So Russians have their very own and highly unique prison tattoo scene. They are usually quite broad across the whole body, consisting of numerous smaller portraits in a variety of different areas. They often depict a myriad of different symbols that all contain secret meanings, “the tattoos depicted a complex world of hierarchies, disgraces and achievements. Mostly anti-Soviet and frequently obscene, they are a portal into a violent world that ran alongside the worst excesses of the Communist era.” This scene has only grown in status as it’s been forced underground by prison officials. The tattoos are illegal in the prisons due to the insanitary conditions that allow for the contracting of AIDS, Syphilis, and other harsh diseases. Russians even have a word for prisoners that contract such diseases –“buketniki”, which means “bouquet holders.” Further, tin conversation they rate this “buketniki” with military denotations for how far along their disease is. “An inmate suffering from second-stage syphilis is known as a ‘colonel,’ third-stage a ‘general.'”
Symbols have meanings spanning everything from a prisoner’s sexual orientation, political views, or serving his whole sentence in protest to cooperating with authority. It is interesting to note that the tattoos are usually devoid of color. Whether that is a stylistic choice, or (more likely) due to the fact that it is an underground practice in prison, where ink can be hard to acquire. Whatever the case, tattooing such as these is an integral part to the Russian prison scene, the understanding and documenting of which has even lead to the solving of countless crimes thanks to identification of victims or offenders. No matter how dark or misused, there is always something to be learned from an art form.