Photographers' Blog

Last days in a Siberian prison

Outside Krasnoyarsk, Russia

By Ilya Naymushin

Boris Kovalyov is not my hero – not at all. I have never understood such people, the way they think, the way they live. But journalists work with all kinds of people, and to me, people in extreme circumstances have always been of particular interest. And so Kovalyov, a non-hero, became the hero of my photo story, which might be called “The Last Ten Days in a Siberian Prison Camp.”

Boris is 32 years old. He was first jailed for theft, and was sent to a prison camp near Krasnoyarsk. After a few years he was granted early release, with the understanding that he had learned his lesson. Under Russian law, a relapse into crime means the convict serves the time he was spared by early release, and is often sent to a higher-security prison.

Boris was not out long before he was arrested again, for drug trafficking, and sentenced to eight years in a high-security prison camp. He was sent to a prison near the village of Ariysk where most of the inmates are recidivists. After two and a half years he was moved to an even stricter camp north of Krasnoyarsk.

Prisoners here live, work, study and learn new professions. They go to church, do sports, music and theater. The camp even has its own TV station. Boris adapted to this environment well, finding a common language with prisoners and personnel.

Here, he finished high school and received a degree for the first time in his life. He became a joiner and machinist in the camp and also learned the TV trade, becoming a cameraman for the prison TV station, learning editing and producing reports for inhabitants of the camp. He also proved to be a passionate athlete and singer, captaining the camp’s soccer, volleyball and basketball teams and winning prizes at musical competitions between prisoners from across the regions.

Mother’s Day behind bars

By Lucy Nicholson

The children bounded off the bus and ran excitedly towards a tall fence topped with razor wire. In the distance, through layers of fencing overlooked by a guard tower, huddled a group of mothers in baggy blue prison-issue clothes, pointing, waving and gasping. Many had not seen their children in over a year.

Frank Martinez jumped up and down, shrieking with delight. “Stay right there Mommy,” he yelled. “Don’t cry.” As the children disappeared into a building to be searched and x-rayed, a couple of the mothers began sobbing.

An annual Mother’s Day event, Get On The Bus, provides free transport for hundreds of children to visit their incarcerated moms at California Institute for Women in Chino, and other state prisons. Sixty percent of parents in state prison report being held over 100 miles from their children, and visits are impossible for many.