Russia's Toughest Prisons (2011) - full transcript

With the first time international camera crews have been allowed inside, we get a look at three of Russia's toughest, strictest and harshest prisons, aswell as the rigid and disciplined regime the prisoners endure.

Once hidden behind the Iron Curtain,

Russia is opening one of its most
guarded institutions to the world.

For the first time ever,
three prisons across Russia

unlock their steel doors
to an international film crew.



And in one of Russia's
highest security prisons,

a cannibal divulges
the details of his crime.

I cut off his head, arms, legs.

All of a sudden,
something kind of struck me

and I thought I would try him.

This is a look inside
Russia's toughest prisons.

Near the border with Kazakhstan,
a prison known as Black Dolphin

houses Russia's
most brutal criminals.


Black Dolphin holds roughly 700
of Russia's most dangerous killers.


Combined, they have
killed over 3,500 people.

It's an average of
five murders per inmate.

Overseeing the lockdown of
Chechnyan terrorists, cannibals

and serial killers is
Lieutenant Guard Denis Avsyuk.

TRANSLATION: The main crime
committed by the convicts

here is murder.

But we also have maniacs,
paedophiles and terrorists.

To call them people,
it makes your tongue bend backwards,

just to say it.

I have never felt
any sympathy for them.

Nikolai Astankov is serving
a life sentence for killing

an entire family and burning
their bodies in the forest.

TRANSLATION: If you constantly think
about how you are here,

what is waiting for you,
that you won't ever get free,

that you are left here alone... simply won't make it.

It's six in the morning
and for the next 16 hours,

Astankov and his cell-mate will
not be allowed to sit on their beds.

TRANSLATION: You're constantly
being filmed in your cell.

So you're being
watched around the clock.

Also, there are
light and motion detectors.

Plus, every 15 minutes,
a guard goes through the cells,

so you must
constantly be attentive.

Astankov shares his four
and a half square metre cell

with Sergei Vinogradov - a Russian
gangster charged with the murder

of six people.

TRANSLATION: I have a tendency
towards being hostile.

I can kill a man,

but a woman, a child,
I couldn't harm.

For me, it is wrong.

And for everyone who was below me,
there was a strict rule.

A woman or child, you can't harm
because they can't fight back.

Like all inmates,
Astankov and Vinogradov

live in a cell within a cell,

and behind three sets
of steel doors.

The extreme isolation
makes life inside Black Dolphin

nearly unbearable.

what I was preparing for,

it all came to nothing.

Of course, psychologically,
it's difficult to deal with.

Astankov and Vinogradov
have very limited contact

with the other prisoners.

All prison operations maintain
the highest level of isolation.

TRANSLATION: There is no dining hall
for life-sentence prisoners.

Their food is taken
directly to their cells.

After breakfast,
it's time for their daily exercise.

TRANSLATION: When you are being led
out, there is a dog and a handler

that follow you.


In front of them
is a senior officer.

You are always watched
by three employees.

You are never left alone.


Believed to be unique
to Black Dolphin, inmates move

about in a stress position to render
them powerless, bent at the waist,

head down and cuffed.

When moving between buildings,
they are blindfolded.

TRANSLATION: Why the blindfolds?

Well, so the inmate does not
have an opportunity to learn

our movements, our location
in the building or on the territory.

So that if something suddenly
happens, he will have no time

to think about a movement
in a certain direction.

That is why we use the blindfolds.

The position allows maximum control
over dangerous inmates

and keeps them from gaining an
understanding of the prison layout.

There is no prison yard
at Black Dolphin.

For 90 minutes, Astankov and
Vinogradov pace like caged lions...

..without even
a glimpse of the sky.

Meanwhile, guards search their cells
for anything out of the ordinary.

The guards look for contraband

and any signs of attempted
escape, like loose bars.

Once guards conclude their search,
they lead the cell-mates back

to their impenetrable cell.

Escaping is impossible.

With these bars, all of the constant
alarms, always being watched,

it's simply not possible.

No-one has ever
escaped Black Dolphin...

..and only one inmate in the
prison's history has won an appeal.

TRANSLATION: Black Dolphin
is a final destination.

You can't go any further.

Yes, technically, there
is a way to leave this place.

But only one way.

The cemetery.

Even in the company
of Russia's most brutal killers,

some prisoners top the list
for the most dangerous and demented.

Vladimir Nikolayev is a cannibal.


Vladimir Nikolayev
is one of Black Dolphin's

most notorious criminals -

a killer with the blood of
two men on his hands...

..and their taste in his mouth.

TRANSLATION: I was coming home
from a party a little drunk...

..and next to the door to my
building, another guy, also drunk,

asked me for a light.

We started arguing
and got into a fight.

He hit me and I hit him,
and it turned out he died.

What was I to do?

I dragged him to the bathroom,
undressed him,

and started cutting him apart.

I cut off his head, arms, legs.

All of a sudden, something
kind of struck me and I thought

I would try him.

I cut off a piece of meat
from his thigh

and boiled it.

I tried it, didn't like it.

So I chopped it up
and fried it in a frying pan.

I gave some meat
to one of my friends.

He took it home,
gave it to his wife.

She made dumplings with it.

She had some herself
and fed it to her children.

Nikolayev's friends unknowingly
ate the body of evidence.

Well, I said it was kangaroo.

We don't have kangaroos around here.

They didn't know what it was.

Russian prison tattoos
have a historical place

in prison culture.

For over 50 years,
inmates have scrawled

their criminal histories and
beliefs across their bodies.

Well, the pirate here with a knife

is a symbol of
the constant life in prison.

Here on this shoulder

is my most-loved lady.

Well, those are from my first term.

My first term,

I was in for three years.

They are bell towers -

each one represents
a year in prison.

Inside Black Dolphin,
tattooing is strictly prohibited.


Russia's real-life Hannibal Lecter
will live out the rest of his days

caged in Black Dolphin

on a diet of mainly soup and bread.

A fellow murderer his only company.

Over 1,000 kilometres away,
outside of Moscow,

sits Russia's oldest and
one of the most feared prisons -

the infamous Vladimir Central.


Known for housing
Stalin's son and political prisoners

during the Cold War,
today it's the first stop

for brutal murderers.

A stroll down the dark hallways
of Vladimir Central

should deter any criminal impulse,

yet over the last 228 years,
Vladimir Central has imprisoned

an estimated one million inmates.


Vicious dogs, the size of bears,
and guards armed with AK-47s

uphold a regime more rigid
than anything in the Western world.

This is the first time ever
international crews are permitted

inside the prison.

TRANSLATION: In an American prison,
everything is more open,

and I don't think
this is the best solution.

Inmates cross paths,
they eat together,

and they openly go
into their cells.

I think that, after all,
in a Russian prison,

this is an advantage

because of more isolation
of the convicts.

They should not
influence each other.

This is one of a few prisons
in Russia that accepts inmates

who have committed
particularly heinous crimes.

Before entering
the general population,

guards search inmates
for contraband.

They check every shred
of clothing by hand.

TRANSLATION: The seams are checked
because mainly things are hidden

in the seams.

SIM cards, telephones...

Well, telephones are not
usually hidden in clothes,

but they are mostly hidden in,

how do you say, body cavities?

Today, the guard
finds forbidden contraband.

TRANSLATION: This metal coil
is forbidden because if they try

to hook it up themselves,
they are not electricians

and they could get electrocuted

which may give unfavourable results.

So this is not allowed.

Now, several guards
execute a more thorough search

of the inmate's belongings.

Guards search both the cell
and the inmate's belongings.

they find nothing suspicious.


Vladimir Central guard dogs
are among the world's scariest.


Weighing up to 90 kilograms
and standing almost two metres tall,

they are said to have the stopping
power of a 45-calibre gun.

This is an especially
aggressive breed,

known as the Caucasian
Mountain Shepherd.

Once used by
the Russian military,

now they scare inmates
into submission.

Arthur Gauchin is serving
a 21-year sentence

for killing his wife
and his brother-in-law.

TRANSLATION: The had a neighbouring
room and they would drink there

without any limits.

My daughter couldn't get any sleep.

She said, "Papa, Uncle Sasha
isn't giving me any peace."

I warned them once,
warned them twice, then...

Well, what?

I stabbed him.

Arthur is not alone.

Russia has a murder rate five times
higher than the United States.

TRANSLATION: My name is Igor,
my sentence is 18 years.

I am in for the murder
of two people.

I have been here
for only two months.

TRANSLATION: My name is Yevgeny.

My sentence
is 22 years and six months.

I am in for
a particularly brutal murder.

This is hard, believe me,
maybe in ten years I will comprehend

just how hard it is, but for now,
I don't think about it.

constantly think about the fact

that you have 22 years,
you can go crazy.

Arthur has been in and out
of prison most of his life.

Russian prison tattoos
cover his entire body.

My tattoos are from the '80s,

when convicts started to move away
from the traditional prison

subculture and hierarchy

and started to get into
something different.

After that, tattoos
stopped representing your sentence

or your status, but rather
your understanding of the light side

and the dark side.

Among old-timers, classic Russian
prison tattoos express identity.

Stars on shoulders signify
the inmate will bow to no-one.

Church domes can represent
the number of years or terms served

and religious tattoos
can have misleading meanings.

For example, a Madonna and child
can mean the inmate

has been a thief since childhood.

This says "cor ne edito".

It's Latin.

It means, don't rip your heart.

I just don't have one any more.

Both Vladimir Central
and Black Dolphin

are among the prisons in Russia
with alleged reports

of unfair treatment
and inmate abuse.

None of the inmates interviewed
in the show had a single complaint

of any unfair treatment or abuse.

Over 3,000 kilometres
to the far east,

the frigid Siberian tundra
hosts 149 prison camps.

Among them is Prison Camp 17.

This prison camp lies on the
outskirts of the city of Krasnoyarsk

along the Trans-Siberian Railway.


Prison Camp 17 holds 1,200 inmates.

All are first-time offenders.

Like 24-year-old Dmitri Komarov,

a Moscow native who was caught
transporting ecstasy pills.

TRANSLATION: In a Russian village,

someone can steal
a sack of potatoes.

He could get half a year in prison.

I don't think that's fair.

The sentence I got was four years
in a high-security prison.

But Dmitri's days inside the camp
may be numbered.

In just a few days he will plead
his case for early release.

After almost three years, this young
inmate may finally be going home.

Unlike the maximum security of
Black Dolphin and Vladimir Central,

in Prison Camp 17 there is more

opportunity for human contact
among inmates.

But even though day-to-day life
in the prison camp lacks the extreme

isolation of max security...

..the remote location isolates these
inmates from their families.

Prison Camp 17
sits in the heart of Siberia.

Dmitri has been here
since he was 21 years old.

When I got here, it was wild.

When they took us through the prison
yard, everyone was looking at us.

This is my mum, this is at
our summer home right here.

We have a little piece
of heaven there.

Because it's a three-day journey
to Siberia,

Dmitri's family doesn't visit.

He has not seen them
in over three years.

TRANSLATION: My dog, he's a beagle.

His name is Boss.

It's hard to live.

I think about them all the time.

Constantly, actually.

Perhaps in place of
the relationships disrupted

by his sentence, Dmitri has
formed a new one on the inside.

TRANSLATION: My best friend
is my roommate, George.

We live together, work together,
we're always together.

George is serving
a five-year sentence for drugs

and has three more years to go.

Fear means showing weakness

and people with weakness
in this system break down.

There are many examples.

Some commit suicide,
some lose their mind.

You must decide for yourself,
what are you afraid of?



I think you should be afraid
of being alone.

The only thing I am afraid of
is to be alone.

The two friends have dreams
of vacations and ventures

upon their release.

But for now, they are prisoners.

Dmitri, George and all inmates
in this camp

are first-time offenders,

but crimes
range across the board,

from drug charges to rape.

TRANSLATION: I don't like rapists.

I just can't stand them.

I don't put them down,
I just don't socialise with them.

I will never do anything nice
or pleasant for them.

I just ignore them.

And some are even here for murder.

There was an inmate here.

Because his mum didn't give him
money for a bottle of vodka...

..he beat her to death with a stool.

It's 6.00 am.

George and Dmitri are up
for mandatory morning exercise.

Temperatures linger
at 45 degrees below zero.

Anton Yefarkin, a senior prison
official, is overseeing the inmates.

TRANSLATION: The entire correctional
facility comes out and according

to the schedule,
does physical exercise.

The exercises are specially
selected to be light

so the convicts can simply wake up
and feel normal throughout the day.

But today is unlike every other day.

Two years into
his five-year sentence,

George prepares for
a visit from his father.

George is among the lucky
inmates whose family visits him

a few times a year.

Most are not as fortunate.

After a short hour, it's time to say
goodbye for another several months.

TRANSLATION: Well, of course
I would like to see him more often.

Excuse me...

What can I feel?

As a father, when I want to see
my son and under these conditions,

I can't.

It hurts.

In three years, George and his
father will reunite on the outside.

It will be a fresh start
for their family,

but it's a future
that is still uncertain.

God forbid if I end up here again.

I wouldn't be able to even
look my parents in the face.

Later in the day, a potential
security breach unravels.





Something triggers a motion
detector in a secure area.


Fortunately, today's alarm
is not a serious breach.

TRANSLATION: In this case,
we had a false alarm.

Upon investigation, it turned out
that the alarm responded

to a gust of wind.

The reserve team inspected the area
and didn't see any signs

of an attempt to escape.

One of the guards reported
to the guard in charge

and the emergency was called off.

Siberia battles
a lack of cheap labour.

The region's abundant prison camps
have eased the problem.

Prisoners see work as an opportunity

to escape the monotony
of incarceration.

Inmates in Camp 17 sew uniforms

and make industrial fencing
for $5 a day.

Siberia makes up more than
three-quarters of Russia...

..but only 15% of Russians
live here.

Most have settled along
the Trans-Siberian Railway.


These trains have
brought convicts to prison camps

for over 100 years.


They are far from family...

..and unaccustomed to some of
the harshest winters in the world.

Today, a shipment
of new inmates arrives.

Among them, a convicted murderer.

For new inmates, the first weeks
of incarceration are intense.

Most commonly, inmates experience
fear, depression and aggression.

He will spend the next
two weeks quarantined,

away from the general population.

TRANSLATION: I can't describe it.

Everything happened in a haze.

I will try to survive.

People can survive everywhere.

Dmitri Komarov
has a brighter outlook.

Today is his parole hearing.

TRANSLATION: I'm very nervous.

I waited for this moment
for two years and eight months.

My feelings are indescribable.

I don't know yet.

When I go there, that's when
I will have more definite feelings.

Dmitri has one year and four months
remaining on his sentence...

..but he is hoping
for an early release.

The questions
focus on Dmitri's plans.

Where will he stay?

What will he do?

And whether he will
get back into crime.

TRANSLATION: If they happen to say
no to releasing me early on parole,

then of course I'll be upset,
but I will accept it.

No-one will know the decision
for sure right away,

whether you get out early
or must serve the full term.

It's what the court decides.

In another cell block,
inmates who don't follow the rules

face harsher treatment.

This is a regimented place

where converts who have violated
the regime are held.

Here, inmates stay in cells all day.

Unless it's night-time,
the beds are locked up.

Anton, a senior guard, checks in.

We are in the punishment cell area.

Convicts are here for
breaking the rules of the regime.

All the inmates in this area
are monitored 24/7.

Some are reading books, someone
is just walking around the cell

so nobody is sleeping,
nobody is breaking the rules.

Behind this door is a convict

who's spent time in
a correctional facility in America.

This bank robber
served time in a Seattle jail,

but he speaks only a little English.

A few days after
Dmitri's parole hearing,

the administration has a response.

Without the administration's

he will spend the next year
and a half in Prison Camp 17.

want to meet with my father

in the kitchen somewhere.

Talk to him and just
have a heart to heart.

I really want to see my mother.

She always really supported me.

I miss their jokes, their love.

I really miss this.

I miss it every day.

TRANSLATION: I'm extremely happy.

My thoughts are already
of being home.

All my thoughts are of home.

extremely happy for Dmitri.

I think that he deserved it.

We are all here temporarily.

Soon my turn will come.

I think that, in freedom,
we will definitely meet

and keep our friendship
when we are both free people.