Nadezhda Tolokonnikova begins her hunger strike on Monday Sept. 23 protesting slave labor in the Russian prison in which she is being held.
The reason behind her extreme method of protest is to make heard the prisoner’s outcries of the abusive force of slave labor and corruption hiding behind the walls of the Mordovia Work Camp.
Tolokonnikova’s journey to the work camp began in February 2012. Tolokonnikova and several other musicians in their Punk Rock band the Pussy Riots entered in to Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral uninvited to perform in protest. In front of the congregation the band boldly performed a song criticizing Vladimir Putin and the Church who supports the Russian President’s policies. The groups’ protest offended the Orthodox Russian country, but won support from high-profile artists such as Madonna and Paul McCartney.
Three of the band members were arrested. Tolokonnikova and fellow band member Maria Alyokhina were sentenced to two years of serving time in labor colonies on the charges of hullaballoo. The more fortunate of the three band members received a suspended sentence.
Unlucky in her fortune, Tolokonnikova was sentenced to Mordovia, a Russian prison well-known for it gruesome treatment of its prisoners. The camp is considered to have the highest security levels, longest labor hours and high volume of rights violations than any other penal system in Russia. No other colonies operate as the likes of this monstrous penal colony.
On Tolokonnikova’s first day of induction to the camp, the Chief of Penal Colony let the Punk Rocker know that he ran the prison like a Stalinist to intimidate her into admitting guilt for her crime against Putin and the Church. Then is when Tolokonnikova advised the Stalinist she would work only eight hours a day based on the country’s labor code.
After the fateful meeting, the punk rocker was sent to work in a sewing shop in Penal Colony No 14. There at the so deemed sweat shop Tolokonnikova along with 800 fellow women prisoners are forced to sew on unreliable machines that they must repair themselves when the machines break. The high volume of quota sewn each day is regulated by the contracts the penal authorities have signed with buyers; 150 Police uniforms per person, per day is an example of the high output demanded by the penal administration.
If the prisoner’s work quotas are not met on a daily basis severe action is taken. It is not only the prisoner who receives punishment for not meeting jailhouse quotas, but the harsh discipline flows down to the entire group.
Beating and hazing’s are common practice in the penal colony. Guards are in on the beatings of prisoners as well as other inmates who have been incorporated into the guard violence.
A gypsy woman in camp was beaten to death by an inmate appointed by the authorities for asking an officer if she could sleep an extra four hours that evening because of being sick. The rule of prisoners is not to complain. If you do, the authority receiving the complaint will smile sending the whistleblower back to their cell to have them beaten or killed for snitching.
Inmates inside Mordovia are on the verge of breaking down. No one trusts anyone and they are in fear of being punished for other members’ so-said violations.
The camp workers are required to work from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. in the sewing shop. That is a 16 to 17 hours a day shift. Their big bonus in this dehumanizing situation is that if they are lucky the workers get four hours of sleep a night and just for humanitarian purposes, they are blessed with and one day off every one and a half months.
The monetary amount paid to Tolokonnikova for sewing 150 police uniforms a day in June 2013 was 29 rubles which equates to ninety-one cents US currency.
Also prison rules forbid workers to wash themselves or use the bathrooms while working. Outside of work, Tolokonnikova’s colony can wash in the general hygiene room that holds a capacity of five persons for the hygiene needs of 800.
The workers are not allowed to eat food or drink liquids during their 17-day shift.
Not only are the inmates treated like savages, the prison food is even more so savage. The daily food to nourish camp workers consists of stale bread soaked in diluted milk, rusted millet and rotten potatoes. Sometimes the potatoes so moldy black slime covers the outer casings.
But the most important grievance Tolokonnikova has is that none of the complaints go beyond the prison walls. The administration has all the control and breaking labor laws and human spirit is at the top of their rule-breaking list. Which is why the punk rocker made her hunger strike platform online, outside prison walls for the entire world to hear.
For Tolokonnikova, going on hunger strike is the only way of getting herself out of the deplorable conditions and demand that she and all inmates alike are treated like human beings rather than slaves. Her protest is for the colony to observe the laws put forth in the system.
The head of the prisoner oversight committee says that Tolokonnikova’s allegations are false and all regulations are being adhered to.
Alyokhina, the other Pussy Riot musical member to be sentenced, took on a hunger strike this summer to protest not being able to attend her parole hearing. She was admitted to a hospital in May. Her protest ended after authorities agreed to her parole attendance demands.
After one day of her hunger strike beginning, Tolokonnikova, the 23-year old mother has been moved into an isolation cell. A lockup the administration calls a safe-place, not a cell used for punishment. The cell is for the girl’s own safety because of threats she states she is receiving Inside the so-called safety cell, her new quarters are complete with refrigerator, toilet and sleeping bag.
However, Gennady Morozov prison control bigwig contradicts the statement about the Tolokonnikova’s safe-place cell, telling RIA Novisti news that the prisoner has been transferred to a punishment isolation cell instead.
No matter the cell’s intent, Russian Punk Band prisoner is still planning on making a statement to the world about slave labor as her hunger strike protest begins.
Written by Lisa Graziano