Carrie Crockett – Engendering Sakhalin: The Agency of Female Prisoners on Sakhalin


Event Dates: 13 – 16 September 2015
College Court Conference Centre
Knighton Road,
Leicester LE2 3UF

The Carceral Archipelago: Transnational Circulations in Global Perspective, 1415-1960

Carrie Crockett (Leicester) – Engendering Sakhalin: The Agency of Female Prisoners on Sakhalin

This paper is an exploration of the unusual spatial conditions that governed the lives of the female prisoners in the Russian penal colony of Sakhalin, which was used for the confinement of more than 30,000 political and criminal offenders between 1868 and 1905.   Situated north of Japan in the Sea of Okhotsk and across the Tartary Strait from the mouth of the Amur River region, at its most proximal point the island of Sakhalin is separated from mainland Russia by only seven miles. Alexander II’s 1851 administrative approval of this new prison rested on the hope that a Far Eastern Russian penal site would serve several practical, imperial aims.  As the final penal site established by the Romanov dynasty, it was the last (failed) attempt at penal reforms based on new Enlightenment ideas regarding the potential rehabilitation of criminals.

Those whose lives are found within Sakhalin’s historical record are, predominantly, male: tsars, explorers, administrators, soldiers, and generals, sailors, and prisoners. When women are mentioned, they are usually linked to vice.  My research into the daily functioning of the penal colony indicates, however, that both Russian and Western visitors to the island neither correctly perceived nor accurately recorded the realities of female prisoners’ lives, their faulty conclusions the probable result of ingrained cultural mores and presuppositions. My work therefore seeks to utilize micro histories, journalism, penal records, physicians’ accounts, and archival documents as windows through which to more accurately assess the lives women constructed for themselves within an extremely challenging borderland zone and prison colony.


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