Prison Beauty Pagents
By Maria Yatskova
Siberian Prison Beauty Contest
Photo Credit: Witold Krassowski
LIFE ON THE INSIDE
There are hundreds of stories like Lutzkhak's at UF 91/9. A man is almost always involved, either cajoling his partner into drug-related crimes, or abandoning her so that she needs to make a fast buck on her own. Almost all women cling to the hope that someone on the outside is waiting for them. Contact with family members is restricted: Only after two months can inmates and relatives converse via telephone through the prison glass. Once every three months, the women in UF 91/9 are allowed an overnight guest, male or female, for up to three nights. No one ever stays the full three, though -- at $5 a night, it's too expensive.
In the "short-visits room," the scene is like a colorful Russian bazaar -- women of all generations talking and crying. The outsiders bring food, clothes, cigarettes, and sanitary products -- all carefully inspected by the guards to prevent any contraband from sneaking through. A little boy lugs fruit for his inmate mother. An old gypsy woman breathlessly tells her daughter the latest town gossip. (Gypsies, an ethnic group in Russia, have their own laws, which often include women taking responsibility for men's crimes and actually doing the time for them.) Lutzkhak's mother brings her beads for her contest gown and painted Easter eggs--but the eggs, not on the list, are quickly confiscated.