Prison Notebook: “Every day I go to the Slavonic University and the Hetq office”

By Mher Yenokyan

For the past year Mher Yenokyan, who has served 19 years of a life sentence, has been writing a weekly article for Hetq from his cell at the Nubarashen Penitentiary.

In the 1990s, when there was no link with the living and when I went to sleep hungry, I would picture how I and the family would leave the city for the country

I pictured, in detail, how we would grill meats and veggies in the bosom of nature. Recollecting the flavors and smells, I would fall into a deep sleep just like Gikor. But deep within my soul, my aim was to struggle like Gavrosh. The struggle would begin with each new day - physical exercise, reading and creating.

You might say that I have been living a lie for the past 19 years, an imaginary life, but I’d say that it’s due to imagining and being with You, in my thoughts, that has kept me going in this physical prison.

Today as well, in my mind, I awake every day and paint a picture of me going to the Slavonic University for classes. I picture the university building, the classroom, the teachers, and speak to my classmates, in my mind, who are twenty years younger than me. Around three o’clock, I picture myself at the Hetq office, my place of work. I know that it is located near the Vernisage market. I even picture where I sit. I select a computer near a large window so that freedom is close by. I begin to write my article.

Perhaps I am one of the rare individuals in Armenia and elsewhere that has never seen his university or office, has never seen his law faculty classmates, and has never seen his colleagues at Hetq. It is only by an inexplicable strength that I can pass through the iron bars and daily visit the world of the living.

It is only due to concerned individuals that I can learn and work at the same time locked away in the round cemetery known as the Nubarashen Penitentiary. I don’t know if there is another instance in any other country of a person sentenced to life who works as a reporter and studies at university at the same time – the law faculty. I praise God that I am able to pay my tuition with my salary.

I do not know if the staff at Hetq realizes the exceptional opportunity they have granted me to work, to dialog with people, and to inform them about the house of death that is Armenian “justice”.

It was truly a revolutionary proposal that I received from Hetq Chief Editor Edik Baghdasaryan to works as the paper’s correspondent in prison and to get paid for my weekly articles. Up till then, I could never even dream about working. The Hetq editorial board did what the government hasn’t done for twenty years – give a prisoner a job.

Because of Hetq, citizens have learnt that there are innocent people in our prisons; victims of judicial mistakes. They have understood the timeliness of the old Armenian adage, “The Lord takes the master and the wolves, the waif.” Citizens were convinced that constant struggle could bring the desired result.

Every week I receive a news summary of the local press, read Hetq articles and comments left by readers to my articles. There are names that pop up frequently. They wish me well and a speedy release to freedom. I wish to thank each and every one of you.

A few days ago a prison staffer showed me a letter. On the envelope was written “Central Depository Ltd of Armenia”. Below was my name, Mher Yenokyan.

The letter informed me that pension payments were to be withheld from my salary while in prison. It went on to say that I could receive further information by visiting the account operator or the official website. I could also, I was informed, use any automated bank machine. I could only laugh while reading this.

I cannot visit the account operator and prisoners are not permitted use of the internet. Nor can we use an automated bank machine. So how can prisoners serving life sentences manage their pensions?

It isn’t enough that the justice system has wrongly sentenced me to life, for which I have already been stripped of 19 years. Now, it wants to get its hands in my pockets and show that it’s concerned with ensuring me a comfortable old age.

By nature, I am an optimistic and happy person. I never dwell on the negative. Even in the worst of situations I can find a bright spot, however tiny, and magnify it.

Every day, I set about to bring my day of return closer yet. I clearly picture myself walking to the Slavonic University and the Hetq office.

Thus, I ask that you reserve a spot for me near the window. I long for the sun’s light and warmth, and cordial human contact.