a frozen but festive hall faces turned red from
cold are nonetheless cheerful. Women with interesting
but uncommon looks dressed in uncommon manner
are sitting in old, cold chairs. Behind them teenagers
with shaved heads are dressed in dark blue in
the hall decorated for New Year.
It is holiday in Abovian Prison for Women and
Juveniles, where those who have done wrong are
doing the best they can to overcome the circumstance.
"When my ma goes to work I stay in the
'zone'," says five year old Gayane Sahakyan.
Her mother, 28 year old Arevhat Sahakyan has
been in the prison since 1996. She was sentenced
"In 2004 my times expires. I'm impatiently
waiting for the day, when I'll take my daughter
to freedom," the mother says.
Arevhat says she doesn't want to recall the past.
She decorated her hair and face with small festive
garlands, but her eyes are sad.
"I was in the first month of pregnancy when
I was sentenced. If I hadn't had her I don't know
how I would have managed to spend all these years.
Gayane doesn't realize where we are. She just
knows that we aren't at home, however, she doesn't
Teardrops fall from the young woman's eyes. She
clasps her daughter's head to her bosom.
Usually children are allowed to stay with their
mothers until they become two years old, however,
Arevhat was allowed to keep her child longer than
do everything for my daughter so that she doesn't
feel where we are. I decorated our room and prepared
the gifts. Our administration also gives presents,"
she says. "I want to forget the past. I regret
that I found myself surrounded by these walls
and brought Gayane with me here."
Two year old Yelizaveta Hambardzumyan is everybody's
gladness here. They hand her over to each other.
She says, "whatever Santa Clause brings
I'll take it." It doesn't matter for her
what he will bring, she just wants Santa to bring
The girl's mother, 28 year old Astghik Hambardzumyan,
says that her daughter was born in prison. For
her it's hard to bear the fact that Yelizaveta
is growing up isolated from childhood and society,
while her mother serves time.
Women like Astghik, who spend their days in prison
with children, reside in separate rooms. Every
day they get milk and raw foodstuff for children
and they make food for them.
"Children are rendered compulsory medical
treatment and assistance, they are taken to parks
and circus. We aren't dissatisfied with the conditions.
But anyway we are behind the bars," says
are 170 prisoners in the prison and approximately
110 of them are women and 60 are minors. The average
age of the sentenced women is 40. According to
the director, Colonel of Justice Yura Jamalyan
more than half of the women are sentenced for
The oldest prisoner is 78 year old Voski Nersisyan.
With other old women she has a separate room.
"I've been here for four years and four
months and I have one year and six months left.
I have three daughters and grandchildren. I killed
my husband. He had been drinking all his life
and beating me. I couldn't suffer anymore. Now
I regret and my only wish is to be free,"
All other women stay in the bigger public room
not far away from the old women's room. People
of different tempers and natures live together.
One can find directors, accountants, the educated
and those who haven't got even elementary education.
Forty year old Anahit Harutyunyan has spent three
years and six months out of a five year period
of imprisonment. Two daughters and one son are
waiting her at home. She is a hairdresser for
the prisoners and also tells fortunes by coffee
"Looking at clothes and hairstyles of those
who visit us, we find out what's the fashion outside.
We live by encouraging each other but this is
not the place for a woman," she says. "We
became close to each other and we are like one
say they are satisfied with the conditions. They
have a bath once a week. It's very important for
them that they are provided with soap and washing
powder. A doctor visits them every day. It's strange
but "rules" of the criminal world are
not in force here.
The number of women prisoners is decreasing from
year to year. According to Jamalyan, four years
ago the number reached 450.
The prison spends 400 drams (about 75 cents)
per day for each prisoner. They get meat in their
meals provided by the prison's stock of rabbits,
pigs and cows. Prisoners who help with the daily
care of the animals and other chores can earn
up to 5,000 drams (about $10) a month, which is
transferred to private accounts.
The prison also has zoological and botanical
gardens, where minors are working. Head of the
administration, lieutenant colonel of the Justice
Rostom Martirosyan says: "A minor who killed
a man takes care of animals, flowers and it makes
his soul less cruel."
There is also a school, specialized technical
school, sport hall and computer study group. But,
especially at the holidays, nothing satisfies
Anna Nersisyan, 35, says: "One year and
nine months hasn't passed as difficult as these
several days. Here one starts to appreciate the
value of the freedom."