Soviet Prisoner Tattoos by Arkady Bronnikov

The american influence on this inmate is visible. The eyes signify his presence and status between prison walls: he watches his fellow inmates.

Illicit placing of tattoos often resulted in terrible diseases and infection such as tetanus, AIDS and syphilis. As such, the Russian Government forbade all prison tattoos, unsurprisingly adding to their popularity.

A muslim, this prisoner tries to elevate his social status in prison by means of tattoos. The watchtower translates to a need for freedom, the cuffs signify a sentence longer than 5 years.

After the downfall of communism in Russia, the twin-headed eagle replaced the hammer and sickle. This tattoo translates to anger with the old communist regime.

Initially, the ribbon or bow tie was not an honourable mark, as thieves who collaborated with the regime were branded with it. This tradition was lost. The dollar sign points out that the bearer used to crack open safes.

Classic Madonna and Child. This iconic image super-imposed on a prison stands for a history of crime. “I have been a criminal since birth. Prison is my mother.”

A snake around the neck reveals a history of substance abuse, for which many committed their crimes. These peculiar pants were a special outfit, for extremely violent or dangerous inmates, often murderers or paedophiles. These prisoners were subjected to the worst treatment, and had no means of being released early.

Stars indicate great authority. The medals are a relic of the old regime, and signify enmity against the Soviet authorities. The eyes stand for homosexuality: the penis becomes the “nose” of the face.

Catholic images represent a devotion to crime. Skulls and coffins stand for a rejection of murder.

Epaulets are only awarded to the highest officers, and epaulet tattoos correspond with equally powerful criminals. The three stars stand for the adage “I am no slave. Nobody can force me to work.”

The eight-pointed stars mark “authoritarian thieves”, those loyal to ancient traditions of theft. Variations seen here reveal that the bearer was once a soldier, but deserted to lead a life of crime.

Devils on the shoulders are worn by those who detest the Soviet authorities. Often paired with anti-Soviet propaganda, these mark the true dissident.

The arm reads “Thank you motherland, for ruining my childhood.”. Daggers around the neck tell that the inmate has murdered in prison, and is willing to do it again. For a lot of criminals, Lenin is the boss of all crime.

Chest reads “He who is not with me, is against me.”. A mermaid represents rape or abuse of a minor. “Amurik” (cupid) is the term for this kind of prisoner, who is often abused by other inmates. Swastikas and other fascist marks are usually removed surgically by prison authorities.

Above the cross “Lord, protect your servant Viktor.”, under says “Do not judge based on my deeds, but based on your mercy.”. Above the waist says “I fuck poverty and bad luck.”. Skull and bones tell that this prisoner serves a lifelong sentence.

On his right arm, he bears “Save love, keep freedom.”, left arm says “Sinner”, on his chest reads “To each his own.”, under both skulls “God against all, all against god.”.

Rose on the chest reveals that this prisoner reached adulthood while incarcerated. The “SOS” on the left arm stands for “Spasayus Ot Suk”, “I protected myself from bitches.”.

A white sail on a sailing ship signifies a lack of a job. We also see a giant chained to a rock, reminiscent of the myth of Prometheus.