A Prisoner’s Christmas

When an authoritarian regime’s entire system of coercion, including its media, is trying to discredit and destroy you once and for all, prayer becomes the only intimate, trusting, and reassuring conversation that you can have. God, one realizes, is one’s only friend and only available family.

LUKYANIVSKA PRISON, KYIV – It has been said that there are no atheists in a foxhole. Here, after my show trial and four and a half months in a cell, I have discovered that there are no atheists in prison, either.

When, despite unbearable pain, you are interrogated – including in your cell – for dozens of hours without a break, and an authoritarian regime’s entire system of coercion, including its media, is trying to discredit and destroy you once and for all, prayer becomes the only intimate, trusting, and reassuring conversation that one can have. God, one realizes, is one’s only friend and only available family, because – deprived even of access to a trusted priest – there is no one else in whom to confide one’s worries and hopes.

In this season of love and family, the loneliness of a prison cell is almost unbearable. The gray, dead silence of night (guards peer in voyeuristically through a slot in the door), the sudden, disembodied shrieks of prisoners, shrieks of distress and rage, the distant rattles and clangs of prison bolts: all make sleep impossible, or so restless as to be a torment.

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