In February of 1942, Ivan's unit had been surrounded by the German army, without food or ammunition, so Ivan and some of his fellow soldiers had surrendered. A few days later, he and four others escaped from the Germans and made their perilous way back to the Russian lines, with Ivan and one other Russian being the only survivors. On their return, the two were arrested on suspicion of having been sent back by the Germans to spy on their comrades. Thus, Ivan is in the prison camp for "treason." During his interrogation, he confessed. We are told that he confessed because he knew that if he did not, he would be shot on the spot.
A brief discussion of the differences between a "regular" camp and a "special" camp follows. Ivan thinks that life in their "special" camp is easier, because their camp schedule is a regular schedule, whereas in the other camps that he has been in, mainly logging camps, the prisoners have to work until the quotas are filled, regardless of the time of day. The rations are higher in "special" camps, and the numbers which the prisoners have to wear on their uniforms "don't weigh anything," according to the deaf Klevshin.
In this episode, the reader is again confronted with the absurdity of Article 58 of the Penal Code. Ivan has been sentenced to prison camp for treason, his offense having been not only to "allow" himself to be captured by the Germans — but for having had the audacity to escape and rejoin his forces. Thus, Ivan is guilty under both Sections 1 and 3 of Article 58. But, had Ivan remained a German POW and survived, he would have been sentenced for Senka Klevshin's "crime." This is a true Catch-22 situation.
In the rest of the episode, Solzhenitsyn dispels the notion that a "special" camp is much worse than the hundreds of other "regular" camps; in fact, Ivan comments that the only thing that might be considered worse in their camp is the obligation to wear numbers on their uniforms. In return, the food ration is higher, the work schedule more regular, and the numbers are not really a burden. Ivan and his comrades are not singled out for a particularly harsh fate; many hundreds of thousands of their compatriots in "regular" camps suffer the same fate — or worse.