On my tour of Vladimir Central Prison, to research material for THE LAST MATRYOSHKA (the follow up to ASK THE DEAD), I saw many things on exhibit in the prison museum that I expected: weapons confiscated from prisoners, books written by writers who served time at Vladimir, medieval instruments of torture, photographs of Japanese visitors whose POW ancestors were buried near the prison. But the paintings lining the hallway were the big surprise! I knew that Russians were generally well-educated in the arts, but it had never occurred to me that this would extend to their prison population.
Mounted in the hallway leading to the prison museum, the prisoners’ paintings were beautifully rendered and told powerful stories, such as the one shown below – a prisoner shot during an escape attempt.
Vladimir Central is a working prison, located only 45 miles from Moscow. After a visit to the prison museum, I was taken to an “art therapy” room where both guards and prisoners come to “express themselves.” My guide said this was one of the many reforms that have taken place at Vladimir Prison in post-Soviet times. In stark contrast to this are the allegations of torture at Vladimir made by prisoners as recently as 2008. Once again, Russia proves to be the center of the ironic universe where contradiction seems to be a way of life.
Please share your own most intense travel experiences – either as writers or avid travelers – in your comments.