Russian Prison Encyclopedia

Kutschinsky, Alexander

Translated from Russian

From Start to Finish


The name "temporary keeping cell" is not popular among the prisoners, as well as the "inquest isolation ward" (IIW). It has always been a "prison". They are a few of cells attached to a police station. [...]

A berth occupies ½ or even ? of a cell and looks like a rectangular plank threshold from one wall to another. This place is profusely covered with writings, drawings, chess-board, backgammon and "schisch-besch" traceries. Draughts, dies and chess pieces are supposed to be made from dietary bread. Often in interboard slits one can find matches, cigar-butts or razor blades left of concern from previous prisoners. A door is metal, usual for prisons, with bars, eyelets, feeding panes. There is a close-stool but nowadays there are cast-iron "otschkós" instead of it. Also there is a tap for washing. Often there are no windows or they are closed with layers of perforated tin plates. No light can get into these quarters. Darkness reigns and disturbed by a wan lamp through a riddled gap over a door. Nobody have watches, find out what is time one can from sentry relieving or from feeding with tea, extrawatery soup (skilly) and pap of unknown seeds.


Inquest isolation ward is not a long period, it seldom lasts more then ten days. One fine day all bars jingle and one can hear dull bay of police dogs, drones of car engines, soldiers' and ensings' foul speech. That's how transit cars ("autozáks") arrive. The sacks will be immediately returned and all of us will move towards one more and not the last new life.

Before we leap into a metal autozak box to the accompaniment of chattering of the police dogs teeth and hurrying with riffle butts and escort's fists let us pay attention to those who have to share with us severities of prison and camp life.


Sometimes degenerates have occurred. For instance, Ted U. used to masturbate during the childish performances in the cinemas of his own town, Valentine S. violated his own ten-years-old daughter. They've been only a handful and often have not survive even before an inquest isolation ward, let alone a camp zone.


An Autozak Journey

Transit Acceptance

Receiving convicts from an inquest isolation ward into an autozak (and then to a prison) is accomplished by domestic affairs escort. A chief of escort examines "citizens" in order to find blows and maladies traces as high temperature. He can refuse somebody if records executed incorrectly or there are some complaints (one's accompanied luggage is taken away, a doctor wasn't called).

The isolation ward administration don't like it for they have to relieve their cells and send to a prison all who are supposed to. However all the stakeholders arrange somehow: the administration returns the unduly taken cigarettes (or give their own), the "citizen" withdraws his claims and the chief gives OK for embarkation. An autozak is a special van with partitions and a couple of so-called "stakáns" inside. The stakáns are for single prisoners that have to be insulated from the other ones. Sometimes just for being female.

Like Sardines

10-15 convicts in one autozak is spacious enough. But when gasoline is economized there are often about forty people per one van. So, dear asthmatics, the aged and heart sufferers, bon voyage!

It's not a good idea to get forward for one who is the closest to a grate can breathe easily. There were the cases when the heart sufferers squeezed in a broiler were tumbling out from their autozaks.

Sometimes one is squeezed on purpose: in a case when one is a pervert (the prisoners are implacable when a crime committed against a child). Frequently even policemen put this scum with the other, not into a separate stakan. "Just gasped during a transit. A heart case - there was nothing to be done." Prison writes off, court works less, zone's carefree.

Many of such stories are legends cluttered with vivid details but they started from the real facts.


A Gaol

The Autozak Arrived

The autozak stopped and you can hear a clank of so-called "Schleuse" gates that are pushed together. The van goes through the first gate and the other starts opening. All is changed, the escort's voices, the police dogs' bark, the smells. If you have time to turn round you would see another colours, another stones. The escort is indifferently calm but with the prison administration are able to "arouse dread" by setting the dogs or poking in the ribs with a rifle butt. To grumble is useless for dread arousal's tested expedient in a prison.

The Boxes

From the autozak convicts go into boxes as a "sbórka" starts. A box is a small cell with an area no less then 1m² with a narrow bench or a wall ledge. Prisoners are put here before transits, leading into a cell, summoning to an investigator or a lawyer and so on.

A sbórka

A sbórka is an activity similar to registration of a new-born baby either in a maternity home or in a Civilian Registry Office. [...]

A Transit Ward

After processing a prisoner is dispatched into a transit ward. There can be some beds for sleeping and rest (see later) but also can be old-fashioned communal plank beds with two floors (they still remained in many transit prisons).

During sbórka or more precisely in boxes and transit wards a man familiarizes himself with prison/camp law and lawlessness. The point is that transit wards residents pass by in big amounts and unknown directions. Some temporal groups of prison anarchists are formed, they fleece prison neophytes or just submissive prisoners. Even slaughters are possible if a debtor meets his creditor, or different enemies meet each other.


An Entrance into a Prison Cell

Finally in threes or fours prisoners are led by jailers in sombre prison passages, being delivered to passage orderlies. Bolts are jangling, locks are creaking, a steel-plated door is open and you are squeezing into a ward hardly keeping your mattress and bag. A jailer pushes you and in hurry is locking the door. Tens of eye couples are staring at you and henceforth you are going to share their burdens and humble joys of prison life.

One can only laugh at ward entrances as shown in the Soviet and modern movies. Of course, there are no angel faces in real prisons but the "Gentlemns Udachi" Dotcent's snoots is rarity.

Nowadays in many prisons TV sets are allowed. [...]

In some places reception of newcomers occurs in total indifference. As one man said nobody had even turned to him for all the prisoners had been infatuated by an aerobics or shaping broadcast. [...] Newcomers enter and are met in different ways. Some of them seem to feel at home, another fall in a hellhole with fear and ignorance.

A Ward

There are different prisons and different wards but prison law is for everyone. I'm talking neither about the Ministry of Internal Affairs job descriptions nor about the Criminal Code clauses but about unwritten law ("Ponyátia") that have been drawn out for decades. Ponyátia are wider than law and determine co-existence of a host of Russian prisoners.

Acquaintance with (absence of) Ponyátia starts from a ward.

Most of newcomers, especially young ones, think that prison law is sequential to street/disco jungle. The result of such mistake is so-called "Propíska" ("residence permit") very popular in minimum security wards and among youth.


Propíska is a rough and primitive ritual but, of course, it somewhat relieves a drab prison life. Unfortunately it often turns into anarchy. A facetious cruelty can easily change into real one so Ponyátia are broken and people suffer without guilt.

There are some restrictions for Propíska, f.i., by age, state of health and so on. This ritual, however, nowadays grows infrequent in prisons. It have never been in right wards, there've been just harmless jokes.

A Right Ward

Everyone lives according to Ponyátia here. You would be welcomed and not asked about details of your case. Elementary ward rules would be explained and in general they are similar in all prisons.

F.i., one prison had had closets with blinds and using a close-stool with undrawn blinds was forbidden. Though in many prisons closets have no blinds at all.

Ward rules are similar to rules of any communal life. When the other eat don't use a toilet. Wash your hands before eating, don't sit down to table in overcoat. Do not whistle. Don't spit out at a floor. Bread ought to be eaten neatly, don't drop it. Don't drop a spoon, mug, plate.

Nobody is waited upon, nobody must nothing. A ward is cleaned by everyone by turns.

The higher security in a cell, the less foul language is used. Not because prisoners are reclaimed, they are just afraid to be misunderstood. Using a "bljadd" ("whore") curse as an interjection for a lacuna in speech can be understood as a personal insult. And all the more nobody should be directed upon a dick, it's the most offensive affront. That's why special security convicts avoid using foul language and speak in a low voice, do not impede or exasperate anyone.

Usually newcomers abuse freedom language, that's why controversial points are resolved with fists. It's advisable not to allow such situations to arise and for the first time look at seemingly Ponyátia-obedient convicts' behaviour.

Whatever you feel about your ward, now it's your home. Any home should be habitable and equipped with amenities. Study prison life ruses and in no circumstances reckon prison as some transit. Even a three-, four- or five-years term (not 15, is it?) is also big part of your life that (according to an suitable here aphorism by N.A. Ostrovsky) "should be spent in non-poignant way."

Arrangement of Your Individual Life

A real prisoner tries to grow roots from his first days of imprisonment. One hangs a poster with a female pop star, another cuts out some curtains for unknown purpose, third uses an old coat to make his blanket warmer and so on. Everything is put neatly, there is no mess in a ward, there is as little dirt as possible. Nobody puts his shoes under a head bed or his socks under a pillow.


Big part of a prisoner's life is dedicated to struggle against insects, mostly cimices and cockroaches. Cimices are fought with water and fire: burnt, scalded and so on. But after retreating they launch a counter-offensive in more plentiful forces. They land from ceiling, manoeuvre in groups of 810 individuals at once. New soldiers replace dead ones.

Often prisoners cannot stand this bloody battle (in strict sense) and ask for chemical forces in face of a consumer services prisoner with Trichlorfon. Prisoners are also poisoned when pushed into their ward in an hour after desinsection.

If you have already got cockroaches struggle is useless. In the "Krestý", f.i., they are big and black. They're so huge that nibbling some rusk by them is heard as a sinister crunch. In general these giants are inoffensive. In some wards they were named as Arkas, Bim, Mandela, Khachik and so on.

Louses are curios, for any lousy person (with his mattress) is right away directed to processing by the other prisoners.

Mice are often amusement if there's no any zoophobe. Rats are as exotic as louses. There are no another animals in prisons.


According to Ponyátia nobody have any right to ask you about details of your case when you are under examination. Even in a zone it's not accepted just as the questions about your clause: "what for?", "where?", "how?" That one who needs it will know it on his own.


The Perforated Plate

The most despised caste of a zone is pulled-downs and "obízhennys". This caste is made of passive homosexuals, sexual offenders and victims of zone violence.

Pulled down are called "petúkhs", "margarétkas", "wafflers". There must always been a separate territory for them, so called "pethúkhs' corner". In barracks they sleep by a door, in wards they sleep by a close-stool or under plank beds. Sometimes they are made to produce screens and isolate themselves from the other. In dining-rooms there are special tables and benches just for petúkhs. If some normal prisoner sits in a petukhs' place he'll become "contaged" and loose universal esteem.

For not slipping up the experienced prisoner in an inquest isolation ward first of all clarifies where a pulled-downs' place is. Usually any petúkh is marked: he is untidy and sordid for he is not allowed to wash himself with the other. In a dining-room he uses special things - his dish, mug, spoon are perforated and make him to close a hole with his finger to keep soup and tea from discharge. Prisoners often say "to present a perforated plate" instead of "to pull down".

The pulled down is charged with the most disgusting work: lavatory cleaning, transporting of a close-stool, cesspit service. If one refutes he can be kicked (never punched!), have his face in a close-stool or even killed. Most of the pulled down cannot stand and commit a suicide.

Speaking with a petukh is "zapadló", the only allowed contact with him is sexual one. Go to an industrial zone he can in the end of a column. The closest distance to any normal prisoner should be three steps. Starting a conversation to the latter is less permitted. A petúkh is obligated to make way pressing himself to a wall. Any omission leads to a blows punishment.

There are a lot of reasons for pulling down. You can become one of prison dregs already in an inquest isolation ward when being rude to an authoritative criminal or standing up for your rights. As usual only beginners are pulled down this way if they used to order about before imprisonment. There were cases of pulling down for appearance, beautiful or finical.

Passive homosexuals and violators of minors had been pulled down automatically. As early as during IIW period their cellmates find out their sexual orientation and broken clause.

Psychiatrists that study maniacs claim that almost all of the latter have been sexually harassed either in army or in prison. Chickatilo of Rostov and Slivko of Krasnodar were pulled down in military quarters while Khrapoff and Kulik, both from Irkutsk, were pulled down in camp barracks. As observations shown, before this most of serial killers had had convictions of rape or seduction of the underage. Psychiatrists think that the prisoners' customs vastly aggravate pathological processes in a violator's mind and intensify sexual aggression. In a petúkhs' place a pervert can turn into a serial killer.


In 1980 Ivan Ivanovitch Khrístitch of Mariúpol entered a zone for violating an underage girl. The court tried to bridle his salacity with five years of deprivation of liberty. Ater two years the lewd man was released from custody and started building national economy of Mariúpol. He was about forty. At the same time he decided to make a family and married in 1984. First years of his matrimonial life were more or less composed.

Then Khrístitch became brutalized. He had decoyed his underage female porchmates into his flat with promises to show the parrots and indulged in debauchery with them. In a half of year he raped a four-years-old girl, then beaten her unmercifully and finally strangled. When the lacerated corpse was hidden in a water tower the sadist in cold blood returned home and continued the parrots showing.

Khrístitch was arrested in 1992. During the inquest some details of his life in the penal colony came to light. In the medium security zone Ivan have been pulled down four times. He spent 2½ years as a petúkh (½ years in the investigative prison), used to clean toilets and scavenge. He's been beaten five or six times by the convicts. He'd borne the beatings like a lamb, worked hard and finally earned a pre-term discharge. Those who'd known Khrístitch before say that he returned from the colony as a totally different person, closed homebody.

From being arrested till the process Khrístitch had looked like waiting for a facer. Not even spitting but a facer. He'd been so afraid of pain. His eyes had not been asking for a pardon but shown: "Don't beat me." During interrogations he was telling everything and willingly revealed all the details. He has told about his returning home, assiduous cold laundering of his pullover in the child's blood, careful throwing the pulled about corpse out with fear of being daubed. There was the impression as if you were speaking with a mechanism, not a human. Khristitch was executed by shooting in 1994.


Krasnoarmeyan maniac Thedotoff shot in 1993 was pulled down three times. He appeared in a penal colony for seduction of minors, what is more boys. After the petúkhs' life he returned home and soon afterwards violated a minor girl. Then he dismembered the corpse in his bathroom and drowned the parts in the lavatories by the railway stations...

The passive homosexual is marked with tattoos imitating a black eye or being a fixed picture. The brand cannot be concealed, a petukh will be a petukh till his death. When he enters a ward at first he is obligated to ascertain where a petukhs' corner is. In case of concealment he can be killed by those who is "contaged" by him with conversations.


Pulling down is a standard procedure

Obizheny caste consists of social outcasts that have not been pulled down. They are "contaged" by petúkhs, playing cards debtors, parricides, debauchees or just ones who cannot defend themselves. They are called "paráshniks" ("close-stoolers"). Their rank is higher then petúkhs' one but still they have to clean toilets. Any time a paráshnik can be reworded with a perforated dishes.

Pulling down is a standard procedure. Two or three men keep, one rapes. Sometimes a victim has a porn picture on his back to arouse the rapist. If some candidate cannot be overcome a ruse is needed. Prisoners wait till he goes to bed and come on his face or pass a dick over his lips. After this for all the prison/camp he is declared to be a new waffler. This was the way of pulling down the brigands struggling against vors (see chapter "Vóry i bandity").

For a long time the pulled down had not absolutely any rights. They'd been worse then informers, "súkas" and "kozjóls". But they started adapting to camp life and drawing their code and their hierarchy. It hadn't occurred in all the camps and prisons. Experienced prisoners thought that the biggest amount of petúkhs was in minimum and medium security penal colonies, they called them kozjóls' colonies. The higher security in a colony the less wafflers there and the more chances to survive, they thought.

In high security and particular treatment colonies the pulled down have their leader called "mom". He allots places for living, controls lavatory cleaning and discipline in his clan. Also he delivers "tjólkas" for prisoners. In high security and particular treatment colonies groundless beating a pulled down or obizheny not accepted. He can get his blow for a non-cleaned close-stool or attempt to talk to an authoritative criminal. But it happens not too often for a "mom" keeps order attentively and punishes by himself. In modern colonies obízhenys can even play cards in their corner.

The most curious is that petúkhs trying to survive made prisoners to reckon with themselves. They started stand up for themselves when their misery reached its apogee, when they were made to eat excreta and lick close-stools clean. Despairingly the victim took his life but in unusual way. The petúkh chose the most spiteful criminal and threw himself at him, licked and kissed him. The shocked offender killed or crippled the outcast but anyway remained "contaged". From that moment he became not respected anymore and got on a par with the other obízheny.

Petúkhs' clan could react on anarchy in more organized manner. F.i., one petúkh loses his life in a game and becomes a "torpedo", granting the winner's wish. The winner can order him to "contage" an authoritative criminal committed the act of anarchy. The torpedo have no choice for he can be killed by the petúkhs themselves.

Released from custody, paráshniks, kozjóls and petúkhs have represented a big danger for vors. Colony humiliations had nourished hate in most of them, urge to revenge in many of them. Pulled down brigands have taken their weapon again and started vors and vors' circles hunt. Now and then the murders followed even somebody's mention of one's connection with vors.

Taganrogish vor Boris Isáeff "Músja" was shot the next day after being released from the colony. He got two bullets into his groin and died from loss of blood. The officers of the criminal investigation department think he was killed by some Bobroff that had served his sentence in the same colony. The camp officers found out that Bobroff have been pulled down twice. When being caught the murderer shot himself.

The leader of the Uralmach Gang Gregory Tsyganoff (that had practiced racket in Ekaterinburg, been vors' enemy and been killed by unknown person) had recruited former pulled-downs. These men had been glad to exterminate vors and hate had been stronger then vorophobia.


In minimum securities zones petúkhs constitute even brigades. Their life is hell: stones are thrown at them, they are made to climb trees, mine burrows and sleep in them. In hight security colonies they are way less numerous. In good zones they are assigned to different brigades and sleep by an hut entrance. They have got separate dishes, separate tables in a dining-room, separate work. Nobody can shake hands with and in general touch them. It's allowed to give them something, f.i., a cigarette. The main petúkh is a prisoners' tool to manage this part of colony.