Vory Tattoos - the mark of a Soviet fraternity of criminals: Background information when reading The Secret Speech

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The Secret Speech

by Tom Rob Smith

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith X
The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith
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  • First Published:
    May 2009, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2010, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Vory Tattoos - the mark of a Soviet fraternity of criminals

This article relates to The Secret Speech

Print Review

The vory developed a complex series of coded tattoos that are still employed by the vory today. The tattoos have a bluish color and are blurred-looking due to the poor quality implements used to create them. Ink inside the prisons is usually created by burning the heel of a shoe and mixing the soot with urine and shampoo. The tattoos often cause infection which, in the harsh gulag conditions of the past and the usually appalling prison conditions of today, frequently result in death.

The vory tattoo was (and is) a sort of business card for the bearer. They detail a person's entire life, including where he is from, which prisons he has spent time in and for what crimes, and how many people he's killed. They're also an indication of rank within the vory cell.

When a man is accepted into the vory, he receives his first tattoo, generally in the center of his chest, often including a rose. Cathedrals and churches are common, with the spires indicating either the number of times the wearer has been incarcerated or the number of years in prison. A Madonna and child indicate the individual has been a thief since a young age. A single cat indicates a thief; several cats indicate the person is a member of a band of thieves. Stars on the shoulder indicate the person has dignity and honor, and that he lives by the code. Stars on the knees mean the bearer will kneel to no one - these are usually reserved for individuals of higher rank within the organization.

Tattoos are also used as punishment. Those who break the code may receive a tattoo of a sexual nature in a prominent place, such as their forehead or the back of their hand. A tattoo may be removed with approval. This is done by bandaging magnesium powder onto the surface of the skin, which dissolves the skin leaving painful caustic burns. Forging a vory tattoo is punishable by death.

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