In the middle of a small room, with dirty-white walls decorated with pictures of Jesus and an array of plastic plants, a young woman stands on a stool. She wears a cotton candy-pink ball gown. At her feet, three other women sew tiny flowers along the hem of her giant hoop skirt. Her lips are painted a circus- clown red; light brown curls frame her face. "A woman should always be beautiful," says Natalya Khapova, 26, as she poses on her pedestal. "Not just outside the fence. Even if she's in here, she should show her beauty. A woman is everything gentle and wonderful -- or she should be." The fence Khapova refers to surrounds the correctional facility UF 91/9, an all-women's prison camp some 20 miles away from the Siberian capital of Novosibirsk. Her ball gown is one of three outfits she will don for the prison's main event of the year: the annual "Miss Spring" beauty contest. As with most women at UF 91/9, the reason for Khapova's stay isn't entirely clear. At first, she says she was "just a witness" to an undisclosed crime. When pressed, she mutters that she was "an accomplice -- or something like that" in an assault and robbery charge. Khapova, who has six-and-a-half years left of her eight-year sentence, is one of more than 1000 female inmates serving time here for everything from drug possession to murder. Today, however, Khapova focuses on something decidedly more appealing than her long-term fate.Yes, get out of Siberian Prison early for winning a beauty pageant. I can imagine efficiency aspects of this. HT: Crime Economist
This annual pageant, which prisoners begin planning weeks in advance, bears little resemblance to, say, Miss America -- picture instead over-the-top costumes and makeup reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil, a static-filled stereo DJ-ing Russian pop music, and a cast of nervous contestants teetering dangerously in their borrowed stilettos. It's a welcome diversion from the monotony of life inside the jail, and a legitimate excuse for the prison staff to extend the women's curfew -- all the way to 2 a.m., rather than the usual 10 p.m. sharp. The contest also serves another purpose, as the winner's prize is neither money nor a modeling contract, but something far more precious: a ticket to freedom. "Early release" happens only by the recommendation of the prison staff to a special parole board. Foremost among the criteria for consideration is "active participation in the social life of the camp." Hence, the popularity of the Miss Spring contest.
This Vanity Fair piece on the rise and fall of Russian filth and news magazine eXile also is excellent fun.