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The Mark of Caïn

Russian Criminal Tattoos are distinctive for their ornate patterns and symbols. Such tattoos are often prevalent in Russia’s most notorious gangs. Russian criminal tattoos are a subject of a documentary titled, The Mark of Cain. The film details the dying art form of Russian criminal tattoos and how the vanishing practice is slowly transcending to the broader Russian society.

The Mark of Cain features some of the most infamous prisons in Russia, including the White Swan as well as ruminations by prisoners, guards and criminologists who want to decode the secret language of The Zone and the Code of Thieve.

The Zone prisoners, or locally known as Stalinist Gulag, have developed an intricate social structure that marks each member with a specific tattoo symbol according to their rank. Despite the notoriety of these tattoos, the existence of these prisoners was kept secret by the state. The film exposes every detail of the art of tattooing, dissecting everything from the ink used down to the complex patterns. Each Russian criminal tattoo is different because every pattern will denote certain information about the convict at a glance, including the crime he committed and how many times he’s been imprisoned.

Mark of Cain the documentary gives a sobering look at Russia’s most hardened criminals as well as the unique social structure that exists in the country’s maximum prison facilities.

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