Inside Russian prison castes that see money and law controlled by inmates

Russian prisons are reportedly becoming feeders for inmates to go join notorious brigades in the army, but there are still nearly 500k people on the inside – separated by castes that dictate their lives behind bars.

President Vladimir Putin earlier this month amended legislation around who was able to be conscripted to include convicted murderers and drug dealers.

But it was reported last month, gang members and convicts are being offered over £8,000 a month to sign up for combat in Ukraine with the notorious Wagner Group mercenary force, often called Putin's Private Army.

READ MORE: Putin's notorious Wagner Group doubles pay to bolster ranks amid Russian losses

And it may be a lucrative offer as life on the inside is notoriously tough in Russia.

Vory v zakone – or zakonniki (‘Thieves in Law’) reportedly control life on the inside. This top caste is made up of powerful mob bosses who have a contempt for the rule of law and must have convictions under their belt to be considered part of the group.

They observe “thief’s law”, their own replacement for the actual rule of law. And this gang controls the obschak – the common criminal cash reserve – when they're chucked in a penal colony, nicknamed the zona, or the zone in English.

In the absence of official legislation, they deal with things by their own guiding principals.

The “Blatniyeh”, a lower caste of connected thieves, operate beneath the vory v zakone and tend to be career criminals on the outside. They attempt to control the unofficial rules of the street inside the zone.

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They use the aforementioned guiding principles, called ponyatiya, to sort out beefs between people and groups and even control the flow of groceries and cigarettes.

But the most widespread caste in the Russian penal colony system is the Muzhiki, usually one-off offenders. Despite not engaging with prison life they don't tend to co-operate with prison authority either.

That is left to the “Aktivisty, kozly, sukee” – activists, goats, b****** in English – who are known, and hated on the inside, for their conformity.

An activist or a goat becomes a b**** when they willingly try to help prison guards and authorities.

But this isn't even the bottom caste, that title goes to the roosters/cocks or the shamed/downgraded. On the inside even so much as touching one of these guys is forbidden.

The group is made up of people who broke prison rules, such as not paying off debt. The dirty work like cleaning toilets is left to this cohort.

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