prison tattoos

Prison Tattoos and Their Meanings

Wherever you find prisoners, you’ll find tattoos. In jails across the world, inmates decorate their skin with designs that act as a form of communication, sending messages and displaying status.

At TattooedNow! we have a series of designs that enable the wearer to buy in, temporarily, to that culture.

Some of our designs are universal – such as barbed wire, a spider’s web or a rose in chains.

But one utterly fascinating set of designs gives an amazing insight into prison tattoos and their meanings.

Our best-selling range of prison tattoos are drawn from symbols used in Russian prisons, where there is a history of self-decoration that goes back to the Soviet era.

We know plenty about these because one guard in a 1950s Soviet prison took a series of pictures that tell us so much about what life was like in those incredibly tough places.

In that era, prisoners would display their defiance against the Stalin regime in ink. Some even went as far as having a swastika tattooed into their skin – this just years after tens of millions had died in the fight against Nazi Germany. 

Others would tattoo pictures of Stalin, Lenin and Marx on to their bodies knowing that the guards would not dare to shoot at images of heroes of Soviet Communism.

There was an unwritten rule in Soviet jails that you had to wear tattoos. Only those incarcerated for political crimes were allowed to keep their skin clear.

Murderers would wear images such as skulls and daggers. A pair of eyes symbolised that the wearer was watching over other convicts, and ranked highly in the criminal fraternity.

These senior cons would also wear a pair of eight-pointed stars, one on the front of each shoulder.

The next rank down were the muscle men, the enforcers, who would display their prowess with prison tattoos showing battle scenes or warriors in armour.

Labourers often sported tattoos on their knees, showing they would never bow down to authority.

Ring tattoos were the most common design. Each symbol on your finger equated to one offence committed.

Another way to show your position in the hierarchy was to wear a tattoo showing the dome of a Russian Orthodox Church. Each dome represented a year served, and its size told the tale of your level of authority.

At TattooedNow! we understand prison tattoos and their secret meanings. That’s why we’ve created a range of temporary Russian prison tattoos, as well as designs that show you know about the meanings of tattoos that could be worn in any prison in the world.

The spider’s web, for instance, is a common choice for a prison tattoo. Inmates often add a ring to the web each year to mark the length of their time served.

We’ve put in the time ourselves at TattooedNow! to make sure the temporary tattoos we create and supply have the mark of authenticity.

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