Friends House Moscow is blessed with a connection to members of Moscow’s ONK [Social Observation Commission]. They are not Quakers, but they could well be called, in our old expression, “Publishers of Truth.” Anna Karetnikova is a member of the Commission. On her blog, she tells stories of prisoners she has encountered. Here is one of them.
“Such a nice warm day today. Probably it’s really good to leave the prison walls behind on a day like today, even when you know your days will be few. Today they released Nadezhda from the prison hospital. She has late-stage, inoperable cancer. . .
“[Her release] was just the end of a chapter in a long story which may be considered another star on the epaulets of the ONK or —maybe — a chain of stupid and tragic coincidences or — maybe, — the apotheosis of a cruel and absurd system.
Nadezhda was set free, to struggle onward with disease and death without our help, and I don’t know how she felt. For us — only weariness, frustration and for me personally — a feeling of hopelessness.
“The story began for Nadezhda many years ago, when her husband introduced her to the needle. From then on she was an addict, but God took his time. She had children and the children were sent to the orphanage. And then Nadezhda stole some cheese.
“She wanted to sell the cheese to buy heroin. Cheese is, as Nadezhda puts it, a “top seller.” So that’s why the cheese. She paid damages. She tried to steal cheese again (We have a copy of the verdict in Nadezhda’s case. It goes into remarkable detail about the amount and kind of cheese. A cheesy verdict.) and they took Nadezhda into custody.
“From that moment, time flowed faster, hurrying towards an end. At that time, there wasn’t a
gynecologist at SIZO-6 [Moscow women’s prison], and no gynecologist examined Nadezhda when she was admitted (Listen to us, State Prosecutor! A gynecologist who isn’t there can’t give the women examinations!)
“Sharp pains began. Very sharp. They called in a gynecologist, who was horrified. They sent Nadezhda out of the prison to the prison system’s hospital, but what for? Everybody knows there’s no gynecologist at that hospital. In this way, there was only more delay, more loss of time, which was already precious at that moment. They ordered Nadezhda morphine for the pain. But time was passing…
“Then, by chance, a third way opened, and that was us — the Observation Commission. There we were, hanging around the hospital with officials, angry and swearing and making sarcastic remarks — angry because they were keeping all of the patients in cells where they usually were not kept, and the better part of our time was being spent looking for them, and we were doing better at finding them than the staff.
“The guys on that floor began to bang on their doors, “Doctor! Doctor!” We asked, “Are you
sick? We’ll come in and see you.” They said, “No. Somebody’s really bad upstairs…She’s screaming and pounding.”… (Thank you, guys. You won Nadezhda a little more time)…
“Then a lot of things happened: publications, my hysterical posts online, Nadezhda’s name on
the list of the most critically ill at a meeting in the State Prosecutor’s Office, accusations, pleas to take action…
sensational new TV program, “Nadezhda Goes Free.” There wasn’t any joy, there wasn’t any
feeling of victory, maybe some satisfaction from a job well done …
“Sometime I would like to change the program. To where we wouldn’t be angels of death. Where there would be effective government programs to rehabilitate drug addicts. Where
Nadezhda wouldn’t have to steal any cheese… God grant that sometime we will be watching a
different program. We’ve seen enough of this one.”
Anna Karetnikova, May 6, 2016. Excerpted and translated by Patricia Stewart. This story first appeared in our Summer 2016 newsletter.
The photo is from a 2014 ONK visit to women’s prison (SIZO-6) in Moscow. The prison is so overcrowded that women sleep on the floor between the bunks. Cockroaches run back and forth across the floor at night. (Photo: ONK)