Voice | ‘My part in exposing this system’

22 December 2019
Sashka Kalmakhelidze. Photo: Facebook.

Following the suicide of 15-year-old Luka Siradze on 11 December, allegedly after he was threatened by police, several people have come forward with similar allegations against the police. One such story was that of Sashka Kalmakhelidze, 24, who after being arrested in January 2017 for possession of MDMA, said he too was abused and threatened by the police.

This story was originally published on Facebook in Georgian by Sashka Kalmakhelidze; it was translated and republished with the permission of the author.

‘Should I write, or not? Should I write, or not? Should I write, or not?’

‘It’s been two days and I can’t think of anyone or anything but that boy. Probably because I think I know a bit of what he felt, what kind of pressure he underwent, how they broke him, how they approached him, what they made him feel.’

‘It was 27 January 2017, and after a long break, my friends and I were getting ready for an event in a club. After trying for a while, we got a hold of MDMA somewhere to go to a club, dance, say farewell to stress, if only briefly.’

‘On Dolidze Street, two of us were about to go and drop by a friend. I parked the car and went out. My friend went into the building while I went back to my phone I had left in the car. That’s when, in a split second, a Skoda hit the breaks right in front of me. Four guys jumped out of it, one put his hand in the jacket pocket where I had the MDMA and stuffed me into the car.’

‘I had been ratted on.’

‘The bullying and mocking started right in the car.’

‘Four guys are mocking and laughing at me and the strangest part, they call me by my friend’s name.’

‘When we entered the building [the police station], a short, blond, blue-eyed guy, who later turned out to be their boss, took my wallet from me and when he saw that I was really Aleksandre, told the others: “Are you nuts? It’s not him’ ”.

‘Then they discussed something for a while.’

‘After that, later, I was taken to a small room where, as I understand, there are no cameras and our cops feel much freer to do what they do. I won’t lie and claim I was beaten. But they shook me so hard, took me through such psychological pressures that I sincerely would have preferred if someone just beat me into unconsciousness.’

‘The last conversation, after which everyone left the room except one [police officer], went like this: “You understand that we don’t need you, right? Just do what you’re told. You think you’re a cool guy?”, they asked me with a mocking smile.’

‘ “No, I don’t”, I replied.’

‘ “So understand that what we are telling you to do is not snitching, it’s cooperation. We’ll catch that guy sooner or later even without you (by the way, they really did, soon after). One can tell you’re a decent guy, you have a clean record, so now you have a chance to save yourself. If you do everything we tell you, you’ll be out today. Why screw up your life?” ’

‘I sat silently, trying not to react to the worst provocations, the worst humiliation, not to respond with anything. Obviously I did not plan to do what they suggested, and they threatened me, threatened me very badly.’

‘Then that short, blond, blue-eyed guy took the lead again: “That’s it, get out, leave me alone with this guy”.’

‘We’re sitting, just the two of us, and that guy tells me to come closer to him. I could guess he had something bad on his mind. “Come, come, don’t be afraid”, he tells me.’

‘I sat in front of him and suddenly, he pulls a gun out of his belt, points it at me and smiles ironically, closing one eye after another as if to aim at me better, swinging his gun in my face.’ 

‘ “Do you know what this is? It’s your last chance to survive”.’

‘ “You’re not planning to rat on your friend and I’m not asking you to do that but if you manage to remember someone owning a gun without papers, I’ll flush your shitty amount of MDMA right into the sink and will forget I even met you. But know that you don’t have much time”, he told me and started taking bullets out of the magazine. Then he put them back in. Then he took them out again, all the while looking and smiling at me.’

‘It was a terrible feeling and a terrible moment. I had no idea what the hell I was doing here, what I had to do with these people, this weapon, this smirking cop. I closed my eyes a thousand times but when I opened them, I was still there.’

‘They took me and sat me outside the room.’

‘ “That’s it, we’re sending you to do a drug test, but this is the last procedure”, another cop who kept silent during my questioning told me. Everyone called him Kala.’

‘ “What procedure?”, I asked.’

‘ “Follow me”, he said.’

‘They took me to yet another room without cameras.’

‘ “Get undressed”.’

Prison torture footage, evil cops, Bedukadze, the abuse of prisoners and a million terrible things came into my head.’

‘ “I won’t”.’

‘ “Don’t be afraid, it’s a simple procedure, you’ll be released soon”.’ 

‘It’s so hard to trust anyone there. I took off my top and stood there. He examined me, then checked my back and said: “now get undressed below”. “Oh, fuck them!” I thought and took off my socks and trousers and remained in my underwear.’

‘ “Go ahead, don’t be shy, that too”.’ 

‘I am standing fully naked in some room without cameras in a Saburtalo police building and some cop is looking at me with a smirk. It’s a terribly humiliating feeling. I summoned all the power I had and took a risk for the first time that night, telling him, disgusted: “You plan to keep staring at it much longer?” ’

‘I expected him to be triggered and hit me. But he smiled and said: “If you confirm that you received no injury during your stay here, sign here”.’

‘ “I could have confirmed it without taking off my clothes”.’ 

‘ “That’s the procedure”.’ 

‘I started to put my clothes back on.’ 

‘We went out and now we were ready to move on to do a drug test to check my urine.’

‘At that moment I remembered Hollywood movies: “Don’t I have a right to make one phone call?” ’

‘They said ok and one of them offered me his phone to make a call. “We’ve already sealed your phone”.’

‘ “I can’t tell you a number unless I look at my phone”, I said.’

‘They said ok and started taking my phone out from the sealed package.’

‘ “Wait, didn’t you sign the deal? You don’t have the right to open the package and take out the phone”, I said. 

They burst into laughter. 

‘As I was waiting to be transported from the [police] department, screams started to come out of the room without cameras. Most likely, someone was being beaten up.’ 

‘Hearing the sound, a girl sitting at the computer next to me smiled at me awkwardly.’

‘ “Do you always hear these screams and do nothing about it?”, I asked.’

‘ “What can we do? Are we beating him up?” ’

‘I was taken outside. Levan the cop had handcuffs ready for me but the Svan told him not to cuff me. Levan sat in the backseat next to me and started trying to convince me with a friendly tone to not refuse to urinate and not to make them wait 12 hours for nothing.’

‘ “Don’t you see no one hit you? None of us beat you up. We treat you cool. So come on now, and in return, just take a leak when we arrive there. It will serve you better in your plea later, trust me”.’

‘ “And why didn’t you beat me up?”, I asked.’

‘ “Man, we don’t beat up everyone. We only beat up motherfuckers who deserve it”.’

‘ “And who decides a guy is a motherfucker who deserves to be beaten up or not?”, I asked.’

‘Levan seemed to feel invincible at that moment, replying clearly: “Me!”.’

‘I was taken to Ortachala.’

‘We enter the drug testing facility and the picture is terrible. Guys cuffed together, raging and screaming cops, bloodied and beaten up folks. A feeling grows and grows that I’m in some mysterious space, a space that I clearly don’t belong in and that this is not a game. After a long discussion, they decided to take me from Ortachala to Dighomi and make me take a leak there.’ 

‘There was a smaller crowd in the Dighomi drug testing facility but we still had to wait. There I met a cop that combined everything: low, repulsive, inhuman and everything negative even for them [the police]. He was with some guy he brought in, probably a construction worker. He had his trousers and shoes stained with paint. The cop said he knew for sure he had smoked pot.’

‘ “The others ran away but I dragged him by his neck and now he claims he has a urinary blockage. But I’ll still make him piss”, he told my cops with a smile.’

‘I sat for a long time in the waiting room. Finally, my time came. The Svan took me into the toilet and apologised: “I have to watch you, that’s the rule”.’

‘I urinated and took my urine in a cup to a doctor with a serious face sitting nearby. The doctor put some stick into that cup with an even more serious face.’

‘ “It’s clean. But the marijuana line still shows up, dimly. He likely smoked it about a month ago or so. That’s OK, we’ll still register it and he’ll face the administrative court and [a fine of] ₾500 [$170]”, the doctor announced with a big smile.’

‘I went out. That worker is still sitting in that chair. I had to wait in the hall again and I’m hearing this dialogue word-by-word: “Piss already, come on! Or you know I’ll deal with you more harshly sooner or later. Forget about the ₾500 fine. I’ll put you in jail, and it’ll be bad. You got that ring on your finger, you have a wife, right? Who’s gonna wait for a dickhead like you? One will fuck your wife, another will give it in her mouth and the third will cum on her face while you’ll be staring at the walls [in prison]. Piss, I said! Before it’s too late!”.’

‘Not a word uttered. This worker keeps sitting calmly and staring at the floor.’

‘Meanwhile, my Svan cop wraps up the last formalities and takes me out, puts me in the car and we’re heading to the Dighomi KPZ [pre-trial detention facility]. My heart is beating fast as if it is about to jump out of my chest. I forgot about myself, retelling what I had heard there.’

‘They say nothing in return. Then Levan turns to me saying: “Do you know how lucky you are you were caught by Saburtalo police? If it was Varketili, Samgori or somewhere out there, do you know what could happen to you?” ’

‘ “What?”, I asked.’

‘ “They would have fucked you and beat the shit out of you until you admitted to the crime properly. At our place, people are treated well”.’

‘We arrived at the KPZ. You know in films when someone is made to hold some bullshit and to stand to be measured and photographed. That’s what they did to me.’

‘I was handed over to a prison guard. I sat for about 15 minutes silently in the cell. That’s when I knew I was about to break. My spirit was broken. You feel ready to fight when surrounded by the jackals in the [police] department, a self-defence mechanism activates. You are being attacked from one side and from another, and you are alert to fend them off. But here, you are alone with yourself, no one cares about you. You are inmate “X” with “X” grammes of a portion of buckwheat to eat. Eat or don’t eat, the hell with you.’

‘Then a guard peeped into the cell again. “Kalmakhelidze, you have a lawyer”.’

‘ “You are in big trouble”, the lawyer tells me.’

‘ “I’m listening”, I said.’

‘ “So, this law is fucked up, there’s no distinction between hard or soft, club or non-club drugs. You’re a big-time pusher by default, no one will care in court if you had it for yourself to go to a club. According to the law, from 0 — even if it’s 0.01 [grammes], it’s a large amount, and beyond 1 gramme it’s already a very large amount”.’

‘ “So?” I asked.’

‘ “So now your MDMA is in the lab. If it’s smaller than 1 gramme, you face 5–8 years, if its more, 8–20 years”.’ 

‘I started shivering, 5 years… 8 years…’

‘ “OK, go, let me think of something and I’ll come tomorrow”.’ 

‘The lawyer said goodbye. The prison guards took me, completely devastated, back to my cell.’

‘Soon after that, a new guy was thrown in. He had tears in his eyes. He sat at the table next to me. I offered him some Lobiani and that stupid lemonade that was sent in for me.’

‘ “They planted it on me. They planted it on me. I swear on my mother’s grave, they really planted it on me”. He kept repeating only those words.’

‘ “What do you mean they planted it on you?”, asked the other guy.’ 

‘ “They caught me with weed. They can’t jail me for that with the new law, it’s just [an administrative offence], so they sprinkled it with bio [synthetic cannabis]. That’s a criminal offence now and they will jail me”, he said while sobbing like a child.’

‘Each conversation made me feel worse. So I laid down and tried to remain silent before a morning meeting with the lawyer, frantically counting how many days were in 20 years, how many days were in 8 years, how many days were in 5 years.’ 

‘Another day came and I was called to meet the lawyer again.’

‘Malkhaz [the lawyer] held some papers and started very seriously.’

‘ “Congratulations. The lab results came and I have good news for you: your MDMA was 0.011 grammes, poor you, so they won’t jail you from 8–20 years”.’ 

‘ “So?”, I asked.’

‘ “So now you’ll go to jail for a 5–8 year term”.’

‘ “Wow, what a piece of nice news you brought to me”, I said.’

‘ “You’ll be on probation for a long time anyway. You’ll also have to pay a lot too. As for release from the court, I can’t promise you that, the judge will probably still give you 2–3 years, but I’ll do everything I can”.’

‘There was nobody in the cell after I went back. I was alone. The time from seeing Malkhaz and being brought to the court was the longest 24 hours of my life. I went to the edge of bipolar disorder. I laid paralysed for a long time, unable to get up. Other times I walked back and forth unable to stop.’

‘Finally, it was morning. The cops and Malkhaz came for me. Malkhaz started: “So here’s the deal. You’ll get 5 years but on probation. You’ll walk away from the court. Additionally, you’ll have to pay 5,000 [lari]”.’

‘The court was a pure formality. Everyone — me, my friends, my lawyer, the cops, the judge, everyone knew what an absurdity we participated in. But people who hide in their comfort zones, refused, or were lazy, or were scared, or did not want or did not dare to exit them, did not dare to take the lead, to start a change.’

‘Right after about 20 formal yes or no questions, I was out, breathing the air that I thought on the previous day I would be unable to.’

‘This wasn’t a perfect freedom. I went through hell throughout the next year. I had to visit a probation officer once a week, where cops lurked to snatch probationers and force them into giving a urine sample.’

‘They took away my driving license, banned me from leaving the country. I changed very much during that time. I had major depression. I constantly feared someone would jump me and plant something on me, and that no one would believe me.’

‘I sat at home, left work, broke up with a girlfriend, stopped going to university. I constantly thought I was being taped, surveilled. I only visited therapists who really couldn’t help me much.’

‘I toyed with suicidal thoughts. It took me a very long, long time after crashing into this system to reclaim the adequate spiritual condition in which I am in now. But every time I hear news about Demur Sturua, Luka Siradze, and other victims of the system, the wounds reopen and the old feelings start to come back.’

‘Out of the fear of certain things, considerations of some people, and due to many other facts, my part in “exposing” this criminal system was never made public.’

‘I don’t know if I have put myself in danger now. If any representative of the system decides to take revenge after this story, he would not be able to. Or if he does, you’ll know the reason behind it.’

#FuckThisLife’.

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