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Chapter VI: Prison Regulations

Chapter VI: Prison Regulations

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The prison rules are:

1) The officials were prohibited from chatting with the prisoners; 2) All the cells were to be under double lock; 3) The prisoners were required to go to sleep and awaken at the scheduled time; 4) It was forbidden to sleep during the day; 5) It was prohibited to cover up the observation hole; 6) It was forbidden to look out of the cell window (though it was impossible to see anything anyway); 7) It was forbidden to throw anything through the window; 8) It was forbidden to smoke at night; 9) It was forbidden to light a candle in the room; 10) It was forbidden to converse at night; 11) From the hour of eleven at night until seven in the morning one could not request anything, this being the period between going to sleep and awakening; 12) It was forbidden to break the utensils in the cell(?); 13) Every prisoner was obligated to wash the floor of his cell; 14) Every prisoner had to submit himself to the authority of the prison guard; 15) If a prisoner defied the instructions of the guard or violated any of the above regulations, the guard was authorized to punish him according to his judgment by withholding food or hot water for a day or two. He could also refer this to the division head and recommend punitive punishment in a solitary confinement cell for a day or two, and in some instances, even for a week.

The daily schedule of the prison was as follows:

1) In the morning the prisoners were woken with the command: "Awake, awake, it is time to get up." Upon hearing these instructions all prisoners were obligated to get out of bed. The guard peered through the door opening, and woe to the prisoner whom the guard found reclining on his bed or stretched out on the floor after the morning call!

2) An announcement was heard, "Receive bread; prepare to receive bread." At that time someone opened the lock on the small window in the cell door, but there was yet another lock. The prisoners stood waiting for the second guard, who opened the second lock and who was in turn followed by the individual distributing the bread.

3) A kilo of black bread was distributed to each prisoner for the entire day, and usually each prisoner left over large chunks of it.

It was a source of joy for the prisoner, at the time of the door crevice opening, to see another human being, whoever he might be. Then the prisoner could also see the outer wall and enjoy inhaling the cold air from the balcony suddenly piercing through the gap. A moment after the bread distribution, the opening was closed with one lock.

4) A short while later, the announcement was heard, "Prepare to receive hot water." Each prisoner, upon entering his cell, received a wooden spoon, a bowl, and a large aluminum pitcher-like cup. Then the prisoners stood in readiness to receive this sweet gift-hot water.

5) An announcement was heard, "Prepare for lunch." Each prisoner cleaned his plate and spoon in anticipation of receiving his meal. There was lively speculation among the prisoners about what the fare would be that day.

6) Again the call was heard to prepare to receive porridge for the evening meal. Once again, there was animated movement within the room, one prisoner stating that he would take the food but not eat, another saying he would accept and eat, and the third asserting he would refuse the food. The gap in the door opened and the orderly filled the dishes with black porridge.

7) The call was heard, "Prepare to receive hot water." Twice during the day a pitcher of hot water was given to each prisoner, but no more than one pitcher. Usually the pitcher was received by its handle; however, sometimes the orderlies apportioning the water instructed the prisoner to grasp the pitcher itself, not by its handle, with the intention of making the prisoner hold the burning hot utensil. Also, each prisoner was obligated to receive his own ration.

When I declined to arise from my place to personally accept my portion of food and my cup of hot water (on Friday the seventeenth day of Sivan, because on Wednesday and Thursday, and until the second serving of hot water on Friday, I fasted), I remained without water. Only later was it brought especially for me.

8) A call went out: "Room Number such-and-such, prepare for your stroll."


This announcement was received gladly by the prisoners, who waited for it all day-a full twenty-four hours-for it is a legal requirement to provide fifteen minutes of walking daily for each prisoner-to walk outside under the surveillance of a special group of guards.

This walk enabled the prisoners to be briefly freed from the cell enclosure, to breathe fresh air and gaze upon the sky; to walk two hundred yards, and to descend the steel ladders. Moreover, it provided an even greater opportunity: to see people and perhaps, discern a familiar face. The prison held thousands of people from varying backgrounds, many of them eminent and distinguished: skilled doctors, engineers, lawyers, advocates, businessmen, clergymen, people of different faiths, the aged and the young, middle aged, people of different skills, and many, many more.

The prisoners gave much thought to this "outing." Firstly, they reflected on how to derive some personal advantage, in addition to breathing the fresh air. At times one could succeed in seeing a friend, and if opportunity smiled, communication could occur through a subtle gesture, despite the rigorous supervision.

The stroll gave the prisoner something to look back upon when he returned to the cell. Sometimes he would return more broken than he left for having seen certain people, and sometimes, it bolstered the spirit, but whatever its effect, it was of great significance to the prisoners.

There was no fixed time for this stroll, and it could occur at any time during the twelve hours from the time of awakening until seven o'clock in the evening. Upon hearing the number of their cells announced, the prisoners prepared for the anticipated pleasure. Each brief moment of waiting seemed like a long time.

There was a special regimen to this interlude. After the announcement to prepare for the walk, a special person came to peer through the door opening to see if the prisoners were ready. Shortly afterwards, the door opened and a special orderly appeared with a contingent of armed soldiers, who accompanied the prisoners.

The commander of these soldiers was as dark as coal in complexion, tall, a cedar tree with broad shoulders. He was stalwart in build and his uniform was red and black. He was heavily armed, and he resembled a destructive demon capable of consuming a hundred prisoners with one menacing stare. His voice was deep like a lions; he constantly gnashed his teeth. He yearned to torture and oppress these creatures: How gratified he would be if he could crush one of these gnats!

Standing at the open doorway, the commander surveyed the activity in the cell. He then called the prisoners to go to their walk. Like sheep, they filed out. The officer closed the door and lead the insects out to creep upon the ground. (This was the officers descriptive phrase as he led them forward.) In this way, they could refresh themselves from the "sweet pleasantness of the pure ai"r(?!) in the courtyard of the house of death-enclosed on all sides with the walls of the various structures of the Spalerno fortress.

(I had been informed of the following-I personally did not go to walk, even once.) The walking area was approximately eighty meters. In the center of the yard a wooden platform had been built taller than the height of a person. Upon it stood the supervising guard, and it was his responsibility to see that the prisoners observed all the positive and negative regulations of this stroll.

The positive rules for the walk were as follows:

A) To walk along the designated path, which circled the observation tower; B) The prisoners of each cell were to walk together; C) There had to be constant movement, it was forbidden to stand or sit.

The prohibitions for the walk were as follows:

A) It was forbidden to run; the prisoners had to walk slowly; B) The prisoners were not to speak aloud; they would only communicate secretly; C) The prisoners were not to walk with upright posture, thus preventing them from staring into the face of another prisoner; D) It was forbidden to direct one's gaze toward any window of the prison-fortress; E) It was forbidden to pick up any object from the ground; F) It was forbidden to throw anything; G) It was forbidden to wink with the eyes; H) It was forbidden to make any gesture with either one's hand or foot; I) It was forbidden to speak to any of the accompanying guards; J) It was forbidden to give or receive a cigarette.

Suddenly the command was sounded repeatedly: "The walk is over! Stand! Line up! Stand in order!"

At this point all the prisoners of one room were to stand together, leg-to-leg and shoulder-to-shoulder. A second command was given to march forward, and they advanced to the entrance way. Another command was given to form a line, one prisoner behind the other, and they began entering under the guard of soldiers. Each person proceeded to his cell. The cell doors were opened, and the imprisoned proceeded to their cages like submissive, bent-over goats.


9) The announcement was made to lie down and sleep, which caused fear among the prisoners. For if the supervisor were to peer through the peephole and observe any delay, he was authorized to punish the inmates. The nighttime was more dangerous, for he had greater leeway to discipline prisoners. This low-ranking guard could mete out "light" punishment without asking the section head. A lenient punishment was to sleep the night in the dark, humid subterranean dungeon with rancid air amidst vermin and rats. This was considered a light punishment, a subtle hint to ensure conformity with prison discipline, like an admonishing adult waving his finger at the nose of a child.


Most interesting is the story innocently told by prisoner S. This man is unable to lie, completely unsophisticated and accustomed to relate what he knows without embellishment or exaggeration. S. is the speaker:

"It was the first day of my imprisonment and I was unaware of the prison regulations. I was the only person in this cell at that time, and when they ordered me to go to sleep, I was not really tired, so I sat and smoked a cigarette. The guard glanced through the cell window and angrily ordered me to lay upon my bed. I answered with an abusive word of refusal. I hadn't yet finished my cigarette, when the door opened abruptly and the guard commanded me to follow him. I did. We descended ladder after ladder until we were in the corridor of the basement of the building. The guard opened one of the doors and instructed me to enter. I went into the cell thinking that he would follow me, but in an instant I heard the shutting of the cell door.

"I took a step" -- S. relates -- "and found myself in oozing slime. The stench was suffocating. I lit a match. The size of the room was ten square feet. The walls were wet with moisture, and all kinds of creatures were crawling up and down the walls: white, black, long and large, and very frightful. The mud reached my ankles and I stood there all night. From time to time, I would have to push away the huge rodents that leaped at me with fearful, terrifying shrieks.

"It seemed to me that a day had already passed.

[What about food? asked K.]

"There, a person has no desire to eat, nor even to smoke; you lose your desire for anything in that frightening cell. I heard the door being opened and I thought, 'Now they will take me to be shot.'

"I heard a whistle and the harsh command: 'Come here.'

"I replied: 'I can't see anything. Where should I go?'

"The official lit up the room and I saw a steel bed, just as here, but the sight was terrifying!

'Leave!' shouted the official, and immediately I left the room.

'Go up the stairs,' he commanded, and I thought to myself-Thank G‑d, I will not die at the hand of the firing squad.

'Now,' said the officer, 'you will know how to address an official. It is forbidden to speak offensively to prison authorities. You are a prisoner and I am your officer. I am taking you to sleep-will you sleep?'

'Yes, your Excellency, I will sleep.'

"Instantly he hit me several times across my cheek. I was confused and unsure of the reason for his blows.

'What sort of "excellency" am I to you?' he raged. 'You vile being, slave of the White Russians, spy. I will confine you to the cellar for three days, not just for the three hours you were locked in!'

"I began to cry and plead, 'You are my father, my dearest, my lord and master; I will obey.'

"In quick succession he struck me three times. The blows were painful; my teeth shook and blood flowed from my nose. I maintained my self-control and tried to stand at respectful attention as appropriate before a person of rank. I still remembered the discipline of the army in the old days. I was a man! I served my Czar four years. I fought in the Russo-Japanese war. I have seen generals, and I know that order is order-discipline, not games. You remain a faithful soldier until your last breath, not like the youths now who sing prattle commands of 'Right' and 'Left,' and act like confused puppets.

'What sort of "master" am I to you?' said the officer. 'You must call me Tovarishtch -"Comrade." There are no longer any masters; now we are all comrades.'

'Very well, so be it, Comrade,' I answered, 'I will no longer address you in that way.'

"Again he struck me with his fist and said, 'What sort of "Comrade" am I to you? That is not the proper way to address an official. You must constantly remember that you are a prisoner and that I am your officer. You must say "Comrade Officer."'

"Weak and broken, I walked forward. I wanted to sleep, I wanted to smoke. My teeth hurt and I felt pain in my sides. As I walked, I kept repeating to myself, Comrade Officer. I must not forget it, I thought, woe to me if I forget! How pleasant it would be to sleep once again on the bed in my cell."


[The prison rules - continued]

10) Every day pencil and paper were provided for prisoners to write requests to any official: either the section head, the investigator, the defense attorney, or the prison doctor. The pencil was provided for an hour or two and had then to be returned, because writing was generally forbidden.

11) Once a week, on Wednesday, the prisoner could send home his underwear for laundering; he could also return empty food utensils received from home. These were to be accompanied by an itemized list of what he was forwarding; one word might be added about the state of his health, whether he was well or ill. On the other side of the paper he could request food or clothing.

12) Once a week, on Friday, food was brought for the prisoners to last for the week. There was a special procedure regarding the transfer of these objects until they arrived in the storage room of the head of each prisoner's section. Aside from the initial examination made when the objects were first brought to the administrative headquarters of Spalerno, there was a second check when they were given to the prisoners in the storage room of this section head.

Any kind of food that was a delicacy or a treat might not be transferred to the prisoners. It was forbidden to give anything in sealed or in whole form. Thus, even bread was to be cut into small sections to prevent the illicit transfer of a note or any form of covert communication. Clothing was also closely scrutinized at the seams for hidden contents.


On Friday all prisoners who had family waited in anticipation of being summoned to the officer of their sections to receive what was sent. This trip to the officer of his section and the pickup of the package uplifted the morale of the prisoner. Though the original written notes of the sender enumerating the gift items in the package were retained by the prison administration, the mere opportunity to see the handwriting of family members revived the prisoner's soul.

Some astute people wrote the package contents on a piece of material and sewed it to the package or sack containing the food and clothing; in this manner the prisoner could keep the actual handwriting for himself.

When the prisoner brought the gift to his cell, he cleared away the most important place upon which to rest his package. Was there any place of greater significance than his bed, which he used almost twenty-four hours a day? Upon it he slept, reclined and sat; upon it he cried, laughed, stretched out-and on his bed he fell asleep, even during the forbidden hours.

With love, affection, and great care he would place the package in the most important place in the cell, which he especially cleared for it. With riveted eyes he would scrutinize each stitch in the gift sack and study the package closely from every possible angle.

With great patience he read the writing attached to the sack, closely examining every single letter. He sought the hidden meanings between the lines, not only if there was an extra or missing letter, but even if one letter was larger and the other smaller, he interpreted this as possibly some important message. Using all kinds of ingenious reasoning the prisoner would formulate various imaginative possibilities. He speculated and analyzed why this letter had a sharp point above or below where it was missing in another letter. He would look at the letter tzaddik, for instance, written in two different ways-why was the point sharper in one case than the other? He stared at two gimels-why was one rounder than the other? Perhaps this was written by two people, but was it not really written by one person, whose handwriting he recognized? If so, why the variance? It must be a hidden message! But what was the intent?

The prisoner concluded his attentive scrutiny of the writing and began to examine the package closely. Last week the contents were placed in a wrapper from honey; today the wrapping is a flour sack. Was it possible that his family was informing him of a new accusation that he had bought and sold flour (engaging in illegal private enterprise), and that therefore they had sent the parcel in a flour sack?

Thus, the prisoner, with feverish interpretive hyperactivity, generated a million speculations. He closely examined "seventy-seven times" every item sent to him. Then there would be a prolonged silence, which stretched for several hours, each prisoner, lost in his own reveries, wondering about possible accusations and false charges. What condemnations and libels did they plan against him? Then his thoughts focused upon legal self-defense: superstructures of arguments against the charge of illegally dealing in flour, a charge obviously untrue, for neither he nor any of his forebearers had ever been flour dealers.

13) Once every two weeks every prisoner could write a postcard to his family. Obviously, it was read by the censor, and therefore it was to be brief, describing the prisoners health and nothing more.

14) Once every two weeks the prisoner could also receive a letter from his family, but if it was lengthy or otherwise displeasing to the censor, it was withheld.

15) Once every two weeks every prisoner having money in his account in the general administrative office could buy anything he desired (?) in the general cooperative store of Spalerno. He was, however, to write explicitly and specifically what he wanted, stating that it should be paid for from his account. This request was forwarded for approval to the judicial investigator and the head of the administrative department, and if approved, he would obtain the items within two weeks.

These requests were to be submitted on the first and fifteenth of every month and not on any other day. The procedure was that on the first and fifteenth day, printed forms were distributed upon which the prisoners were to write their orders. In the evening a special person came to collect these forms and the prisoner would be informed of the decision within two weeks.

16) Once every two weeks reading material was distributed. Each prisoner was given two or three books, which he could not personally choose. The majority of the books were communist literature.

17) Once every three weeks, the prisoner could get a shave or a haircut. He had to apply a week in advance.

18) Each prisoner was required to go to the bathhouse to bathe once a month. If he so wished, he could do so once every two weeks, but the prisoner was required to bathe once a month minimally.

19) Once a month, the prisoner was obligated to go to the prison doctor's office for an examination. The prisoner had the right to request a visit from the doctor at any time, but it required a written petition to the section head, who then sent it to the general administrative headquarters. When the request was granted, the sick prisoner was accompanied to the doctor or visited by him. Experience indicated that it took three days for the request to be approved.

Once a prisoner had fully mastered the regulations, schedule, the hierarchy of administrators, their responsibility and procedure, he was then a "respected prisoner."


As mentioned, there was no clock in the prison. Therefore, the prisoners told time by the various announcements: time to awaken, bread distribution, warm liquid, food, porridge, hot water, time to sleep. They could approximate these according to the hours of the day. In the summer wake-up time was between 6:30 and 7:30, bread at 7:30, warm water at 8:30, and food was distributed at 1:00 and later. Porridge was distributed from 5:00 onward, and the second hot water distribution was from approximately 6:00 to 7:00. Sleep was at 10:30.


The Midrash states: How did Moses know [while on Mt. Sinai] when it was day and when it was night? When he heard the ministering angels say "Kadosh" (Holy) he knew it was day; and when he heard them say "Baruch" (Blessed) he knew it was night.

Time is both short and long, depending on its content. Sometimes many hours pass by as fleeting moments. In other instances, only three hours are prolonged and experienced as an unusually lengthy period of time.

Translation by Rabbi Dr. Alter B. Z. Metzger; from The Heroic Struggle, published by Kehot.
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