I wrote this in my Dear Diary on August 26, 2004, when we still lived in St. Pete, and I kept thinking about it ever since they started reading Khodorkovsky's sentence last month:
That prison on the way to Komarovo/Zelenogorsk, right by the railway – I keep looking at it when I'm on the train.
Normally, cemeteries put me in this mood – when I’m totally horrified and want to stay as far as possible from the place where so many poor people lie dead. In prison, they are alive, crammed together in terrible conditions, barred and fenced and barbed-wired off from the rest of us.
But not from our noises. Every other minute a train passes by so close to where they are, a train full of free people. And those whose cells are on the upper floors can even see these trains.
Someone said it’s a women’s prison – and one evening, I even noticed that one of the upper-floor windows had this cozy red light on, a womanly thing. But today I saw an amazing scene while inside the moving train, and now I'm almost sure it's a men's prison.
I didn't pay attention until it was too late, unfortunately, and there was no way I could take a picture. Two young women, tall, slender, good-looking in that boring local way - totally stunning if you're some poor "mail-order" Western guy, but way too made-up if you're not – they were on the relatively wide sand/gravel path separating the tracks; the red brick prison fence was maybe five or six meters away from them. With their feet, they were writing this on the sand strip: 'Misha I Love You' – no punctuation, almost no spaces between the first three words – must be hard to be a calligrapher in such circumstances. The letters were huge – so that this Misha guy could see the message from his cell window.
I was wondering what he was in for – a robbery or maybe he killed someone in a drunk driving accident (I thought of the latter on my way back from Zelenogorsk, when the marshrutka driver was speeding like crazy – speeding past all those memorial wreaths on the trees, marking spots where someone died in a crash)...
I was reminded of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, of all people: he's also a Misha - and there are lots more of them in Russian jails...
And it also reminded me of the Soviet-style maternity hospitals – how all those happy new fathers crowd outside, with no way to get in, greeting their wives and newborns from down below, scribbling stuff like 'Sveta, I Love You!' on the ground, in huge letters, with chalk or paint, so that it stays there forever...
Alex(ei) of the Russian Dilettante's Weblog has three wonderful entries on how Khodorkovsky's case isn't the only one worth paying attention to here in Russia:
- From the legal front;
- The right to defend ourselves;
- Mikhail Khodorkovsky is not the only political prisoner in Russia.