A convict serving a life sentence writes letters to those ‘on the other side’. The fifth letter " />

Letters from prison: always at a crossroad

A convict serving a life sentence writes letters to those ‘on the other side’. The fifth letter

Drawing by Anastasia Logvinenko

‘Letters from prison’ is a new JAMnews project. It started after a letter was received from a man serving a life sentence in prison. Yuri Sarkisyan has been in prison for 23 years already, and wrote because he wanted to speak out. He believes that society should hear from people living ‘on the other side’. We agreed to cooperate with him and thus this project was born.

Yuri Sarkisyan is also the author of ‘Capital Punishment’, a documentary novel published in 2016.

This is the fifth letter from Yuri Sarkisyan.

The four preceding letters are as follows:

The first letter: Liberty, captivity and those involved                      

The second letter: When dreams are better than waking

The third letter: The future is beautiful… when you have one

The fourth letter: The final warning

A baby girl who’d just turned 12 months old was looking at me from a photo. It was my granddaughter. Before that, I’d never noticed that a child’s look was so deep and pure. It’s just enough to look into a child’s eyes to become a better person – and to do everything necessary to preserve that purity. And then you recall that purifying look over and over again, when making this or that decision.

How often do we do that? Do we reflect upon a child’s credulity in the world surrounding us? We usually react mechanically to this or that situation, being overwhelmed by momentary desires. We start thinking about the causes of a fateful ending when it’s already too late, under the pressure of some inevitable consequences and one’s own conscience. However, it could have been otherwise if we had remembered those who are so dear to us.

My wife also brought some other photos, lost memories and an unquenchable melancholy. My sons have already grown up, they are about two meters tall and both of them are married. A daughter was born to the oldest son, having transferred us from one category to another: not having been a father, I become a grandfather. And my soul mate… No, even in my mind I didn’t dare call her this word – ‘a grandmother’.

My beloved woman is still slender and beautiful. But is she the same as before? … She evoked the memories of our youth, the years that we’d lived and not lived together, our unfulfilled dreams. Not a single word of reproach has ever passed my beloved’s lips, not a single bitter tear spilled… I don’t have the heart to call my wife a weak creature.

I remember the first time we met – an eleven-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl. Her red curls in the azure waves of the Black Sea. My goldfish! How much water has flowed since then and where has all that disappeared?

My wife was showing me a photo of our 13-year-old daughter, telling how talented and witty she is… Her dream is to play the ukulele (a small Hawaiian guitar). Although she prefers black to the rest of the colors, she wants a bright pink ukulele to make it funnier. It was just once that my wife accidentally mentioned how much our child suffered, saying that all her friends had fathers, and she was the only fatherless child.

The stories shared by my beloved brought me back to my childhood. I recalled all my whims and pranks, fatherlessness and my attempts to play the guitar. Everything is repeated, it all comes full circle. There is a part of me in each of them: in the cold personality of the oldest son, in the cheerfulness of the middle one, and in the self-searching of my daughter.

My memory throws me back into a gaping abyss of the past years – to the day and the hour the gun went off and an irreversible thing happened. The whole world disappeared in the blink of an eye. The children became orphans and their mother a widow. Two people were killed then, but the bullets keep rebounding and hitting those who survived.

A fatal mistake sort of split into pieces, gleaming with reproach from different parts of the universe. Max, Leo, Katya.

There are no straight ways and well-trodden paths in life. The very next moment you find yourself at a crossroad. Any step you take may be decisive and any action a fateful one. Sometimes the result will be not long in coming. It will come as a bolt from the blue.

However, more often than not we don’t even realize the mistakes that we’ve made, and we are separated from the consequences by space and time. In a cascade of events we just hear the words, but we don’t see ourselves. And we are unlikely to recognize in a car accident victim that very disabled person whom we didn’t help cross the street. And in the next suicide victim we’ll hardly recognize a teenager who was sitting next to us in a minibus. Our paths crossed, but we didn’t stop, killing them with our indifference.

A human being is a unique phenomenon. We are free to choose between life and death, love and hate, a blessing and a curse. At any moment we can either become better people or shrink into non-entities, we can either advance to the next step or hit the bottom. A flap of a butterfly’s wings will hardly stir even a gentle wind, but we can change the world through our actions.

You can understand a judge and a prosecutor, and any condemning opinion in general, when there is a criminal on one side of the justice scales, and the victims on the other side of it: the crime should be punished. However, after twenty-four years, life and death, a child’s happiness – all depends on our decision; and something irreparable that we are no longer able to change is put on the same scales.

The walls in my cell are decorated with my daughter’s drawings, embodying her emotions and feelings in paint. Now, as I’m facing the choice again, I’m choosing my wife and children’s happiness. Whatever it takes. I fall asleep and wake up looking into the secrets of a child’s soul, revealed to a father through a daughter’s paintings.  

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