The Prison Castle, a strict-regime penitentiary in Tobolsk, Russia, recently opened its doors to inmates of a different kind. Travellers can now check into one of the cramped “sweat-box” punishment cells – spending the night in the prison where Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Tsar Nicholas II and Stalin’s victims did time.
Built between 1838 and 1855, and closed in 1989, the notorious Siberian prison was considered stricter than most. As many as 2,500 inmates considered enemies of the state were executed here during the Soviet Union’s political repression campaign of 1937-1938, and it’s believed that no one ever escaped.
The sweat-box cells – sparse dormitory-style rooms with metal bunk beds, clunky iron locks and heavy doors – were originally used for prisoners who breached the conduct code. The rooms didn’t have lights; some weren’t even large enough for prisoners to stand fully upright.
An enlarged mugshot outside each cell helps visitors get acquainted with the men who once walked these halls. Other photos in the Prison Castle’s adjoining museum offer a glimpse of what daily life was like: prisoners reclining in the sunlight wearing shackles and dirty prison garb, or chopping wood for the furnaces that never quite warmed the cells during February’s freezing nights.
In this bastille of crime and punishment, the photographs reveal a haunting range of emotion, something Dostoevsky knew all too well.