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Russian Criminal Tattoo

This prisoner is a victim of syphilis and has suffered severe scarring to his face, eyes and mouth. In the prisons and colonies male or female prisoners suffering from venereal diseases (such as syphilis) are known as buketniki (bouquet holders).The figure of the writer is known as a ‘scribe’ and is worn by pickpockets who use sharpened objects to help them commit their thefts.

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A snake around the neck is a sign of drug addiction. Most inmates are either alcoholics or substance abusers. Their crimes are often committed while in a state of intoxication. The prisoners are divided into castes. One of these castes is made up of the criminal elite called blatniie. They are commonly known as ‘blue’, because their bodies are blue from the tattoo dye that covers them. These are experienced criminals who have committed many crimes and have many previous convictions.

Russian Criminal Tattoo

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.

Russian Criminal Tattoo

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).

Alexeï Remizov "Le Cercle du bonheur"