Former Soviet Army officer Viktor Bout, famous around the world via Nicolas Cage’s interpretation in Lord of War, was arrested in 2008 in Thailand and later extradited to the US to face charges of smuggling weapons for Colombian terrorists, conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to terrorist organizations around the globe. He was off the public radar for quite some time in the US, but not forgotten in his native Russia. Convicted on all charges, Bout has been held in maximum security Marion Federal prison in Illinois where he might spend another 20 years of his life.
Today, he is in even more trouble, if this is possible.
Known to both supporters and opponents for his inquisitive mind and entrepreneurship, Bout managed to grow kombucha in his solitary cell – a tea drink which is a product of the symbiosis of yeasts and acetic acid bacteria, emerging and growing in the remnants of sweet tea. “Viktor spent a lot of effort and time growing up kombucha from the leftovers of the sweet tea in his cell. The kombucha that he grew up was made out of nothing, he hadn’t had a piece that would have been grown by anybody. Kombucha is a folk remedy, very traditional for Russia,” his wife Alla Bout told RIA Novosti, Russian major news agency.
“Not long ago,” she continued, “”the prison administration, having found out about kombucha in Viktor’s cell, made a cell shakedown and found in the beverage a tiny level of alcohol, after which it was prohibited to Viktor to keep and grow kombucha.” The tea drink may contain up to 2.5% ethanol (2% of alcohol can be found in other beverages like kefir).
“Kombucha is well-known in America, but for some reason the prison administration totally ignores the popularity of the beverage among the followers of the healthy lifestyle,” Mrs. Bout said. The beverage, which was known even in ancient China, is considered to be extremely beneficial for digestion and treatment of gastritis and other gastrointestinal diseases.
“In general, Viktor pays a lot of attention to his health and to the health of his dear ones, even from afar. Half of the time of our allowed weekly phone conversations is filled with Viktor’s advices to me, to his Mom and to other relatives of ours on how to use the healing properties of some or other herbs and foods. He constantly looks for and finds new information about healthy foods and herbs and shares it with us.”
According to Mrs. Bout, her husband not only treated his own medical problems with his cell-made kombucha, but also treated other prisoners and prison guards who had serious issues with their stomachs caused by unhealthy prison food.
For this, by the words of Bout’s attorney, Alexei Tarasov, the prison administration threatens Viktor Bout with closed hearing that could result with him placed in the cooler and with banning his weekly calls to his family.
“Besides that, all the points accumulated for good behavior could be removed, and they [the accumulated points] give up to 50 days of jail-term reduction a year,” he added. “During the cell shakedown, administration found about 2% of alcohol in the kombucha and the hearing will be about the alcoholic beverage production inside the cell.” “Both the representatives of the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC and myself asked the prison administration to allow us to be present at the administrative hearing … but our plea was denied,” said Mr. Tarasov.
Bout’s rare interviews this year to Russian media made through his wife, which preceded sudden shakedown in his cell, give a glimpse of his inner world from within the four walls of his cell.
Viktor Bout doesn’t watch TV “as a matter of principle … because what they show about Russia is a pure delirium.”
In general, prisons in the US are clean, admits Bout, and in good repair. But everything in them is gray – buildings, fences and even the prison uniforms, everything is clad in concrete. Lawns, trees and bushes are not permitted and everywhere, an unbelievable amount of barbed wire, armored doors, mesh-nettings. One can hardly see the sky.
Viktor Bout has been held in the Marion Communication Management Unit – a prison within a prison, totally isolated from the rest of the penitentiary – the “Yellow Submarine” as he calls it in reference to the Beatles song. There are 40-45 prisoners inside the “submarine,” 70% of whom are Islamic terrorists, including Americans converted to Islam, but also “patriots,” “constitutionalists” and “republicans” (not to be confused with the representatives of the Republican party). He is the only Russian in the prison.
His solitary confinement cell is one of the six that constitute the block. There is a TV on the wall in the corridor, one for every six cells, prisoners can listen to the TV via their FM receivers. Viktor Bout doesn’t watch TV “as a matter of principle … because what they show about Russia is a pure delirium.” There is a cooler for every six cells. Bout was in the cooler once – for putting his wet towel in the wrong place to dry.
The regime is much tougher in the “Yellow Submarine” compared to the rest of the prison; inmates have less rights than in other parts of Marion – only 2 phone-calls a week 15-minutes-long each (or 120 minutes of the phone conversations a month as opposed to 300 for other inmates). Relatives’ visits are always non-contact, they are separated from the inmates by the glass. The date and time of the visits must be pre-arranged in advance so interpreters and specialists from the National Security Agency can be present. All the correspondence Bout gets is scanned and translated before it is given to him, all his letters read before being sent out. No journalists or human rights activists are allowed. No doctor pays a visit on a regular basis. Instead, the director of the prison comes once a week, accompanied by the rest of the prison brass. They come to every cell, say hello, write something into their notepads, rattle their keys (each has around 6 pounds of keys on special strap) and leave in a hurry. It’s no use to wait for any results of these “doctors’” visits – in response to Bout’s plea for dental treatment, he was offered only the prospect of taking half of his teeth out. The problem with his teeth is the result of malnutrition – in New York Federal prison where Bout spent two years waiting for trial, it happened sometime that they forgot to feed him at all for days, and the available water that he had was from the tap.
Looking for company in his cell block, Bout clings to the white “patriots” who “hate today’s regime in US”, but also has “one good Iranian” as a friend, one Egyptian and one Palestinian. “With the members of the local crime gangs that are mostly black, communication doesn’t work, only in terms of being neighbors.” To be a Russian in American prison is not an issue for Bout – people around him “understand what`s going on around Russia politically, Putin enjoys a lot of respect among them, he’s respected much more than any other world leader.”
The inmates treat him well, although he has to be very careful because “there are a lot of stool pigeons in prison. The cult of a fink is a traditional cult for the US. After the court session some prisoner might approach you and start talking about how everything is corrupt, everyone is a traitor and will offer you the help with “righting the wrong” – to “take care” of a judge or a prosecutor. And right away – boom! – he has the recording device on his body, you get one more life sentence for conspiracy of murder of the judges. And they will cut some years off for him, and FBI people and others get awards and bonuses.”
Bout spends his days in the cell meditating, exercising yoga, engrossing himself in self-education. There is no gym for the “submarine crew”, because, according to Bout, the prison administration doesn’t want the prisoners to improve their physical state, otherwise they might resist the prison staff or escape. Books on improving one’s physical state are not allowed for the same reason. “The books are a big issue,” comments his wife Alla. “It is not allowed to pass books to the prisoners, there is no library. It is possible only to order some books directly from online stores or from publishers. It costs a lot of money. Viktor reads a lot and we have a possibility to send him books every month.”
Also, he spends time painting and thinking.
He thinks about the US government that put him in jail. He characterizes the “regime of the Globalists that are running the show in America” today, quoting the words of the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek, “Military-judicial apparatus was magnificent. Such an apparatus is present in every state that is standing on the verge of the general political, economic and moral collapse. The halo of former power and glory is protected by the courts, the police, the gendarmerie and the venal pack of informers.”
He thinks about American penal system, and how 4% of the world population lives in the US, but 25% of the world prison population is in American prisons. The reason in his view is that the US penal system — “prison-industrial complex” — is a very profitable business.
“Federal Bureau of Prisons uses private prison corporations. Three biggest of them are headed by the former BOP’s directors, and their stocks are traded on Wall Street. Together with the Prison Guards Union, they actively take part in election campaigns on different levels, contributing millions of dollars to these campaigns.” Cheap labor by prisoners – “majority are blacks and Latinos” – can compete with the sweat shops in China or India – “it is a tough business based on grief and suffering of ordinary people. … Federal Bureau of Prisons today has 300,000 people. Another 2.2 million are in state prisons. This system works as a GULAG, every move according to the plan target, they know in advance how many people should be incarcerated. According to the statistics, in 2014 there were 56 million people in the USA who at one point in their lives were incarcerated. But one cannot even call them citizens – they are deprived of their election rights, cannot get the welfare or food stamps.”
His arrest, he believes, was an experiment by the US Government if it would be possible for them to arrest Russian citizens around the world.
He never pleaded guilty. “They [US Government] had no poof, during the court hearing there were nothing but the statements of the US special agents. This is nonsense!” His arrest, he believes, was an experiment by the US Government if it would be possible for them to arrest Russian citizens around the world after having declared them world-scale criminals. (A number of Russians were arrested in different countries since then – Konstantin Yaroshenko was arrested in Liberia in 2010, Roman Seleznev on Maldives islands in 2014, latest case – Maxim Senakh in Finland this August, who expects extradition into the US.) Last March, Russian Ambassador to UN Vitaly Churkin declared that “US took the habit of stealing Russian citizens around the world, of indicting them with far-fetched accusations as a result of provocations perpetrated against them by US intelligence agencies, and of giving them, as a result of this, monstrous terms of imprisonment.”
He considers that all the lush titles he got – “Merchant of Death” and “Lord of War” among them – are just one of the tools of “the typical methods from Anglo-Saxon set of the Globalists’ psychological warfare”. “These are their myths, these are their problems, not mine”, he said.
In Russia, some still hope that Viktor Bout will be exchanged in the future for some high-profile prisoners who have been held in the Russian prisons expecting their long sentences, like former Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko or Estonian secret service operative Eston Kokhver.
One thing Viktor Bout doesn’t think about is how many years he will have to spend behind bars. If nothing changes, it will be another 20 years and he will be 68 by then. “In my situation, being inside the bag of concrete, it makes no sense to think about 20 or 30 years. One can keep a man behind bars but his spirit, his soul – these one cannot put in prison.”
And when he is out, the first thing he plans to do is to pay a visit to the traditional Russian “banya” (sauna) – in accordance with his healthy lifestyle.