The tattoos are the fading symbols of a life devoted to bloodshed, violence, and an unstated ethical code within the legal underworld.

However removed from a motley assortment of meaningless drawings and letters, every tattoo has its personal that means and, to those that know, might be learn like a curriculum vitae of the bearer’s gangland previous.

Within the Soviet period the tattoos of a vor v zakone (thief-in-law) acted as a CV- to haven’t any tattoos within the thief’s world meant you had no id and no social standing.

The scars on the abdomen above the eyes (pictured left) could also be the results of stabbing, however is also a punishment from fellow criminals for an infraction of the thieves’ code or for shedding at playing cards. Textual content on the abdomen of the prisoner (pictured proper) reads ‘Man is wolf to man’. Textual content throughout the arms reads ‘Dwell in sin, die laughing’. A pirate with a knife in his tooth is commonly accompanied by the acronym ‘IRA’ (a Russian feminine title) written on the knife, which stands for Idu rezat aktiv (I’m off to kill the activists). Worn by otritsaly (prisoners who refuse to undergo the jail guidelines) it denotes an inclination to brutality, sadism, and a damaging perspective in direction of activists – prisoners who brazenly collaborate with jail authorities.

Tattoos on women are not as prevalent as on men. Principally sentimental in nature, they usually refer to lesbian relationships established during imprisonment. Abbreviations and acronyms are particularly popular. Text on the shoulder reads ‘GLI’ (unknown abbreviation). Text underneath reads ‘YaLTA’ (literally ‘Yalta’) meaning Ya Lyblyu Tebya, Angel (‘I love you, angel’). Text below portrait tattoo is the acronym ‘KULON’ (Russian for ‘pendant’), meaning Kagda Uhodit Lubov, Ostaetsya Nenavist (‘When love is gone, hatred remains’). Text on the forearm next to the rose tattoo is the acronym ‘LENIN’ meaning Lyublyu y Edinstvennuyu Naveki I Navsegda (‘I love only you forever and ever’)

Tattoos on women are not as prevalent as on men. Principally sentimental in nature, they usually refer to lesbian relationships established during imprisonment. Abbreviations and acronyms are particularly popular. Text on the shoulder reads ‘GLI’ (unknown abbreviation). Text underneath reads ‘YaLTA’ (literally ‘Yalta’) meaning Ya Lyblyu Tebya, Angel (‘I love you, angel’). Text below portrait tattoo is the acronym ‘KULON’ (Russian for ‘pendant’), meaning Kagda Uhodit Lubov, Ostaetsya Nenavist (‘When love is gone, hatred remains’). Text on the forearm next to the rose tattoo is the acronym ‘LENIN’ meaning Lyublyu y Edinstvennuyu Naveki I Navsegda (‘I love only you forever and ever’)

Tattoos on ladies usually are not as prevalent as on males. Principally sentimental in nature, they often confer with lesbian relationships established throughout imprisonment. Abbreviations and acronyms are significantly widespread. Textual content on the shoulder reads ‘GLI’ (unknown abbreviation). Textual content beneath reads ‘YaLTA’ (actually ‘Yalta’) that means Ya Lyblyu Tebya, Angel (‘I like you, angel’). Textual content beneath portrait tattoo is the acronym ‘KULON’ (Russian for ‘pendant’), that means Kagda Uhodit Lubov, Ostaetsya Nenavist (‘When love is gone, hatred stays’). Textual content on the forearm subsequent to the rose tattoo is the acronym ‘LENIN’ that means Lyublyu y Edinstvennuyu Naveki I Navsegda (‘I like solely you eternally and ever’)

The event of the pitshatka (actually ‘writing’, that means the face facet of the cardboard) is inextricably linked to the historical past and psychology of enjoying playing cards in jail. Selecting a design from the number of prospects is a science. Regular enjoying playing cards have distinct fits, with photos or numerals which are clear and straightforward to learn, however jail playing cards set out intentionally to confuse. Using related colors and patterns makes it tough for an opponent to tell apart between the playing cards, distracting his consideration from the sport itself

They conveyed coded secret messages, regardless of utilizing quite a few photos conventional in tattooing similar to spiritual iconography, or stars.

For instance a dagger within the neck means the bearer has killed and would kill once more for the correct value (the variety of blood drops on the blade signify the variety of murders he has dedicated), whereas a rose on the shoulder means he turned 18 in jail.

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Any tattoos that didn’t mirror your precise rank, or had been false, had been forcibly eliminated with a sandpaper or a brick. An incorrect tattoo might even result in you being killed.

Textual content throughout the chest (pictured left) reads Ne vivelis naa Rusi bogatyri, a distorted model of the saying ‘Heroes usually are not extinct in Russia’, a sarcastic expression of approval for somebody’s uncommon or uncommon (however not essentially helpful) expertise. Textual content on the correct arm reads Reih, in all probability a misspelling of ‘[The Third] Reich’. Textual content above the groin reads ‘The important thing to girls’ [hearts]’. The dagger by means of the neck advertises this inmate as a killer who is on the market to commit homicide on behalf of others for the correct value. A snake across the neck (pictured proper) is an indication of drug habit. Most inmates are both alcoholics or substance abusers. Their crimes are sometimes dedicated whereas in a state of intoxication. The celebrities on the clavicles and epaulettes on the shoulders present that this inmate is an authority.

A kartyozhnik’s (card-sharp) previous is clear. He has by no means reneged on a debt, has by no means did not pay on a deadline and has by no means made false conveyances. He’s not proud – he attire in rags – and he donates as a lot as half his winnings to the obshchak [the thieves’ community kitty]. In return, the authorities assist him: he’s a valued particular person who lives by the ponyatiya, [literally ‘the understandings’ the thieves’ code of honour] which protects him. As a result of the code and the legal authorities assess an inmate’s character by inspecting his previous and figuring out his price inside the zone, the kartyozhnik is in an untouchable place. He earns his residing truthfully (in keeping with the legal world) and would donate every thing to the obshchak if requested. To learn the obshchak is to learn the zone, and so-called ‘luck’ inside the zone just isn’t made by the decrease ranks

The pictures have been brilliantly serialised in works by photographer Sergei Vasiliev and former jail guard Danzig Baldaev featured right here, alongside newly launched photos in a brand new e-book referred to as Russian Felony Tattoos and Taking part in Playing cards, by Arkady Bronnikov.

It explores the overlapping nature of tattoos and the banned card video games in Soviet-era prisons.

The language of playing cards was utilized to inmates in keeping with their standing inside the zone (jail).

The swimsuit of golf equipment or spades, the principle image of a ‘authentic thief’, is a recurring motif of their tattoos.

The purple fits ‘decrease’ the bearer’s standing inside the zone when utilized as tattoos. The image of hearts transforms the bearer into an erotic object, denoting that he performs the function of a ‘girl’.

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The image of diamonds is forcibly utilized to informers and might result in sexual violence.

Making the precise playing cards for the video games was a fragile course of and concerned placing two sheets of paper glued collectively.

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’

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’

The epaulette tattooed on the shoulder, the thieves’ stars and non secular tattoos on the chest all denote this thief’s excessive rank. The cranium within the centre of the epaulette might be deciphered as: ‘I’m not and can by no means be a slave, nobody can pressure me to work’. ‘YK’ signifies the bearer has been by means of the ‘Intensive Colony’

They often had a skinny pocket book cowl (a rubashka, actually shirt) for the again and newsprint or poor high quality writing paper for the face.

The video games themselves had been banned by the jail authorities and could possibly be punished by as much as six months in an isolation cell.

Due to this fact video games had been clandestine and infrequently performed at evening, with a paid lookout to maintain look ahead to nosy jail guards or doable informers.

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'

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'

The dagger by means of the neck exhibits that the prisoner dedicated homicide whereas in jail, and that he’s obtainable to ‘rent’ for additional murders. The bells on the ft point out that he served his time in full (‘to the bell’), the manacles on the ankles imply that the sentences had been over 5 years. ‘Ring’ tattoos on the fingers present the standing of the legal when the remainder of his physique is roofed. The ‘thieves’ stars’ on the knees carry the symbolic that means ‘I cannot kneel earlier than the police’

Orthodox religious tattoos are still among the most popular amoung criminals today. The crucifix and the Madonna and Child, depicted in the Orthodox tradition of icon painting, meant ‘my conscience is clean before my friends’, ‘I will not betray’. The Madonna signified ‘prison is my home’ – that the wearer was a multiple offender and recidivist. The number of domes on the tattoo of a church indicates the number of convictions. If a dome was adorned with a cross, it meant that the sentence had been served in full. As well as being a totem of a pickpocket, the scarab beetle is considered to bring luck to the wearer, these are usually tattooed on the hands, rarely (as in this image) they appear on other parts of the body

Orthodox religious tattoos are still among the most popular amoung criminals today. The crucifix and the Madonna and Child, depicted in the Orthodox tradition of icon painting, meant ‘my conscience is clean before my friends’, ‘I will not betray’. The Madonna signified ‘prison is my home’ – that the wearer was a multiple offender and recidivist. The number of domes on the tattoo of a church indicates the number of convictions. If a dome was adorned with a cross, it meant that the sentence had been served in full. As well as being a totem of a pickpocket, the scarab beetle is considered to bring luck to the wearer, these are usually tattooed on the hands, rarely (as in this image) they appear on other parts of the body

Orthodox spiritual tattoos are nonetheless among the many hottest amoung criminals at present. The crucifix and the Madonna and Youngster, depicted within the Orthodox custom of icon portray, meant ‘my conscience is clear earlier than my pals’, ‘I cannot betray’. The Madonna signified ‘jail is my dwelling’ – that the wearer was a a number of offender and recidivist. The variety of domes on the tattoo of a church signifies the variety of convictions. If a dome was adorned with a cross, it meant that the sentence had been served in full. In addition to being a totem of a pickpocket, the scarab beetle is taken into account to deliver luck to the wearer, these are often tattooed on the arms, hardly ever (as on this picture) they seem on different components of the physique

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 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 tattoos throughout the eyelids learn ‘Don’t / Wake me’. The genie on the forearm is a typical image of drug habit. If an addict is imprisoned for drug offences, she or he must undergo withdrawal within the ‘zone’ (jail). Epaulette tattoos (on the shoulders) show the legal’s rank in a system that mirrors that of the military (main, colonel, common and many others)

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This convicts apparently random tattoos denote his rank within the criminal world.  Across the chest ‘Death is not vengeance / the dead don’t suffer’. On the arms ‘I live in sin / I die laughing’

This convicts apparently random tattoos denote his rank within the criminal world.  Across the chest ‘Death is not vengeance / the dead don’t suffer’. On the arms ‘I live in sin / I die laughing’

This convicts apparently random tattoos denote his rank inside the legal world. Throughout the chest ‘Demise just isn’t vengeance / the useless don’t undergo’. On the arms ‘I stay in sin / I die laughing’

The stakes for the sport had been agreed prematurely and could possibly be something from tea, physique components, or the lifetime of the participant himself.

The video games had been rowdy and the darkish situations and smoky environment, meant the playing cards had been tough to see.

Every participant recorded their very own scores and any disputes could possibly be settled by means of a razbor, an investigation.

Money owed had been paid after enjoying and anybody reneging on a debt was known as a suka (b****).

On the index finger is a variant of an ‘Otritsala’ ring, denoting someone who is hostile to law-enforcement and the regime. They cannot be re-educated. Middle finger ‘Freedom for the youth’ or ‘I’ve done time and I will steal again’. Third finger ‘Ruined youth’, the bearer was convicted as a juvenile. The five dots on the wrist are a common sign of someone familiar with the prison regime. They signify ‘Four watchtowers and me’ or ‘I’ve been through the zone’, an inmate who has served a sentence in a correctional labour or penal colony. Lenin is held by many criminals to be the chief pakhan (boss) of the Communist Party. The letters BOP, which are sometimes tattooed under his image, carry a double meaning. The acronym stands for ‘Leader of the October Revolution’ but also spells the Russian word VOR (thief)

On the index finger is a variant of an ‘Otritsala’ ring, denoting someone who is hostile to law-enforcement and the regime. They cannot be re-educated. Middle finger ‘Freedom for the youth’ or ‘I’ve done time and I will steal again’. Third finger ‘Ruined youth’, the bearer was convicted as a juvenile. The five dots on the wrist are a common sign of someone familiar with the prison regime. They signify ‘Four watchtowers and me’ or ‘I’ve been through the zone’, an inmate who has served a sentence in a correctional labour or penal colony. Lenin is held by many criminals to be the chief pakhan (boss) of the Communist Party. The letters BOP, which are sometimes tattooed under his image, carry a double meaning. The acronym stands for ‘Leader of the October Revolution’ but also spells the Russian word VOR (thief)

On the index finger is a variant of an ‘Otritsala’ ring, denoting somebody who’s hostile to law-enforcement and the regime. They can’t be re-educated. Center finger ‘Freedom for the youth’ or ‘I’ve achieved time and I’ll steal once more’. Third finger ‘Ruined youth’, the bearer was convicted as a juvenile. The 5 dots on the wrist are a typical signal of somebody acquainted with the jail regime. They signify ‘4 watchtowers and me’ or ‘I’ve been by means of the zone’, an inmate who has served a sentence in a correctional labour or penal colony. Lenin is held by many criminals to be the chief pakhan (boss) of the Communist Social gathering. The letters BOP, that are generally tattooed underneath his picture, carry a double that means. The acronym stands for ‘Chief of the October Revolution’ but additionally spells the Russian phrase VOR (thief)

The tattoos on this inmate mimic those of higher ranking criminals and indicate the bearer has adopted a thieves mentality. However, he does not wear the 'thieves stars' he is not a 'vor v zakone' or 'thief-in-law', and therefore holds no real power among this caste.As soon as normal inmates enter the mass population of the zone (either a prison or a camp), they realise that the thieves are in charge. They copy both their tattoos and mannerisms in an attempt to elevate their status. For self-protection they need to show themselves to be exceptional, experienced, brave and seasoned men. In addition to fear, respect and the obedience of friends, their tattoos are intended to demonstrate a desire for self-assertion and the conquest of authority in the criminal environment

The tattoos on this inmate mimic those of higher ranking criminals and indicate the bearer has adopted a thieves mentality. However, he does not wear the 'thieves stars' he is not a 'vor v zakone' or 'thief-in-law', and therefore holds no real power among this caste.As soon as normal inmates enter the mass population of the zone (either a prison or a camp), they realise that the thieves are in charge. They copy both their tattoos and mannerisms in an attempt to elevate their status. For self-protection they need to show themselves to be exceptional, experienced, brave and seasoned men. In addition to fear, respect and the obedience of friends, their tattoos are intended to demonstrate a desire for self-assertion and the conquest of authority in the criminal environment

The tattoos on this inmate mimic these of upper rating criminals and point out the bearer has adopted a thieves mentality. Nonetheless, he doesn’t put on the ‘thieves stars’ he’s not a ‘vor v zakone’ or ‘thief-in-law’, and subsequently holds no actual energy amongst this caste.As quickly as regular inmates enter the mass inhabitants of the zone (both a jail or a camp), they realise that the thieves are in cost. They copy each their tattoos and mannerisms in an try and elevate their standing. For self-protection they should present themselves to be distinctive, skilled, courageous and seasoned males. Along with concern, respect and the obedience of pals, their tattoos are supposed to exhibit a want for self-assertion and the conquest of authority within the legal surroundings

If a debt couldn’t be paid an opponent could possibly be struck, and even knifed.

If the debtor is caught enjoying once more, to one who he owes cash to can confiscate winnings from that sport, and even kill him.

The tattoos on an inmates physique would typically convey the related punishments or successes in video games.

For instance a thief with golf equipment or diamonds enjoying playing cards tattooed on his arms was a talented card sharp, whereas a person tattooed with a pair copulating would have refused to pay his money owed. 

Russian Felony Tattoos and Taking part in Playing cards is revealed by FUEL   

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