National Geographic : 1990 Mar
S SIN was an enormous, flabby man ... with small eyes and puffy eyelids, who seemed to have long ago lost interest in every thing but food." Thus Natan Sharansky, former inmate of Perm 35 (page 47), described Lt. Col. Nikolai Osin (below, at center), in FearNo Evil. Osin was there in 1972 when the small labor camp was picked to specialize in political incar ceration, and he will no doubt be there when it closes its doors. During the early 1980s he had as many as 270 zeks, prisoners. In December 1988 there were 62. In July only 38. There have been no new arrivals for the past three years. The lieutenant colo nel is apprehensive that Perm 35 will be phased out before his retirement in two years. We read him the names of reported prisoners. "Hillel Butman?" "Set free." "Vladimir Poresh, a Lenin grad Christian?" "Set free in 1987." "Leonid Lubman?" "Present." "Bohdan Klymchak?" "Present." Sixty names, called up one after the other. We find that a distinction is made between war criminals, more or less genuine spies, and "others," many of whom tried to leave the country illegally. We had entered the camp through armor-clad doors (far left) and electric gates. For half an hour we did not hear a word, not even a monosyllable, only the monotonous humming of electric razors and the noise of shutting doors. The stares were terrible, broken. Some prisoners passed in front of our cameras over and over again to capture our attention. Others were hugging the walls. A tall young man was reciting Bible verses at the foot of his bed. His neighbor was making his bed. He had switched over to the mujahidin during the Afghanistan war. "He was lucky that he was not shot," one officer told me. Officer Nureev (left) led pris oners toward the workshops. Able-bodied men work eight hours a day, six days a week for 250 rubles ($40 U. S.) a month. Half is taken for board. Being productive is paid off in money or by reducing the sentence. Refusing to work is paid off by punishment, sometimes even by the infamous shizo (top right), an unheated, four-by-eight-foot cell with no blankets for the wooden plank bed folded against the wall.