal sturgeon fishermen. It was not the first time he had been caught. Often times it was possible to bribe your way out, twice the issue was limited to an administrative fine, but now it is serious.
-Got it in the neck, sighs the inmate’s mother.
She brought him cigarettes, as he asked in his letter, summer clothes and food. Larisa Pavlovna doesn’t consider her hereditary fisherman as a poacher.
– He’s not the only one who goes for fisheries in the spring, everyone does that, there’s no other work. He just got the raw end of the stick, says the woman.
A familiar employee of the Federal Penitentiary Service who works as an inspector of SIZO-2 appears from the side. Obviously, from a service entrance. We had agreed to meet previously. Taking photographs, specifying his name or title is out of the question.
- If they find out that I've been in touch with the press, they’ll eat my head off, warns me the man, calm and reasonable.
He walks to his car, takes a brown jacket from the back seat and quickly puts it on. He admits that he is ashamed of his official black uniform. He tries to immediately change his clothes after the work day. He doesn’t even go to the convenient stores to get bread with the employee FPS badges.
- Do people look at you askance? - I ask him.
Fifteen years ago, Sergei (the name is changed), served in the army. He seems to have fond memories of his service. The guy got married and the new family needed a house to live in, there was no work. The FPS employees are provided housing, and a variety of benefits. Their vacation, again, is two times longer than of ordinary workers.
- Would I go for a criminal guarding job, if I could otherwise feed my children? - sighed Sergei, remembering how difficult it had been during the first period of work at SIZO.
The newcomer inspector did not know the criminal slang and customs. He did not know how to make searches either. He had no idea where prisoners usually hid prohibited items, on which violations one could turn a blind eye to, and what is to be necessarily strictly repressed. He says in the early days, he treated the prisoners as human beings.
- And how do you treat them now? - I ask him.
- As the individuals awaiting sentencing, Sergei replies dryly.
His opinion about the prisoners changed after several unpleasant events.
Inspector harrumphs when I ask whether their SIZO is red or black? He says that to each his own: the staff is interested in the regimen and order, criminals are into the code of the underworld. The penitentiary facility is peaceful because everyone knows his stuff.
- Any mafia bosses doing their time at your facility?
– Won’t tell you, I’m afraid of them more than of the facility management.
This story happened when Sergei was still a relatively naive new FPS employee. Once, a crumblie old woman approached to him in front of the jail and tearfully asked to pass to his son, Kovalev from the cell 226, two cans of condensed milk. She said she was receiving a tiny pension, worked as a teacher in a kindergarten all her life, and there was nothing else she could do for her child.
Inexperienced security guard offered her to follow the official procedure and pass the thing via collection check point. Then the old woman began to cry saying she was ashamed of such modest parcel. Said, the other families bring bags of expensive food and her son was sitting there in permanent hunger...
The old lady moved Sergei to pity. He took the package with two cans of condensed milk, on which it was written: “Kovalev, the cell 226”. The FPS employee discreetly placed a package with another parcels that lay in a pile in the hallway of the detention center before being distributed among the inmates.
Later, drugs were found in many cells of the facility. Operating unit quickly learned where it came from. It turned out that sachets of heroin were hidden in cans of condensed milk that somehow made their way to the cell 226.
Sergei was very scared that he would be accused of drug dealing. He had no idea that cans can be soldered as if they were just from the factory and had never been opened. The guard didn’t tell anyone anything, because he had to feed his family. He did not want to lose his job, and maybe even his freedom.
And although the receptionist Rayechka swore that it wasn’t her fault, she still was fired. Just in case. The facility management should have reported to their superiors that the measures had been taken and the drug distribution channel in prison is dealt with.
What happened to Rayechka afterwards, Sergei doesn’t know. But he took warning by this example. Since then, the FPS employee firmly refuses any requests from prisoners and their relatives to "be kind".
- I’ll better be bad than unemployed, - said the guard.
He does not want to service record, which is important in the calculation of the future pension and receiving various benefits and titles.
Another event Sergei remembers from the beginning of his career also influenced his approach on treatment of prisoners.
It was the May holidays. No one but the guards on duty was in SIZO. The doctor and the nurse also were out due to their legitimate day-offs. One of the older inmates called the guard. Pensioner complained that he wasn’t feeling well and "suffered" very convincingly. Both his head and stomach, as well as the heart were allegedly in pain. So much that it was easier to die.
What was there to do? There was no doctor, the hospital was closed. Carrying a prisoner to the district hospital is hell of a work: one had to call the chief, distract him from the holiday feast, call the emergency vehicles. And then one of Sergei’s colleagues remembered that to the next cell a paramedic from the village Bolkhuny who killed his wife's lover while drunk had been delivered three days ago.
Sergei decided to ask the paramedic to examine the patient. He agreed. The guard took paramedic to the patient’s cell and went to get the hospital keys, since there would be need in medication after all. He returns to the cell and there’s a fight going on there. The person faking illness and paramedic set the fur flying and were trying to strangle each other. Clothing on both was torn, the faces were bruised.
It turned out that the guy killed by the paramedic was the son of the ill prisoner. He pretended to be sick in the hope to get a chance to take revenge on the cuckold murderer.
- This is what I tell them: die! I don’t need extra problems. If something happens to your health, it’s not my problem.
- And whose problem is it? – I asked.
- Well, in extreme cases, the doctor will have to write an explanatory note.
According to Sergei, smuggling that takes place in the prison most commonly is of cell phones and drugs. Regarding the cell phones, it's an efficient process. The guards sell the prisoners phones with SIM cards for about 10 thousand rubles per each. Then, after a while, the same FPS staff organizes another shakedown and confiscates the phones. This is done in order to earn once again.
Sergei did not specify whether he was involved in this lucrative business. But he noted that he values his work and in any case would not take the risk. In addition, no way he will smuggle drugs into the facility because he finds this business irreverend and dirty.
- And what was the most unusual of the unallowed items you found in the cells? - I asked curiously.
- A rubber woman (i.e. a sex toy), immediately responded Sergey smiling.
How did the "girlfriend" from a sex shop made her way into the cell 233 the inspector did not know. But he found her in a flat condition (without air) under the inner lining of one of the inmate’s mattress. Whether the inmates were inflating the rubber sex toy during the long winter nights, it remains unknown. The sex toy was seized by guards. They say one of the FPS employees took her.
But mostly, findings discovered in the cells are much worse. It’s a variety of chives, sharp and dangerous. Even a skillfully sharpened toothbrush may serve as a weapon.
– Is it really possible to kill someone with a toothbrush? — I asked, surprised.
– It can be done by anything. I’ve been told that one vic was killed in his cell by a…steppe spider. The criminal found a poisonous spider during the stroll and hid it in his pocket. In the night he threw the spider in his cellmate’s bed. It might have been chalked up to an accident but the murderer was turned in by the inmate who had seen everything, says Sergei.
– Are there a lot of snitchers in SIZO? — I inquired.
– In every cell, there are one or two prisoners who are mending their ways, without them the operational unit would not be able to work. Such people help to deter the planned offences, they are useful, thinks the inspector.
A good person
According to Sergei, even in SIZO one can be sitting pretty. For example, prisoners left in the facility for work live in a separate block. Basically, it is the people who have been convicted of minor offenses, who after the verdict had not been sent under escort to the colony. According to the guard, the living conditions of those who are "in control" are quite tolerable.
Over the 15 years of service, Sergei remembered only one truly good person, who got to the other side of the barbed wire by a twist of fate. It was a woman, a former accountant, Anna Ivanovna. She has suffered due to the fraud related to budget money. Moreover, the official who was guilty managed to vindicate himself and blamed everything on a single employee, who had no relation to the theft of public money.
All the prison guards remember Anna Ivanovna as the one who didn’t harbor biased resentment towards them.
- Nobody likes to be imprisoned, so the prisoners treat us negatively and we feel it. They seem to shift their dissatisfaction with the current situation to us. They may cringe and fawn, but they still hate us in their hearts. Therefore, the work in the prison is one of the most difficult ones, I think, said Sergei thoughtfully.
So, only Anna treated the guards as people who just do their jobs. The difference between her and other prisoners was precisely in the emotional component.
- I was so happy when I learned that the accountant woman was declared not guilty in court. It is a pity, of course, that she had to spend almost 11 months here, said Sergei.
He says that in the movies the characters of criminals are often romanticized, which is far from reality. Having seen both mafia bosses, and fraudsters and criminals of all stripes, my interlocutor admits he did not see anybody who really lived "by the code" and was not guided by his short-term, personal interests.
At that Sergei’s lunch break was over and he politely said goodbye and left once again getting my swear to secrecy: not to specify his true name and rank in this article. The doors of the check point also opened, and relatives of prisoners dragged their heavy bags in the dark and unfriendly room.
Initially, the defendants in the case had been charged with embezzlement through swindling in the amount of 225 million rubles ($3.3 million). In the final version of the indictment, the article was changed to 1.5-billion-ruble ($22.45 million) embezzlement.