Meaning and Significance of Leg Tattoos in Soviet Russian Prisons

Stars on the knees of a thief

Stars on the knees of a thief - a symbol of will and independence. The tradition of tattoos on the feet of Russian criminals has a long history. First, the hands, chest, back and abdomen can be completely covered and drawn during previous sentences, so the legs in this case serve as a kind of "reserve" for the artistic research of camp tattooers. And secondly, this part of the body is mostly closed from outsiders' eyes. So what is depicted on the feet of criminals can be seen only by their good acquaintances.
Left and right...

The most interesting tattoos on the lower limbs of the arrested are the so-called "stars of hooliganism". They look very similar to the gangster stars of the underworld. The meaning of these stars is roughly this: "I will never kneel". Zeks with such tattoos demonstrate their independence and rebelliousness.

Such stars are usually branded by the most authoritative and respected criminals who have distinguished themselves before other thieves with the "right" behavior from the point of view of the underworld. In the old days, detainees who had contact with the administration and, in the opinion of the authoritative "vagabonds", "lost face" could lose their stars. They could simply be cut off their knees.

Well, inscriptions and drawings on the soles and shins usually did not carry an important semantic tint, but were simply decorative. These could be hooligan and pornographic tattoos. For example, the image of a police sergeant pierced with a dagger. For the least understanding, this picture was accompanied by an explanation: "Piss off, cops!"

Tattoos on knees and legs

Often, the beginning of the phrase was carved on the right foot or sole, and its continuation - on the left. For example, "They are tired ..." could be read on the left sole, "... of stages (incarcerations)" - on the right.

Locks, chains and cats

Russian criminals loved to brand chains, barbed wire, locks and shackles on their feet, thus hinting that even on the outside they are in the position of detainees.

In general, the set of images carved on the feet of a detainee depends first of all on his fantasy and the ability of the camp artist to bring them to life. Devils, snakes, dragons, skeletons and bones with skulls - all this can be found on the body of a deserved criminal. By the way, among these drawings, a cute cat muzzle often happens. But it is not carved out of love for domestic animals by the owner of this tattoo, but because the abbreviation CAT is deciphered as "native inhabitant of the prison".

drawing of prisoners tattooed feet
another drawing of prisoners tattooed feet

In short, the feet of Russian criminals are often decorated with no less expressive pictures than their hands and chest. Therefore, paraphrasing the famous Russian proverb, you can say to the thief who has just "rejected" from the places of deprivation of liberty: "Show me your feet, and I'll tell you who you are!"

a drawing of prisoners tattooed feet explained

Sergey Shchukin
Copies of tattoos done by Dantsik Baldaev
Based on the newspaper "Behind Bars" (№4 2011)


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