Days and Lives :: Arrest

Prisoner: Thomas Sgovio

Following his arrest Thomas Sgovio was initially taken to Lubyanka prison in Moscow. He was then transported to Taganka via a Black Raven. “I tried to examine the inside as we passed through the small guards’ compartment. There was enough light to notice that it was armored, thus establishing without a shadow of a doubt the fact that the Black Raven was deliberately designed and constructed for the transportation of prisoners. The paint job on the outside even had the name of the Peoples’ Commissariat of Food Industries lettered! During the French Revolution the condemned were carted to the guillotine in carts through the streets and the whole world knew about it. The same can be said of those who were burned at the stake by the Inquisition. Jesus Christ was led to the cross in the open and the whole world knew about it. Here in the Workers’ Fatherland they innovated the Black Raven…”


Soviet citizens during Stalin's reign lived in constant fear of arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment. Once arrested, the accused had no rights to protest their incarceration and no access to a fair trial. Prisoners were either sentenced to death or to years of hard labor in the Gulag.

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Movie Transcription

When citizens of Stalin’s Soviet Union climbed into bed at night, an uninterrupted sleep was never a guarantee. The secret police’s sharp 2 a.m. knock often launched an odyssey into the hellish depths of the Gulag. Many would never return alive.

When that 2 a.m. knock came, only one set of lights burned in an entire apartment building—that of the arrested man or woman. In cramped communal apartments, nothing remained secret, and neighbors would peek furtively out their door trying not to be noticed, trying not to be next. Frightened family members would watch as the secret police searched for potentially incriminating materials—anything that might indicate independent thought. Most new prisoners believed their arrest to be a mistake.

The Soviet police operated unpredictably, arresting people not only in the dark of night but also in the light of day. No matter when or where arrest occurred, special trucks outfitted with tiny prison cells hauled the new prisoners to their tormentors in an interrogation prison. The crushing loneliness of solitary confinement awaited some. Crowded cells smelling of sweat, urine, and feces greeted others. Prisoners only escaped their cell for marathon interrogations, enforced sleeplessness, and other forms of torture designed to elicit their “confessions” to often invented crimes. Interrogations concluded with a farcical trial that lasted perhaps several minutes before pronouncement of a predetermined verdict. For many, this was the end—a death sentence carried out almost immediately. The “lucky” found themselves boarding a stinking, crowded cattle car with just a hole in the floor for a toilet. Days or weeks later, they arrived to begin their sentence in a Gulag labor camp, usually with a weakened body and confused mind.