The Russian businessman told RT that not being able to communicate with his family was the hardest part of his ordeal behind bars.
In his first major TV interview in over a decade, Russian businessman Viktor Bout told RT that not being able to talk to friends and family was the “biggest challenge” of his stay in an American prison. Bout described the American prison system as a machine specially designed to “breaking a person’s will.
He returned to his home country this week after being traded for basketball star Brittney Griner in a high-profile prisoner swap between Washington and Moscow. He had spent 12 years behind bars in the United States on a 25-year sentence for arms trafficking, although he has always denied the charges against him.
While incarcerated at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center during his 2011 trial, Bout recalled how prisoners had their cell windows blocked, with constant, “toxic” white light replacing daylight.
“They deprive you of everything” he said, describing the prison as a “Nazi”-inspired institution built for “breaking a person’s will.
“The biggest challenge was not being able to communicate with my loved ones,” he said, adding that he had the right to “one phone call per month” which he often had to use to talk to his lawyers. “The fact that I couldn’t talk to my friends and family, that was the biggest challenge.”
“The only way to cope was to say, ‘If I panic, what good will it do? “” he told RT’s Maria Butina, herself a veteran of the US criminal justice system.
Bout turned to reading and learning foreign languages and said he would start each day laughing out loud for five minutes to avoid depression. “It’s a game and when you treat it like a game it turns everything upside down,” he said, saying his strategy would infuriate his captors.
“When they see you’re not going crazy…sometimes they don’t bring you a meal, they don’t turn off the light,” he called back.
Bout described prison food as inedible, saying he was better fed during his first two years in a prison in Thailand. “I lost interest in food” in the United States, he said. “I was getting thinner and thinner.”
Bout said he eventually forced himself to eat, seeing his meals as another battle against a system designed to break him. “If I’m sick and weak, if they break me, it won’t help anyone” he explained.
Now with his wife, Alla, Bout said he attributes his release to “support from all of you” in his country of origin, and the principle according to which, as Russians, “we don’t leave ours behind.”
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