How lesbians live in Russian prisons
Woman can give cigarettes, and the other woman agrees to have sex with her"
About 47 thousand women are in russian prisons. In every prison there is sex. Natalia, an former-prisoner, LGBT activist. She's was in prison for over 15 years. Natalia says: "All this is terribly unaesthetic. In section 25 people. Someone snoring, someone farting. This is problematic. That's why I practiced it rarely".
Sex in prison is prohibited - you can moved to the punishment cell. Women are blackmailed in cause of their relations.The issue of persecution for homosexuality in prisons is little known. Some believe that this is not the most important problem:"this terrible kerchief, which you have to wear on your head from morning to night brings more harm." But human rights activists believe that the infringement of lesbian rights in Russian prisons should be spoken openly. This issue was raised by the participants of the project " Woman. Prison. Society."

The article about homosexuality and lesbianism was excluded from the Russia Criminal Code exactly 25 years ago, on April, 29, 1993 in connection with joining the Council of Europe, but firmly established in the Russia Criminal Executive Code and remains there till now. The Criminal Executive Code connected with numerous orders for prison s official use, as well as formal and unofficial ways to punish prisoners for their relationship. Most often, in order not to spoil the statistics, additional "hozraboty" (hard extra work after 12-hours work day) is applied to women or there are sent to SHIZO (punishment cell) under different pretexts.
But "you are not punished for sex, haring but punished because you are on someone else's "shkonar" (bed in prison)." The Russian correctional system has in its arsenal many ways to suppress the personality of the prisoner. Relationships in prisons also become the basis for persecution and blackmail. But if in male jails one of the most serious punishments is to become a "petuh" ( in the Russian prison system, petuhi, or offended people- is a lower caste of passive homosexuals. They can not seat at the table with others, speak and sleep on the bed), then in female jails and isolators everything is much more complicated. However, even there homosexuality is one of those factors that can significantly worsen the quality of life. The prison administration finds a way to make personal attachment an instrument to achieve its goals. We met with four former prisoners who told us about their experiences, like this - to love in prison.
Natalia got freedom in September 2010, she has a total prison experience more than 15 years. However, she has lost the count of detention years.

She got the first terms for pickpocketing, then she was given twenty years for drugs ... And when she got stuck, got rid of the mad energy that used to go to find money and a drug dose. The energy remained, and it was necessary to spend it on something good. Now Natalia is a LGBT activist who became famous for the video "St. Petersburg pensioners in support of cadets flying school", which scored more than half a million views.

"Did your first homosexual experience happen in prison?"
- I believe that I was lucky, because I had sex relations with a woman before the first term. And I understood everything about myself. In fact, in these bestial conditions, perhaps nothing would happen. Not that the continuation, but the experience would not have been. Because everything is in sight, and sex too. In the colony, beds are placed very tight, in two tiers. There are about 150 people in one section. But it's not bad, it's good, in fact, when a lot of people have some sort of autonomy, when twenty people are in the same room, you are always in full view.

- You are not punished for sex, but punished for the fact that you are on someone else's "shkonar" (bed), are you?

- Formally, relations are considered as a violation, but this thing is difficult to be proved, that is, everyone knows everything, and the commanders of the detachment "vpisyvautsa" (they are take part in this relations. They can to protect lovers or to punishment them). But they can prove it if they catch you two at night. And there are no more variants. And formally this is punished, and informally - is encouraged. Because the administration believes that it is a powerful tool of influence.

I had different relationships. Many of my girlfriends loved to make plans for the future: we will come out and live together. But it was not interesting for me. I did not understand how to live with one person for a long time. Later, when I was already 30 (I was free already), they gave direction to Volkhov. There I met a woman, she worked as a foreman at the factory, we were together for 23 years. And you know, the least of all problems in my life was the fact that I was a lesbian.

- Subculture in the Russian prisons and lesbian culture on freedom are very different. There, adaptation is prevalent. Females' masculinity are in the price. In short, women-like-husband are there in value. The woman is herself may be heterosexual, but others quickly secure a grip on her. And then she begins to walk as if she had kilogram pair of eggs in her pants. I do not understand this, this is not a woman, but a man.

The origins of adaptive relations are simple - most often women who have served a long term, have no parents. There is no one to send the there women parcels. Surviving is easier when there is a girlfriend. Moreover, in many Russian institutions there are problems with hygiene means: gaskets, toothpaste. For example, according to the report by Lyudmila Alpern in the publication "Situation of vulnerable groups in places of forced detention in the Russian Federation" (Review report, Moscow, 2016 Penal Reform International), in police isolators, sanitary napkins are given out in five regions, and in detention places - in 10 of 19 regions , where the members of the public observers worked. The situation is aggravated with the fact that female prison inmates simply do not know that they, for example, are supposed to receive hygiene products, so they do not ask for them. And if prisoners do not ask, then they are not given

- - Was that facts when female officer fell in love with a female prisoner?

- Once the female chief of the educational department fell in love with a girl. This girl was so a nusty one. And she appointed her girlfriend the head of the prison cultural club. The catastrophe began, because you can receive incentives for taking part in performances in order to get out earlier. So all people depended on this woman-officer s girlfriend, depended. This is bad for prisoners and bad for the administration. And the officer did everything her girlfriend told. Prisoners had to put up with her ... And another story in simply "mama-mia"… An officer of the operation department fell in love with a woman, a masculine one, Anka. Officer carried heroin for her.. And everyone knew it. We looked at all this as camels from the advertisement "Camel". We then began to think that the whole administration was sticking out.

Such stories are not uncommon. There is a saying: all women prisons are "red" (red prisons are the prisons where the administration rules, and "black" are the prisons, in which prisoners manage). Prisoners often agree to profitable offers to ease conditions of detention in order to leave earlier.

Photo was made in Katya's house
The Leningrad Oblast. 38-year-old Olga has been recently freed from the Mordovian jail. Then she a found shelter at her ex-girlfriend Katherine. Now the couple lives in a three-room apartment: Katya and Vita, and Olga. Olga has no citizenship, no documents, no housing, no work. This story began almost 15 years ago. Katia and Olya met in Petersburg, lived together for six years, parted. All that time she was wanted. She quarreled with Katya. She took her things and went to the park ... and appeared again in the life of her former only two years later. Suddenly Katya received a message in the social network: "Hello. I'm in Mordovia ... "Katya also has a prison experience, she was in a colony in Sablino, Leningrad region in the early 2000s.

- Do women have female partner in prisons associate with the LGBT community?

Olga: There were some who live with women at liberty, I was and a couple more people. All the rest lived with men, they have children. I say again that I have realized my orientation since childhood, and I know exactly what I want.

Katia: We did not have such a term as a lesbian. Nobody considered themselves lesbians. Well, such a pussy as I want there is not, but my pussy wants: so there is no other way, it was for health. I generally heard about LGBT. Although I meet with girls from 14 years old, and now I'm 38.

- Does it happens that the relationship continues after the prison?

Katia: I was free earlier than of my girlfriend. She got freedom, come to me, my father did not let her in. I looked for it, I received the answer to the letter that the house had been burnt. I do not know where she is now.

Olya: I stayed with my first girl in a quarantine for a long time. At first she said something the about "prodol" (hall). And then she started to help me with work. When I had a big fight and screwdriver throw a my head, my future passion went to wash out my head, and the relationship was began. She was five years younger than me. Jealousy began: "What the fuck do you chat with this and drink tea with that?" And then: "Darling, F**K all," we'll keep a friendly wave. "There, the difficulty is that some people have feelings, and it is very difficult, because everything is always in sight. In the freedom you can go away from everything, but here you can not go. And my first relationship ended cause she got freedom.

- Is there a caste system in the zones where you served your sentence?

Olya: Such terms as "kobel" (active lesbian), "kovyrialka" (passive lesbian) were not common used among us. If they could call someone a "kobel", then it was purely a joke. We had halves. Without halves there was only a lower caste. "Chepushila" (a rude word) –a one that does not look after oneself. Usually they have "manual" work. As a rule, if they do not want to wash, they are left some hot water. They communicate only with "chepushila", and no one will sit with them to have tea. Such people can be easily beaten, on the part of the officers there was a "dubinal" (beating), if he could not fulfill the plan for sewing, "on the tape" there was a lot of pressure. They beat to blood. Strong. Hard.

Katia: About the "kobles" once. We met with guys from the male jail. All our kobles who spoke of themselves as men: "he went," "he got excited," they dressed up in strange clothes, made make up. I said: "Ah, you are my boys with pussy." They are like males: "I'm not Yulia, I'm Yura." When they were congratulated with March 8, they made a scandal, but when males came…

The main difference between the male and female jails is a caste system in men s prisons. And if the "chepushila" can washed off and become a "normal person", there is no return from the "offended" caste in male prisons. Women can change roles, in men's jails it is excluded. If he is a passive homosexual, then he always remains such, and he can not be stroked or pitied. Why do they rape? They want to humiliate someone, lower, to bring to a caste of the lowered, whome no one give a hand. This is done so that you can demand money in exchange for some kind of human relationship. For example, it was in the case of the torture of Pshenichnyi - sex violence is used as a mean of pressure and obtaining material benefits.

- How does the connection begin?

Olya: The relationship begins with something banal: "Do you want a candy?" Sometimes, you find yourself in quarantine, you look around. I can not say suddenly - I decided and I want you.

If there is a mutual sympathy, then there comes an invitation to have tea. And then there is a "malyavnya" – prison ileagal correspondence. Then relations develop. There's such a singularity, if other prisoners see that you have tea five times together, you can be ranked as a pair. And it is treat calmly. But if you go to someone else's "shkonar" (bed), a report (complaint against a prisoner) can be sent oh you. Sex takes place in the same "promka" (production area), in "bendegka" (a room where products are stored), in the club, in dryers. Then at night in the "shkonar" (bed). There are "shkonars" that are not viewed by cameras. Well, we found where.

Katia: We hung the curtains, and rushed. We did not have cameras, and everywhere there were people on duty on the floor. And if sometimes they , shouted: "Police is in the house!" And all cleaned up.

- How were you punished if you were caught?

Olya: "Hozraboty" (hard work on outdoors after usual work). Well, that is, you slept for two hours and again went out to work. In winter the work is to clean snow, in summer - to drag of pipes. And sweeping the parade ground, scooping up the puddles. We were treated with loyalty to homosexual relations.

To get strict conditions of detention in general was difficult, even if you want - there is no need to work there. How were punished the pairs? They were separated. They were transferred to different detachments, shifts, etc. There is no territory where everyone meets, only local areas. We managed to make our way into another squad, to bypass the "local area". Report (complaint against a prisoner) - well, do not care.

"I want to return to the zone, there are a lot of women, and everybody is lesbians"

Katia: In our premises, where relatives come to, there were posters "inclined to cohabition". Comes such a granny, to pass a packet, and sees her daughter with such an inscription. And the lane were painted (in Russia prisons documents of prisoners are written with colored lines, it means: prone to escape, prone to homosexual relationships and so on). We knew that this woman has in lane for escape, this woman had line for that. In general, it was very serious, could send us to the SHIZO (punishment cell). There were 40 people, and the most - for homosexual relations. And my girlfriend was also sent there, however, the reason was a fight. When I came out, I once thought to do something, and return to a prison to not see all this in freedom. There was no work, Olya gave me up. I thought: I wanted to return to the zone, where are a lot of women, and everybody was lesbian.

We also had an woman-officer, everyone knew that she took girls to her cabinet. My girlfriend refused, and she was immediately after the fight moved to punishment cell. Still remember this officer, she was as ugly as a hunting dog. She took girls to her place, and although no one talked anything, everything was clear.

About such informal forms of pressure on prisoners, women often told. Most likely, the administration of the institution does not want to spoil the "reporting", so official forms of punishment are not applied are taken. Formally, women into punishment cell or strict conditions of detention or to additional household work not for relationships and not for sex. The motive can be different, not only being on someone else's bed, but also a fight, a non-fulfillment of the work plan and so on. In fact, any unreasonable workload is a form of violence, this is discrimination. If people work for their love afterwards overtime, it's like you went out to a date and have to work another eight hours shift. As the measures of pressure are mostly used inofficially, that is, they are punished for sex, but at the same time, there occasion is another, it is very difficult to talk about what the extent of persecution in the executive system is for homosexual relationships. It greatly complicates the research. So, there is no understanding of how to work with this category of prisoners and how they can be helped in rehabilitation and resocialization.
Ksenia & she's husband
Ksenia calls herself a "thief". She has so large prison s experience: she has five "hodok" (terms), from six months –till a year. Short terms. The last time Ksenia got freedom in 2015. She served a sentence in Sablino Leningrad region and in Samara. Now Ksenia lives in a marriage with her husband, he is also a former prisoner. Their first meeting is connected with crime. Their relationships are lasting for 23 years. Xenia has two children, now they are in an orphanage. She dreams to recommence relations with them. About women's connections, she tells like a witness, although sometimes it was very difficult to stay away ...

- What do you think why many heterosexual women in the jails begin to live with other women?

- Here is love, I believe, is only among the older generation, the old soldiers, the women who had many terms, and they had a motive for this love. And all the rest, usually play " roles", in the first terms there is usually no such love. The "pervohodi" (women to became a prisoner for the first time) stayed six months, then went to the second term with "mnogohodi" (women who became prisoners for the second time and more ), they have cigarettes, coffee, tea, sugar. A woman can give cigarettes, and she agrees to lie with her.

This "roles model" is the main difference between male colonies and women's colonies. If women can change roles, then the man, if he is a passive homosexual, he will forever remain in the caste of the lowered. According to subjective data of prison experts, in Russian prisons there are about 10-15% from the total male prison population.

- Were "kobles" and "koviryalki" in the jails where you served a terms?

- The true "kobles" ... this word sounds rude and ugly, but it's authentic "fenya" (jargon) ... and so the real "kobles" are few, and they are be appreciated like gold. When the chairs were not fixed to the floor in jails, women killed each other because of this "kobel". He was with someone and changed his girlfriend. There "hens" saw that he could go with another, and the war began. If were not "menti" (officers), they would have killed each other.

I explained, the "kobles" of the older generation, they are already like a male in their life. The tagline of the "koble" is "who f *** - eats meat". That is, you have tea, sugar, cigarettes ... all girls. " Kobel" is like a male – he smells by perfume, he speaks like a man, expressions, appearance, he wears male pants, there is no breast often. Here they are real, they are not numerous.

- Does it happens when the relation continues after the prison?

- The girls get a freedom and after that beat somebody or steal something to return to the prison. And while she is in place of detention (before jail), "kobel" , of course, already with other girl. "Kobel" do not go with his girlfriend, because the jail filled with these girls.
- How did they punish sex for a relationship?

- When you are sitting in the detention center (before jail), in the evening officers come to the section to check, no one comes at night. The local cameras were not in the "hata" (prison cell). And they come and look at the "schnips" (peephole).

If they see a curtain they send a report. And prisoner can not anticipate to get freedom earlier. I do not know the event, when the report was written by reason of sex. In the jail there is blackmail. Administration get benefits in prisoners feelings. They [the prison administration] say: if you will not to obey, your girlfriend or "kobel" will moved to punishment cell. They ask to report about violations mostly: phones, drugs, believe me, it all comes to prison.

- Do women who have a pair in prison determines themselves as a lesbians?

- They do not say the word "lesbian ", their tell "pair". Your name is Vasya, I consider you my husband, that is, they do not determine themselves as a lesbians. They say "I'm married."

The topic of homosexual sex in the correction system remains taboo, excluding well-known cases of violence in places of detention. And even human rights activists, from whom you expect to understanding the different aspects of the life of prisoners, askes only one question: "Why do you even interested in this topic?"

They are much more think and talk about parcels or visits. Prisoners also do not see in such persecution the violations of their rights. Most people think that it would be more appropriate to talk about uncomfortable form, 12-hour workday. Women do not understand that their rights are violated, and they do not resist. It is the increase the level of legal literacy of prisoners should become the basis for changes in the correctional system, human rights activist Leonid Agafonov believes:

- First, women must understand that this is their rights, and no one should violate these rights. In general, when homosexualism was decriminalized and the such article removed from the Criminal Code, it must to be removed from the Criminal Executive Code. If sex with the consent, with love – why not? And if it is rape – it is a crime, an article of the Criminal Code.
Yes, in prison, as in freedom, people love each other. We talk not only about prisoners, but also officers. At this moment, unfortunately, there are no prerequisites for changes in Russia. Moreover, even if the law changes, prisoners will continue to be punished for this, but without legal justification during several decades.

Leonid Agafonov
Author of the project “Woman. Prison. Society”
Authors: author of the project "Woman. Society. Prison" Leonid Agafonov, Alexey Sergeev (designer), Nataliia Donskova (journalist), Olga Holodnaya (photographer), Nataliia Sivohina (corrector). Volunteers: Marianna Gelman, Lidia Simakova (journalist)
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