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How to read a Russian criminal’s tattoos

posted by Susannah Breslin   Dec 24, 2015

Arkady Bronnikov is an expert when it comes to translating the tattoos of criminals in Russia. To date, he’s collected over 20,000 tattoos, and he’s compiled a “jail slang” dictionary with over 10,000 terms.

The Siberian Times reports:

“Some general rules: crosses often depict the thief’s level of authority. Thiefs are the ones ruling in jails, not murderers.

“Tattoos with knives mean those jailed for hooliganism. Tattoos with beasts - lions, wolves, tigers - mean those jailed for violent robberies. Spiders and syringes indicate drug users.

“The church is another frequent symbol, the number of domes means the number of jail terms, just like rings. Often they have to add extra domes, even though they do not look right for the design.

“There is a lot of text in tattoos. For example, ‘Damn those who decided to improve a man with the help of jail’ or ‘Jail is not a school and prosecutor is not a teacher.’”