T.Leanovіch: Andrei’s political article shocks jailers

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Tatstsyana Leanovіch, the wife of Andrei Klimau, political prisoner, has returned after a three-day meeting with her husband. Here is Tatstsyana’s interview with ERB.
 - Tatstsyana, what does the place where the colony is situated look like?

- When I got to know that Andrei would be sent to Mazyr colony I already knew that it was farthest from Minsk. Bit I could not imagine it was that far in the wilderness. It is 330 km from Minsk. Then you go 20 km from Mazyr towards the former alienation zone in Naroulya. The colony is in the back woods. There is an impassable swamp nearby. An industrial giant, Mazyr oil processing plant is only 2 kilometers away. It also impressed me. It is a huge building with torches lit day and night somewhere in the sky. Of course it emits harmful substances into the atmosphere. The air is far from being pure even in the wood. 

- Is it a special colony?

- It is special judging by some features. Officially it is a colony for people who have more than one conviction. I was impressed by one more detail when entering: there is an educational complex in the colony. I think the colony is famous in comparison with the others. Employees of the penal system are trained to watch over prisoners there.  And there are people having previous convictions. Andrei knows people with five convictions who are serving their sentence at the moment.

One more peculiarity is that prisoners from other colonies are often sent there for reeducation. It happens when they show qualities of leaders able to unite prisoners to oppose the regime of the administration. Any regime should be established in accordance with the law. There is the Criminal Code. There are internal rules in colonies. That is the catechism of the penal system. You cannot deviate from it. However, there may be some local know-hows.

- How many people are there in Andrei’s detachment?

- The number of people in the detachment shocked me – 200 people. That is a united detachment composed of two groups. They live in one storey. Thanks God there are several rooms for them.

- How many prisoners are there in one room?

- 30 or 40. Two tiers. One bathroom for all the 200 people. You should not forget that all the 200 people are repeaters.

- Where did you meet Andrei?

- There are rooms for long-term meetings. That is how they are called officially. The conditions are normal and quite acceptable. I can say they are much better than in Minsk colony in Kalvaryiskaya Street.  Much better. I was impressed by the tidiness of those rooms. A clean yard was a free addition. You could go for a walk there. The yard is small but very cozy. There are fruit trees and lilac. There are benches, sculptures for children and a swing.  We spent three days together. Andrei’s son was with us.

- What did you do during the three days?

- The three days passed very quickly and irreversibly. I had a bitter feeling upon coming back to Minsk. A feeling of a loss. They passed quickly, we talked a lot. We went for walks. You can walk in the yard. A wonderful cat accompanied us there. I have never seen cats like that. He had a leather collar. And he performed such tricks! There is a TV-set and a video player. You could watch an action film. So we did. Then we watched passages from a seminar of control employees. We took a shower. We cooked.

- What was your first impression when you saw Andrei? What did he look like? Did he change?

- I did not notice anything when I saw him. I was so happy I just hugged him. He was also very happy to meet me. We kept hugging each other… Then I managed to take a closer look at him. Yes, he was very thin. Jailers took away his products when he arrived and they delayed the money I sent him for a long time. He was practically starving for several weeks. Now he is almost the same size as I am. We can wear the same clothes. He is very thin, pale and exhausted. All prisoners are like that there. They are not getting enough food.

- What meals do they get?

- They usually get soup in the morning. Then they get some hot food and soup for lunch. They can also get milk soup in the evening. According to employees of the colony I managed to talk to, they have a revolutionary innovation. Prisoners are given an egg from time to time. At least I’m glad about it.

- What did you bring for Andrei?

- I brought him 30 kilos of products and they allowed it. It’s because I am already aware of the sanitary rules. It was hard to compose the parcel. I had to put a great amount of one type of food in it. There is a lot of sausage. It is hard to compose a 30 kilos parcel having such a limit. You can put sausage, cheese, cookies, nuts, tea, coffee, dried fruit of any kind, fresh fruit and vegetables in it.

- Did you bring Andrei his favourite delicacies?

- You know, all prisoners like one kind of food there. It is very common for us but it is a delicacy for them. Chips and an omelette. I took a dozen of eggs and potatoes with me. Andrei enjoyed cooking it all himself.

Of course I had brought home food: stuffed chicken, baked pork, stuffed cabbages and red-beet soup. His mother also cooked a lot. She is handicapped and belongs to the second disability group. She cooked a chicken and potato fritters. She cannot endure trips. She said she kept crying all the three days because of her weakness. Mom bought him 6 Big-Macs. I was so surprised. But, you know, he just gobbled them.

- How does Andrei communicate with other prisoners?

- Andrei is a very friendly person. He can get on well with anyone. People are not that hideous there. Andrei even found a chess companion. Although a lot of people are imprisoned for robberies and murders. Some of them are accused of participation in criminal groupings. They are not interested in chess.

- What other distractions has Andrei found?

- Football. Andrei loves sports competitions. But he has been having health problems recently so he cannot play much now.

- What else do people do in their leisure time in the colony?

- Every detachment has a TV-set and a DVD player. Films are shown according to the schedule. There are problems with books though. Andrei asked activists to send him books but all of the books were sent back. In general Andrei likes reading informational articles, memoirs, philosophical and methodological books – all kind of manuals for self-tuition, modern prose and modern poetry.

- How do people react to Andrei’s political article?

- They are surprised, embarrassed and shocked. People are surprised he is there. They did not even know about such an article. It is the first time it has been used in a 50-years period. Andrei is the only one imprisoned according to this article. It is very rare. There are no judicial precedents.

- Let’s speak about the amnesty. Did you believe they would release Andrei?

- I saw the project of the amnesty that had been sent to the National Council long before it was accepted. So my hope was killed at the beginning. There was a passage “The amnesty does not apply to…” Articles were listed there. And I saw that amnesty did not apply to his article.

- Is there any hope left?

- I’m just hoping that common sense will win. Maybe I am too much of an optimist.

- When will you be able to meet again?

- The thought is killing me. Next opportunity will be in June. Half a year! It makes me desperate.

- Do you exchange letters?

- I write when I’m in the mood for it. And I am always in the mood. There are about two or three letters per week. Andrei replies but less often. I get practically all his letters now as the authorities have stopped blocking them.