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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

One Prison's Unique Story

Photos by Igor Tabakov

Prison colony No. 163/2 in Zelenograd, near Moscow, is not what one would call a typical Russian prison — it's relatively well funded, well kept and its inmates can use their time in prison to finish their higher education.

Unlike the majority of Russia's 924,000 prisoners, who spend their time in overcrowded cells with little to do in their leisure time but read pulp fiction and play cards, the 600 people serving sentences in Zelenograd have living conditions akin to those in a college dormitory.

Prisoners here live with only four or five cellmates, in cells without bars on the windows. The rooms are equipped with cupboards and clothes hangers, TV sets and, in most cases, cats.

Televisions in jails are allowed by law, the prison's deputy warden Viktor Pavlov said in an interview Thursday, while cats are allowed only by the law of nature. "You can't run away from them," he said laughing. The most popular cat name in the prison is Chubais — since the majority of the inmates' furry friends apparently came from a common ginger ancestor.

During working hours, prisoners here produce playground equipment. In their free time, they not only watch television or read books from the colony's well-stocked library, but also pursue a higher education — economics or law.

Professors from Moscow State University travel to Zelenograd regularly to teach inmates, guards and members of guards' families. This January saw the first inmate in the education program pass his final exams and earn a law degree, Pavlov said. Although about 70 percent of the prisoners are sentenced for grave crimes such as armed robberies or murder the guards are proud there has been only one attempted escape: One of the inmates got drunk, accidentally ventured off the prison grounds and then hurriedly found his way back.