Punk band members face tough life in penal colony
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It is a far cry from Stalin's gulag, but the guiding principle of the Russian penal colony — the destination of two members of punk band Pussy Riot — remains the same: isolate inmates and wear them down through "corrective labor.''
Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will have to quickly learn the inner laws of prison life, survive the dire food and medical care, and risk bullying from inmates either offended by their "punk prayer'' against President Vladimir Putin or under orders to pressure them.
"Everyone knows the rule: Trust no one, never fear and never forgive,'' said Svetlana Bakhmina, a lawyer who spent three years in a penal colony. "You are in no-man's land. Nobody will help you. You have to think about everything you say and do to remain a person.''
Alekhina, 24, Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for an impromptu performance in Moscow's main cathedral as Putin headed into an election that handed him a third term as Russia's president.
An appeals court released Samutsevich on Wednesday, but upheld the two-year prison terms of the others. The presiding judge said that "their correction is possible only in isolation from society.''
In colonies for women, inmates live in barracks with 30 to 40 to a room. They begin the day by shuffling outside for compulsory exercises at daybreak, in temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter. They spend seven to eight hours a day at work, usually hunched over sewing machines working on uniforms and other clothing.
Since there is only one women's penal colony near Moscow, female prisoners from the capital are commonly sent to Mordovia — a swampy, mosquito-infested province on the Volga River.
Defence lawyers said Alekhina and Tolokonnikova would be transported to a penal colony within two weeks. The location was not yet known.
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