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He was awakened at 4:00 A.M and toted off to jail. No one told him why, but he didn’t have to ask. He had been going on too long and too loud about his politics, and the Powers that Be didn’t take kindly to it.
Several of his friends were also rounded up that morning and carted off to prison. They languished for months in a dank prison before being hauled before the court on charges of conspiracy. At the end of the fiasco, they were still not made aware of the verdict. But in the predawn darkness of December 22, fourteen of them were dragged from their cells and marched to a nearby parade ground. Hundreds of spectators gathered in the biting cold and falling snow to watch the spectacle.
The man and his friend were ordered to stand upon a platform which was draped in black. They were told to be silent. A clerk stepped forward and read the names of each of the prisoners, and then declared that they had all been condemned to death.
At first, the young man didn’t believe it. Then he noticed a man with a cart bearing coffins. Fourteen in total.
A priest preached through trembling voice on the “wages of sin.” And when he had finished, the men were told to remove their clothes and put on linen shirts and dark hoods. These would be their burial shrouds.
A firing squad then appeared, and the men were lined up to meet their fate. The captain yelled those ominous words, “ready…aim…” And the young man closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable. He watched the entirety of his life roll across the backs of his eyelids as though they were movie screens. Time was creeping in those few seconds. Though he did not want to die, he did not fear it either. He listened to the chiming of the church bells in the distance, and knew his soul to be at peace with his Maker. He then heard the tell tell click of rifle hammers.
Then a voice calling over the crowd. “Wait,” it said. A government messenger tore through the press with orders to stay the execution. These men would not die today, but instead would be remanded to hard labor and compulsory military service for the next eight years.
There is little wonder, then, why this man in later years could speak so convincingly of what it was like to be sentenced to death. That young man’s name was Fyodor Dostoevsky, and we’ve all overheard the chilling account of a condemned man’s thoughts in his immortal novel, Crime and Punishment.