This Record Was Made In Georgian Prison And It's An Open Letter To The Government | Alternative Fruit
With an aim to highlight the major issues rising from the strict prohibition of recreational drugs in Georgia, an inmate from one of their notorious prisons has made a stunning electronica album. With heavy prison sentences for illegal drug users of any kind and no minimum amount threshold, citizens are being punished with five years or more behind bars for even the smallest misdemeanours. Knowing that it's so easy to crumble to peer pressure and with a strong global party culture that accepts moderate drug use, is it right to be so hard on even those who just wanted to have a bit of fun? We know about the downsides of drug taking, and perhaps sometimes it is right to ban certain substances just like we need a prescription for many powerful medicines. But is it right to happily sell alcohol and gain taxes from it in the mean-time, knowing how harmful and addictive it can be, and with the same hand lock up people who choose a different and sometimes proven to be less harmful drug? The hypocritical nature of the prohibition laws is enough to make anyone wonder.
An inmate in Georgian prison was granted access to a music studio after two years of good behaviour. Locked up for having a tiny amount of MDMA, which is a drug to make you feel blissful at the expense of feeling immortal and a heavy down period after, it's usually enjoyed at parties in groups of sociable and caring people. Michail Todua was nabbed by the cops on his way home from a holiday abroad with the remnants of a night out in his pocket. Sentenced the nine years inside, Michail immediately made it clear he needed music to survive. His wish was granted, eventually, and with the help of Georgian/German electronic musician Irakli Kiziria has produced a stunning EP.
Translating the music into words for a press release was always going to be a unique project. A press release, for those who don't know, is the document handed to journalists that describes a product or event. The journalist then uses this information to build an article. This time though, the music industry has gone one step further. Writing as an open letter to the Government of Georgia itself, this pair of intellectual misfits are making a valid and strong argument. Declaring that prison for minor drug offences to be a waste of young life, the letter explains how although one person has been strong enough to thrive under these authoritarian circumstances, countless more do not.
As it is an open letter, and being a music journalist I was sent a copy of the press release, I will share it with you. I hope you find it as inspiring and encouraging as I did.
Open Letter to the Government of Georgia and Madam President Salome Zurabishvili
Dear Governing Class of Georgia and dear Madam President,
I hope you will allow me to first write my sincere greetings. I will spare you the J’accuse, but I am going to delve into a sinister and shameful situation for our otherwise beautiful country.
My name is Irakli Kiziria, I was born in Georgia and I am a musician living in Germany for almost two decades. I first heard about Michailo two years ago through friends and activists. I listened to his music and met him during an interview with Electronic Beats that happened in 2018. To be able to meet him in prison gave me the chance to exchange with him on different projects. It is not easy to collaborate with someone alienated from “regular” society, with no access to the internet and so on, but it is also very interesting. After almost a year, I am very happy and proud to announce that my label is ready to release our record on June 15th. I believe music is an expression of freedom and that Michailo expresses in his music his longing for it. Maybe if you listen to his music, you will hear the voice of our brothers and sisters in prison. Maybe you will feel and understand that he and many others do not belong there. Maybe you will find the courage to change these laws that hurt so many of our brethren. And maybe you will try to help them see their families and their friends sooner.
My name is Michail Todua, I am turning thirty-four this year and I was raised in Tbilisi. Music was always my passion since childhood, which is why I decided to work in this industry. Thirteen years ago I met a girl named Salome in a club, we fell in love and I married her before she gave birth to our daughter who is now nine years old. Sadly for the past six years, I have only talked to my little girl on the phone. She thinks I live very far away in the USA because we did not want to hurt her at such a young age with the truth. On September 12, 2013, while I was driving back to Tbilisi from holiday, I was randomly stopped and taken into the local police station. After which I was sentenced to nine years for possession of the drug MDMA (for personal use). After two years in jail, I was granted the right to work on music, and the penitentiary administration allowed me to arrange one room and transform it into a music studio. Music is one of the most important things in my life and I could not be without it. I collected various parts of music gear that people sent me. It was not easy, and I had to depend on the kindness of many people to get what I needed. During my time in prison, I have managed to release five records. This is a labor of love that I craft and work on during the 5-hour blocks of time I get five times a week in the studio. I have created music for a play based on 12 Angry Men and for the documentary Facility 16. I also offer music therapy for my fellow inmates.
My name is Salome and I am Michailo’s wife. We are preparing his music studio space that will be ready for him after his release. Of course, Michailo has changed, but I do not know if the reason is due to his arrest or simply time, because many people change and improve without going to prison. I do think that prison showed him a different side to everything. He uses time as productively as possible there and I believe he is using his abilities to the maximum. What he is doing there no one has done before in Georgia. In September it will be six years after his arrest and I think that this a lot of time for such an offense.
My name is Beso. A few days after I had been released from prison, after serving eight years on drugs charges, three police officers took me to the police station demanding cooperation in order to prosecute Lasha.
My name is Lasha and I was arrested in 2013 for the possession of 0.00009 grams of desomorphine found in a syringe. An amount so small, it cannot be seen with the naked eye.
His name was Demur, he was twenty-two years old and in August 2016 he committed suicide. The young man left a note which spelled the abuse he had been subjected to. A policeman had threatened him into revealing the identities of people suspected of dealing marijuana in the town of Samtredia.
We are just a few names in the thousands that have been impacted by the current Georgian legislation. Our drug policy is one of the strictest in the world. Is it right? We are not just numbers, we are lives that are destroyed, children that are left alone, futures that vanish.
Maybe Michailo found solace in prison and became what he was meant to be: a musician, an artist. But what about others who don’t find this welfare, this strength? People with no support that are pressured by a police force who often do not see us as human beings, because the current laws do not encourage them to do so. Please Madam President and our government, think about this youth that is getting stolen away. We have seen and endured these sufferings for too long. We can no longer be prolonging these hardships that are unfair and unjust. What we are asking for is not to decriminalize or legalize the use of drugs, but to correct the political errors which have led to and caused so much pain for the children, women, and men of Georgia.
Georgia has one of the highest incarceration rates with 252.2 inmates per 100 000 inhabitants, in Europe, only Russia has a higher rate. (Source: SPACE 2018 survey)
Georgian law does not establish a threshold for small quantities, which means that possession of even particles automatically qualifies as a large amount, triggering criminal liability and a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence.
Between 2006 and 2008, the first two years of the “zero tolerance” policy, the number of registered drug offenses tripled. It also coincided with a tripling of Georgia’s prison population.
All tracks Written and Produced by Michail Todua & Irakli Kiziria
Mixing by Arkita Studios Berlin
Mastering ManMade Mastering
Photography by Kurt Von Bley
Distributed by Above Board Distribution
There you have it, if you were writing an open letter to your government, what would it be about? Would you phrase it differently with an alternative rhetoric, or would this style be the one you'd pick? If you were a politician in Georgia, how would you react to this letter?
You can find out more about the album with a review and a library of links on The Electro Review.
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