READ: From hormone treatment to punishment in solitary, Maria Butina’s book lays bare her US prison horror and what she saw there
The book ‘#Prison diary’ is based on the journal Butina kept chronicling her experiences behind bars, including the time she spent in solitary confinement.
The young gun rights activist from Siberia was in the US on a student visa when she was arrested in July 2018. It was the height of the Russiagate scandal surrounding allegations that Moscow actively meddled in American affairs to get Donald Trump elected president. Butina attended National Rifle Association events and met with several Republican politicians and conservative activists. The FBI said it was all part of a larger campaign by Moscow to infiltrate American political circles.Also on rt.com ‘I was completely exhausted emotionally after everything I’d been through’: Maria Butina recalls the nightmare of jail time in US
After months in detention, Butina pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to violate the law on the registration of foreign agents with the US Justice Department. She would later claim her confession was the result of immense pressure by US authorities.
In April 2019, she was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Butina was released in October that year and deported to Russia.
Below are two disturbing passages from ‘#Prison diary’ which has been published in Russian.
From chapter “I No Longer Want to Be a Woman”
After breakfast, Finney and I met up in the gym section of the yard, as we usually did. She was the only person I could open up to, so I decided to share my observations with her.
“Listen, Finney,” I said, cautiously looking around to make sure that nobody was near us, because I didn’t want to be accused of sexism, “why does some bearded man, another inmate, mop the floor in my ward? And he is not the only one. I have seen about a dozen male prisoners. It’s kind of strange, since this is a women’s prison.”
My Jewish mom wasn’t in the least surprised by the question.
“Honey, you see,” she answered, “they aren’t men, or not quite. The cleaner in your ward is actually a woman, but she is taking hormones for a sex change. And there are others like her here. You’ve probably noticed the long line to the window where they distribute medications in the main building. About a third of inmates here take these drugs. In 2010, during Obama’s first term in office, convicts were granted the right to undergo hormonal therapy if they weren’t happy with their biological sex. Before 2010, they had only been allowed to continue this treatment if they started it before incarceration. But now you can actually begin the therapy while serving your prison sentence.
In order to get it, a prisoner must file a petition and have a session with a therapist. But she is basically guaranteed these drugs, which she can start taking immediately, because prison management doesn’t want to be accused of gender discrimination. The cost of the medication is covered by the government.”
“But this therapy is extremely expensive!” I exclaimed.
“But, my dear,” Finney said, stroking my hair, “it’s worth it. We’re human, you see. It’s human nature to love and look for a partner, and then make a family. If it’s not possible, it will breed discontent, and who needs problems in overcrowded prisons? Now imagine the discontent could be quelled if you organized everything in a way that would allow people in same-sex prisons to find a partner, which is completely safe, mind you, since there is no risk of anyone getting pregnant. Many women spend years and years in here, so they make the decision to become, shall we say, the male partner in a same-sex couple. Sometimes they do it to make some money; it’s a kind of prostitution. You know how expensive everything is in here – phone calls, food, clothes and drugs in the commissary. So an inmate who has no money might choose to become ‘male’ and date someone who gets sent enough from the outside, and in this way get paid for their love. You’ll see lots of cases like this. Some women have been on hormone therapy for so long, they started to look completely different. They’re now fat – hormones, as you know, will mess with that – guys with broad shoulders, moustaches and beards. They cut their hair short and bind their breasts with special cotton tops you can buy at the commissary. Still, they’re not quite men, you understand, even though there’ve been cases of reassignment surgeries in some prisons.”
“Wait, Finney, but they probably take testosterone?” I said, recalling the basics of human physiology from my school years. “It makes women aggressive.”
“Yes,” Finney nodded. “That’s, shall we say, the price to be paid. You’ll see and hear many fights in our prison because of it; sometimes they get violent and very bloody. It’s a terrible thing to watch, my dear. But it doesn’t happen that often, because the administration knows how to handle it quickly – by putting the troublemakers in solitary confinement for two, three months. No one wants to go there, so usually they keep their tempers in check.”
In my head, the awful puzzle pieces started to fall into place. One – the US has more prisoners per capita than any other country in the world. Two – these people are basically slaves, because they work for a pittance, while their services are sold by commercial companies at market prices. Three – so that they don’t riot, they are transformed into obese monsters stuffed with hormones. Four – thanks to the hormone therapy, they are divided into women and half-men, so that they can be “happy” in same-sex couples. Those who are released from prison after serving long sentences will never be able to get a normal life. They will need the expensive pills they’ll never be able to afford out there, so they will inevitably end up back here…
“Finney, my God, this is unspeakable!” I exhaled.
“I know, Maria, that’s why I’m asking you to tell the world about this when you’re out. The Lord made you famous. Nobody will listen to us. Who are we? We’re just criminals, human scum despised by society.”
“I promise you, Finney.”
From chapter “In Solitary Confinement, Again”
Officer Brown showed up again to take me to solitary confinement where I’ll be locked up for God knows how many days or months. The girls got worried and tried to get some information from the guard about what rule I might have possibly broken, being the girl who was least likely to break any rule at all. But he just left the ward and locked the door, without saying a word.
They got some clarity by the evening, when Cassandra did a lot of begging and managed to get Miss Diaz to “forget” to lock my food latch for a few minutes. The entire black and Latino prison pack gathered by my door.
Cassandra did the talking:
“OK, Butina. We don’t have much time. They’ve been talking to all of us about you, trying to make us say that you did something bad, and promised reduced time. We told them to go screw themselves. You hear me, bro, we all told them to go screw themselves. Maybe we’re just black criminals, but we’re not going to help these white assholes to keep you in solitary. You did nothing wrong, not inside, not outside.”
This was the first time Cassandra told me she believed I was innocent. “And don’t think it was Khalifa, bro, she said nothing about the phones. It was Helen who saw you two talking and fed Miss Sparrow this lie she made up. You know I have my sources.” Cassandra smiled, “Helen had visitors from the FBI yesterday. They wrote everything down and promised to help her.”
Officer Diaz came back on her next round and gave us a signal to wrap it up.
“Officer Diaz, would you please let us pray together with her one last time?” Cassandra asked.
Diaz sighed heavily, “You know the rules. She’s not allowed to talk to you. Inmate Butina is under administrative segregation. But goddamn it, there should be something sacred even in this godforsaken place! Be quick. I’ll do a round of the second floor. A very thorough one.”
“Come on, Butina, stick your hands out,” Cassandra rushed me.
I cautiously stuck my hands out through the meal slot. I could not see anyone, the metal door blocking my vision. Then suddenly I felt the warm and rough skin of Cassandra’s hand on my thin, cold fingers – she squeezed my right hand gently, and the small, childlike hand of my new student Judith held my left hand. The girls stood in a circle and prayed, quietly at first, but then louder and louder, so that the reinforced concrete walls of the prison cell started vibrating. Cassandra was singing her favorite song, an African-American gospel prayer, Tomorrow by Cece Winans…
I’ll give my life tomorrow.
I thought about today,
Oh, but it’s so much easier to say
Who promised you tomorrow?
Better choose the Lord today,
For tomorrow very well might be today.
Tomorrow, forget about tomorrow.
Won’t you give your life today, oh please?
Don’t just turn and walk away.
Tomorrow, tomorrow is not promised.
Don’t let this moment slip away…
Cassandra’s last words drowned in our weeping.
“We are family from now on. Forever. You are black now, just like us. Do you hear me? And we don’t abandon our people, we’ll fight for you…” she whispered between the sobs.
I heard her but couldn’t say a word, trying to hold back the tears. I kept nodding and squeezing their hands, though they could not see my nods through the heavy iron door, of course. The girls kept their word. On the same night, they scribbled a collective letter in my defense, they did their best trying to explain what my conversation with Khalifa was all about, since they all heard it. They mentioned that I helped a poor pregnant young woman, providing her with food and warm clothes, that I explained to them their charges that they couldn’t figure out, that I organized five-minute workout sessions for them, reviving their will to live, and that I taught them to read and write. They asked the warden to release me back into general population, because the grounds for my punishment were false.
I must mention on a side note, but this is very important, that the woman who wrote this letter had been under administrative segregation for over a hundred days herself. She was scheduled to be moved back to general population very soon. She knew that this letter would jeopardize the transfer and add at least another month to her time in solitary confinement.
I saw that letter – they shoved it under the door of my cell before sending it.
But it backfired in a major way. The prison authorities were outraged, and the next night I was transferred to the maximum-security ward for the most dangerous criminals and put in a solitary cell that did not even have a meal slot in the door. There was just a tiny hole in it for the guards to keep an eye on me and make sure that I had no contact with anyone.
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