The blog is produced within the framework of the EU-funded project „Monitoring Government’s Commitments and Promoting the Reforms in the Penal Sector through the Engagement of CSOs“ implemented by Penal Reform International together with the partner organizations: Rehabilitation Initiative of Vulnerable Groups and Human Rights Center.
A prisoner should be cut off and isolated from the society, as an infection or an outgrowth on the skin from a healthy body, but isolation is not enough for the peacefulness of the citizens! Prisoners should be as far from the public as possible and serve their sentence on the island, which is difficult to reach, in the backwoods or in a prison built on uninhabited place, so that in addition to having minimal influence on the rest of the public, the prisoners as well as their family members, who want to visit them, suffer from a lot of obstacles and humiliations… – this is an approach towards prisoners and imprisonment in totalitarian countries, this was an approach in the Soviet Union as well, part of which was Georgia, where rough climate and detachment from civilization was also part of the punishment. Herta Müller, a writer and a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, based on her own experience and the experience of millions of Soviet people, wrote: “The phenomenon of nature in prisons and camps are used for torturing people. The polar circle and the wilderness, the frost and the heat may kill you, and they can be used as weapons to destroy people”.
It is obvious that Rustavi was not an exception to this rule either and it was chosen for “corrective labour camps”, because it was located away from Tbilisi, in the semi-desert zone, where summer was unbearably hot and winter was cold, the wind was blowing all year long and shook the isolation wards, bent the dwarf plants towards the dried up soil and carried the dust and desert plants up and down.
This Soviet tradition continued even after reclaiming independence. One prison was added to already existing two corrective labour colonies, and the construction of two more prisons in Rustavi was recently announced. For this purpose, 20 hectares of land was allocated within already populated area.
In the old part of Rustavi, across the railway station, there is a settlement, which was previously known by the name “Internati” (Internatebi) and now is officially known as Chkondideli District. The settlement became well-known recently, because its residents came out in the streets and protested the building of two new prisons – intended for 120 and 600 prisoners – in the settlement. This protest was not spontaneous, once-only or based only on emotions. “Chkondideli” settlers were consciously opposing the construction, organizing demonstrations and marches for many days and telling the government that they will not put up with prisons being built in front of their windows, because they did not participate in the decision-making process; the construction is not in line with the goals set by Rustavi General Plan and makes part of the settlement fall within the so called “prohibited line” of the prison perimeter security. “Chkondideli” settlers refer to the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the Local Self-Government Code of Georgia, Rustavi General Land Use Plan and the Code of Imprisonment, although they also do not hide that, in their opinion, the presence of several hundred prisoners in the neighbourhood (within 50 meters) will create a grave psychological atmosphere and negatively affect the adolescents. Accordingly, building of the prisons is not in their interests.
The Ministry of Justice confronts this interest of the “Chkondideli” settlers with the following argument: on the territory, allocated for building the prisons, there used to be a special purpose unit – part of the Soviet army with its armaments, armed soldiers, watchtowers, barbed wires, etc. In addition, the territory (20 ha) is owned by the state and all kinds of communications – water, electricity, natural gas, motorway – are available. 50 million GEL will be spent on the construction of these prisons and the highest standard of security will be provided.
However, in addition to the confrontation between these two interests, there is an interest that another group of people – the prisoners and their families – may have. By imprisonment the prisoner does not stop being a human being and does not lose all the rights. The prison is no longer a meeting place for prisoners and their punitive executioners. The prison is also a working environment for social workers, doctors, clergymen and psychologists. Not all prisoners are incorrigible murderers and maniacs, not to mention that these prisoners are members of our society – our parents, our spouses, our children, our relatives, our friends (Georgia is second among the Council of Europe countries in terms of percentage of prisoners) and so on, who have violated the law (consciously or unwittingly, or through the violation of the due process) and are serving the sentence. And that is all. After serving their sentence, they should not have to return from any physical and, moreover, mental resettlement.
“If it is good, then we should build a prison on Rustaveli avenue without fences and open it completely,” – such counter-argument was made with clear ironic suggestions and subtext, whereas if the prisons were good, the ruling elite would build them in their livelihood, in the most important geographical point of the country. It also implies that the prisoner (imprisonment) lacks dignity and honour and that the place of the prisoner is impossible to be among the dignified, also, the inevitable future threats and harmful influence from the prisoners (imprisonment) is implied (“build prisons without fences and open them completely”)…
Ironically, the Soviet security unit along with its prison was located in a building on the Rustaveli avenue, which is described by a writer Alexander Sigua in the following way:
“This oppressive and disastrous building stands on the right side of Rustaveli avenue, 10 meters away from the avenue, and is well hidden and disguised between several buildings. Of course, I am not capable of providing a complete description of this labyrinth of death and torture, hell and suffering… Who knows how many dead bodies of innocent citizens are in the deep pits of this building? Passing by this building always brings terrible shivers and quavers. When I look at this building, I suffocate. This is not a building; it is a slaughterhouse. Those who work there are normal human beings when they are in the society, but as soon as they enter through the main gates and the iron doors, they become wild and ruthless beasts. For them, every person deserves to be shot, annihilated and destroyed.”
Most of Tbilisi residents had no idea about the hellish situation in this building. They did not notice the overseers or the prisoners. For them it was one ordinary building, in front of which people were passing, walking, meeting their loved ones, kids were playing and laughing… in other words, by moving the prison in the heart of Tbilisi, the system neither created any aesthetic discomfort for itself nor refused to use hellish methods. The system made the hell invisible. Therefore, if the system is reprehensible, the topography has no essential significance, it can hide the hell in many ways, including on Rustaveli avenue, as well as on an open field or an uninhabited island, but it is impossible for the society to worry only about its own living environment and not be concerned about the fate of prisoners, who are members of the same community.
It is obvious that interests of all three groups should be taken into consideration when choosing a place for the new prison. It is also clear that the Chkondideli settlers have a reasonable concern. Rustavi has been known for its big number of so called “thieves in law” and, perhaps, it is righteously considered that this was caused by the prisons located in Rustavi. Consequently, it is not arguable that cinemas and sport facilities are better than prisons, in terms of having positive influence on young people, but prisoners also do not deserve the Soviet approach and “exile to Siberia”, moreover, it is possible that the criminal subculture is far stronger outside of the prison in the society rather than in the well-arranged and organized prison. In general, the circumstances of where and in what conditions prisoners are serving their sentences, may provide more information about the society and its values rather than about the prisoners.
For Georgian please visit the following link: https://www.penalreform.org/blog/%e1%83%a1%e1%83%90%e1%83%93-%e1%83%90%e1%83%95%e1%83%98%e1%83%a8%e1%83%94%e1%83%9c%e1%83%9d%e1%83%97-%e1%83%a1%e1%83%90%e1%83%9e%e1%83%a7%e1%83%a0%e1%83%9d%e1%83%91%e1%83%98%e1%83%9a%e1%83%94/