Ch 58. Imprisoned
The lights from a thousand cameras lit up the night air like a volley of rifle fire as the police opened the car door and pulled Jesus Josephovich, Kiev’s most popular man, out of the car.
The police handled him roughly, as if trying to break the serene calm on his face, but the foreigner never even blinked as he was dragged into the prison. He didn’t seem the least bit worried. It was as if he had suffered through such injustice before.
After the Oligarch showed up at Volodomir and Elena’s for supper and demanded that Jesus Josephovich choose imprisonment or partnership, the foreigner had proceeded to wash the dishes while explaining to the Oligarch the importance of servant-hood to any great leader. Unfortunately for the Oligarch, this did not mean that Jesus Josephovich would serve him. Jesus was not a part of any political party. The choice had been made.
The crowds around the prison were very upset, and shouted unmentionable insults at the police and politicians who were leading Jesus Josephovich through the massive faded yellow walls covered with rusted barbed wire. It was clear from the outside that this was not a place where a man got a second chance. This was a place where men went to die. Even if a man’s body escaped this dark place intact, his sanity would not.
The police pushed Jesus Josephovich through several gates and stopped him in front of a fat man behind a soviet era desk proudly wearing a uniform that appeared equally dated. The man looked at them with blank eyes that didn’t seem to see what they were actually looking at.
“Documents,” the guard said.
“I don’t have any,” Jesus Josephovich replied.
The man behind the desk looked into the foreigner’s face for the first time as if to discover what strange creature they had brought him. “What is your name?”
“Jesus Josephovich,” he answered.
The man behind the desk took a deep breath and started slowly writing the obviously fake name. “Possessions?”
Jesus Josephovich emptied his pockets. The only thing he had with him was the new cell phone that Katya had given him. They took it from him and checked his pockets again to make sure that nothing else was hidden there.
When the signing in was finished, the guards pushed him through several more gates and long decrepit hallways until they reached the cells. When they opened the door, the foreigner could hardly believe his eyes.
The holding cell was only 10 feet by 5 feet, and there were 6 men inside. Bunks lined the walls where 4 men were sitting, and a few prisoners were sitting in tiny chairs at the front of the room. They all stared guardedly at the long haired, bearded foreigner as he stepped into the room.
The guards pushed Jesus Josephovich all the way into the cell. He stumbled and the prisoners laughed. This one was weak. He would be easily broken.
The guards sneered at him as they shut the gate. The main guard shouted one last insult at the prisoner as they walked away. “I hope you like your cellmates. You’re going to be with them a very long time.”
Jesus Josephovich turned to the other prisoners and smiled at them. The prisoners were confused by their new cellmate. A smile was a sign of weakness, but his calm demeanor showed that he was not weak. They guessed that he was probably insane.
The eldest of the group, a ragged and wrinkled old man, walked over to Jesus Josephovich and introduced himself as Gennady.
“Hello Gennady,” Jesus Josephovich said. “It is nice to meet you.”
The others acknowledged the new prisoner with a nod without looking into his eyes. Their faces wore apathetic stares, as if to protect them from any and all emotions that they might occasionally be inclined to feel. They looked like the living dead.
All the prisoners had shaved heads and most were shirtless. They were covered with ornate tattoos on their chests, shoulders, backs, and even hands. The ink on the tattoos was not like that of ordinary tattoos. The ink was thick, faded and bluish, and the designs had clearly been drawn by hand without any guidance.
The leader of the cell was leaning in a chair against the back wall. To illustrate his power he addressed the foreigner with a squinting half grin, like a man about to sell a customer a broken watch.
“You can sit on the floor,” the cell leader ordered.
“Thank you,” Jesus Josephovich said pleasantly, as if he had been offered something special. He sat cross legged on the cold concrete in a meditative position. His cell mates couldn’t help but stare at his odd behavior.
“Your tattoos are quite striking,” Jesus Josephovich complimented.
The cell leader chuckled smugly.
Gennady, the old man, scooted his tiny chair closer to the foreigner to show off the only part of his body that still had any aesthetic value. His skin was so wrinkled that he had to pull it tight to reveal his tattoos. Even then they were so old that one could barely make out the faded details. The homemade ink had bled into the surrounding skin.
The old man pointed proudly to his heart. Over his heart was a crudely drawn bust of Lenin. He saw that the foreigner recognized it and smiled.
“Look at this one,” Gennady said turning his back with excitement. “Can you see it?”
On his lower back were two rough drawings of Stalin. The one on the right side appeared to be an idyllic drawing from a propaganda poster of Stalin’s younger days, and the one on the left showed the dictator in full military fatigues.
“You see?” he asked enthusiastically. “I made these tattoos so the guards would not hit me in the heart or kidneys,” he explained. “It worked. No soviet officers ever wanted to deface a picture of Stalin or Lenin.” He laughed the whispered laugh of a man whose only pleasure was recollecting the past.
“But now there is no more Soviet Union, and the tattoos don’t work so well to protect me.” He slowly slid his shirt back over his frail frame.
“Gennady is a coward,” the cell leader spat. The brawny inmate stood up to reveal his entire chest, stomach, arms, and back covered in detailed symbolism.
He pointed to two stars on his shoulders. “This means I am in the mafia. The stars on my knees mean I bow to no one.”
He turned around and revealed an intricate tattoo that covered nearly his entire back. Jesus Josephovich was amazed to see that it included the virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in front of a church with several towers.
“Are you a religious man?” Jesus Josephovich asked.
The cell leader laughed. “The virgin Mary means that I have been a criminal since childhood. The church towers represent every prison sentence I have served. The bells mean that I am going to serve this prison sentence for the rest of my life.”
“What was your crime?”the foreigner wondered.
“It doesn’t matter,” the cell leader spat. “They catch you for whatever they want.” He turned and pointed at a young man in the back of the cell. “Do you see him? He was put in here for stealing a cell phone.”
“Almost all of the younger men in here were put in prison for stealing a cell phone,” Gennady interrupted. “Put in prison, can you believe it? The judges always give the full sentence. They get paid more that way. There is no way to stop it.”
“Years in prison for such a small crime,” the cell leader added. “Now he is one of us. A real criminal. This is what they do.”
The young man’s forearms were covered in tattoos as well. He had clearly changed since being put in the prison.
“So your tattoos let you communicate with each other?” Jesus Josephovich asked. “You can see who is the strongest without speaking.”
The cell leader acknowledged the foreigner’s correct answer with a disinterested grin.
“Do you have any tattoos, foreigner?” the young thief asked jokingly. “It’s probably against your religion to have tattoos.”
The inmates laughed as they examined the odd looking Middle Easterner.
“Take off your shirt,” the cell leader ordered. “We will give you your first tattoo.”
Two large inmates walked over to the skinny foreigner, grabbed his arms and lifted him to his feet. The rest of the cellmates laughed as they pulled his shirt off and tossed it to the ground. Suddenly their faces fell and they moved away from him towards the back of the room. The entire cell went silent.
Scared flesh trailed all the way down and across Jesus Josephovich’s back like a mountain range on a topical map. The scars were several centimeters thick and they wrapped around his entire upper torso; a twisted tapestry of pain. Some of them curled over his shoulders and lower back onto his stomach and chest like the claw of a beast.
The inmates were afraid to speak. They could only imagine what might have caused such wounds. This was a man who had experienced inhuman suffering.
“What makes a man strong?” Jesus Josephovich asked the stunned inmates. “Is it the amount of pain he can inflict on another man, or is the the amount of pain that he himself can endure?”
The inmates didn’t dare answer.
“May I suggest to you a new definition of a strong man?” Jesus Josephovich suggested. “Strength is not reacting to the insults and pain of this world. You think it is tough to be angry at the world and to hurt others, but a true man of strength will not be bothered by anything. The problems and insults of this world bounce off his shoulders and he pays them no heed. He is able to accomplish anything he puts his mind to, because he is not distracted by the scattered thoughts and emotions of the mind and body. He does not succumb to emotional and physical pain. He completely controls his actions, and therefore his destiny.”
The inmates looked around the room uncomfortably. Gennady nodded in agreement. The old man understood that many of his worst decisions in life had been made out of a reaction towards something else. They were actions he would have never considered taking under normal circumstances.
Jesus Josephovich continued. “There is no honor in harming others. Your tattoos add only to your shame. These scars are the ultimate honor,” he said as he showed his back. “They were acquired bearing the pain of others. That is what a real man does. That is what a real man was made for. God made men able to fight in order to protect the weak. God gave men anger so you would not tolerate evil. God made men strong to carry the burdens of others. The greatest shame is left for the man who cannot even carry his own burden of life.”
The young man imprisoned for stealing a cell phone began to cry. The other inmates looked away from him for fear of seeing their true selves.
The young man walked over to Jesus Josephovich and showed him another tattoo on his shoulder. It was a sunset with a flock of birds flying across it. “This one means freedom,” the young man said. “How can I free myself in a place like this?”
Jesus Josephovich touched the young man on the shoulder. “Freedom is not here,” he said motioning his arms to the cell. “True freedom is here,” he said pointing to his head, “and here,” pointing to his heart.
The young man nodded as if he understood.
“Freedom is the ability do to do what you know you must do without being tricked by your thoughts and emotions. Freedom is the ability to be content in any and every situation. If you are always content, no matter what is happening to you, then you are always free.”
“Doesn’t freedom mean that I can do whatever I want?” the young man asked. “You are not free when you get angry and harm others or steal someone’s property. No, for then you become a slave to your own selfish desires. Slavery is the opposite of freedom, which is why you are all in this prison. You have become slaves to yourselves.”
The inmates looked at the markings on their skin and realized for the first time that they had created these images. They had chosen them and designed them and drawn them. They had created who they were.
The guilt of their entire lives flooded into their minds and they realized the responsibility that they had for themselves. Most of them had always believed that other people were responsible for who they had become. The knowledge that it had been their decisions and their own reactions that created their current circumstances was almost too much to bear.
However, there was a glimmer of hope that shined from this gnarly haired foreigner into the consciousness of each prisoner. If they had created their current state of being, then they could change it. They could become whoever they wanted to be. That thought swelled in their minds, as if whispered to them by a ghost.
Gennady walked over the Jesus Josephovich and grasped his hand. “Why are you in this prison?” he asked.
Jesus answered him, “For you.”