Can Dreams Come True? Part 2

By Shket36

With English-language editing by Joshua Ryan

To say that I was worried would be an understatement, but again Nikolai found words to calm me down.  Then, after I shaved my face and head, he told me to dress up in my prison clothes.  For the first time, I had to put on a convict uniform with a badge — a badge with my photograph and convict number, but not my first name or my last.  From then on I would be a number.  When I had buttoned myself into my uniform and put my badge in place, Nikolai turned me to face the wall and ordered me to present my hands so he could put the guard cuffs on me.  These bracelets have a rigid hinge that prevents the prisoner from twisting his hands to find a more comfortable position.

Once my restraints were attached, Nikolai took me by the left arm near the shoulder, led me to the official car for escorting detainees, and put me in a special compartment–simply put, a cage, where I had to ride with my hands securely cuffed for several hours.  We were headed to the train station.

I was surprised that we were able to drive right up to the platform from which I would be shipped.  Waiting there was a lone carriage with bars on the windows, and guards with machine guns standing nearby.  Nikolai ordered me out of the vehicle and handed me over to be placed in the carriage for convicts.  I heard the order to “squat!” and I had to crouch on the pavement.  I was not allowed to sit; I had to bend my legs and squat without letting my ass hit the concrete.  While squatting I listened to Nikolai give the senior guard the folder containing “my” documents — documents of the convicted Sanin P.I., born in 1984.  They chatted for a while about sports.  Then I heard Nikolai’s car driving away, leaving me squatting on the pavement, waiting to be put on the train.

A carriage for escorting prisoners contains a line of small steel compartments with bars on their fronts.  Each compartment, or cage, accommodates six convicts, with two stacks of shelves, three high, for them to lie on.  Stolypin is what prisoners call this kind of carriage.  During the agrarian reforms of Prime Minister Stolypin around 1900, cattle cars were used to transport peasants to new homes in distant parts of the country. Since then, little has changed, and we have not gone far in our development.

I got the fifth compartment, and a shelf on the third tier. As soon as the cage was packed with convicts and the bars were locked, I was ordered to put my hands through the small opening in the bars that serves as a cuff port.  Now, finally, the handcuffs were removed from me.

Four other passengers were sitting on the bottom shelves, and three of them had stuffed “luggage” into the compartment, ugly square plastic bags in which convicts carry the pitiful possessions they wish to take with them to prison.

A guard opens the compartment. “Give over prohibited items!”  Instead of waiting for an answer, he demands that things be prepared for inspection.  Each bag is unwrapped, each box is opened.  All things are looked through, all papers are leafed through.  Everything is confused and mixed up; everyone has a hard time putting things back into the bags.  Many items are excluded.  At last the search is over and the bars are locked again.  I can hear a search going on in the next compartment as well.  We are forbidden to talk.  We wait until the train starts to move.  Thus began my delivery to my place of detention.

One of the other prisoners in my compartment was quite old, could barely move, and, naturally, rested on one of the bottom bunks.  His neighbor on the first tier was a man of about 50, thin and covered in tattoos.  His gaze unsettled me.  I got the impression that he understood who I was and what I was like and was prepared to use this knowledge if he developed a reason to.  On the second level were two guys, about the same age … about 20 years old.  Thin, about 180 … 190 tall.  They were still wearing civilian clothes and were doing their best to appear unconcerned, although their best wasn’t good enough.  It was clear that they were very scared.

Our carriage moves very slowly and makes numerous stops.  It goes its own route; it is attached to one train, then to another.  There is no toilet in the compartment; from time to time we are led out to the latrine, one by one.  A couple of times a day a guy dressed in white, who was probably a prisoner himself, brings us something ugly to eat from the kitchen.  Even in February it is very hot in the carriage.  I am sticky with sweat, soaked with cigarette smoke, stupefied by the smell and the empty conversations, stiff from sitting in one position for many hours. This is real torture, and I know I will remember it with horror.

Then comes a stop that is special for me.  The escort officer ordered four of us — all except the old man — to take turns backing up to the bars and sticking our hands through the hole for the attachment of handcuffs.  “What about my bag?” one of the young guys wailed as he was marched out of the compartment.  “Don’t worry about your junk, convict,” the officer replied. “We’ll see about that!”

One by one, with hands cuffed behind our backs, we were taken from the carriage to a van for transportation to our last stop, the prison to which we had been assigned.  Loading into the van was carried out, as they say, in a non-stop format: a platform with bars around the perimeter (floor, ceiling, left and right) was placed tightly adjacent to the door of the carriage and was in contact with the entrance to the van.  The cage in the back of the van was opened, and the four convicts were placed inside it.  Then the cage was locked and two guards in the blue camouflage of Russian prison officers took their seats facing the bars of the cage, to watch us.   With our hands still cuffed and our butts on the steel seats that lined the walls of the cage, we were off to our prison.

We drove for a very long time. My hands hurt from the cuffs. We were in a metal cube and couldn’t see where we were going, what time of day it was, what the weather was like outside the window…  After several hours, a prison gate opened, and the van stopped.  We convicts were ordered out of the van. “One at a time, move on command, run as directed, squat down, don’t raise your head, keep looking down, shoot without warning.” Everything is serious. The machine guns are real, the cartridges are live, the fuses are off. Accompanied by the snarling of dogs, I jump out of the van and run in the direction I was pointed, and flop down on a slab of concrete that might be called the parade ground.   We squatted on the pavement until a senior officer came out and began a roll call.  My duty was to say the phrase “here, citizen chief” as soon as the name Sanin was pronounced. I did it, and was officially enrolled in the penitentiary.

Roll call completed, we were told to stand.  I looked around — and saw nothing but concrete walls, high fences, and razor wire.  It was much uglier than I expected.   But when I heard the name of the prison where I’d ended up, I was shocked – it was built to hold life prisoners!

I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach, or the balls, or both.  My first instinct was to protest — to yell out, “I’m not supposed to be here!  I wasn’t sentenced to life!  I have only two more years to serve!”  Then I took another look at the dogs and the guns.  And I remembered Nikolai’s promise.  I pulled myself together.  I knew I should not attach much importance to this.  Nikolai knew what he was doing.  He had sent me to this prison so that I could have the fullest experience of prison that anyone could have.

Besides, things were happening.  The guards were ordering us to take the swallow position and move forward, to “the reception block.”  Here we were put face to the wall, foreheads touching, eyes looking humbly downward as handcuffs were removed, and the order was given to “take off all clothes” and stand in line for a haircut.  My head was already shaved, so I got to watch as the others were separated from their hair.   Now, white, naked, and bald, we were transferred to the shower room, given a bar of soap, and allowed 15 minutes to wash our bodies. This was followed by a doctor’s examination for prohibited items, the mouth and anus being particularly examined, after which we proceeded to the next room, where we were each given five sets of underwear (drawers and shirt) and two sets of our new uniform (jacket, trousers, cap). A special feature of this uniform is three wide, white, horizontal stripes on the front and back, and additionally applied at the bottom of the sleeves and legs.

As soon as all the prisoners had put on their uniforms, the escort officer ordered everyone to stand along the wall in the swallow position. The new prisoners were handcuffed again. One by one we were taken to our cells. I was placed in cell 128, where I was alone.  After the three locks on the door were closed, the order followed to go to the door and stick your hands through this version of the cuff port—a hatch in the center of the door that was unlocked to permit this ceremony.   It is unusual to walk backwards, and of course I was not used to it. The escort officer removed the handcuffs and ordered me to “rest,” that is, to stand facing the back wall of the cell.  Then the cuff port banged shut, and I found myself alone in my cell.

The cell was a room (approximately 3 m by 3 m) with a two-tier metal bed, a metal toilet, and a washstand. The wall with the window was additionally fenced with bars, so that the window could not be approached unless a guard entered to unlock the little gate in the bars.  The cell had a dim light, and the light bulb was surrounded by a lampshade and a metal grille. On the wall next to the washbasin were posted the rules and routine of life for the convicts:

7.00 rise

7.00-8.00 toilet, making beds, cleaning cell

8.00-9.00 morning inspection of the premises by the administration

9.00-10.00 breakfast

10.00-13.00 hour walk in the fresh air (in a cage with concrete walls and bars over the top, between the convict and the sky)

13.00-14.00 lunch

14.00-18.00 stay in the cell

18.00-19.00 dinner

19.00-20.00 evening inspection of the premises by the administration

20.00-22.00 personal time

22.00 lights out

“While in the cell, the convict is prohibited from lying on the bed.  These rules apply from rising until bedtime except only in the punishment cell.”

According to my feelings, it was about 18.00 in the evening. The sound of metal utensils could be heard in the corridor. I wanted to eat very much.

After about 20 minutes, the hatch in the door opened and the command “dinner” followed. I held out a metal bowl, placing it on a shelf that ran through the hatch, and it was filled it with an incomprehensible mess that resembled pea porridge. The porridge, however, turned out to be tasty – maybe the cook really cooked well, or maybe I just hadn’t eaten anything for many hours and was very hungry. I ate quickly, then washed the dishes and sat on a stool to await inspection.

About an hour later, the loudspeaker pronounced the command “To the original”, after which I stood facing the window and raised my arms bent up at the elbows, turning the back side of my hands in the direction of the window.  If anyone wanted to see my hands, they were now on view.  The window in the door was opened and an officer’s voice pronounced the command “Duty.” Thank God, i remembered Nikolai’s instructions.  I said, “I wish you good health, Citizen Chief, cell duty officer.  Convicted Peter Ivanovich Sanin, born in 1984, sentenced by a court decision of November 23, 2009 to 15 years in prison. There is one prisoner in the cell. No violations of the regime were recorded during duty. I have no statements or complaints.”  The guard added, “Convicted Sanin. By a court decision dated January 12, 2023, your sentence of 2010 was revised. Taking into account the identified violations of the detention regime, the original term of imprisonment was replaced by life imprisonment. The hearing was held in absentia. Go to the door and stand with your back to it.  Stick out your arms.”

“Yes, citizen chief,” I said.  I was in a fog and carried out the order almost automatically, walking up with my back to the door and sticking my hands out through the hatch.  I was handcuffed and ordered to stand by the window, after which the cell door was opened and the command to “leave” followed. I left the cell, as ordered, stood on the right side of the door, bent my torso, raised my arms back, spread my fingers, and spread my legs as wide as possible. One of the guards began to conduct an inspection, asking, “Are there any prohibited objects, piercing or cutting objects?” I answered, “No, citizen boss!” They searched me thoroughly, checking my cap, lifting up my pants, and even getting into my socks.  At the command to “open your mouth,” I closed my eyes and turned my head to the left, raising my tongue, while the guard leaned in toward my face and checked my mouth.  A second guard then entered the cell and left a badge showing my mugshot, number, and last name; this I was now required to wear.  The warden ordered “to the original,” and they returned me to the cell. Through the hatch they freed my hands from the cuffs, and I stood in my original position facing the window with my palms turned backwards while they ordered me to attach my badge to the right side of my chest in the area of the second button.

Of course, my mind was on the officer’s words about the life sentence.  I couldn’t comprehend them!  On the one hand, why should I worry, I’m not Peter; but on the other hand, for now, I’m in his place. And if Nikolai fails to get me out of here in half a year… there is no hope left at all.  There would have been hope of being freed after the last two years of Peter’s sentence!  But that was not in the records anymore!  My head was full of such thoughts.  But when the all clear command sounded, I carefully folded my uniform, straightened the bed, and lay down in my underwear. The light in the cell was on as before. Without waiting for it to turn off, I fell asleep.

I was wakened by the cry of the loudspeaker — “Rise!” — which meant it was already morning and 7.00 a.m. I got out of bed, put on the prisoner’s uniform, made the bed, cleaned myself up, and began to walk around the cell in anticipation of the morning check, mentally repeating the new text…

The loudspeaker said, “back to home.” Just like the night before, I stood facing the window and raised my hands up. The window in the door opened and after the command “To the starting point. Report!” I said: ‘I wish you good health, Citizen Chief, cell duty officer.  Convicted Peter Ivanovich Sanin, born in 1984, sentenced by a court decision of January 12, 2023 to 15 years in prison. There is one prisoner in the cell. No violations of the regime were recorded during duty. I have no statements or complaints.”  After this, the officer ordered me to leave the cell for inspection.  This means a search of the convict’s person.

Searching a prisoner involves:

  1. The prisoner leaves the cell backwards, with his cuffed hands raised up behind his back, fingers spread out.
  2. Outside the cell, the prisoner immediately stands against the wall in a bent position, leaning his forehead against the wall, with his legs spread as wide as possible–two times wider than shoulder width.
  3. The guards move their hands from top to bottom of the prisoner.
  4. On the command “show tongue,” the prisoner closes his eyes (squints his eyes very tightly), sticks his tongue out towards the floor, and turns his head to the left.

After you close your eyes and stick out your tongue, the gloved guard feels the inside of your mouth for the presence of prohibited substances.  I like the guard’s harsh voice. The way he calmly, confidently and firmly speaks the commands. The feeling of handcuffs on my hands, despite the fact that my hands swell quite quickly.  To be honest, I enjoyed it all–being in the cell, following the commands of the guards, giving the report, all the rest of it.

Soon after my enrollment in the penitentiary it came time for my walk in the “fresh air.”  The order came to “put on winter clothes,” and I changed to the heavier, outdoor winter uniform.  My exit from the cell was carried out according to the standard procedure: first they fasten the handcuffs behind your back, then in the swallow position you leave the cell and rest the front of your head against the corridor wall. What was new was that before accompanying me to the place of exercise, the officer tied a blindfold over my eyes.  Of course, this was another thing for which Nikolai’s training had prepared me.   I didn’t see where we were going. I could only count turns and steps: straight 10 steps, left, then another 7 steps, etc.  Suddenly we stopped. They put me against the wall, told me to lean my head against it, took off the blindfold, and directed me to walk in the swallow position into a room where my handcuffs were removed.

I looked around. It was a white stone room 4m by 2.5m, and instead of a ceiling there was a lattice of bars through which you could see the sky. This is where I could walk and get my exercise.

This is how my days began, the days of Pyotr Ivanovich Sanin, sentenced to life imprisonment, born in 1984.

It’s difficult to describe my feelings.  I was happy and panicked at the same time. After about a month, I, so to speak, settled into a rut. But I missed sharing my emotions. I sat alone in the cell. I walked — alone. Constantly alone.  Pacing in my cell or in the “exercise yard.”  And I really wanted to share my experiences with someone.

Then, after about three months. I was escorted to the visiting block. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Nikolai was there.

To be continued …

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One thought on “Can Dreams Come True? Part 2”

  1. I’m really hoping there is a different ending to this than where I think it’s going. The writing is very good, realistic, and making me believe I’m right there with him. All the more reasons I’m keeping my hopes up for an ending that may not be in the cards. Have none of these guys read any of these prison exchange stores on this site!

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