Solitary cell in Barabanikha labour camp

Solitary cells, officially called penal isolators, were an integral part of almost every labour camp. They served to punish prisoners for the slightest infringement by means of several days of isolation and a minimum of water and food.

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This solitary cell is of the larger variety. The Barabanikha labour camp, in which it is located, was intended for a thousand prisoners (in most other camps the number of prisoners was half that). It comprises five cells, though the one nearest the entrance was most likely of an operational nature only. What were called parasha – buckets for excrement – were kept in the cells. Three cells were for individual prisoners , while the furthest was a communal cell characterised by restricted access to daylight (there was a perforated piece of metal in the window).

“People were sent to solitary for various reasons. You lost your boots or somebody stole them from you – you went to the solitary cell, they didn’t occupy themselves with who had really stolen them. They also sent those who avoided work, and there were plenty of those,” says Vasily Basovsky, recalling solitary cells on the Dead Road.

Alexander Snovsky adds: “Every day they gave out 200 grams of bread in solitary for the whole day, and a glass of water in the morning and evening. I don’t know how long I did time in the common cell. There were no windows and it wasn’t possible to count the days. Three times I was in a separate cell. There’s less room there, just four boards from wall to wall that you could lie on. And the same 200 grams of bread and two glasses of water.”

In most labour camps along the Dead Road, small solitary cells were built according to a uniform plan: two separate cells and one bigger communal one. This is a view of a solitary cell from the Terraska labour camp.


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