A prisoner condemned to life in prison writes letters to those on the outside. Letter number three " />

Letters from prison: The future is beautiful… when you have one

A prisoner condemned to life in prison writes letters to those on the outside. Letter number three

Drawing by Anastasia Logvinenko

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

Yuri Sarkisyan’s third letter

The year is coming to an end. Both here and on the outside it’s almost the same. We’re happy that our worst fears have not come about and sad for the hopes that never materialized. We don’t feed on illusions.

Since then, not a single man condemned to death has been freed. 25 years have passed since the last firing squad. But those that were condemned to death are dying all the same. They die from despair and from the fact that the sun won’t come out tomorrow over their horizon.

Those condemned to life in prison are still considered to be outcasts and no one intends to give them a second chance. The ‘independent’ commission that grants parole ignores any positive information about us, and bases their decisions exclusively on the facts of the case.

The services responsible for conducting educational work with convicts do not cope with their role. This reality, the one here, does not contribute to the re-socialization of convicts, but only teaches us how to survive in captivity. We ourselves aspire to break out of this vicious circle, in spite of the administration’s attempts to prevent this in any way.

European standards, to which Armenia is trying so hard to aspire, deny the revenge of society on the individual. However, the situation of outcast-convicts shows that this is exactly what is happening – revenge. A man is destroyed as an individual and they require humility and submission.

On a regular basis, day after day, year after year, a prisoner lives in inhumane conditions and obeys others’ laws. The lack of work, the slight amount of light and fresh air, water and food turns one into a cumbersome being. The limitations on meetings with family destroy family connections. And, damning one to die one’s death in prison turns man into a beast.

Punishment should be a one-time measure, and not become the norm for the rest of one’s life.

And if imprisonment is not defined by terms for the sake of the convicted himself, then this means that his endless captivity in these isolated locations is being inflicted for other reasons and interests – but for which?

My cousin, who served as a prison guard for 25 years, has slightly lifted the veil for me: “Unlike convicts who are there against their will, the administration comes to work to eat bread with honey and butter.”

But he didn’t get into it further, because he didn’t want to think about the past. And I would also not be too excited about hearing something from a relative that would further estrange us. That is the difference between former policemen and convicts. They want to forget everything, otherwise their conscience tortures them. But we never forget anything: our conscience won’t allow it.

The horrible conditions of detention in prisons not in line with international standards are purposefully inflicted upon us with the aim of attracting additional investments in order to supposedly rectify the situation. But only a small portion of that money actually ends up where it was intended. The rest of it disappears in the bottomless pockets of officials.

Modern penitentiaries do not release sins – they commit them. From the insatiability of these criminals in uniforms suffer not only prisoners, but their families whose thoughts are chained to the prison as long as their loved ones are there.

The desire to somehow ‘brighten up’ his imprisonment is expensive, and several privileges have to be bought for enormous sums of money.

The meeting rooms look like bunkers with a small window, sometimes without it. Interior decoration, furniture and household appliances are paid for and are purchased by the prisoners themselves. Over ten years of use, much of it is barely usable anymore. The walls become moldy because of a lack of ventilation and crumble. But the administration of the prison doesn’t care whether the people who come to meet their relatives for a full three days will end up in conditions worse than those of the actual cells.

Prison does not straighten a person out – it harms him, mutilates him and kills him. And whether it does this in a ‘humanitarian’ way or in a sophisticated sadistic way isn’t so important.

In the 1990s former Soviet republics were emerging in a new reality while holding on to the old one. Today they are still ‘former Soviet’ republics because they haven’t recovered their own ‘face’. The decorations have changed, but the essence is the same.

The system of encouragement and punishment is developing, becoming more modern. But it’s not really changing, because this is in our blood, fed to us from our mothers’ milk.

A whip and a ginger-bread cookie are used to bring up and train both people and animals. The system, into which all the adversities are dumped, is us, our culture, our tradition. And prison is an integral part of this tradition, the basis of a culture engendered by fear. I do not know whether there is a future for such a civilization. But people will not stop fighting to make sure it sticks around.


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