Taken between 1989 and 1993, Sergei Vasiliev’s photographs of Soviet prisoners document the secret code language of criminals in the USSR.
These homemade tattoos, scraped and inked into skin with melted book heels, urine or blood, contained a whole range of coded messages against the Soviet regime and about the prisoners’ individual crimes.
A dagger through the neck-prisoner committed murder during his sentence
Bells on feet- time was served in full
Menacles on ankles- sentences were over five years
Roaring tiger- represents convict's aggression
Rose on the shoulder- wearer turned 18 in prison
Dots on fingers- indicate the number of terms served
Tattoos are highly regarded among prisoners, and having a tattoo you did not earn results in severe punishment. At best, it would be removed with sandpaper, glass, a razor, or brick. If the offender refused, he would be raped or killed.