Life in prison is exhausting not only mentally but also physically. You can’t turn down work in Belarusian women colony. Everyone must work at a sewing factory, where prisoners sew uniforms for the Belarusian law enforcement agencies and work clothes.
In addition to working at a sewing factory, prisoners must always be busy with work: cleaning of the territory, working in the canteen. The daily routine is built in such a way, that there is practically no free time; it’s clogged with meaningless and exhausting work.
“It’s impossible for convicts to be out of work. Therefore, the administration naturally comes up with something to burden the prisoners with. One of these works is to clear puddles and dry them with rags. When it snows, the convicts first shovel the snow into one pile. The next group of people pulls this pile on a cellophane to another pile. Then this pile is scattered around the territory behind the mark. When it snows, there is mourning in the colony, because it is really hard work. In spring all squads clean up the puddles. We drive the water into the hatch, then begin to drain the remaining puddles with shovels and buckets, and then dry them with rags. And it’s a silly thing to do after the main work.”- says political prisoner Ann. This Belarusian woman was sentenced to a year in a general regime colony for participating in protests. Another political prisoner confirms Ann’s words, only adding that the colony does not issue equipment (shovels, buckets, brooms). All this must also be bought by the prisoner herself.
In winter, when snow falls at night, the caretaker wakes up the people on the list at 5.30 a.m., and before breakfast these people must remove the snow from the industrial zone, this is the area around the factory. After breakfast, there is another group of people, but they are already carrying piles of snow after the first one. Then the third group is to sprinkle the ground with sand. By evening, the snow melts, and new snow falls at night. And everything starts all over again. A marathon of stupid and meaningless works.
Vera (*note, name changed for security reasons) spent a year and a half in the colony; she was also convicted of participating in protests. She confirms the words of the previous interlocutor about meaningless and exhausting work, but besides this there is something else.
While you can get used to work, but you can’t get used to denunciations and nerve-wracking. Because the system of complaints and denunciations is highly encouraged here. All “political” people are assigned such a snitch, and it is very exhausting day by day. “Snitching” starts in the pre-trial detention center, but it’s simpler there. If there are political prisoners in the cell, it’s morally easier to get over that the snitch is nearby. In a colony, this is a system. To deprive women – political prisoners of visits with children, to deprive them of parcels, to send them to a punishment cell, that is, to abuse them in every possible way.”- says Vera.
Political prisoner Rosa (*note, name changed for security reasons) told us about a typical day in a colony. Rosa was sentenced to a year and a half in a general regime colony for participating in protests. The woman has served the entire term in full. We publish her memories: “The clock says 6:00, at that moment a shout is heard from the loudspeaker: “Rise is announced on the territory of the colony!!! Uniform number two!” And you immediately jump off your bed, because a couple of seconds of delay and you will receive a report. Because of it, they can send you to a punishment cell, deprive you of calls, visits, and ruin your life in every possible way.
25 minutes before the morning assembly for breakfast, the prisoner needs to have time to:
- Stand in a long queue to the toilet: there are only 4 toilets for 97 people, and even if it’s a minute for each person, the time has already up.
- Then a queue to the washstand (this is a separate room) to wash your face and brush your teeth in the morning.
- Take off your thermal underwear, tracksuit, warm robe, warm socks, as it is very cold to sleep in winter, spring and autumn; have time to dress according to the prescribed dress code, freshen yourself up to have a neat appearance.
- Stand in a long queue to the cloakroom (where no more than three people can enter) to hide the things taken off after sleeping, because they are prohibited from being stored anywhere else.
- Make the bed with an “envelope” in the bunk room, the width of which is a meter, where four more people besides you are bustling, all in a hurry: two on the right and two on the left make the bottom bunk, and two make the top bunk. This is done by four people per square meter. The blanket is tucked into a sheet and laid out in the form of an envelope of strict, certain dimensions, all neatly done. If the dimensions are not observed, it’s a violation. Envelopes on all beds must be laid out in a one line. It is important to note that if you got up before 6:00, it’s a hundred percent report. The day shift had to report to the operative.
- Check the bedside tables and locker to make sure everything is perfect and there are no extra things – otherwise, it’s a report.
- Compare to make sure all “envelopes” are the same length. If a prisoner’s bed is out of “line” then quickly redo everything, otherwise, the bed will be twisted like a “snail” and punishment awaits you. A political prisoner cannot afford a single mistake!
And so, all wet from running, with nerves strained from tension, rushing to the formation, and only been 25 minutes of another endless hellish day. It is impossible to convey the efforts required for the morning marathon if the prisoner feels unwell.”
At the moment, in Belarus, a minimum of 107 female political prisoners are in prison, and at least 27 Belarusian women are in pre-trial detention awaiting court hearings. In total, around 600 Belarusian women have been involved in politically motivated criminal cases.