Confrontation in the Punitive System of Ryazan and the Escape of Political Prisoners in 1921
This article examines the peculiarities of provincial prisons during the formation of the Soviet corrective labour system. It is based on previously unpublished historical documents and materials from the the State Archive of the Russian Federation and the State Archive of Ryazan Region. Despite the general goals of the Soviet state’s corrective labour policy, the formative period was characterised by a dispersion of punitive functions among several departments and fierce competition for the monopoly over the execution of punishments. Based on historical material from Ryazan province, the author illustrates the spectrum of these interdepartmental contradictions, referring to a case connected with the detention of a group of political prisoners in Ryazan. He also gives a detailed description of the appearance of the group in Ryazan, whose background was the mass riots among prisoners that occurred in Butyrskaya prison in April 1921. One of the consequences was a sudden dispersal of political prisoners to provincial places of detention and a mass escape of anarchists from a hastily organised political prison in Ryazan. In the form of a narrative, the article provides a detailed description of the actions of various provincial authorities and officials to ensure strict isolation for political prisoners in Ryazan, presents an ordered chronology of events, and interprets the actions of the participants. As a compromise, they established the organisation of “political prison” in an unprepared building of the former corrective detention department with serious violations of the regime’s requirements. Based on information from official documents, the author describes the requirements for maintaining political prisoners formed by the Punitive Department. The article shows the impact of the events of 1921 in the Ryazan “political prison” on the subsequent development of the system of detention in Ryazan province. It is concluded that the reason for the mass escape of a group of anarchists was the organisational unpreparedness of provincial places of detention and the interdepartmental struggle of the local structures of central departments. Finally, one of the possible consequences of this emergency was the exclusion of Ryazan from the list of provinces in which a network of political isolation prisons was established a few years later.
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