Inside Russia's Prison System

Photographs of life under incarceration, from Moscow to Siberia

"We have been happily borne--or perhaps have unhappily dragged our weary way--down the long and crooked streets of our lives, past all kinds of walls and fences made of rotting wood, rammed earth, brick, concrete, iron railings," Russian dissident, former political prisoner and Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes in the opening pages of The Gulag Archipelago. "We have never given a thought to what lies behind them. We have never tried to penetrate them with our vision or our understanding. But there is where the Gulag country begins, right next to us, two yards away from us."

Today's Russian prisons, home to over 830,000 prisoners and 560 out of every 100,000 Russians as of 2010, are, by most accounts, a vast improvement over the the notorious prison-camp system of the Stalin era. But Solzhenitsyn's account remains haunting when looking behind the walls and fences of contemporary Russia's prison camps, some of which are located deep in the sparse and cold Siberian wilderness. Below, a short look at what's there -- and at what the Pussy Riot defendants could be in for.

RP 1.jpg
Women wait to be escorted to work at a prison in central Russia. For female convicts, work often involves sewing or textile work. (Yuri Tutov/AP)


RP2.jpg

A guard watches over inmates as they harvest potatoes at a penal colony near Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)



RP 3.jpg

An inmate carries a heavy sack at a prison camp outside Krasnoyarsk. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)



RP 4.jpg

It isn't all potato-harvesting and sack-carrying: Penal colonies in the Krasnoyarsk area compete against one another in soccer, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, chess, and tug-of-war. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)



RP 5.jpg

Prisoners compete in tug-of-war. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)



RP 6.jpg

A mosque and Orthodox chapel at a prison 450 miles east of Moscow. (Maxim Marmur/AP)



RP 7.jpg

An Orthodox Priest baptizes babies of women prisoners in a prison colony in the Siberian town of Maryinsk. Many female prisoners have to keep their babies, born behind bars and rejected by relatives, in special nurseries located on the territory of the prison until their release. (stringer/Reuters)



RP 10.jpg

Illiterate prisoners await their first day of school at a penal colony outside Krasnoyarsk. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)



rp 11.jpg

Inmates exercise in a special ward for prisoners suffering from multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), at a prison hospital in Tomsk, about 2175 miles east of Moscow. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)



RP13.jpg

Meal time at an intake center for accused criminals south of Moscow. The facility was so crowded that inmates had to eat and sleep in shifts. (Reuters)



rp 12.jpg

Officers give prisoners voting papers in a Moscow prison before the country's presidential elections in March 2000. A former KGB agent and one-time deputy prime minister named Vladimir Putin won with 53% of the vote. (Misha Japaridze/AP)
Presented by

Armin Rosen is a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Global channel.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

Just In