Novinsky women’s prison, which had been built on the site of a former monastery seemed to Marguerite like a “terrestrial paradise.” The courtyard included grass plots with flowering shrubs and benches where women sat talking or sewing. Children of the inmates played in the dirt. In the middle of the courtyard was a small white church and behind that a library. The complex included the prison blocks, administrative offices, a hospital, school, workshop, and recreation hall.
The prison had clean toilets with modern plumbing, hot water, and baths. The cells doors were open, and the women could go freely about until night. Food packages arrived daily, and political prisoners could even see friends and relatives. The library was stocked with Russian classics as well as a few books and magazines in French, English, and German. The Socialists at the prison were allowed newspapers, which they shared with Marguerite. In the evenings the inmates often engaged in political debates and held musical concerts.
Novinsky could nevertheless be a violent place. The inmates often beat suspected thieves and spies while the guards pretended not to see. While Marguerite took the violence in stride, she was bothered by what she termed widespread “sexual perversion.” She had been attracted to a girl at St. Tim’s and romanticized Stan Harding, but she criticized lesbianism as an “incalculable evil” that she believed grew from segregating the sexes and “suppressing normal instincts.”
A few days after her arrival, Marguerite was admitted her to the prison hospital where she enjoyed the luxury of a straw mattress and rations that included dried apples, tinned beef, and a generous portion of rice and wheat cereal. Medical care, nevertheless, was sorely deficient. The prison possessed just one hypodermic syringe and two needles with which the doctor administered cholera vaccine to 248 inmates and gave Marguerite daily injections of arsenic.