Hovsep Hovsepyan, a surgeon who works at the Prisoners’ Hospital in Yerevan showed us a unique collection of nails and utensil bits that he and other physicians have removed from the bodies of convicts over the years.
Hovsepyan said that he hasn’t performed such surgeries in the past three or four years, concluding that the number of self-inflicted injuries amongst the convict population has decreased.
“In the entire world there is the instinct of self-preservation, even in the animal world. In fact, it is only humans that are able to overcome that instinct and inflict damage to themselves when they don’t have the capacity to solve their problems,” the surgeon argued.
Experts with years of experience working with convicts point to a range of causes for self-inflicted harm and mutilation; from the serious to the simple. While psychologists are there to work with convicts to deal with such issues, it appears that their main frustration and complaints are in regard to their individual cases, the legal system overall, and the fact that the early conditional release system doesn’t work.
During my conversations with inmates, they have told me that as a result individual health concerns become secondary. Their complaints aren’t directed at the medical attention they receive as convicts.
“There was the case of a convict who gathered metal objects with a magnet and swallowed the lot. Then there was a convict who had written down on a piece of paper all the objects he had swallowed. After the surgery to remove the objects, the convict demanded that piece of paper. He wanted to see if everything had indeed been removed. He saw that three domino pieces were missing. We tried to convince him that they were probably discharged from his body naturally,” Hovsepyan recounted.
There is one psychologist on staff at the Prisoners Hospital and Armenia’s other eleven correctional facilities. Now, they are registered as civil servants, but in the past prison psychologists represented the correctional system.
According to international penal laws, psychologists should come from outside the system so that convict and psychologist van create a bond of trust.