A Report from Kursk Colonies

March 2016

In March 17-18, representatives of Public Commission of Federal Penitentiary Service Administration of Kursk region visited standard regime penal colonies No.11 in Malaya Locknya and No.3 in Lgov. We also joined the media trip and visited the penal colonies.


Women behind Bars

Penal colony No.11 in the village of Malaya Locknya near Sudzha is intended for reconvicted women. Now the prison contains 203 females from Mordovia, Kursk, Belgorod, Bryansk, Kaluga and Smolensk regions. Alimony dodgers with short 2-3-month terms, sentenced for not paying off money to support their children or incapacitated parents, recidivist thieves, fraudsters, drug dealers and murderers sentenced for 10-20 years are housed here side by side.

They say that out of over 30 female colonies in Russia, the 11th is very nearly the most convenient one. In part, it is because it is new – it was opened in 2011 at the premises of a former juvenile correctional facility. Prison officers here are mostly women and when it is the International Women's Day on March 8, inmates are presented with carnations. This is not the only relaxation of discipline as opposed to male correctional facilities. And still, a penal colony is a penal colony, therefore the main dream of all female convicts is to get out of it as soon as possible.

The colony area is divided into housing and production sectors. The former includes three dormitories, a club, a canteen, a medical unit, a laundry, an isolation ward, a store and a small church. The temple was built no long ago on donations from Federal Penitentiary Service Administration officers and inmates. The church is already open for service and prisoners come to pray in their free time.

There is an education facility where night classes are currently conducted for 40 persons. High school diplomas will be awarded to the students upon completion of the school. Then they will be legible for further professional education. The education facility also includes a professional technical school (PU-100) where students are trained in such professions as a tailor, a crop grower, a plasterer-painter, a cook and even a computer programmer.

колония Льгов

Suites for Sucklings

A tailor is always in demand in the colony. The convicted women make garments for children and adults in sewing production workshops six day's a week. We must admit, they do a good high-quality job. "We receive orders from Kursk factories," – young packers explain. "Most of production is suits for sucklings and work clothes."

Pattern-cutters reel out rolls of fabric and make patterns and the workshop rumbles as two dozen of sewing machines operate. We briefly take time of one of top performers to ask whether the labour is too hard for her and whether she has any complaints in general. Irina has two sons waiting for her outside. It was for them that she committed a theft – she wanted a good education and a good living for them. "I will go out in a year," Irina says. "I don't want to end up here again."

Inmates receive a wage of 6,204-9,000 roubles a month for their labour. Of course, it is little since they will keep only a quarter of this money because the rest will be allocated to pay off lawsuits and will be paid to the colony for their upkeep. Working pensioners has the right to keep a half of their wages, however.

Cosiness in Incarceration?

A two-storey dormitory is additionally fenced and wired. It is rather cosy inside, if not to look at the window bars. Certainly, insofar as it is possible in a colony. The credit for pot flowers, cleanliness and order goes to the administration and, in no lesser degree, to the inmates who do their best to slightly flavour the lack of freedom.

A prison life leaves no room for illusions. It entails a strict discipline and an endless sequence of days that are alike. But worst of all, a heavy burden of the past deprives convicts of all joy. Therefore, when we enter an assembly hall, where a disciplinary talk is held, the inmates greet us in a forced and suppressed way. Anyhow, new visitors make their day more interesting.

A monotonous voice from loud speakers, echoing in the corridor, reads out amendments to the Criminal Code. A dozen of metal doors are fully open. They have not locked them lately. There are two types of prison cells: usual and with improved housing conditions. The "easier" ones are for inmates with good behaviour. They can avail themselves of a TV set, one-level beds, a wardrobe, a wooden table and wooden chairs instead of metal ones. Such rooms may accommodate from three to eight inmates. The rest are standard items and amenities: a shower cabin, a mirror and a toilet.

A closet with one chair and a wall-mounted telephone inside is called a "Transparency room" because it provides a direct communication with the colony warden. The ground floor has a cloakroom for outdoor clothing, a storage for personal belongings, a training gym and utility rooms equipped with washing machines and ironing boards.

There is a refreshment room where inmates in their free time may have tea parties while talking about their families and homes left outside. Each convict has a marked pack with foodstuffs in a fridge. As a rule, it is something bought in the colony store. The commissary sells coffee, tea, biscuits, sugar, sausage, vegetables, cigarettes, hygiene products, portable water boilers and other basic household supplies.


"My Story is No Good"

We are having a talk with one inmate who happened to drop in the refreshment room. "My story is no good," a swarthy woman from Kaluga, about 60 years old, says. "With my third-grade education I could get a job only at a telegraph office, so I worked there long enough. My husband was a drug addict until he died, I started to deal "junk". I got ten years but the sentence was reduced by half a year. I did my time in Kabardino-Balkaria first, and I've been more than four years in this colony. I still have to do two and a half more years here and then I'll go home to baby-sit for my grandson."

Tamara is in good repute with the colony. She is not prone to conflicts, she wins in handicraft competitions, and she participates in amateur performances, for which she has already had eight testimonials in her personal file. Last year on April 8, she participated in a themed night devoted to International Romani Day for which she sewed concert suits and also sang there. About 30 women imprisoned in Malaya Locknya colony also belong to the Romani ethnic group. There are Romani women from Ukraine, Serbia and there is even one woman from Moldova.

Tamara receives much support from her relatives. "We are allowed to make phone calls once in three days," she says. My sister, daughter and nephews come to visit me. We may spend up to three days together in a special visitor room." In terms of support, the case of this woman is rather an exclusion. Most inmates lost connections with their families.

"We've received only 12 care packages and 60 parcels since the beginning of the year, whereas "Number Two" receives as much in just one day though our inmate population is five times less," Vladimir Tolstikhin, Colony Warden of Penal Colony No.11, notes. "There is another very hot issue: where they will go after release, how they will be able to find a job... Some lost their homes at all. In view of this, social workers send preliminary requests to their local employment centres to find out about job opportunities for inmates. An electronic job listing terminal installed in the canteen also helps to mitigate the issue. It is planned to establish a rehabilitation centre for adaptation of released inmates in Kursk region.”

The Jail that Was "Neutralized"

Two years ago, an officer of the correctional system who worked in Perepeshino near Voronezh told that Penal Colony No.3 in Lgov was considered by inmates to have been the most terrible one... Indeed, in the 1990s "Number Three" was among the "black" penitentiaries where full anarchy reigned. In those times, atrocious assault and battery, alcohol drinking, fights and rapes between inmate population were common and at times even prison officers were afraid to enter the dormitory. For comparison, whereas only one incident involving an assault on prison personnel occurred in Malaya Locknya colony, then in Penal Colony No.3 with an inmate population of over 1,000 such things happened all the time and even one of senior officers was heinously murdered.

The old system was neutralized and discipline was enforced only in the early 2000s when the colony was headed by Internal Service Colonel Yuri Bushin. Even notorious protest actions could not shake his reputation. In 2005, over 345 inmates of Lgov Colony maimed themselves and over 800 inmates launched a hunger strike. When a riot occurred again in 2012, special operation forces Spetsnaz were brought to the colony.

The situation is under control today. Inmates are in the detachments of 50-100 persons. Their average age is 25-28 years and they were sentenced to their first prison term (there are no recidivist inmates here) of 6 months to 15 years for brigandage, robbery with violence, fraud, drug dealing, murder, smuggling and even illegal border crossing. The latter felony is an often case with "visitors to Moscow" from the "near abroad", namely, from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan... The warden says there are no nationality conflicts.


To Rethink Life

A waste disposal truck is parked in the yard. Prison officers wearing working coveralls stood on top and poked the heap with long tools. "We check in case somebody wants to escape," they explained. There has not been a single successful jailbreak in No.3.

The administration demonstrates an emergency training exercise of departmental fire fighting service for us. Rescue teams fully consist of inmates - three shifts by four people. It is an obligatory requirement because the colony territory includes several fire-hazardous facilities: a boiler house that also serves a part of the town of Lgov, fuel oil storage with a capacity of 3,000 tons and a casting shop.

No.3 used to supply ZIL auto factory in Moscow for almost half a century, but today the colony produces molded parts for railway rolling stock. "245 inmates work in this production zone," Yuri Bushin, Colony Warden of IK No.3, points. "We plan to launch two new casting furnaces in addition to the existing three ones to increase the number of jobs."

Those who refuse to work and continue to live according to the thieves' law are subject to isolation wards. They are incarcerated in the wards for 15 days maximum. However, inmates may crash down to a unit with super-maximum security incarceration conditions for regular violation of discipline at least for nine months. There is also something in between – a unit of a cell type which was shown to us along with other "internal jails".

We met one of those inmates who rethought his life in the colony in a local recreation area. Ivan from Naro-Fominsk spends here all his free time after working in the casting shop – he sings, plays the guitar and tutors others. "I've learned my lesson," he says. "I understood that prior to using one's fists one has to talk to a man first. Now I size people and myself up. Restraint makes you think..."