A Baltimore Sun story describes how Danzig Baldayev has compiled a 166-page book called Tatuirovki zaklyuchennykh (“Prisoners’ Tattoos” or, as the publisher renders it, “Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia”; to be published in English as Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia), analyzing the designs to be seen on the skin of graduates of the Russian penal system:
Baldayev, 75 and retired, used his time as a guard to observe the tattoos prisoners here apply to each other.
“It was like a foreign language,” Baldayev says, “so I started to collect it.”…
A prisoner who has a tattoo of a cat smoking a pipe is a successful thief, Baldayev says. A snarling tiger or wolf means the thief is particularly powerful. A murderer might have a tattoo of a warrior in armor standing on severed heads or a tattoo of a sword piercing a skull.
Some prisoners have tattoos of churches. The number of domes on the churches represents the number of years spent in prison.