According to the book of Genesis, God placed a mark on the world's first murderer before sending him into exile. The mark of Cain indelibly branded its bearer as a criminal and social outcast.
It is not known when tattooing first became a common practice in Russian prisons and Stalinist Gulags. Soviet researchers first discovered and studied this underground activity in the 1920s; photographs of prisoners from that period suggest an already elaborate and highly developed subculture. More than simple decoration, the images symbolically proclaim the wearer's background and rank within the complex social system of the jailed
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"General" stars, most commonly found on the chest (upper left or right) and sometimes located on the knees(as seen above). The indevidual photographed above is seriously ranked. You can tell by the addition of crosses hanging from the (16)pointed stars. Also notice the foot shackles and "bells" hanging from them.
Alix Lambert's bookFor centuries, Russian prison inmates forcibly initiated newcomers with tattoos. Gradually, prisoners developed a secret form of communication with their tattoos, allowing them to establish rank among the other inmates and maintain a clandestine hierarchy. This book explores the grisly reality of Russian prisons and the people who inhabit them. Over 190 black and white and color photographs expose the different tattoos and their meanings, ranging from churches, crosses, Christs, Madonnas, military symbols, cats, dolphins, bears, hawks, and other startling images. Documentary filmmaker Alix Lambert traveled around modern Russia to film these sinister environments, collected stories to identify the dying art of tattooing in Russian prisons, and detailed the lives of the heavily marked inmates, past and present. This fascinating, spine-tingling book provides an entirely new outlook on tattoos and what they can represent!