Gang and criminal subcultures are always fascinating, especially when the criminal culture comes from Russia — home to the second highest prison population per capita in the world (naturally, USA is #1! #1! #1!). We previously covered the first Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia awhile back, and unsurprisingly it has remained one of our most popular posts. Author Danzing Baldayev, both a former prisoner and prison attendant, returns to assemble the second and third volumes of the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia to further unravel the secrets of the Russian penal system, its inhabitants and the underground language and meaning of the tattoos they sport. With so many prisoners, and uniformity, a sense of individuality is regained through the adornment of their bodies with tattoos. Like the first volume, hand-drawn notes and written explanations of the symbols and meanings behind over 3,000 tattoos can be found showing how a prisoner’s ink depicts different classes — some showcasing violence, pornography, rank, gang affiliation and politics. Perhaps most interesting are the in-depth details Baldayev offers chronicling his experiences during the 30+ years he spent working as a prison guard at the notorious St. Petersburg Kresty prison. They also feature an introduction from historian Alexander Sidorov who explores the origins of the Russian criminal tattoo and their various meanings today. The second and third hardcover volumes are 400 pages each via FUEL Publishing, and are currently on sale for about $30.

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