Life inside is hidden from view, behind high metal fences and barbed wire surrounding this dilapidated-looking facility, in the Vladimir region of Russia, two hours’ drive from the capital, Moscow.
“I had no idea that it was possible to arrange a real concentration camp 100km from Moscow,” Navalny said, adding his head had been shaven.
“Video cameras are everywhere, everyone is watched and at the slightest violation they make a report. I think someone upstairs read Orwell’s ‘1984,’” Navalny continued, in a reference to the classic dystopian novel.
Life inside the prison, in the town of Pokrov, could yet become more banal, stressful and possibly dangerous according to one former inmate.
Konstantin Kotov served what he said were two miserable sentences — the first for four months, the second for six months — in Penal Colony No. 2 for breaking Russian anti-protest laws.
He was last released in December and was anxious about returning, but agreed to travel with CNN to explain how the penal colony works on the inside.
“From the first minutes you are here you are experiencing mental and moral pressure,” he told CNN.
“You are forced to do things that you would never do in normal life. You are forbidden to talk with other convicts. They force you to learn the list of names of the employees. You are on your feet all day, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. You are not allowed to sit down. They do not allow you to read, they do not allow you to write a letter. It can last two weeks, it can last three weeks.”
Navalny was sent to prison after a Moscow court on February 2 replaced his suspended sentence with jail time due to violations of his probation.
Now that he is confirmed to be at Penal Colony 2, he is expected to serve out the rest of his sentence there.
‘Torture by TV’
Kotov, the former inmate, explained prisoners sleep in barrack rooms in iron bunk beds. About 50 to 60 men slept in his room, he said, each with only a small amount of living space.
“You get up at 6 in the morning, you go out to the courtyard nearby and listen to the national anthem of Russia — every day the anthem of the Russian Federation,” he said.
“You cannot write, you cannot read. For example, I watched TV almost all day, Russian federal channels. This is torture by TV.”
It’s what he calls the “daily meaningless activity” that Kotov says sets the tone, but then there are the constant corrections for any perceived wrongdoing.
“I was reprimanded for not saying hello to an employee, and for the fact that I had my top button undone,” Kotov said.
The slightest violation can see an inmate taken to solitary confinement, Kotov said, perhaps for months at a time.
Order is maintained both by prison guards and by…