Tuomas Ruuhijärvi is a member of the Finnish Pirate Party and against the obligatory military or civil service placed on Finnish men. If you won't comply with either, you will go to prison for six months. Here's a translation of his experience in jail, maybe some of you will find this interesting.
On Saturday, May 5th, I had carried out the prison sentence imposed upon me. The sentence of 179 days, 181 with prison logic, was served.
I sat in prison because I refused to fulfill the compulsory military service laid upon me by Finnish law. After six months it's good to summarize what I learned in prison, or what I didn't learn.
I served my sentence in an open prison. An open prison differs substantially from a closed one. The most significant difference compared to normal prisons, things that everyone thinks about when talking about prisons, is the fact that open prisons have no actual prison walls surrounding them and not too many locked doors. For this reason the denizens chosen to serve in open prisons are only the type of people, who aren't believed to run away when given the chance and they must commit to sobriety.
I only spent two days in Saramäki prison in a travel cell, so my understanding of closed prisons is mostly based stories told by inmates. After hearing these stories, I'm very glad that I could serve my sentence in an open prison. While a large amount of inmates in open prisons seem like quite normal people, at least when prisoners are often seen as the scum of society, the stuff going on in the "brick houses" is a bit wilder. There were some loonies in open prison as well, but most of them were more half-witted than dangerous.
Many inmates took me as a kind of fool - the concept of civil disobedience didn't ring many bells while inside. A lot of prisoners themselves had been released from the army due to violent behaviour, drugs or other reasons and the most common opinion was that no one had committed any actual crime. There were even a few ex-officers in there, and I got along fine with everyone. The biggest falling out came when I admitted that I voted for the Green Party representative Pekka Haavisto in the Presidential election and he got into the second round. The values of many prisoners were from somewhere arounf the Middle ages and one inmate stopped talking to me for a week straight.
In public discussions, Finnish prisons are called hotels. Even though the Käyrä Prison is no torture chamber, I could never say I had a pleasant time. Imagine a situation where you can only contact those close to you via phone. You can't decide when you want to come and go. Your close ones may come and visit you on the weekends, depending on how they feel about the crime you've committed. In a closed prison there is a thick glass separating the inmates and visitors.
After spending a month in jail, I got to go and visit a store in the town of Lieto. The feeling of seeing an area you knew before going to jail for the first time in a month was probably the best feeling during my sentence and felt great. Then I realized that I'll actually get out from here eventually. Now that I've gotten used to freedom again and enjoyed a few vacations during my stay in prison, appreciating a small and insignificant thing like that feels weird and I don't think many understand how important is was to me in that stage.
In closed prisons the cell door might be closed up to 23 hours a day. No amount of television, radio or books will keep you away from starting to feel like a deranged shut-in. The few days I spent in a travel cell was definitely the worst part of my sentence. I tried to collect all possible information about prison from my cellmate who had served time before.
Many people are surprised by the fact that prisoners get vacations while serving time. A lot of my friends kept asking me if I already got out as I visited them a few times on weekend leave. My vacation season began after I had served two months - in normal cases the vacation opportunities begin when two thirds of the sentence have been served. For inmates with longer sentences, the vacation start coming in roughly halfway in their sentence.
Would I still say no to military service if I could decide again? Yes. Would I do things differently? Yes. Unfortunately for me, I had no idea that a sentence monitored with ankle bracelets during everyday life is going to be introduced soon for total objectors. If I had known this, I would have postponed my military service for a few years and then serve my nay-sayer sentence wearing a bracelet. The protest would have still been valid, I wouldn't have had to go to jail and I would have saved my parents a few sleepless nights. on the other hand, if I had known that it would take nearly 10 months for me to actually be able to serve my sentence instead of waiting around, I would have contacted the authorities much earlier to get my time over with as soon as possible.
Being in prison is pretty much how I thought it would be like. My time in prison was maybe even a bit better than I thought it would be beforehand. While serving my sentence, I learned to appreciate the little things a bit more, such as the right to walk on the street, go out with my friends whenever I want to and in any case do what I want when I want. I also came to realize that the differences between law-abiding citizens and "the scum of society" aren't as great as we would like to think.
I hope that my effort helps in removing this obligatory forced labour that is military service from Finland. Not just me, but all the other objectors, civil service men, people who talked their way into getting release papers and other folks who are openly against this obligation. Every action towards removing military service from Finland counts, no matter how insignificant it may feel. Just opening your mouth and reasoning why it should be removed from our society might turn another head, so the discussion about forced labour should be kept ablaze.