Highly readable account of an innocuous business trip to Russia that resulted in a two-year stretch in jail.
British businessman Hague begins with his July 2003 arrest in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo 2 airport, where he was pulled aside after a tiny amount of hashish was found in his luggage. Unaware that a bribe would likely have secured his freedom, he subsequently endured punishing incarceration in various jails, while his physical and mental well-being slowly deteriorated. The author limns the failings of the Russian justice system in meticulous detail, drawing on the copious notes he made during his time behind bars. His story makes alarming reading. Along the way he met some colorful fellow prisoners who were in much worse shape than he. An eternal optimist named Zubi taught Hague how to survive on the inside, and he struck up a genuine friendship with a character named Boodoo John. Hague’s faraway parents and ever-faithful girlfriend Lucy supplied him with materials to bribe the authorities, who eventually permitted him and Lucy to get married in the brutal surroundings of a Mordovian jail. The book is replete with insights conveyed through small details, such as the incredible trouble taken to conceal Zubi’s smuggled cell phone. Hague depicts his Russian jailers in Zone 22 as unscrupulous roughnecks, just as trapped within the system as the prisoners they presided over. Their meager wages meant they could never have afforded the items he gave them as bribes: computers, a bed and huge cartons of cigarettes. The author comes across as a likable guy who should never have found himself in such a predicament; his Everyman quality makes the memoir work, although a few pages about his post-prison life would have been welcome.
Ends somewhat abruptly, but for the most part a real page-turner.