Helene Celmina. Women in Soviet Prisons
CHAPTER 4 WARD #10
According to law the "especially dangerous state criminals" were to be held in solitary confinement rather than be placed with ordinary social offenders. The Central Prison in Riga ignored this regulation. For lack of single cells or for other reasons, the prisoners were mixed in order to house one "especially dangerous state criminal" in each ward.
As previously mentioned, these wards contained people not yet tried or found guilty. But, according to Soviet law, prisoners are guilty from the time of arrest. It is extremely rare for the court to acquit and release a prisoner. These few occurrences have been cases of misidentification by a witness. The Russians have a relevant proverb: "If the person was there, the clause can always be found."
One afternoon in November 1962 I was taken to the door of Ward #10 in Riga's Central Prison. A plump, middle aged Russian female guard unlocked the large ward door. I saw before me a typical prison reaction: The eyes of the women inmates froze and their bodies and limbs stiffened. Curiosity alone did not create their degree of immobility. Their stiffness did not pass until the second door, the grating, was unlocked. Stepping over the threshold, I said hello and looked for a place to set my heavy mattress and bedding. When I placed these on the end of the bench by the door, the ward came to life. Half of the women stirred but remained where they were; the rest came toward me to get acquainted. A young woman asked whether I had been brought from the Cheka. Surprised, I asked, "Where do you know me from?"
"I have heard a lot about you," was the answer.
Local news travels much faster in prison than in the outside world. I asked her, "What case are you involved in?"
"I am here in the Jesus case," was the proud reply.
"You have probably heard about Jesus," she added with a smile.
"I have heard abut him, but have never met him.
What about Jesus?" I asked, sensing bad news.
"He is here in prison. I am accused as a collaborator, and soon we will have a trial."
"He's in prison? Ten years ago Jesus was threatened with prison, but he entered the insane asylum."
Yes. He simulated insanity and came out scot-free, but this time he was arrested because the evidence was so strong."
I remembered visiting Jesus in the mental hospital years earlier. My relative who accompanied me explained that after the war many people lacked documents. Those with money and connections bought papers from Jesus. Through these documents, which he produced with his own hands, he saved many people from inevitable imprisonment and deportation.
These people went on to live and work normal lives. Hence the nickname, Jesus. Although Jesus was extremely helpful, someone betrayed him and he was arrested. With his sharp mind, he decided to simulate insanity. My relative, for whom Jesus produced a high school diploma, visited him in the hospital from time to time. This diploma enabled my relative to avoid losing two previous years and start university immediately.
"And he had no chance of avoiding prison this time?" I asked.
"No, none at all. During the ransacking of his home, the militiamen found a notebook containing the names of his clients and the documents issued. The notebook, hidden behind the stove, provided such damaging evidence that nothing could be done."
"And how are you involved?"
"I was the contact person for a few customers, some of whom needed sick-notes to verify absenteeism from work."
"I see, and if such a notebook exists, everybody can be found far whom documents were produced."
"Yes. Ironically, lots of his clients are jurists, prosecutors, and investigators who received their university diplomas from Jesus."
"Oh my, what's going to happen to them?"
"Who knows? Actually, they should be fired, but many of them arc highly regarded members of the Party and have worked as investigators for years."
"I suppose he can expect a long sentence" I said gloomily.
"Yes, no less than seven years, but possibly ten."
"What about you?"
"My investigator told me to count on a couple of years."
It is typical of the Soviet investigation process that the investigators know in advance the judgement of the court. This case was no exception. As I learned later, Jesus received eight years in a corrective labor camp, and my conversationalist, two years. Their only advantage was that they were not sent away as are political prisoners, but remained in Latvian territory.
Since I had gained a friend, I was no longer among strangers. It is comforting in prison to have a friend. After our exchange she went to the cupboard and returned with a slice of bread and Fat for which I was grateful; but I wondered about her "luxurious" living.
"Did the investigator allow you to receive parcels from home?" I asked.
"What do you mean, allow? We all receive what the law allows: not more than one parcel in two months."
I explained that in the Cheka my investigator ignored the laws, so I received nothing. This aroused the indignation of nearly every inmate.
I thanked her for the sandwich. It was more than half a year since I tasted anything that good. My bed was the upper bunk, third from the door. I was overjoyed that it was not next to the barrel. My neighbor in the other bunk was a young pleasant looking girl with a complicated case. After graduating from a technical school, she worked as an animal technician on a kolkhoz (collective farm). Lightning killed a bull, and she sold the meat at a reduced price to an establishment that raised four animals. The small animals, mink and nutria, ate the meat and died. The silver foxes became sick, but survived. Because this was not a standard case, determination of the length of the sentence was left to the discretion of the court.
When I voiced my amazement, an animal technician from another kolkhoz came over, claiming that her case was still graver.
"What did you manage to do?" I asked.
"Yes, 'managed to do' is right. We had a contract to deliver a certain number of bull calves for breeding to Central Asia. A couple of calves were born with a small white spot on the forehead. Because purebred cattle are dark brown, a white spot is not acceptable. I dyed the white marks on two calves with hair dye. After the calves had been away for a few months, the color must have washed out or faded. Someone noticed the white marks. Now I will have to answer in court."
Listening to such an extraordinary story, I almost burst out laughing. The irony was too much: A pretty, young country girl, by using her peasant cunning, became a dangerous criminal. She waited a long time for her trial, and I never heard what her sentence was.
The appearance and behavior of another prisoner suggested she had received a good education. She obviously spent much of her life in better society. Her hair was completely white, although she was barely sixty years old. Everyone addressed her respectfully as "Mrs." Despite the surface appearance of a spoiled, fine lady, she bore her fate heroically: She did not despair, and hardly ever cried. When I inquired what she was accused of, the answer was lengthy.
"All of us at the silk department of the Army Economy Store were arrested. We, the cashiers, received the money and gave part of it to the manager. She, in turn, gave part of it to the director, who paid dues to the director of commerce. I was only a small link in the chain and hopefully will not receive many years."
"And is the whole department in prison?"
"Yes, in various wards, throughout the prison. There are about thirty people."
"Couldn't they have left people like you at home until the trial? You wouldn't have fled anywhere, would you?" I asked.
"Never. I have asked to return home until the trial. Yesterday I sent my latest appeal to the procurator of the republic, explaining that I have a severely retarded twenty-three year old daughter with the mentality of a three year old. Someone must be with her at all times. My other daughter is only seventeen. She has to finish school and it is difficult for her to study and manage everything."
"And they haven't seen fit to release you despite such extraordinary circumstances?'
"No. I have appealed in writing six times already, hut it is like talking to a brick wall. On account of my sick child I could never run anywhere."
Every day this pleasant lady hoped that she would receive permission to leave the prison at least until the trial. Days passed and nothing changed because procurators are not interested in patients or children at home. They go strictly by the state laws which say criminals belong in prison.
In the evening of my second day I noticed that the long table in the center of the room divided in half not only the number of beds, thirty in each half, but also the categories of prisoners. On the right, where I had my bed, was the so-called "fine society," whereas those on the left were almost all Russians, including prostitutes of all ages. The young Russians formed one group, the old ones another. The young were arrested mainly for petty larceny, the old ones for vagrancy, as well as larceny.
The young ones found prison life rather romantic; in thoughtless levity, they often sang and acted merrily. Occasionally those with the loudest voices were put into the punishment cell, which gave them something to boast about to the young male thieves.
Russian prisoners often have no relatives. The older ones simply do not know what has become of their relatives: They were, for the most part, heavy drinkers, and had not kept up with family. The young ones, as a rule, with few exceptions, came from orphanages.
From long wear, the elbows of my knitted sweater were giving way. Everyone who sits in prison knows what to do when that happens: The sweater must be unravelled, wound into balls of wool, the balls hidden, and a new sweater knitted on the sly. This project has two advantages: One is the outcome, a new sweater; the other is an occupation, something to do, so the days go faster. It is common for a prisoner to approach a knitter about the pattern of the garment. One day a middle-aged Russian, bored and lonely, sat down beside me and asked "What is the nice thing you are making?"
"A new sweater. What else?"
"Yes, you Latvians know how to do everything."
"But who prevents you from learning?"
"You will never understand. You live a different, valuable life. It is not the custom with us Russians; we have much to learn from the West."
"What do you mean?" I asked cautiously. She sighed, and was silent. Then there was a sudden glimmer in her eyes, like a little devil stirring.
"Do you have any idea who I am?"
"I think you are, for the time being, an unfortunate like the rest of us." . "
"This is the fifth time I have been in prison."
"Really? I thought everyone here was a first offender, with the repeaters in the other ward."
"I am only telling you; you always tell the investigator it's your first offense, so the punishment is lighter. If the trial is held each time in a different republic, they usually can't trace the previous arrests. Besides, thieves never carry documents and, when we're arrested, we make up new names and birthplaces, usually choosing cities which suffered most during the war because their registry offices have been destroyed."
The Russian woman went to her bed and returned with cigarettes and matches. The thieves had everything. She offered me a cigarette and we smoked while she continued, "Some people in our category actually don't know their real name or birthdate."
"How is that possible?" I asked.
"The majority of people in our category come from orphanges, myself included. At the end of the war there were so many homeless children in Russia. The older ones stayed in hiding to prevent being captured and placed into orphanges, which were merely prisons. Some more fortunate were taken in by strangers. The unclaimed foundlings were given new names in the orphange."
"Do you know anything about yourself?"
"I remember a little. I was seven when the war ended. I came from Leningrad. My mother was a physician at the front, my father an army officer. Neither returned. My grandmother died of hunger during the blockade. She probably gave what little food there was to me and went hungry until she died."
"You must have had an apartment in Leningrad with furniture and other possessions."
"I suppose so, but I don't remember. W hen my grandmother died I didn't understand; I thought she was sleeping. I don't know how many days I slept in bed with my dead grandmother. I only remember being weak from hunger. Our neighbors shook their heads and said that my grandmother had been dead four several days. Then I was placed in an orphanage. C `est la vie."
"Do you speak French, too?"
"I remember a few words. My grandmother was a French teacher before the war. In her youth she had lived in Paris."
"I suppose you had school in the orphanage."
"There was a school, but we didn't learn much because the teachers were sent to the front to act as medical nurses. Our teachers were uneducated old women. They taught us to read and write a little, that was all."
"Why do so many professional thieves come from the orphanages?"
"We saw nothing but theft in the orphanage. Beginning with the director and ending with the cook and kitchen staff, they stole everything that was meant for us. The children were always hungry. We never had enough to eat because the small amounts the state allotted us were stolen by our so-called teachers for their own children. When we were hungry and couldn't sleep, we tiptoed out to watch the flour and groats that had been delivered to the orphanage during the day packaged and carried away at night. That's where we learned to steal. It was a school for thieves. Professional thieves who grew up in orphanages live by the motto: They stole, we steal."
"I can understand how you learned to steal and why. But you keep getting caught and imprisoned. Don't you have any desire to start a family and work and live a normal life?"
"Of course. But to establish a family you must live and work somewhere. But no one wants to register or employ orphans. Besides, you need help. Without relatives or friends to help, one's whole life is spent in prisons."
"How did you get to Riga and where did you stay?"
"On the train, of course. I stayed in Kengarags with a girl I know from the prison in Leningrad. Later she was imprisoned in Riga for theft. She is young and pretty.
After release, she married a sailor. An apartment was assigned to them. I came for a month of 'guest performances' in stealing, but got caught."
"One more question. W hat is your specialty, pockets or apartments?"
"Pockets. For apartments you need help. One person can't manage alone."
Our cigarettes were finished and so was our conversation. I concluded that this twenty-six year old woman, who I first thought to be at least ten years older, was tired of sitting in prisons. The thoughtless years of her youth were over and she had come to Riga to search for a man and an apartment. But since she continued to support herself through theft her past repeated itself. However for her immediate future, a life in Riga was guaranteed. She would serve her time, two or three years at most. The female camp is located on the south side of the river on Daugavgrivas Street, where the ordinary criminal offenders are taught to sew men's shirts for stores in Riga.
When half of the term has been served, a special parole commission cuts the sentence in half for good behavior and good work.
Then she would receive the money she earned and a diploma four completing the sewing course given in the corrective labor camp. She would also get a good character reference entitling her to work in any sewing factory in Riga and a plane in the communal home. Ironically through her theft she will be granted entrance to a good life. In a year she will speak from the platform, saying "Thank you, great Communist party and government," and Riga will have been enriched by yet another loyal daughter of mighty Russia.
Riga is being filled with these models of loyalty. Today, no thief who has been caught in Riga and served a sentence within Latvia is sent hack to Russia. They all have the right to employment in a factory or in construction, and to live in communal homes. After a few years, if not caught and returned to prison, they are assigned an apartment.
After this conversation I was troubled and could not sleep. The frank story of this Russian woman reminded me of the extensive privileges the Russians have in our country. As I was tossing and turning, incidents I had observed in the stores, central market, and streetcars of Riga flashed through my mind. I witnessed Russian teenagers picking Latvians' pockets. When they saw me watching, one showed that his hand, wrapped in a dirty rag, held a razor blade. When a razor blade is shown, you must turn your head immediately. Otherwise, they will cut a cross on your face with the razor blade, saying, "You saw, you won't see anymore."
I remembered the times I was victimized by pickpockets. My first salary was taken on a sunny summer day. I bought ice cream by the cinema only to discover about five minutes later that my money was gone. Another time, in the market place I put my purse in front of me. While t was sampling butter, the purse vanished. Again, on another occasion, in the summer of 1948, I needed some money, so I sold some coat material I had purchased before the war. Having carefully deposited the money in my purse, I bought a few items for dinner at the market place. Then someone mentioned that my handbag was open. The money was gone. I coursed the thieves who came like swarms of locusts from Russia to the Baltic republics for their so-called "guest performances!"
Now, I was sitting in the same cell with one of them, in equal circumstances, but with unequal rights. She would get a shorter sentence than I. She would be under the ordinary regime, I under the severe one. She would serve her sentence in Riga, I would be sent on prisoner transport to Russia. Her sentence would be cut in half, mine would not. She would be eligible for amnesty, I would never he eligible for amnesty. And truly, who was the worse criminal when our life stories were compared: She had four imprisonments behind her, not including the thefts for which she was not caught. Consider how many people suffered as the result of her activities, how many tears were shed, how many people faced grim circumstances. In contrast, for reading foreign books and magazines in my own home, I would be given a sentence at least twice as long and twice as severe. No, there is not and will never be justice in this land.
These thoughts plagued and oppressed me all night until morning, when it was my turn to carry out the full barrel. My partner was stronger and pulled ahead. With every unmatched step the nightly brew of sixty women splashed onto my feet and the hallway floor. When we arrived at our destination, both feet were thoroughly wet and stinking. As we tipped the barrel, my soaked feet received an additional splash. Then we had to take the birch twig broom, dip it into the chlorine, scour the inside of the barrel, rinse it, and carry it back. I gave my feet the same scouring treatment.
Distributing sugar was the next compulsory task for the person on duty. The ward received one bag of sugar: Each person was entitled to one tablespoon which had to last for twenty-four hours. Usually the sugar was poured on the bread ration. Some held out their mugs for it.
The next task was carrying the tea-barrel in from the hallway and lifting it onto the table. The aluminum barrel was always so hot that it could not be handled without a towel.
After breakfast everyone stood in line in pairs to be counted. The supervisor entered and was given the number of people on the ward. Then came the daily washing of the black, asphalt floor.
(The asphalt on highways is a much higher quality than that on the floors in Riga's Central Prison.)
Events in another woman's preliminary investigation affected our ward. When anything unusual happens in a prison or in a corrective labor camp, all inmates must present themselves to the superior. If the administration cannot find the guilty party, at least they discover who has been friends with whom, and the friendships that have angered the camp or prison officials are mercilessly torn apart. One of these "suspicious" friends was reassigned to our ward. She could not go unnoticed.
At first glance she appeared pretty, although she lost her hair, apparently in a struggle with prison guards. These struggles usually end with the prisoner in the punishment cell. If she continues to vent her emotions she may be taken to the barber's where neither vows nor pleadings help. This young woman had obviously been to the prison barber recently.
When she opened her mouth to tell us which ward she came from, I froze. She was no more than twenty or twenty-five, but there was not one whole tooth in her mouth. Some were missing altogether, others resembled ruins of old castles with a mixture of darker and lighter spots. When she had everybody's attention, she removed her knitted sweater to reveal her sleeveless shirt. Both arms up the shoulders were covered with tatoos. We no longer needed a newspaper; we could read her like a kiosk. However, most of the text referred to sex and was too vulgar to he interesting.
When she felt sufficiently admired, she sat down elegantly and told us her story. Four women who met on the ward became good friends. They sent ardent love notes through the window to the men below, vowing to belong to them at the first opportunity. Although the lovers had never seen one another, a self-portrait in a few short words on an empty cigarette carton, written with matches wetted with saliva, whetted interest.
Eventually when promises were no longer enough, the young women showed more initiative than could be imagined. From a bed they removed a piece of iron by bending it back and forth. In the darkest corner of the ward under a bed, they scraped the floor with this piece of iron all day long until there was a hole in the asphalt. They gradually crumbled the reinforced concrete under the asphalt by working shifts from morning till night. They carefully hid the broken pieces of concrete under their clothes and in pockets, to be discarded on their walks outside.
They worked on the floor for about two weeks to make a hole wide enough to crawl through. The floor was so thick that only when one lay down with her shoulder on the floor could she reach the bottom of the hole with her hand. At that depth the first tiny opening to the men's ward appeared. The hardest part was removing the remaining thin layer in order to reach the men. However with bliss so near, a man who had nothing to do with the love affairs showed the guard what was happening. From then on there was nothing but trouble. When the whole ward, one by one, was interrogated in the superior's office, no one breathed a word. No one knew anything. A ward without an informer is a rarity. The officials admitted that this was a first in the history of Riga's Central Prison. In great admiration they measured the width and depth of the hole.
I experienced another surprise when a prisoner, a Latvian who kept to herself and read books, asked me if I attended a certain school in 1939. Only rarely does one recognize a schoolmate after twenty-three years, and it is rare to meet in a prison ward. When we reminisced, she remembered everything about me, while I remembered nothing of her. Usually the younger children notice and remember the older ones, this time the older one remembered the younger one. She was three grades ahead of me at the time, but noticed me because of my braids. No girl in the school had braids as long as mine. Lita told me about herself.
"Maybe you remember our house with the large garden around it, even if you do not remember me."
"I remember your house well; it was the most beautiful one in the district."
"It was taken away from us and my parents were sent to Siberia. At the time, I was visiting relatives in Liepaja, so I was not taken and nobody looked for me."
"Who is in your house now?"
"It is now an old-folks home and something like a mental hospital."
"Where did you live then?"
"Of course I never returned there. I married and lived in Riga."
"Why are you here now?" I asked, after a short silence.
"You see, in life it so happens that some people steal and others have to answer for it. I was the manager of the milk department in the grocery store on the corner of Lenin Street."
"What kind of penalty are they planning for you?"
"It's hard to tell. Perhaps some accounting error will be found which would be in my favor, as I can simply not understand how such enormous amounts can he missing from milk products, which are the cheapest."
"Then it is a case of large amounts?"
"Yes, at the present some seven thousand rubles are mentioned."
We continued talking about old times and mutual acquaintances. Finally, we both admitted no one can escape fate, everyone must suffer, and everyone has to spend some time in prison, regardless of social, financial, and educational standing.
I felt sorry for Lita, who suffered greatly from the circumstances, like so many other Latvian women. In addition, she frequently suffered heart spasms of several minutes. On these occasions a doctor on our ward rushed to insert a spoon between her teeth to prevent her from accidently biting her tongue. No help came from the prison medical staff. No one paid attention to Lita's complaints about her poor health. She was only given a few nitroglycerine tablets to take when the spasms started.
According to law, the prison hospital is only for those who become sick while in prison and for maternity cases. The law makes no exceptions for pregnancy, which is not considered at the time of arrest. On the ward there was a Latvian woman who was the bookkeeper for a kolkhoz. Because of a large deficit found in the operation, the bookkeeper was imprisoned in her sixth month of pregnancy. I heard later that her child was born in prison, while her mother received fifteen years in a correction camp. In cases like this the child is placed in an orphanage. When her sentence has been served, the mother reclaims her child.
The doctor on our ward also expected a stiff sentence. She was a gynecologist, and unable to exist on her salary, she supplemented her income by performing abortions. She had already been on trial once, this was her second time. This gray-haired doctor, about sixty, bore her fate courageously, although her penalty would be greater this time. The court emphasizes specifically that, if the person has not improved after the first penalty, the second punishment must be more severe. The court never considers that a physician cannot exist on her salary. Since abortions are legal in the Soviet Union, a practicing physician would be punished only in rare cases where the patient died. Then the physician could be tried for manslaughter. The physician on our ward was to be tried for doing the abortion for a profit. It is worse for abortionists without medical training. They are tried both for performing the abortion and taking money for it.
Our ward held several former Party "ladies," no longer Party members because it is not permitted to imprison and bring to court Party members. Those who must be imprisoned are first expelled from the Party. One of these had held a high position as the chairman of the Soviet executive committee in a Latvian town. She received a sizeable bribe from a wealthy man to whom she had granted materials for a slate roof.
Despite their expulsion from the Party and their presence in the ward, these women remained apart, associating with no one from the other groups. Nothing could dampen their feelings of superiority, acquired while holding responsible party positions. They viewed every one of us with contempt.
The women caught and imprisoned on the speculation clause were amiable, helpful, and good natured. It was unfortunate that they could expect comparatively high penalties. In Latvia, mostly Latvians are imprisoned for speculation, sometimes an odd Jew or Gypsy, but rarely a Russian. One can speculate with anything that cannot be obtained in the stores. One of these women expected a stiff penalty because hers was not a simple speculation case. She and her sister bought wool, knitted sweaters with knitting machines, and sold the finished product. Speculation plus home industry, is a grave crime according to Soviet law.
To prevent the sisters from collaborating on their testimony, they were separated, and each placed in a different ward. They were interrogated separately and their testimony compared. The interrogation continued until there were discrepancies. However, because they were taken to court together, they would be allowed to suffer the penalty in the corrective labor camp together.
An unusual case involved an old country woman imprisoned for giving a bribe. The bribe was small, only one hundred rubles, and probably she received no more than a year in prison. In her simplicity the old woman did not know how to present the bribe properly. Therefore, the official receiving the bribe delivered the old woman to the militia.
Two Latvians were imprisoned for theft. It is important to distinguish between "a theft" and "thieving." "Thieving" refers to the systematic activity of acquiring somebody else's belongings, just as a "thief" designates a profession. Neither of the two Latvians could be categorized with the "thieves." Rita, the younger, eighteen years old, was naive, always smiling, with kind eyes. At floor washing time she always helped lift the benches onto the table. A pleasant, amiable youngster, she visited her grandmother who sent her to the attic to take the washing off the line. Rita continued, "I knew which lines held my grandmother's washing. I knew and recognized the other clothes which suddenly seemed so desireable." Rita blushed and continued, "I thought nobody would find out. I took a blouse. I reached the door and then noticed a skirt, too, a checkered one. Again I couldn't resist. I took the skirt, as well as a lace slip."
"Where did you intend to sell the clothes?" asked an older woman. Rita blushed deep red.
"I wanted to wear them myself. I did not want to sell anything," she said.
"And perhaps visit grandmother," another voice added maliciously.
"No, I would not have worn them to grandmother `s. I wanted to wear them to a dance and return them afterwards."
"And what about it, did you delay it too long?" still another woman joined the conversation.
"I couldn't so . . . all at once," Rita became confused, as she would have at the interrogator's.
I joined in, "Maybe it was bard for Rita to give up the beautiful clothes if they looked good on her and she still wanted to enjoy them longer."
"Yes," Rita responded with relief.
"To pay for that with two years is not worth it," added the older woman.
"It depends how you look at it," thought another one.
Later we heard that because Rita came from a poor family, could not afford good clothes, and had frankly confessed, the court gave her only one year in prison. In contrast, I do not know the outcome of the other much graver case, involving theft from the state. A man and a woman were imprisoned, a sign that the case was comparatively serious. Three people were present at the scene of the crime, but, according to witnesses, only two committed the theft.
One summer morning three people in a jovial mood left a party. They were ordinary working class people without titles or academic degrees. It was Saturday morning and they did not have to report for work in the factory. Humming they walked along the streets of Old Riga, arriving at a grocery store where cases of milk and cream were stacked because the store was not yet open. Because their thirst was intense, the man removed three bottles of yogurt drink from the upper case and handed a bottle to each. The woman grabbed a jar of cream which she thrust into her purse. They "forgot" to leave the money for their "purchases."
They did not get far from the scene of their crime, for the alert eye of the nation does not sleep even in the early morning. The militia received a telephone call that grocery store #71 had been rubbed. All three were arrested, but the one who had not taken the yoghurt drink, only consumed it, was released. The total amount of the robbery came to a total of one ruble and thirty kopeks. For one ruble and thirty kopeks, two people sat in prison. Because the court deals with the cases in the order they occur, the two already waited several months for their turn in court. It would be more profitable to the state not to send these people to prison. Let them pay the one ruble, thirty kopek deficit and continue their work.
A little more about prison life and minimal conveniences should be mentioned.
Food was provided three times a day: Breakfast was bread, hot tea, fifteen grams of sugar, and salted fish. Dinner was cabbage soup and barley porridge. For supper we had soup in which a fish had swum.
Amusements were determined by the prisoners' age and category. The main diversion for the thief category, both women and men, is angling, whereby a "fishing line" is dropped through the window from one floor to the next to pass messages, cigarettes, etc. The second most popular diversion is the opportunity to wash stairwells and hallways. Again the monopoly belonged to the thief category. Since all wanted the opportunity and only four were taken at a time, frequent fights resulted.
The greatest diversion for the intelligentsia with personal money in the prison cashbox was the bi-monthly visit to the prison store. Working the night in the kitchen was the second best diversion. Washing the large porridge kettles, on the buttom of which something edible might be found, was done by the stronger women. Those with less strength peeled potatoes and ate one or two. In all U.S.S.R. prisons only male thieves are trusted with food preparation.
A woman specially selected from the ward cleaned the prison director's office. This task was not entrusted indiscriminately, as large amount of writing supplies and other objects could disappear if a thief did the cleaning. As one of the last diversions, emptying the barrel should also be mentioned.
The rest of the time everyone remained in a sitting position. Sleeping is allowed only by special permission from the doctor. Generally, according to the rules the inmates must sit at the table from six in the morning till ten at night, but this rule was not strictly enforced. Sitting on the bed was not prohibited.
However, if someone sitting on the bed fell asleep, the alert eye of the guard noticed. The guard pounded on the door and woke the inmate, threatening that sleeping during the day could earn her the punishment cell. During the night it was mandatory to sleep in such a position the the guards could see one's head.
One day my turn came to visit the prison x-ray office. After the scan, while still in the darkened room, I was told that I had two ulcers, one in the stomach and the other in the duodenum. I would be placed in the hospital for treatment. The Russian doctor asked me what I was accused of. When I answered she shook her head but said nothing.