The Mark of Cain

The Mark of Cain

Ratings: 8.69/10 from 29 users.

The Mark of CainThe Mark of Cain documents the fading art form and language of Russian criminal tattoos, formerly a forbidden topic in Russia. The now vanishing practice is seen as reflecting the transition of the broader Russian society. Filmed in some of Russia's most notorious prisons, including the fabled White Swan, the interviews with prisoners, guards, and criminologists reveal the secret language of The Zone and The Code of Thieve.

The prisoners of the Stalinist Gulag, or Zone, as it is called, developed a complex social structure (documented as early as the 1920s) that incorporated highly symbolic tattooing as a mark of rank. The existence of these inmates at prisons and forced labor camps was treated by the state as a deeply-kept secret.

In the 1990s, Russia's prison population exploded, with overcrowding among the worst in the world. Some estimates suggest that in the last generation over thirty million of Russia's inmates have had tattoos even though the process is illegal inside Russian prisons.

The Mark of Cain examines every aspect of the tattooing, from the actual creation of the tattoo ink, interviews with the tattooers and soberly looks at the double-edged sword of prison tattoos. In many ways, they were needed to survive brutal Russian prisons, but mark the prisoner for life, which complicates any readmission to normal society they may have.

Tattoos expressly identify what the convict has been convicted of, how many prisons he;s been in and what kind of criminal he is. Tattoos, essentially, tell you everything you need to know about that person without ever asking. Each tattoo represents a variety of things; cupolas on churches represent the number of convictions a convict has, epaulets tattooed on shoulders represent the rank of the individual in the crime world and so on and so forth.

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Eric Garcia
9 years ago

hell on earth..

11 years ago

Mixing the burnt sole of your shoe with urine to make ink so you can be judged by the quality and message of your tattoos…no identity, no dreams, no goals except daily survival…30, 40 or 50 people to a cell, sleeping in shifts, absolutely no privacy, no compassion, just waiting for your release date…if you have one. If hell exists I think this is a pretty good description.

Ganesh Malhi
11 years ago

prisoners in the west live in a hotel in comparison to this!

Abraham Anand
11 years ago

Very well made doc. Most prisoners here seem to have realized inner peace by staying in the prison. May God spare them a life to live.

12 years ago

Good documentary, very intriguing.

12 years ago

this is not the jail i went to lol, they should show this video to dumbasses locked up here in the u.s. to make them realize they are one, equal, against the system.

12 years ago

Fascinating & informative. Very well made. I love the way that the people themselves told their own stories. Some of those tattoos (like the famed Japanese tattoos) border on fine art. The relationship between poverty, despair, alcohol (& other substance) abuse & criminal behaviour is devastatingly apparent here. The deplorable living conditions in which these convicts are left to languish are unworthy of any nation with pretenses of being civilized.

12 years ago

Great work.

12 years ago

very enlightening, definitely professional work. enjoyed it greatly, thanks for uploading.

12 years ago

Really Interesting Doc. Worth a watch.

12 years ago

I love my tattoos, but they were all taken outside of any jail. I feel for these guys. Some seem as though they fell on bad times; and then made the wrong decisions of how to deal with those bad times. I went to jail for 4 days when I was 19. I didn't even do what I was charged with. That didn't matter. I was put in jail anyway. 4 days was enough for me, and it was nothing like what these poor fools are going through. NOTHING is worth losing one's freedom. Unless it is fighting for it in the first place. Freedom is worth death....

12 years ago

Very brutal, and very sad, all they have is their tattoos. Watch this doc and be thankful for what you have.

12 years ago

wow, that was humbling... going to go for a walk and enjoy my freedom...