19. Sep 2023.

Why write to prisoners?

Why write to prisoners? Alexey Navalny’s co-defendant Daniel Kholodny explains (writing from a penal colony) why letters and postcards are so important to political prisoners in Russia

‘The things prisoners wrote really jumped off the page.’ Illustration: Eva Bee

Exactly one year ago, on September 10, 2022, Meduza published a detailed Russian-language instruction on how to send a letter to someone in a Russian prison. Our reason for writing it was the draconian sentence issued, just then, to the Russian journalist Ivan Safronov, prosecuted for treason by the FSB (Russia’s Federal Security Service) and sentenced to 22 years, amidst criticism of the charges and the severity of the court’s decision. At the time, Meduza wrote about 236 Russians prosecuted on political grounds, including antiwar speech. Today, Russia has close to 600 political prisoners (as estimated by the Russian NGO Memorial). One of them is Daniel Kholodny, the former technical director of Alexey Navalny’s YouTube channel Navalny Live, sentenced to eight years in August, in an expressly political case in which both he and Alexey Navalny figured as defendants. In a recent letter from the penal colony, Kholodny explains why letters and postcards from the outside matter so much in the life of a political inmate.

Daniel Kholodny’s letter

Many of you must feel jaded about those endless posts by public figures asking you to write to political prisoners. But it really is terribly important. Many of us were on the “front line” of a political struggle — but now, in prison, we find ourselves in single combat with the walls. In this single combat, you can be the “doping drug” that keeps us strong by reminding us that we’re not alone.

Here’s an easy example. After I was sentenced, I received a lot of letters. Thanks to you, I didn’t spend one second feeling sorry for myself. It was also very useful in practical terms, since answering those letters kept me busy for two days straight, and time simply flew by. (I answer everyone, so if you haven’t heard from me, my letter was likely lost.) Sadly, it’s the high-profile inmates who get the most letters. This is the reality we have to deal with, but it’s not a good state of affairs. In March 2022, I was in jail together with an excellent, brave guy, Sasha Strukov. He hardly got any letters. But what could I do? No one knew about me then. Now I can, and want to, do something.

Now, the eternal question: But what should I write? Write anything! The easiest thing is to write about the news. Everyone likes memes — why not send one in the mail? Talk about yourself, what you do, and what you’re interested in. Who knows, maybe your addressee likes Putin “Doctor Who” just like you, and you’ll end up corresponding. That would be cool, right?

Read entire text at meduza.io

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