In 1997, Russia replaced the death penalty with life imprisonment. There are more than 3500 people sentenced to life imprisonment today.
The majority of Russians favours a return of the death penalty. And, surprisingly, many “lifers” share this opinion. The reason for this is simple. The conditions created in the Russian colonies for “lifers” are considered, even by police, “death by firing squad in installments”.
The largest colony of this type in Russia is the Black Dolphin with 700 inmates and a penal staff of 900.
The colony got its informal name from a fountain located in its yard with a sculpture depicting a black dolphin.
According to some unofficial reports the Black Dolphin is the colony with the strictest regimen in the world. Nobody has ever escaped from this prison.
There is a very impressive National Geographic film about this prison.
Below is the information found from Russian sources.
“As we meet each new batch of prisoners”, Alexey Tribushnoj, Head of Political Education, told a Russian reporter “they pass blindfolded through the gauntlet of dogs. Dogs bark straight to their ears from the paddy wagon. Convicts do not know that the dogs are on leashes, so they expect the attack at any moment. After this procedure inmates are already in such a state that we very rarely need to use rubber batons and gas.”
Four convicts are imprisoned in each cell. There are two bunk beds and benches on which convicts sit the whole day. Using beds is forbidden during the day. On the door there is a speaker broadcasting local radio – the only link of prisoners to the outside world. For other furniture, there is only a thin ledge on which four plastic mugs and wooden spoons are located.
With every sign of guards’ activity, such as opening of the small widow in the chamber’s door through which food is given to inmates, inmates must take “the original position”: hit the closest wall with their heads, with the bodies bent so the head is at the level of their knees, their arms behind their back risen up, with palms turned outwards, their eyes closed and mouths open. They must freeze in this position waiting for a guard’s command.
If the convicts are commanded to go out of the cell, they must move to the bars, touch the bars with their backs and stay bent to the floor, ready to be handcuffed by a guard. Only after this, the escort, clasping inmate’s neck, pushes him out into the corridor.
While walking the inmate must keep his eyes closed, opening them only with the permission of the officers. As a result “lifers” are not able to familiarize themselves with the prison layout and thus are unlikely to escape.
Convicts are obliged to sleep with the bright light on and their heads toward the door, not covering their faces. If anyone in sleep would pull a blanket over his head, the officer’s order will follow immediately, and then all four occupants of the chamber must wake up and take “the original position”.
According to prison psychologists, during the first year of life, a prisoner gets used to the new conditions. This is the stage of learning.
Then there is a period of stabilization, which takes another three years. At that time a prisoner is like a robot. He executes commands without hesitation.
After that period there are two possibilities. If a prison adapts, he will continue to be a robot. If not, comes the third stage: the rapid fading, both mental and physical. Lymph nodes get inflamed, the cortical layer of the adrenal glands grows, ulcers appear in the gastrointestinal tract. People are slowly dying. By themselves.
In theory, after 25 years of prison the pardon of a convict can be considered. But in reality it has never happened.
There are several legendary inmates in the Black Dolphin.
One of them Vladimir the Cannibal even became the subject of a National Geographic short film.
Another famous prisoner of the Black Dolphin will never be presented to an American film crew. It is Alexey Pichugin, the former head of security of the most famous Russian dissident – billioner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Though officially Pichugin was sentenced to life imprisonment as a murderer, many are sure that in reality he is a political prisoner.
According to Wikipedia, his “verdict followed a closed-door trial in which the original jury was replaced and the star prosecution witness was a multiple murderer serving a life sentence – a fact the jury was not allowed to know”.