The rest fall into a broad category simply referred to as “men”. They surrender to the gang leaders, forego working with the guards and avoid the abuse suffered by those at the bottom of the pecking order. A ritual system keeps the hierarchy intact. Men, for example, never share cutlery with the humiliated.
Some former political prisoners find a place in the system. Mr. Margolin, who was detained in 2014 for his role in anti-government protests, said he had successfully sought help from criminal “authorities” to defend himself against an aggressive inmate. Help was ready, he said, also because he was convicted of attacking a police officer during a protest.
“That was very much appreciated,” he said.
Oleg G. Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker who spent five years in Russian prisons and a Siberian penal colony before being released on a prisoner swap with Ukraine, said in a telephone interview that inmates in his maximum security prison camp, mainly murderers, respected him.
“They weren’t psychos,” said Mr Sentsov of the killers he slept with. Most were exposed to domestic violence. “Maybe they got drunk and killed their wives with axes. But it’s different in prison. It is seen differently. “
Mr Navalny, he said, was doing everything right because “he’s brave,” he added. “I had no problems with the inmates, and I don’t think he will either.”
Mikhail B. Kodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon and once the richest man in Russia, who spent a decade in jail after funding the political opposition, was stabbed in the face by a fellow inmate with a homemade knife. He only suffered a minor wound. The attacker said he tried to stick an eye out.
However, in a telephone interview, Mr. Khodorkovsky said that inmates are generally not hostile to him as a political prisoner, and some said, “They are in the truth.”