by Jen Turner

I was recently struck by the incredible images displayed in a recent article online in The Daily Mail.  The images, taken in the early 1990s by photographer Sergei Vasiliev after he gained access to some of Russia’s toughest prisons, illustrated the variety of tattoos that adorned inmates.  This was at the peak of the gang wars that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union.  Margo Demello (2000) explains that the fact that a tattoo is permanent, painful, and macho inscribes layers of meaning much beyond simply the surface of the skin.  Far from a random collection of meaningless drawings and letters, each tattoo has its own meaning and, to those who know, can be read as a curriculum vitae of its bearer’s criminal past.  For prisoners, a tattoo may symbolise membership of a certain group and one’s place in the hierarchy – which, for some, is a…

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