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…”

Arrest and Interrogation

Arrests could happen anywhere, at any time and to anybody in Stalin’s Soviet Union. No Soviet citizen—no matter their power or position, no matter their "loyalty" to the state—could be certain that they were safe from arrest.

But most of the millions of imprisoned men, women, and children fell into four groups. First, the Gulag incarcerated those guilty of crimes (rape, murder, thievery, etc.) that would be punished in any society. Second, it held "political prisoners"—sometimes true prisoners of conscience, but as often, perfectly average people denounced by a personal rival, grabbed to fulfill arrest “quotas” established by the Stalinist leadership or arrested for something as innocuous as telling a joke about Stalin. Third, the Gulag seized members of certain social classes (like the so-called "kulaks" or "rich" peasants) and ethnic groups (such as Soviet Germans, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars) deemed dangerous by the Soviet state. Finally, the Gulag grabbed up the victims of arbitrary legal campaigns that meted out severe punishment for such “crimes” as leaving a job without permission or taking food from a field to feed a hungry family.

Whether arriving at Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka or at some regional prison, the newly arrested entered a basement labyrinth of crowded cells. The mass of suffering humanity inside immediately evaluated the toughness and worth of newcomers, usually forcing them to sit next to the "parasha"—the cell’s waste bucket. Torture and marathon interrogations offered the only respite from the cell, and even the strongest prisoner often broke and confessed to any made-up crime.