Sunday, May 02, 2010

Social Notes from All Over: Voyevodsk Prison

In Voyevodsk Prison are kept those convicts chained to wheelbarrows. There are in all eight of them here. They live in common cells together with other prisoners and spend their time in complete idleness. At least, in the 'Register of distribution of convict-exiles to varieties of labour', those chained to wheelbarrows are numbered among the non-workers. Each of them is shackled in hand and foot irons; from the middle of the hand irons stretches a long chain three or four arshins long in length which is fastened to the bottom of a small wheelbarrow. The chains and barrow hamper the prisoners, he tries to make as few movements as possible, and this undoubtedly has an effect on his musculature. The hands become so highly accustomed to every movement, even the very slightest,being accompanied by a sensation of heaviness, that even after the prisoner has been separated from the barrow and hand irons, he still feels awkwardness in his arms for a long time afterwaards, asnd without any necessity makes strong and abrupt movements; when,for instance, he grabs hold of a cup, he slops the tea all over the place as if he is suffering from chorea minor. Art night, whilst asleep, the prisoner keeps the barrow underneath the bed-board, and so that this should be more comfortable and easier to do, he is usually placed on the edge of the common board.

All eight men are recidivists who each have already been sentenced several times in their lives. One of them, an old man of sixty, was chained for trying to escape, or as he himself put it, "for stupidity". He was obviously suffering from consumption, and the former Prison Governor had ordered him, out of pity, to be placed a little nearer the stove.
--Anton Chekhov, Sakhalin Island 135 (Oneworld Classics ed. 2007

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