Ilya Yashin: Life Is Everywhere

I spent almost a month in Pretrial Detention Center No. 7 in Kapotnya. But on Sunday the order came down to transfer me, and I was met by the legendary Butyrka Prison. What an interesting place this is, friends! Oak gates, ancient walls, every brick here is steeped in history. A genuine Russian prison with its own unique flavor.

Ilya Yashin in happier times. This was the photo included in his original post on Facebook.

Moving here from Kapotnya, where a “red” regime is strictly observed, you feel the strong contrast. A “black” flag flies over Butyrka, and its units have their own rules.

Life comes to a standstill in Pretrial Detention Center No. 7 after lights out. One of my cellmates was sent to solitary for getting out of bed at night and making himself tea. In Butyrka, life is just beginning when darkness comes. “The roads” — a communication system of ropes connecting the windows — run between the cells. Information is exchanged instantly. The senior inmates in the wings give instructions and bring their juniors “up to speed.” Prisoners make entries in a house book, recording the movement of people around the prison. Prisoners locate acquaintances, exchange malyava [letters and notes] sweets, and cigarettes, and get the news. “The roads” function like a social network.

Butyrka has its own currency — cigarettes. For a pack of Parliament you can get a good pillow or a plate of cottage cheese for breakfast. For four packs — a soft new mattress. Almost everyone smokes, and a thick tobacco smog is found in most cells.

The prison is overcrowded and simply teeming with people: the “overload” amounts to about a thousand people. Thirty prisoners share twenty beds in the large cells. I wound up a small cell in the special unit: four prisoners are crammed into nine square meters. Some time ago, the prosecutor’s office decided to restore order and launched an inspection of Butyrka after getting complaints about the conditions. On the eve of the prosecutors’ visit, several hundred prisoners were promptly scattered to other Moscow detention facilities. As soon as the inspection was over, everyone was brought back to Butyrka.

The most amazing thing in Butyrka Prison is the cats. There are a lot of them here, and they feel like the real proprietors of the place. They calmly stroll the corridors, lounge on the duffel bags of prisoners awaiting assignment at the assembly point, and solicit food with an absolutely imperturbable look.

If the duty guard leaves the food hatch in your cell open, the cats can then jump through it freely and pay you a visit.

Imagine my surprise when, waking up in the morning, I found a purring lump at my feet. It stretched out, asked me to scratch it behind the ear and went to the table, wondering what we were having for breakfast that day.

Life is everywhere.

Source: Ilya Yashin, Facebook, 17 August 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

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