‘Everything except bodies’ In Russian prisons, fellow inmates torture each other to win booze, parole, and lighter sentences. Here’s how the system works.
A new project from Tayga.info, titled “An Encyclopedia of Violence in the Prisons and Pretrial Detention Centers of the Irkutsk Region,” examines a protest by inmates at Prison Number 15 in April 2020 and its consequences. That incident began when several prisoners slit their own wrists in a demonstration against alleged abuse by administrators. Several maintenance buildings and the prison’s front office soon went up in flames. The protests continued for roughly a day until the Federal Penitentiary Service dispatched special forces who brutally suppressed the uprising. According to Tayga.info, hundreds of inmates may have been raped and beaten at detention facilities throughout the region in the protest’s aftermath. One of the felony investigations into these assaults became the most sweeping criminal case in Russian history, encompassing at least 18 victims. That probe is still underway.
Meduza is publishing an excerpt from Tayga.info’s “Encyclopedia” about how staff at pretrial detention facilities in the Irkutsk Region recruit prisoners to torture their fellow inmates into testifying as needed.
The “tenderizers,” as the torture victims called them, weren’t supposed to be at pretrial detention centers. After they’d been sentenced, they should have gone to the penitentiaries, but they were transferred to the pretrial centers on orders from state investigators, said former inmate Sergey Shmakov, who collaborated with administrators at Pretrial Detention Center Number 1. The facility’s operatives nicknamed him “Sallah.”
Shmakov, who found himself involved in the “mining” of inmates at Pretrial Detention Center 1’s Correctional Facility 15, was one of the prisoners forced to work with the authorities. “They recruit by any means. In my case, they beat me and threw me into a cell with Yarik [Anton Yarovoi] and Mafia [Andrey Bevzyuk], who beat me constantly and forced me into this [into cooperating],” said Shmakov. “They forced me to do this. Sometimes I’d refuse, but I didn’t have the strength [to hold out]. I’m a physically weak person, so I had no choice. Yarovoi was constantly waving his genitals at me, mocking me.”
To secure the transfer of the “tenderizers” from penitentiaries to pretrial detention centers, investigators utilized Article 77.1 of the Penal Enforcement Code, which permits the participation of persons sentenced to prison in investigative actions and court proceedings.
Using torture to force cooperation from prisoners is one thing, but there are some inmates (especially the repeat felony offenders) who are so hardened that other methods of persuasion become necessary.
“Prison officials brought them mobile phones, drugs, and alcohol. They ate better than I’d ever seen anyone eat in my life. They drank whiskeys and cognacs. Some people shot up and others smoked hash. And they were given long hookups. A prisoner would get it once every three months, but [a “tenderizer”] got it almost weekly. I know the prison officers themselves would call up prostitutes and pay them for three days for the tenderizers who didn’t have girls of their own,” Semyon Filimonov told Tayga.info.
Denis Golikov, one of the “tenderizers” known to have tortured inmates at Correctional Facility 15, partially corroborated these claims. His account could prove particularly valuable to investigators if they actually decide to expand the torture case to their own colleagues.
For example, Golikov was left in pretrial detention on orders from investigators working under Evgeny Karchevsky, who initiated the “riot” case involving Correctional Facility 15, and Olga Kovaleva, who is leading the investigation into the torture of Tula resident Taikhirozhon Bakiyev, whose representative, well-known Irkutsk lawyer Dmitry Dmitriev, she had removed from the case. Investigators from the Number 10 Irkutsk Police Department also signed multiple orders to transfer Golikov to the pretrial detention center.
Golikov says he never signed any documents from investigators about a transfer under Article 77.1 the Penal Enforcement Code, meaning that these decisions could effectively have been reached without him, though a probe by officials from Moscow conducted in the Irkutsk region either didn’t notice this or didn’t want to notice this. In an interview with the human rights group Gulagu.net, Golikov said he is ready to testify about instances of questionable transfers to pretrial detention centers.
According to “tenderizer” Denis Golikov, an officer at the detention center named Kirill Fedyunin gave him unambiguous instructions, the night before inmates from Correctional Facility 15 were brought to Pretrial Detention Center 1.
“When the riot happened at night, I was sleeping in Cell Number 128. The window for food trays opens and officer Fedyunin calls to me, screaming at the whole cell, ‘There’s a riot at Correctional Facility 15. [Warden Leonid] Sagalakov has given the okay for everything except bodies.’ And the whole cell heard it,” Golikov told Gulagu.net.
Golikov says federal penitentiary officials want to write off any injuries sustained by inmates during the uprising as “conflict situations in cells.”
“Fucking incredible! [Inmates at Correctional Facility 15] walked back into their cells, naked, bones broken, and all black and blue. [The Federal Penitentiary Service’s special forces] set up a corridor to Pretrial Detention Center 1 lined with officers armed wielding sticks and clubs. And now they want to blame more than half the injuries on us — beautifully done, guys,” seethes Golikov, adding:
Asked how often he was assigned these “tenderizer” tasks, Golikov answered, “More times than I can count on my fingers and toes.”
Instructions to “tenderizers” from investigators and prison officers varied. Sometimes, they were told to get confessions, other times to get inmates to renounce previous testimony or change it somehow, and sometimes they wanted responses to complaints filed by other prisoners. Tayga.info’s sources also described incidents of direct extortion under pain of violence. For those doing the violence, the rewards were sweet. “100,000 rubles [$1,440] a month at Pretrial Detention Center 1 and everything but gals,” said one source.
“Things went down differently,” explained “tenderizer” Golikov. “For example, the Investigative Committee arrests somebody, and that guy won’t testify. So the investigator comes to the prison and chats with some official: ‘Yeah, so I nailed this guy or that guy, and the bastard won’t testify, so let’s think of something and I’ll make it worth your while.’ Everything works out somehow like that. When the Investigative Committee and the Interior Ministry and other agencies [come together].”
They sign special agreements with the men working secretly for the administration at a pretrial detention center or prison. If the “agent” in question doesn’t already have a nickname in the criminal world, the officers invent one for him themselves.
“The same guys keep returning to the system. Today you’re going free, but when you’re back for your next sentence, they show you this [signed] slip of paper and say, ‘Keep in mind that we’ve got you on the hook. You need to do what we say,’” recalled Denis Golikov.
Former inmate Semyon Filimonov explained it in the following terms:
But the main motivation for “tenderizers” is getting early parole, which is virtually impossible without a good review from prison officials. Ties to law enforcement agencies can help, too.
For example, repeat offender Jean Lapin (nicknamed Lapa) was released on early parole in July 2021, despite the fact that his name appears in the testimony of prisoners who were raped and beaten at Pretrial Detention Center 6 in Angarsk. A local judge named Alexander Lozovsky approved his release.
Jean Lapin was a three-time felony offender, including convictions for rape and for assaulting an elderly man born in 1941, according to published records. According to the most recent ruling against him for robbing a senior citizen while armed with a knife, he was sentenced to three years and four months in prison out of a maximum penalty of 10 years, despite already being convicted of two felony crimes.
The Angarsk City Court admitted a letter of reference from Correctional Facility 4, where he’d been released only shortly before the new criminal case. It read, “He is characterized positively as having embarked on the path to correction.” Testimony from a local police officer echoed these sentiments, recommending, “No need to place this individual on a watch list.” All this despite the fact that Lapin was a convicted rapist.
In June 2021, the Sverdlovsk District Court granted a petition to reduce 30-year-old Denis Golikov’s unserved prison term to a lighter sentence, but his path to early parole was ultimately blocked when prosecutors successfully challenged the ruling, leaving Golikov stuck at Correctional Facility 6. This is when he decided to come forward with the details of his cooperation with federal prison and investigative officials.
After his interview with Gulagu.net, Denis Golikov was locked up in punitive confinement and then transferred to Correctional Facility 15, says human rights activist Vladimir Osechkin. The second inmate who spoke to Osechkin was later placed in Correctional Facility 6’s medical isolation ward. Osechkin says he believes the authorities are trying to force these two men to recant what they said on camera.
“Inmates from other regions — serious guys — told me, ‘Denis, why are you bothering with all this? One way or another, sooner or later, they’ll use you and then throw you away like a condom,’” said Denis Golikov after losing his appeal for parole. “And being an idealistic fool, I was like: ‘No way, they won’t do that to me, after all I’ve done for them.’ But in the end, that’s exactly what happened. They used me like a condom and threw me away.”