Letters from prison: Freedom - and a crumpled life
Drawing by Anastasia Logvinenko
[su_quote]‘Letters from prison’ is a new JAMnews project. It started with a letter that the publication received from a man serving a life sentence in prison. Yuri Sarkisyan has been in prison for 23 years already. He 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 an author of a documentary novel called Capital Punishment, which was published in 2016.[/su_quote]
This is Yuri Sarkisyan’s seventh letter
The six preceding letters are as follows:
“You must be the change you wish to see in this world.”
A rbitrariness and lawlessness have ruled over Armenia for decades. Overcrowded prisons, a deserted country, devastated souls… And now, on the crest of a wave of popular indignation, a new leader has ascended. Who is he? A savior? A messenger from heaven above? Or have we succumbed to wishful thinking once again?
For us, who have been sentenced to death in oblivion, these questions are particularly acute.Tthe relatively free citizens of Armenia can leave their country in search of a better place under the sun, but us prisoners have no such alternative.
The regime of the last three presidents imposed a taboo on the affairs of the former death-row convicts, and all lower-level agencies strictly adhered to its top-down directives. We perished in sickness and despair, went crazy, grasped at straws, prayed to Heaven… Today, like no others, we want to believe in the lightning-fast revolution as a response from Above.
I n this world, there are no coincidences. Nikol Pashinyan came right when Armenia needed it; when the Armenian people needed it; when all the oppressed, one way or another, needed it. The former authorities needed it too, outdated and unable to stop themselves: this is how a mad criminal performs increasingly eccentric and insolent crimes, asking to be caught.
It is difficult to imagine a person based only on general information: date of birth, education, military service, political party affiliation, marital status, previous convictions and so on. Behind every cold line lies an entire life. And it is not necessary that one thing leads to another or determines the next. The living fate is unpredictable, as in a fairy tale – and always wants to claim a happy ending. Any fate. Of each one of us.
Write a good story – from the first sunrise in the eyes of a child to the final batting of eyelashes of the same eyes at their life’s end. Or a beautiful poem or a song. And then crumple the scribbled sheet of paper and throw it into the urn. Repeat this tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Until now, prisoners and their families have been doomed to such fate: dreams and plans have been deprived of a future, buried under the weight of the past and the prison walls.
From year to year, personal files are supplemented with details, cries of salvation, cold bureaucratic refusals. Existence entwined with barbed wire and inhuman humanism. Year after year.
O ne might think that in this big world there are no free people, only jailers. Conversations on the topic of justice are twisted around the fight against the sold-out judges and other representatives of this sphere, the construction of new prisons and the creation of comfortable conditions in them. And, truth be told, the prisoners are not all that original themselves.
You rarely meet a person, either in freedom or in captivity, who would seriously discuss the creation of a society where the need for isolation of people completely disappears. The world does not progress at all, but lives through inertia, making select adjustments to the status quo.
The viciousness of the judicial system is conditioned by the human factor. In their fateful decisions, judges are guided not only by the Law, but also by inner conviction, which is more often dictated by greed than by justice.
O n 13 April, a few hours before the recent great changes in the country, Judge Artush Gabrielyan refused my parole. At parting he asked me not to be offended, because he warned beforehand about the impossibility of a positive response to a convict serving life.
And here we are. We are waiting for some kind of reforms, we are preparing for cardinal changes. We are waiting for a positive solution to our question. Also waiting are our relatives. Well, they are not just waiting, but are directly participating in events, speaking against some politicians, having laid expectations on others. We hope that lawfulness will be restored in the country, and our limited rights to a full life with our families will be restored. We want to believe in future progress in all spheres.
Sentenced to death in the 1990s, we become hostages of a new reality time and again. We’ve been taught that when it comes to political games, the problems of people, those free, and in captivity, are just a card to play, and not a trump card. At the end of the day – these cards are waiting for their former fate in the old deck, as determined by the winner. The hypocrisy of politicians is truly boundless.
T he red carpet under the victor’s feet symbolizes nothing more than the blood of the defeated enemies, real, spilled blood. The elevation of some is always due to humiliation, and even destruction of others. In Armenia, a whole nation has been humiliated.
It is said that Nikol Pashinyan promised to clean up the top level of state structures without touching the middle and lower levels. What does that mean? Will the direct executors of the evil will of the rulers remain? For me it means that those jailers who committed various crimes against prisoners will continue to work in prisons. And nothing will change! For such workers torture, bullying, trampling on human rights and other crimes are in the order of things. They cannot be retrained, just as you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Yes, the devil finds work for idle hands, but crippled hands won’t get you far either. The new prime minister’s restructuring of cadres will achieve nothing unless reform the system of laws that belittle the status of the individual, and break the internal state of the slavish obedience of the majority.
To date, ONE thing is unquestionable: civil disobedience has come to head with VICTORY OF THE PEOPLE OF ARMENIA! Before that, all attempts to influence the government through general protests have failed. And this is always another nail in the coffin. But the liberated freedom of the will can easily be stolen by corrupt politicians. So the prospect of a fool’s hope still looms on the horizon.