Russian Prison Tattoos And Their Meaning

July 21, 2014 | No Comments » | Topics: Interesting

This convicts apparently random tattoos denote his rank within the criminal world. They embody a thief’s complete ‘service record’, his entire biography, detailing all of his achievements and failures, his promotions and demotions, his ‘secondments’ to jail and his ‘transfers’ to different types of ‘work’. A thief’s tattoos are his ‘passport’, ‘case file’, ‘awards record’, ‘diplomas’ and ‘epitaphs’. In this world a man with no tattoos has no social status whatsoever. Across the chest ‘Death is not vengeance / the dead don’t suffer’. On the arms ‘I live in sin / I die laughing’.

The dagger through the neck shows that the prisoner committed murder while in prison, and that he is available to ‘hire’ for further murders. The bells on the feet indicate that he served his time in full (‘to the bell’), the manacles on the ankles mean that the sentences were over five years. ‘Ring’ tattoos on the fingers show the status of the criminal when the rest of his body is covered. The ‘thieves’ stars’ on the knees carry the symbolic meaning ‘I will not kneel before the police’.

Mikhail Kovanev, poet, artist and musician, was serving a sentence of fifteen years for murder. He claimed he was innocent of this charge. Every part of his body was covered with tattoos, many of his own design. The eyes on the stomach mean that he was a homosexual (the penis makes the ‘nose’ of the face). In the colony he became a drug addict and was subsequently killed.

Traditionally tattoos bearing images of Lenin and Stalin were usually tattooed onto the chest, it was a commonly held belief that Communist firing squads were not permitted to shoot at an image of their leaders. Text above Lenin reads ‘Wake up Ilyich (Lenin)’, above the tiger ‘They (criminals) are getting brazen’.

The tattoo on the shoulder of a spider in a cobweb can carry different meanings: if the spider is climbing up the web then the bearer of the tattoo is fully committed to a life of crime, if it is climbing down the wearer is attempting to break free of their criminal lifestyle.

This convict’s tattoos were applied in the camps of the Urals where the tattoo artists produce work of exceptional quality. Because they were so held in such high regard, criminals often attempted to be transferred there in order to be tattooed. The dollar bill on the shoulder signifies the bearer’s commitment to a life of crime.

The tattoos across the eyelids read ‘Do not / Wake me’. The genie on the forearm is a common symbol of drug addiction. If an addict is imprisoned for drug offences, he or she will have to go through withdrawal in the ‘zone’ (prison). Epaulette tattoos (on the shoulders) display the criminal’s rank in a system that mirrors that of the army (major, colonel, general etc).

The tattoo on the neck reads ‘I don’t need happiness’, beneath the neck ‘I live in sin, I die laughing’. The scar on this criminals face is usually forcibly applied as a punishment to any convict who has informed or betrayed his fellow inmates.

This prisoner’s tattoos display his anger and bitterness towards Communist power; the tattoos on the face signify that he never expects to go free. He works as a stoker. Text under the eyes reads ‘Full / of Love’; on the chin ‘Danger of Death’; around the neck ‘To each his own’; above each head of the double-headed snake ‘Wife’ and ‘Mother-in-law’; on the chest ‘It is not for you whores, to dig in my soul’; on his arm ‘Communists, suck my dick for my ruined youth’

The eyes on the top of the chest signify ‘I can see everything’ and ‘I am watching’. Text across the chest reads ‘Son of the criminal world’. This photograph shows tattoos in a combination of old and new styles. In the ‘new’ style a large number of almost random images on the convict’s body. In the ‘traditional’ style there is one large central tattoo on the chest, filling as much space as possible.

The epaulette and the spider on the shoulders denote a high-ranking criminal. The text across the chest reads: ‘O Lord, forgive me for the tears of my mother’. On the right side of the bearers chest is tattooed 100-ruble note, usually signifying involvement in counterfeiting and commitment to criminal life.

Tattoos on the eyelids are made by inserting a metal spoon under the lid so that the ‘needle’ doesn’t penetrate the eye. Here the text reads ‘They’re / Sleeping’. It is common for this type of tattoo to personify the part of the body on which they appear, for example tattoos across the feet might say ‘They’re tired / of walking’.

The text on the ankle reads ‘100 thousand kilometers without a major overhaul’ (referring to the distance walked by the prisoner). The eye signifies that the bearer is always on guard. The thieves cross tattooed on the knee means ‘I will not kneel before the police’.

The tiger and the text ‘Killer’ (in English) tattooed on the hand symbolise the bearer’s aggression. His ring tattoos signify he is a high-ranking thief and an anarchist, who ‘will never be corrected’. In this colony they make and sell wooden items that are in great demand. He was killed by his fellow inmates for refusing to contribute money to the ‘community kitty’.

The epaulette tattooed on the shoulder, the thieves’ stars and religious tattoos on the chest all denote this thief’s high rank. The skull in the centre of the epaulette can be deciphered as: ‘I am not and will never be a slave, no one can force me to work’. ‘YK’ indicates the bearer has been through the ‘Intensive Colony’.

You Might Like