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  • From Zindans to Black Dolphin

    Posted on August 31st, 2014 katiewells9 6 comments

    russian prisoners

    This photo shows a zindan, a traditional Central Asian prison, with prisoners and a Russian guard. A zindan is “in essence a pit in the earth with a low structure built on top.” I chose this photo because one day over the summer I came home to my three siblings watching a Netflix documentary titled Russia’s Toughest Prisons. They could not stop talking about how interesting it was and the differences between Western prisons and the ones shown in the documentary. I decided to watch it a few days later and saw the differences my siblings had mentioned.

    The documentary focused on three prisons in Russia, Black Dolphin, Vladimir Central Prison, and Prison Camp 17.

    Black Dolphin is the top most security prison in the country with each of its inmates averaging 5 murders. Inmates have absolutely no interaction with anyone beside their roommate and the guards. Each day they have ‘physical activity’ during which they are brought to a caged room to pace for 90 minutes, never ever seeing the sun. At Black Dolphin, the stress position is enforced for every inmate when they are out of their cell at all times. The stress position forces an inmate to bend over at the waist, with his head down, while being handcuffed. This puts the inmate into a state of submission, while also keeping him from learning the layout of the prison.

    Vladimir Central Prison is also a maximum security prison, like Black Dolphin, housing some of the most dangerous offenders in Russia. It is said that Stalin’s son was an inmate there for his time in prison. Unlike Black Dolphin, the inmates in Vladimir Central Prison are able to interact with one another on a daily basis, they are not confined to their cell for the entire day. A large part of life at Vladimir Central is tattooing. Inmates get tattoos to show how long their sentence is, what crime they committed, or (for the older inmates) their rank amongst the inmates.

    Prison Camp 17 is a much lower security prison compared to both Black Dolphin and Vladimir Central Prison. The inmates there are all first time offenders, typically related to drug use or sales. They are able to go outside and move freely throughout the prison. The inmates work during their sentence and some are even visited by friends and family, unlike the other two prisons.

    This photo, Prisoners in a Zindan with Guard, shows how far Russia’s penal system has come today. No longer are their prisons a hole in the ground, but instead top security institutions that house some of the world’s most dangerous criminals.

    While watching the documentary and learning more about Russian prisons, I noticed a few differences between Russian prisons and American (or western) prisons. The first difference was the level of security of the prisons, the second was the length of the sentences for the crime committed, and the third was the style and meaning of their tattoos. These first two differences were a little shocking to me because some inmates at Black Dolphin were serving 18 year sentences for killing two people, while in America that same charge would most likely result in a life sentence. The tattoos really stood out to me because here in America the style of prison tattoos is extremely different. In Russia, their tattoos revolved around a religious theme with different images representing different things. It was interesting to see how in different countries tattoos can be so different in style and meaning.

    This photo represents how our world has changed and how our society now puts so much focus and attention on the penal system and criminal activity.

    The image is titled: Prisoners in a Zindan with Guard

    Created by: Prokudin-Gorskiĭ, Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich, 1863-1944, photographer

    The permanent record: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/prk2000002573/

    Prison Information: Russia’s Toughest Prisons and http://www.crimelibrary.com/photogallery/prison-tattoo-field-guide.html

     

    6 responses to “From Zindans to Black Dolphin” RSS icon

    • I didn’t know hoe different the Russian penal system was compared to the US. Do you know how the Russian maximum security prisons compare the western maximum security prisons?

      To be honest, the religious style of their tattoos didn’t surprise me. I had the chance to study abroad in Estonia right next the to Russian border. Most of the people that were tattooed had religious or family oriented tattoos.

      • I do not exactly how they compare to one another, but in the documentary on Russia’s Toughest Prisons they mention multiple times that Black Dolphin is the top most security prison in the world and that no other prisons treat their inmates the same way. The use of the stress position is what really sets them apart and the fact that inmates are blind-folded anytime they are taken outside. The goal of this prison is to keep inmates as isolated as possible and for them to never know the layout of the grounds.

    • I like the way you compared the Russian prisons to those of American prisons. Additionally, citing a documentary was an interesting way to tie what you learned outside of class into what we are doing in class.

      Also, I had no idea about the measures they took in top security prisons in Russia to punish criminals and it was a eye opening.

    • It would be interesting to research how prisons and attitudes about criminality in the Imperial period evolved under the Soviets, especially with the expansion of the labor camp system and the incarceration of millions of people in the thirties. As entertaining as Russia’s Toughest Prisons is, we need to remember that the show is mainly about attracting an audience — just like Duck Dynasty is more about entertaining and making money than it is about educating or documenting “real life.”

    • This post also talks about the Zindan in Bukhara and has some good historical detail and sources: http://blogs.lt.vt.edu/eisenteinsovieteditorial/2014/09/01/a-famous-vacation-spot-for-criminals-in-bukhara/

    • Nice posting. Thank you for sharing with us. Personally I like it.
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