Russia's Khodorkovsky debuts as prison chronicler

29th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia's most famous prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky began to publish a series of life stories of his fellow inmates Monday, harking back to a tradition of Soviet prison camp literature.

"Prison is a place where one can meet the most extraordinary people," Khodorkovsky wrote in the editorial for New Times magazine. "I will try to write about some people and situations, somewhat changing their names..."

Formerly Russia's richest man and head of oil company Yukos, Khodorkovsky was sentenced in 2005 to an eight-year term in jail and is currently serving his second term in a prison camp in the northwestern Karelia region.

The column titled "Prison Folk" bears the dateline "Correctional facility 7, Segezha, Karelia," where he has been since mid-June. Prior to Karelia he has spent a long time in Moscow prisons and a prison camp in Siberian Chita region.

Khodorkovsky begins his column with the grizzly tale of Kolya, who performed harakiri and threw his intestines at guards for being set up with a crime he did not commit: grabbing a purse from an elderly woman.

"I would die anyway if convicted of stealing the old lady's bag," Khodorkovsky matter-of-factly quotes Kolya, who was already serving time for other offences but professed great respect for the elderly.

Khodorkovsky has regularly written for both the domestic and foreign media about politics and his vision for Russia's future, but this is the first time he has set out to chronicle life behind bars.

Gruesome tales of the daily gind of Russian prison camps have long been a tradition of Russian literature and created names for writers such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamov, both imprisoned during the Stalin era.

The idea for the series was Khodorkovsky's, said New Times editor Yevgenia Albats. "I offered him in an official letter to become our columnist, and he came up with this theme, saying it would be very interesting," she told AFP.

Although the logistics of regular contribution may be difficult, the column will probably be published "every two to three weeks," she said.

Russia's prison system spokesman Alexander Kromin said Khodorkovsky was not infringing on any rules by becoming a magazine contributor.

"Any convict is allowed to send letters... A convict is able to write to a newspaper, and an article is an issue between the convict and the publication that answers to media regulation laws," he told AFP.

© 2011 AFP

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