Tig Hague's Tomorrow You Go Home is a harrowing tale of life in a Russian gulag 

There's a kind of arrogance that sometimes goes hand in hand with innocence—an unworldly certainty that good intentions will always be taken into account, that the hard edge of the law will be softened for decent people who make mistakes. Tig Hague, a young Englishman employed by a large London brokerage firm, carried that certainty with him on a 2003 business trip to Russia, along with a tiny, forgotten nub of hashish. Those two pieces of baggage ultimately cost him months of suffering in Russia's harsh penal system, as he recounts in Tomorrow You Go Home: One Man's Harrowing Imprisonment in a Modern-Day Russian Gulag.

Prior to his ordeal, Hague was a standard-issue nice young man, with respectable parents, a good job and an adoring fiancée. In the usual fashion of energetic young businessmen, he enjoyed a weekend of partying at a friend's wedding, packed hastily and dragged himself onto a plane to Moscow for a little face time with his Russian clients. Hungover and nervous about his meeting, he became exasperated with the slowness of a customs official and misunderstood the man's gestured demand for a bribe. As a result his bags were searched, and the official discovered the hash Hague had absent-mindedly tucked into the pocket of a pair of jeans during his pal's stag party.

Once arrested, Hague made a series of naive mistakes. His sole opportunity for an unmonitored phone call went to his London boss, instead of to a Moscow contact who might have been able to barter his quick release. When two young, English-speaking men arrived to chat with him during his detention, he didn't suspect that they were really interrogators intent on helping him incriminate himself, which he unwittingly did. He signed a statement in Russian, despite the fact that he couldn't read a word of it.

Thrown into a foul, overcrowded jail pending his trial, it finally dawns on him that "at every single turn, I had made the wrong call." For all the horrors that come later, this moment of revelation may make the most painful reading in the book. It's impossible for any comfortable Westerner not to empathize with Hague as he second-guesses himself, wondering if perhaps he had been too passive with the bullying officials. "Or was it simply that I couldn't believe that such a fuss could be made over a miserably small piece of hash and that being a reasonable person, I'd expected everyone else to be reasonable and that common sense, common decency, and natural justice would prevail?"

The full absurdity of his expectation of "natural justice" is revealed when he is convicted and shipped off to "Zone 22," a remote hellhole reserved exclusively for foreigners, most of them from Africa and Asia. The conditions Hague describes would seem unbelievable if they weren't echoed in other Russian prison memoirs: scant, terrible food; extreme cold; slave labor; and above all, relentless filth. Germophobes should give Tomorrow You Go Home a wide berth—the book overflows with references to sputum, shit, piss, slime, rats and body odor. There's a fair amount of violence, too, though less than one might expect. Many of the prisoners are too weak from hunger and exhaustion to fight.

The greatest challenge for Hague, though, is learning to negotiate the alien, upside-down morality of the prison. Common sense and decency are meaningless the world of Zone 22, where beatings are routine, bribery is necessary to survival, and the most trivial infraction earns an extra six months of confinement. Hague, thanks to his caring family and the obliging British Embassy, is well supplied with money and goods to buy some protection and privileges, but, ironically, that advantage carries a heavy price. As Papi, one of his many inmate mentors, explains, the guards will inevitably see him as "an endless supply of Western cigarettes and coffee and chocolate—stuff they could never afford on their wages. So they're going to try and keep you here as long as possible. It's Zone 22's Catch 22—the more you give them to secure your route out of here, the more they're going to want to keep you in."

The book's catalog of miseries becomes increasingly hard to take as the story progresses—not because the details grow tiresome, but because the cumulative effect begins to give the reader a sense of the despair Hague and the other prisoners feel. The prospect of years of such suffering must be soul-destroying, and we see that process happening in Hague's descriptions of his fellow prisoners, and of himself. The callow, easygoing, young Englishman slowly takes on an angrier, more calculating persona.

Thanks to persistent pressure from his family and his advocates at the British Embassy, Hague wound up enjoying a happier fate that most of his fellows. His fiancée actually married him in prison, and in the spring of 2005—almost two years after leaving Britain—he came home, and quickly gained a new job, a baby and a book deal. Although no one could undergo the experience of Zone 22 without lasting trauma, it's hard to imagine a sweeter ending for him. The power of Hague's story is that it's a haunting reminder of all the others who aren't so lucky. There are millions of human beings locked up around the globe, rendered voiceless and invisible, often for crimes as trivial as his.


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