To catch a silence

St. Petersburg special nursing home for people of retirement age and disabled, released from prison is a unique institution for Russia. Grandfathers with disabilities, looking typically at first sight live here. The difference is that they usually had two or three convictions behind.

Former prisoners usually live in common nursing homes, where they are treated with caution. Former convicts or as they called in prison jargon “zeki” even in old age live according to their paradigm, which often leads to conflicts and chaos.

Most people of this institution first came to prison under Soviet regime. Temptations and chaos of new life in 90’s returned them to prison again and again. To this day in Russia, more than 40% of those who have been imprisoned came back in a short time, because prison rules for them become very easy and comfortable but adaptation mechanisms don’t work effectively.
Recidivists come out of prison already old, sometimes with disability. Their relatives very often refuse to look after them, own housing has been lost, sold or diverted to children. So they have to go to street or nursing home.

One of the kind nursing home for ex-prisoners located in the village of Ust-Izhora, a tventy-minute drive from Saint-Petersburg. Its three-story building, planned for a hotel, almost doesn’t stand out against the backdrop of country houses.

At first glance, life in special institution doesn’t differ from prison: silence in gloomy yellow corridors, rooms for four people, scheduled food, security that searches guests at the entrance.
Ex-prisoners tell, that life here is worse than prison.

Relative comfort and cleanliness of rooms do not change the situation. Closed and boring world of the nursing home is hopeless. The only joy brings alcohol, but team of the principal, the former participant of the Afghan campaign will certainly try to take it away.
The only entertainments here are TV and “work” for those who can move. “Work” means begging for money near the church or the nearest shop. Though some ex-prisoners can work for real, only few do it, others consider this as an indulgence to the system.

Some years ago nursing home provided some entertainment for ex-prisoners –social workers took them to museums and theaters but this initiative was closed by now. Since that, days at the nursing home turned into a mess of sleep, TV series about bandits and police, booze and smoke. Sometimes this cycle breaks someone’s death, but it doesn’t surprise, just causes worries and troubled whisperings. Then silence and lifeless existence come again.

* shut up (prison jargon)
** according to Susanna Kirilchuk, head of the rehabilitation center “Aurora”