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We bezochten een verlaten Estlandse nor

En we kwamen erachter dat de gevangenen misschien wel op posters van poedels masturbeerden.

Onze collega's in Engeland hoorden verhalen over een verlaten gevangenis in Estland en brachten de bajes een bezoek. Ze kwamen terecht in een deprimerende nor, stammend uit de hoogtijdagen van de Sovjet Unie en beeldden zich met een flinke dosis inlevingsvermogen in hoe het leven (én masturbatie) voor de boeven – destijds – zou zijn geweest.

Back in 1820, hard Russian Tsar Nicholas I built a massive prison on the Baltic coast just outside of Tallinn, which was so good at making prisoners cower remorsefully before the might of the hegemon that it remained in commission right up until 2004. Embraced by the KGB during Soviet times, it was only on joining the EU that the Estonians decided to pull the plug on the two-century operation because a fully functioning gulag on the outskirts of your capital doesn’t exactly tally with Angela Merkel’s vision of a democratic continent. After the last prisoners were shipped to cells somewhere marginally more humane, Patarei Prison [tr: "the battery"] was left abandoned. Thankfully, for our purposes, the authorities left behind the dank, medieval surroundings that housed thousands of men reading comics about Jesus and jerking off furiously to pictures of Lisa from Steps culled from smuggled in copies of Smash Hits. If this walls could talk..


Tallinn’s a small place, so getting to the prison on foot was no problem. Yet after stepping through the wrought iron gates of the gigantic triangular complex, the civilities of Estonia’s township seemed an echelon away. I thought of Richmond council detaining looters in local Premier Inns back in London, and then try to picture the political prisoners held here munching mini-bar peanuts, or being lead in a joyous, drunken conga through the corridors by Lenny Henry. It was pretty difficult to imagine these things.

Inside the jail, a watchman would sit atop the cramped walking courts, watching the battery farm minions pace in frantic circles as they tried to suck in as much fresh Baltic air as they could during their weekly hour outdoors.

The prison cells, spread across four floors, assumed their own hierarchy, with basement chambers at the bottom resembling ruts in the bowel of the devil. Here, exposure to the perpetual damp and moisture was used as a psychological trauma tool by the KGB to keep prisoners perpetually ill and uncomfortable. If I had to guess, I’d say the prisoners weren’t able to find much solace in ‘Dominator 2′.

Across the yard a small corridor lead to what was affectionately known as the hanging chamber. For centuries, a ladder like this one was used to unpick the noose from around recently departed prisoners’ necks, the bodies then carried over to the cliff face and thrown into the sea.


Relative to the basement squalor and anti-lulz of the hanging chamber, climbing the first floor to the organisational hub of the operation seemed like an ascension into peerless luxury. Check out these office units, meeting rooms, what looks like a performance space and store houses full of motivational posters. It’s like that game Theme Hospital, but in a prison.

This poster warned the prisoners not to fuck each other too much lest they pick up a nasty parcel of gonorrhoea, or prison’s other free gift, AIDS.

I liked the domestic desperation in this. Remember those homely flocks of ceramic ducks on your gran’s living room wall? These phone cut-outs are like the duck’s rapist uncles.

Here’s the prison hospital, where inmates would be treated for wounds incurred while fighting with canteen cutlery on acid. During the Soviet era, the prison held mostly political prisoners. Capitalist sympathisers would be pumped full of hallucinogenic drugs that would drive them dangerously insane, in turn justifying their ongoing incarceration. Summer of love, baby :(

Just to remind you, this place was still being used in 2004, the year Facebook was launched.

There was also this small, dimly lit library. Unreturned books remained scattered across the entire prison.

Looking closer at the spread of weathered tomes left out on the window ledge, they all seemed to be about Jesus, which is surely the most unoriginal way to pacify a criminal. At least during the Soviet times they had ideologically approved texts by Marx and Lenin, who were kind of cool in their own way because you could call yourself a revolutionary at the end of it. But fucking Jesus? Jesus is SO lame. What did he ever revolutionise?


Here are some more of the prisoners’ cells higher up the building. Ain’t so bad, huh?

Although this toilet is pretty grim. Bet the prisoners came up with some great games using this. Would hate to be a new inmate going through initiations in that cell. Still, at least you could clean yourself off afterwards.

Shower time!

Ever since Louis Theroux taught us what prison gunning was (drive-by ejaculations aimed at female staff members in case you missed it), it’s been clear one of the most taxing things to deal with in prison is finding ways to unleash all the pent up masculine libido, which men who fight each other as a lifestyle choice tend to have loads of.

Being a keen masturbator myself, I was most touched by the limply collaged wank banks that still litter the prison walls; those little boltholes of breathlessly constructed sexual reverie dreamed up by inmates determined not to resort to another aggressive shower time fingering. So, what do prisoner’s in Estonia like to wank to, other than Cher?


No – try girls climbing ladders, racing car drivers and babbling brooks. Squint, and the wankee might transport himself into an escapist fantasy; a fast-paced adventure bukkake in nature, far from the vagina-less duress of Patarei.

Not sure Tsar Nicholas I had this picture of Jordan in mind when he was thinking about wall decorations. I like to call this photo “Ripping Jordan’s tits off and finding nothing but my own prison walls”.


This looked more like an eye test for prisoners incarcerated so long they’d forgotten what a real woman looks like. What sort of self-respecting prison inmate masturbates over a picture of a blow-up doll?

Oddly this picture of Lisa from Steps – with her face missing – was plastered above the toilets. How Smash Hits found its way into the Estonian gulag beats me. We tried to call Lisa from Steps to get a comment, but she wouldn’t talk to us. Not surprising, given that she has no face.

But most impressive of all was this awesome fresco that had been scrawled up on the walls in one particularly grim cell. A gnarly black knight chopping through a drawbridge in front an oblivious naked woman giving everyone staring at her the eye. This arty guy must have been like the Jeffrey Archer of his wing.

So anyway – isn’t prison horrible? I bet the building site wasn’t in the brochure.