So to stick with tradition we were late to our neXt organized tour: a tour of a prison. I must say that this was possibly one of the coolest things I have ever seen, and I’m glad that I did because it is currently up for sale and will probably begin the process to be turned into a fancy schmancy hotel in the next 5 years. What made it so great was that it hadn’t been touched at all- in fact, some of the mattresses from the prisoners were still on the beds (ok, they were put there a couple of years ago because it was used to film a movie, but they were the actual mattresses from the storage area so it counts for something!).. There was still furniture there, and nothing had been repainted (except for the death row area in order to cover up the blood stains, although there weren’t many because… well, it’s too gruesome to explain). We saw the hanging room, and were taken to a holding room. When we were taken there, the guide (who was really awesome) had just finished telling us about the only ghost he has seen in the building (which actually came at an interesting time because just before he started talking about that I was going to ask him if the place is supposedly haunted). So when we went into the room, he slammed the huge metal door behind us and I think the other 3 girls and I just about wet our pants as we were screaming (it was REALLY loud). Once he finally opened the door back up (I guess he got a phone call or something just as he closed it), we were ready to move on. But he wasn’t! He showed us this pitchfork looking thing that seemed to be missing the center fork and said that was how they got the prisoners under control if they were acting out in the 1 ½-6 hours they were stuck in there, if not overnight. He asked for a volunteer and targeted Canadian Diana. He had her put her hands against the wall (it was very dirty she said and the paint stuck to her hands) and then he put the broken pitchfork around her to keep her in place. She then asked for another volunteer, and Canadian Nicholas was chosen. He then had to pat her down. After it was all over the guy said, “you missed your chance!” and then we responded (almost in unison), “he’s her brother!”. Haha. Maybe you had to be there.
The history of the prison goes pretty far back and even closer to the present. The last prisoner was taken out in 1995. It was primarily used as a transition spot, often having up to 1500 prisoners, which is well over the 700 person capacity. Some of the prisoners just committed petty crimes, others were political crimes, and others on death row. If they were on death row they got their own special room which honestly still smelled bad. Then when it was their time to go, they could either be hanged (we went to that room just to “hang out”, injected with poison, or shot. Eek.
It was all pretty intense being there, and it was amazing that prisoners still had to go through that. What was fascinating to me, though, was that my friends kept saying, “I can’t believe people were put through this in such bad conditions” but to me, it wasn’t really anything new because a lot of places in Moldova are still like this- the corruption and lack of money has kept it form moving forward.
In fact, I think that was the most fascinating part for me about Estonia… the fact that that is where Moldova could have been if they had been able to move forward instead of staying where they were a(or falling back) after they became independent. I could still see so much of Moldova within Estonia because it is also an ex-Soviet country that also became independent in 1991. There was similar architecture in the cities, and similar stories from the Estonians about what life used to be like. But the difference is where it is today. I cannot even being to explain how clean the country was. There were trash bins everywhere and you never even saw a cigarette butt in the street (but it was also pretty rare to see people smoking in general). The buildings had been restructured and taken care of, and people had moved forward. Ah, Estonia was so beautiful. Which takes me to the countryside…