Interview recorded by Anya Sarang
I was in Yekaterinburg for our women’s project (we are working on a project that deals with women drug users), when the news broke about the death of a young woman in the City without Drugs (CWD) center. People in Yekaterinburg got all worked up; everyone thought that the center would get shut down. I was sought out by a guy who got released from the center when it was raided by the police and who asked me to record an interview with him. The City without Drugs commandos claim that the women brought in for questioning by the police were practically tortured in order to obtain information. In my case, this guy found me by himself and asked to go on record, because he knew that I do human rights work. He said that he wanted people to know about what happens in these centers. He wanted to do it for the parents who bring their children to these centers thinking they are going to get help.
What can I say—compared to a few years ago, when I did my last interview (Savior-on-Blood. Chronicles of the anti-drug terror in Yekaterinburg), the situation has changed a little. The beatings are still there, illegal detention of people, humiliation and abuse, forcing people to turn in pseudo-drug dealers (Evgeniy Konyshev’s case is a prime example), illegal arrests—all of that is still there….However, the usual menu of bread-water-garlic and onions has now been supplemented by porridge twice a day, people aren’t handcuffed anymore (only when they’re being transported or after they’ve tried to escape). All in all, human rights activists’ efforts were not in vain. Really, Roizman is ready to be nominated to the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights. Roizman’s been reformed.
And in general, I didn’t have that “oh_the_horror” impression from this interview, unlike when I did my last interview three years ago. Maybe we’ve gotten used to it. Yes, there are beatings, yes, they abduct people, break in to people’s home, detain, abuse, humiliate, force them to work, do squats… So people die from time to time. Everybody knows that’s nothing out of the ordinary in this country. This isn’t hardcore. As [Ksenia] Sobchak once said (with sarcasm) “really, there is no difference between me and the junkies” What did you expect? That became clear a long time ago, when the “progressive minds” of this country came to the defense of Egor Bichkov, the great narco-hero. Today you allow for torture and abuse of drug users to go unpunished, you cover up CWD’s crimes and praise paramilitants that terrorize an entire city—tomorrow the same can happen to you. Nobody will notice. The country without drugs has been quarantined.
How did you end up in the City without Drugs (CWD) center?
I was drinking and shooting up. My mom locked me up there, that’s all. I was there for drug treatment.
So you’re drug-dependent?
How did your mom get you there?
It’s called a “raid.” Inside the center they call it—“terpily.” The parents are the “terpily.” So, for example, your kid is doing drugs and you’re worried about him. You call them up and say: “Come get my son, help me.” That’s what my mom did, she called them and went to the CWD center. I’ll be honest, I had just quit using “crocodile” [desomorphine] and was drinking vodka. It was rough. And was using up to 10 ml of tropicamide. She came to the center, but they said there was no space for me. And she said: “I’m not going to leave until you lock him up.” That was it.
Do the parents think people are going to get help there?
Yes. After that, they come get the person, quarantine him and lock him up. For 27 days. No handcuffs. In the mornings—tea and porridge.
There used to be handcuffs, but not anymore?
No, not anymore. During the day you get bread. In the evenings—tea and porridge.
Unlike before when there was only bread and water?
Right. They added porridge. It’s like this—if you have to go to take a leak, if you want to go pee…Imagine a person, he is sick, he just got there. His body is really weak after he’s been on drugs. If he decides to leave the quarantine ward and somebody sees him and tells on him…there are no doors there, nothing, only bars instead of doors. So if somebody goes to use the toilet without permission and another person tells on him, they will take him outside and make him do squats. For an hour, at least.
Because he used the toilet without their permission?
You can only use the toilet after you’ve been there for 6 hours.
Ok, so you get there after you’ve been using—is there any drug treatment there?
But how does it work, aren’t you in withdrawal? I would think you’d need some pain killers.
I’ve done time in prison when I was using drugs. I didn’t experience withdrawal at all. It’s like I was in a different state of consciousness. All I could think about was how to get out of that dump.
So when you got to the CWD center, you weren’t in withdrawal?
No. But there were people there who were going through bad withdrawal. So they’d say, for example: “I’m sick, can I use the toilet?” “No.” Even if he asks permission from the guys who have the keys, who are also former drug users, they’re called the “key bearers”, that’s their job, they won’t let him go either.
But don’t people get diarrhea—one of the side effects of withdrawal?
It happened to me, when I ran to the toilet, I had diarrhea, I shat my pants. That’s all. They brought in this one guy, while I was there. He was just about ready to hang himself. He was coming off phenazepam and from some “legal” drugs. In the evening they turn out the lights and he’s completely out of it. Every evening around 10 pm they turn on a religious sermon on TV. They do do that, I’m not denying it. So, the sermon lasts about 25 min, then they turn it off, turn off the lights and then, five minutes later we hear this loud noise. It was the guy who was coming off phenazepam, he just keeled over. And then the next day he tried to hang himself. They literally pulled him out of the noose as he was about to hang himself. He could’ve broken his spine and died there. Then there was another situation after that—they tied him to the bed. That’s when they tear the bed sheets into long strips and tie the hands and feet to the bed. The person just lies there, all tied up. When he is allowed to go to the bathroom, they untie him and escort him to the toilet. He does his business and then they tie him back to the bed. Some people commit suicide there. Many are willing to go that route. Because of how the people are treated. After that, I was taken to Beloyarka….
It’s also a center. But it’s like their office. It has more than a hundred people. They brought me there and that’s when it all started. There was a guy there with me, he was the first to file a complaint. It was right after that girl died. He once fell off a 5-storey building and survived. But now he is able to walk fine. And so, after the snow had melted, he was cleaning up the trash behind the barracks—pine cones, all that garbage that he piles onto a cart. They take this cart, this guy holds the front of the cart and another guy holds the back of it. And that guy in the back starts to hustle him: “What the fuck, move faster.” He starts kicking him. And that other guy, he has a heart condition from the accident. It’s just cruel. It’s like every man for himself and nobody gives a damn. The conditions at Beloyarka are awful. There are people there who have already gone through the “treatment”. Now they supervise the rest of the group. We get up at 7 am to go to work. You’re sitting there, eating and then you want to go to the bathroom. You ask them: “Can I go to the bathroom?” They say “No.” You’re practically on your knees begging them: “Please!” “No.” The person goes back to his room, I personally saw this and they tell him: “You’re out of your fucking mind.” That kind of language all the time, constant humiliation. “Which part didn’t you fucking understand” and start beating him.
All that because he wanted to go to the bathroom?
Yes, just because a person needed to go to the bathroom.
Do the beatings happen a lot there?
All the time. Once, this one guy was bored because there is nothing to do and the conditions aren’t great, he was just sitting there and reading a book. Any person who is a “key-keeper” can approach him, look at his book, ask him what it’s about. That’s what happened. This one “key-keeper” asked him, and the guy couldn’t give him a straight answer. They made him do squats for two hours. Or there was another situation. There was this guy, with a CD4 of 60. Basically, he had just enough time left in his life to smoke a few cigarettes. He and two other guys decided to run away. The two guys knew about his health problems and told him: “You stay behind us and if anything happens, we’ll help you out.” Long story short, the two guys escape, but this guy gets caught. They bring him back to the barrack. The “key-keeper” comes in the evening, his name is Kostya Alladin. He walks into the isolation ward, puts on his boxer gloves and starts going at him. Really rough, using his hands, his feet. Late at night, when they had taken everyone to the bathroom, they bring new people into the isolation ward. For attempting to escape, for smoking. Different things. There is this exercise machine in there , you stand on it and work out your legs. And–I saw this myself– they took this poor guy who tried to escape, put a bulletproof vest on him, and a 5-kg plate from a barbell in each pocket. In total, he had about 15 kg on him. And he had to stand there and do squats with these weights. For two hours. And if he slacked off, they’d beat him.
There is only one answer to everything there: “Shouldn’t have fucking shot up.” That’s what they say. The clients there—their moms pay for them, their wives, their fathers. Their relatives, basically. They pay 8 thousand a month. But it’s unclear where the money goes. In terms of the food they give us…That’s maybe a thousand rubles. Porridge, bread and water. Plus everyone works on construction sites. There is a construction site in Berezovsk, they’re building new houses there. That’s what they’re doing. The most difficult work. For every worker the center gets a thousand rubles a day.
You mean they make the “patients” do hard labor every day?
Yes, for a thousand rubles a day. They, of course, don’t get a penny. They get a little extra food as a reward. But they are allowed to leave the center to go to work, it means they can be trusted. A team of 6 people gets a can of spam for everyone. Also canned fish, condensed milk and a can of meat spread. For 6 people.
And that’s considered a good meal?
Yes. And also a pack of smokes. As a bonus.
How long do you have to stay there for? The entire rehabilitation process? Or to become a “key-keeper”?
There are people who stay there for a year or two. When the parents call and want to come get their kid, the person in charge of the barrack tries to dissuade them: “He hasn’t had enough yet, he needs to stay longer.” Basically, they intervene and try to keep the person in the center. There is a prison not far from here—that prison can’t even compare to the conditions at the CWD center.
So in order to get out of there, you have to slave away there for at least two years?
Well, you don’t necessarily have to slave away. It depends on how you position yourself. It’s not like you have to become a “key keeper.” For example, I can’t stand humiliation. I can’t stand seeing people humiliated. But in order to become a “key keeper” you have to earn points, climb up the ladder. Regular “patients”/workers walk around in flip-flops there, the “key keepers” wear running shoes. They get better food. They get privileges. They don’t need to ask and beg to go to the bathroom. They just go.
So, the “key keeper” is a regular resident of the center, but with privileges?
But his parents also pay for his stay there?
Yes. Because, supposedly, they’re getting treatment. There is a therapist who comes in once in a while. But what she does there is a big question. She tries to get inside your head. And then when your mom calls, she’s all ready to talk to her. She says: “Don’t worry, he’s doing well, everything’s ok. Your son is going through a recovery process. He needs more time.” Plus, last year, when I was at the center…
So, it’s not your first time there?
No. It works like this—in the evenings all the “supervisors” get together. They order: “All of you, outside. We need to take pictures for your parents.” It’s all a hoax, all staged—people playing volleyball with happy faces, people on a swing, playing tennis. Then they upload all of photos on a USB and show them to the parents during the parents’ visits at the center. They say: “Look at how wonderful everyone’s coming along. Here’s your son, recovering, doing sports, fishing, swimming.” Basically, it’s all a hoax. There is another thing—did you see the brooms they’re selling along the highway? Last year the center set a target– 3,000 broom. All the vegetation along the road and in the vicinity, all the birch trees were cut down to make brooms. This year they set a target of 5,000 brooms. They sell them for 30 rubles a piece. They go outside, cut off the branches, bring them back to the barracks, make the brooms and sell them.
You said that people try to escape; why can’t they just leave?
They won’t let them. There was a guy there, his dad came to get him. The guy was away, somewhere not far from the barrack. His dad sent for him: “Tell him that his father is here.” He drove 700 km and waited for 4 hours in the car for his son. Last year my wife came to get me with my mom. They came and just straight out told them that they’re taking me home. The people from the center tried to talk them out of it, this and that.
So first your mom brought you there and then decided to take you back?
I convinced her. I called her. We would go out to do construction and through our contractors we had access to a phone. Because if you call from the barracks, the supervisors put you on speakerphone and make you say: “Mom, I’m doing all right.” If you say: “Mom, come get me”, you’ll pay for it. The bulletproof vest, the squats. Not just one a day, the torture can last for a week, for two weeks. That kind of abuse.
How often do they make you work? Are there a lot of construction sites?
There is the Berezov construction site. There is another one not far from it. Sarapuska—the women’s center—we built that as well.
I can understand when it’s construction work for the CWD center. But when you’re going to work outside the center, who asks for the workers?
I’m telling you. They get money for you, a thousand rubles a day, as I said. And that’s considered a privilege—to go outside and work. The food is better, people feel more at ease there. People in the center are happy to do it. All the money goes to the center. Plus, we go to the dachas of the Center’s board members, do their yard work. Build them things.
Has anyone ever died while you were there?
No, there were no deaths when I was there.
Have they ever driven anyone to the point of near-death?
Yes. There was that guy with the low CD4 count. He died later. Or there was another one. I don’t know what happened to the guy who filed the police report.
Why did he decide to file a police report?
So Roizman came over one evening after the girl died. He called everyone outside for a meeting and said: “Tomorrow we’re going to have visitors: doctors, the police, the fire department, the penitentiary system, 911, everyone.” But he didn’t say anything else. Like, everything’s fine here. And then, when the investigation team got here, there were about 30 cars, one of the guys from the ward ran up to them and said: “Help me, get me out, they’re beating me, abusing me, I can’t live like this.” They took him to see the police and he filed a police report.
But the rest of the people stayed behind?
Yes. The next evening Roizman comes over again, after all that ruckus. He said: “I’m giving you my word. Those of you, who think you’re done with rehabilitation, step to the left.” And 26 people asked to be let go.
Why did the others choose to stay?
Don’t know. They came from far away. Some came from Vladivostok, others—from Murmansk. There is no way for them to get home.
How often are the centers inspected?
In the two years that I was there that was the first time, when the girl died. I saw on the internet, one of the girls, she was wearing a hoodie, she was giving her testimony. The girl who died, she had a metal plate in her head after an accident. They wouldn’t let her go to the bathroom, and then carried her somewhere by her hair, banged her head on the dresser. Now they’re trying to say that she died of natural causes—that she died of pneumonia or something like that.
Some say that they were paid to badmouth Roizman
No, of course they’re not. No one’s paying them. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot in my life, I’ve been to prison. But that kind of abuse and humiliation, that kind of treatment I’ve never seen anywhere.
Moreover, it’s drug users doing this to other drug users.
Yes. They tried to put cops in the center, back in 2001. One of them almost got thrown into a furnace. There were four people holding his feet, his hands, they were about to throw him into the fire. And the cop said: “Tell my wife and my daughter that I love them.” And that stopped them. They didn’t throw him in. Now the guards are the drug users themselves. They do it for the food, for a pair running shoes.
Many people in Moscow, including some human rights activists, say that there is nothing bad going on there.
It’s all a big hoax.
Did any of them visit the center while you were there?
No, only the journalists. There was a Dutch journalist and someone else. That’s all. Usually, they get everyone together before somebody’s visit. And everyone’s supposed to act accordingly, like this is all a vacation. It’s like a Potemkin village. If you say something against them, you will stay in the barracks. And the former drug users, the “key keeper”, they’ll start harassing you.
Just like in prison.
No, it’s worse here. Believe me, a guy who spent some time in the prison #2, told me: “Better spend 5 years in the #2, than to spend a month here.”
What about the drug treatment itself. Roizman justifies his harsh methods saying that they work. Do you know anyone, for whom this rehab method has worked?
Listen, our barrack leaves for work around 9 in the morning. They work until 11 am. Then the “key keepers” bring out a pot of tea and cups. For about half an hour everyone sits around, drinking tea and just hanging out. I’ve talked to people during these breaks and everyone says: “When I get out, I’ll start using even more, just to spite my parents.” We had a few underage kids who were taken out of the barrack on June 21. Imagine, they were there with us—one was 14, the other one—16, the third—16 and the fourth—18. They would listen to everything that was being said in the barracks—about the different types of drugs people had been using outside, “legal” drugs, etc. And then they said: “When we get out, we’re going to try all of this shit.” They’re kids and they’re hanging around, absorbing all of this information.
How many times do people usually go through the center?
There are some who’ve gone through it 9-10 times.
And it’s usually the parents who send their kids there?
And the parents don’t learn anything from their experience? They don’t get that it’s not helping?
Parents hear about what goes on there from their children, but they just don’t believe them. For the parents it’s a chance to take a break from their children. They sent them away and they don’t have to worry. In terms of money, it would cost less to send their children to the center than to keep giving them money.
But it didn’t work for you.
No, honestly, it didn’t.
You got out and got high right away?
Yes, I used the very first day. I’m not going to hide it.
What about the others who were with you?
They all went their separate ways, to Bashkiria, Vladivostok.
You didn’t want to quit?
No. While you’re there, it’s a pretty traumatic experience. The atmosphere inside the center doesn’t aid the recovery process. It’s the opposite, it pushes you to use even more, just out of spite.
Yeah, I can see how aggression can build up there. I wanted to ask another thing—Roizman and his people, they do raids and arrests. They break into apartments based on the leads they get from their “patients.” Have you heard about anything like that?
This is how it works. A person is admitted to the center. 24 hours later he starts to go into withdrawal. They ask him: “what were you using?” Say, he says: “Heroin.” They ask him: “Where did you get it?” He says: “I’m not going to tell you.” They start beating him. Then they say: “Come with us to where you used to buy it and you’ll be fine.” And he goes with them voluntarily. All he gets for this cooperation is a bowl of soup. I’ve told you already that those who are kept in the isolation ward, all they get is porridge in the mornings, two slices of bread during the day and porridge again at night. But if a person goes out and does a controlled purchase, he can leave the isolation ward and he gets to eat soup. He gives people up for a bowl of soup. Also, I hear that CWD makes a profit off the drug busts. Say, they break into an apartment and find a kilo of heroin. Then they capture 100 g of heroin on camera and the rest goes somewhere else. Nobody knows where. Maybe to the cops. Over here it’s the cops who sell heroin. Cell phones, money, CWD takes it all. I’m telling you, that place is a real clusterfuck.
They’ve doing this for so many years, how do you think they manage to stay afloat?
Well, first of all, Roizman used to be an MP. He made connections in the Parliament. Over here he works with the cops. All these controlled purchases that they do—the cops need them for statistics, to put a checkmark next to a solved crime. They need the checkmarks to move up the ranks. So it works to their advantage. They make a living that way. It works well for both sides.
What about the drug users there, are they afraid to file a report?
Of course they’re afraid. You’re at the center, but it’s like a private prison. So you’ll file a report. Roizman will spin it his way, using his connections. They’ll toss out the report, but the person will pay for it, he’ll take a beating for it and so on.
Is the center closed now?
No, they’re open. They’re accepting new people. You can call them up and find out if you’re interested. You’re not going to get rid of them that easily.