Tatiana Bondareva

2016 - Ongoing

Boys from 14 to 18 years old who committed various crimes including hooliganism, rape and murder serve their sentences in the young offender institution in Saint-Petersburg. For many of the boys, who grew up neglected, life in this prison is more comfortable than it was outside. Instead of a chaotic street life and a suffocating environment of a dysfunctional family, the prison community offers clearly established rules, protection and stability. This prison has a well-developed infrastructure including a church, a gym, sports grounds, a library, a kitchen and a factory.

At the same time, for many convicts the habits they adopted in prison create the ground for entering the big criminal world since the way of life in the colony gives an idea of a rigidly hierarchized community where each member has its own specially indicated place and function.

Another problem in supporting prisoners is that after being released they fall into the old criminal world where it's prestigious to be a criminal. In many ways this attitude to crime is formed by mass culture.

For the first time I visited this colony as a volunteer 15 years before I started to shoot this story. Convicted boys and I were of almost the same age at that time, and I unintentionally compared their life with my life. The administration of the colony asked me to organise an orienteering team of my friends. It is a common practice in Russia, when prisoners who maintain good behavior are taken out of a colony to a disciplinary event. For a whole day through, my friends and thieves, murderers, and rapists ran in the woods, cooked food on a fire, and talked friendly. We joked about whether everyone would get back from the woods, but no one escaped. A prisoner who looked very good-natured confessed to me in the evening that he had killed a person, and asked what I thought about it. I think about this question up to now.

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  • The Feast of the Epiphany.
    The boys are going to dive into an ice hole. On this day Russian people plunge into a cold hole according to the Orthodox tradition.

  • The boys in the prison courtyard. They are building the memorial dedicated to the Second World War.

  • At work.
    The boys work every day except for weekends. They pack boxes.

  • At the Hermitage.
    The prisoners who are about to be released and those who behave well are taken out of the prison to various museums.

  • The guys grow vegetables in the prison.

  • The prisoners at the Cat Museum
    If the boys behave well they are taken out of the prison to various museums. This is a personal initiative of the director of this prison.

  • The animation class.
    Volunteers come to the guys and teach the prisoners to make cartoons. There’s a poster on the wall saying, “Train your body, take care of your soul.”

  • Boys get presents from their parents.

  • Boy shaves in his room

  • The construction of the memorial.
    The boys are building a monument shaped as an inscription saying, "The Prison".

  • The boy asked me to take a picture for memories.

  • During the liturgy in the Orthodox Church.
    There is an Orthodox church in the prison.

  • The father is bidding farewell to his son after Parents’ Day.

  • Before diving into cold water on Epiphany day. The boys are waiting when they are told to undress.

  • The boys are walking in the courtyard.

  • The boys can attend the gym in their spare time.

  • The leader of the boys in front of the window in his room.

  • Lunch in the prison during of the parent's Day. Prisoners are fed five times a day.

  • There is a leader in every prison. He usually lives alone in the room.
    The boys started to communicate with me only after he had spoken to me. Oleg serves a prison term of 4 years. He says that he has been able to finish school, visit various museums and seriously think about the future only in the prison. Oleg compares life in prison with a golden cage and dreams about freedom.

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