Prison Arrogance

Arrogance [also known as “risovka”- boasting] is another common state manifested in a variety of ways in a prison. For example, some people brag about the palaces and expensive cars they have supposedly left behind in the free world. As someone who does not own a bicycle and experiences no hardship from the lack of it, this kind of arrogance is unacceptable, even irritating. These types don’t fall under the category of a “good guy”.

One of the favorite jokes among prisoners (although they rather call it a “compliment” or “courtesy”) is going – shopping – to – a – market.  They convince new cellmate that someone from the cell has the right to go to the market, and do all the shopping for the cell. Surely, they offer the next trip to the new comer. This is of course by no means is a sign of “courtesy” of course but because they are simply tired of going to the market every week or sometimes the weather is too hot or cold and so on and so forth.

Not everyone would believe this. For starters, it must be a man’s first time in prison. He must also be very naive. We once had such a prisoner in our six-man cell in Kurdakhani prison.  At the time, I was temporary moved to Lankaran prison, but I heard the story when I returned.

The man assigned to our prison cell ticked all the boxes. Although he was over forty, he was still fairly naive. The four inmates (he was the 5


one, while I was in Lenkaran) managed to convince the poor chap of the myth of shopping trip. He even prepared a shopping list with the three other inmates signing it as guarantors. The fourth prisoner refused to sign the list, pretending not to trust the newcomer. What if the new guy would escape while out shopping? Then what? Surely the other four would get the blame for it. The poor man got so worked up about it; he even swore he had no intention of fleeing or getting them in trouble. Only after giving the man more hard time, the last “guarantor” finally signed the list as well.

On Sunday morning, our new cell comrade got up, shaved, got dressed, and sat on his bunk, patiently waiting for the wardens to come at 9am, open the doors and count the prisoners. Only then did he realize they had been pulling his leg the whole week.

* * *

Arrogance [also known as ”


“- boasting] is another common state manifested in a variety of ways in a prison. For example, some people brag about the palaces and expensive cars they have supposedly left behind in the free world.  As someone who does not own a bicycle and experiences no hardship from the lack of it, this kind of arrogance is unacceptable, even irritating. These types don’t fall under the category of a “good guy”.

A “good guy” in prison should be familiar with the rule of sharing with prisoners in need. Often, boasters often try to take advantage of these folks. They say: “Hatem is a generous man, he provides prisoners in need with food, cigarettes and clothes”. Usually, such talk is followed by the request: “Can I have a cigarette?”

You see, cigarettes really are the most basic commodities that prisoners need. The warders will often pass them from one cell to the next if the inmates ask them to. Inmates who get them in from the outside will often share them sending, two or three packs to each cell. Apart from those classed as “bourgeois”, most prisoners smoke cheap cigarettes, which cost around 50 or 80cents a pack. Sending someone cigarettes is generally seen as a grand gesture.

But there are also times when the door used to give and take food (in prison slang, the “


“) opens up and the warden says:

– Some cell is asking for cigarettes for trial!

Instead of 50-80 cent cigarettes prisoners want something better – to look good at the court. Once, my cell friend got hold of superior cigarettes, “Kents” and wouldn’t smoke them for a month only to open the pack at the trial.  This is just another example of how people like to show off here.

There is another type of arrogance, which I call “bluffing” just like in card games, with lots of empty talk and no action. Here is a story of bluffing that I witnessed on my way back from Lenkoran on the prisoner’s train.

There was this man, whose first initial was “S” traveling with me on that train. Back in Kurdekhani he was my cell mate. “S” was originally from Agjabedy. The Court of Grave Crimes of Lankaran heard his case back in Lenkaran. Now we were all headed back. He wasn’t in the same train compartment with me but in the one next to us – mostly allocated for women convicts. As soon as the train took off, he approached the women asking whether there was something they needed. Just like the “good guy” would. The women said they were fine.  He insisted, but he received the same answer. As he left, he said:

– I am in a cell number x. My name is S. Let me know if you need anything. Don’t hesitate.

I was surprised by my cellmate’s behavior. I knew from experience the prisoners from close regions usually came back with bags full of provisions unlike those from farther away. This prisoner was from Agjabady (which is nowhere near Lenkoran), and so even if he was visited it was likely it happened once and the package he received was most likely enough just for himself. But I had a trial that day and I was tired, so I did not waste my time on such thoughts and went to sleep.

I was woken up at 2am in the morning to the sound of banging on the compartment door, but I did not open my eyes. I heard “S” voice:

– Sir, hey sir…

I opened my eyes.

– Sorry for waking you up. But I am very hungry. Do you have any snacks?

So I asked him why he was gloating earlier today asking women if they needed anything if he hardly had anything to offer? He finally broke in and replied:

–       “If you want the truth, another convict went up to them before me and asked them the same thing. They turned him down and said they had everything they needed. When I heard that, I knew for sure they wouldn’t ask for anything.”

So my comrade “bluffed”, he knew exactly what women would say, he knew their cards.

* * *

Perhaps some of you will interpret my next story as me boasting this time, or as me trying to prove that I am a “good guy”, but this story is about the most memorable moment of my prison life. After some hesitation, I decided to share it with my readers.

The hero of this story is a 55-year-old prisoner from the village of Lankaran. He was jailed just 9 days after he was released from prison.  He swore he had an enemy who got him jailed this time round. I couldn’t say how much of his story was true but the little time he had in freedom did make one feel sympathetic to him. His trial ended in November, and he was convicted again. He was sent to Kurdakhani the next day, and from there onto the prison.

When he arrived, he was wearing very thin clothes and it was clear he had no others. Fortunately, he was the same size as I was. I asked my relatives to bring me some of my warm clothes from home and also to buy a tracksuit if possible. The clothes arrived the next day. The man (whose first initial was also “S”) thanked me so much that it made me uncomfortable.

That night when we got on the train, he was already wearing the tracksuit. Two hours after our departure I took my food out of my bag. Remembering the man I called on one of the soldiers of the convoy and told him:

– There is a man in the other compartment whose name is S. He is wearing a tracksuit. Tell him I’m asking for him.

A few minutes later S showed up. He looked very upset. By the time he came, I had already unpacked the food and set it out on the seats (there are no tables inside the prison compartments of the train).

I did not pay attention to his looks and instead invited him to eat. “S” ignored my invitation and asked me instead:

–       Sir, did you want the tracksuit back?

–       Why would I need it? I invited you to eat.

To which the man responded “But the warden told me that you asked me to take off the tracksuit and bring it back?!”

Turns out the warden misinterpreted my words. I told the warden “the man is wearing a tracksuit… tell him to [get out and] come”. But looked like the warden heard, “the man is wearing a tracksuit… tell him to take it off and come” [In Azerbaijani the words “get out” and “take off” sound similar depending on the context]. Once S realized I had no such intention, after some time he started laughing. I joined him.

Now, when I write these lines, I think that maybe it wasn’t the warden at all. That maybe it was S who misinterpreted or misheard the warden? In any case, it doesn’t matter now.

* * *

There, I have shared with you some of the moments out of past fifteen months of my prison life. Once I have new ones, I will share make sure to write. Stay tuned!

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