The next time we visited it was dark in the morning when we stepped in to our Toyota van and set off for Butierkskaya prison, and dark in the evening when we returned home. And dark inside the prison walls. We wondered if the day had ever even been.
The prison’s interior was dim and stank of rancid food and human waste. It was too dark to identify all the shrouded forms moving about in the overcrowded cell. Usually it was the same persons warming the same stools, clamping on to them like the leeches that infect the prison and many of those within its confines. Even in the poor light it provided us with some semblance of familiarity.
The world was shifting and the old Soviet rules breaking down. The warden agreed that in order to seek the best possible resources in equipping the prison and the needs of both prisoners, administrators and staff alike I would be allowed access to each and every cell. I’d be free to interview any and all within the confines of the massive fortress. The warden understood that there were no promises, but also no limitations to what God could do.
The warden guided us from one cell to the next, twenty or more. We began with the men’s section, then the women’s, ending with the psychiatric section. The warden suggested there was no reason to visit the high security section where convicts awaiting execution were housed. I made a mental note of what their needs might be.
Following the first few interviews in 3 or 4 cells an immediate list of needs formed a vision. Many of the needs could be solved rather quickly and locally. Writing pads and pens, 100 small audio speakers, soaps and detergents, brooms and mops, dust bins and rags. I asked the warden to provide an estimate. We would provide local newspapers, magazines, Russian Bibles and religious reading material.
Other necessary items weren’t available in Russia except in high priced ‘western’ storeas. Our list of imports included, 900 light bulbs, face soap, feminine hygiene products, underwear, combs and brushes, disposable razors, medicines, plasters and bandages.
These items all became a part of our initiative which was a big part of our midnight chat over dinner when we arrived home. Who could have guessed that God would work so quickly!
Our Moscow Central Corps Singing Company had presented a Christmas carol program on the steps in the lobby of a fancy ‘western’ hotel. Kathie had made herself and the Army known to the management, and meetings to which I was invited conducted by USAID were often conducted there. The Army uniform was a regular welcome sight.
The hotel GM telephoned Kathie one day and asked if we had any use for domestic produced sheets, towels and toilet paper, because the international guests would no longer pay $300-$500 unless they were provided imported comfortable bedding and toilet supplies and not the less than desirable Russian products. Kathie readily accepted their kind offer asking if the hotels logo was on the sheets and pillow cases and was told they would have been but the Moscow vendor was closed as the company employees had staged a walk-out, a product of the new Russian capitalistic enterprise system.
Kathie told the General Manager that Buteirkskaya Prison was the natural recipient of these much welcome giveaways. The hotel offered to deliver the donated items directly to the prison, but we told them we were sworn to secrecy and potential punishment if we revealed the location. We collected the donation the next day and delivered it to the state procurement department for eventual forwarding.
We learned of the delivery a few days and visited our prison ‘friends’ to ascertain that the gifts found their way to the correct recipients. The prisoners were delighted and expressed their gratitude, especially for the toilet paper! Toilet paper in Russia was at a premium, and we learned to carry our own wherever we went. Toilet paper and toilet seats disappeared within minutes of their being put in place.
Toilet paper was removed from our list of ‘immediate must haves’!