Recently, I spent some time going back through my collection of old “Russian Prison Tattoo” encyclopedias.
They’re fascinating books, and provide an excellent window into the mentality of the underclasses and underworld, and their sentiment toward the System, Marxism, communism and so on during the Soviet era.
I’ll let you have your own look, but in an extreme understatement, one might call their view of the Communist rule: “unfavorable.”
What I found more interesting were many of the captions surrounding the tattoos that gave a chilling and surprisingly familiar insight into how the system controlled prisoners within the countless labor camps and hellish prisons of “The Zone.”
The Zone was (and still is) located in an area of Russia known as Perm – it is a region located along the Siberian border, on the western flank of the Ural mountains. The northern part of it is a huddled collection of correctional facilities that have allegedly changed little since the “bad old days,” where guards and inmates both struggle for a kind of bleak survival in remote places with little to offer.
Reports of torture and horrific treatment, beatings, rapes and even killings are still common to this day – a cursory Google search will provide nightmare fuel for even the most hardened.
Although the history of Soviet Russia and its impact on modern Russia is well beyond the scope of this article, there are some tactics utilized by these medieval dungeons of the Soviet Union that are of particular interest to us now.
Following the coded language of the Russian thieves guilds and criminal underworld, there are specific tattoos that are called “grins,” a kind of middle finger to the authorities and administrators of the prisons and work camps.
Some of these are blatant and obvious, often pornographic, frequently strongly anti-Semitic and almost always viciously anti-Communist.
Others are more subtle, and involve a complex system of symbols and initiatic language and acronyms.
For example, on one prisoner, the Cyrillic letters “god” might not mean that at all, but instead be an acronym for “Only Death Will Correct Me.”
Likewise, there were tattoos given to collaborators and the untrustworthy or especially brutal – snitches, homosexuals, co-operators with government authority, rapists, and so on – that were forced on against the individuals will and marked them for horrific treatment or death.
In some cases, a tattoo of a werewolf was applied to individuals called “satanists,” which meant those who were inveterate transgressors against the regime – those who lived life with no remorse and refused to cooperate with the system at any cost.
And the cost was high.
“Anti-socials” like this were often dealt with through a specific method: the “presser house.”
“Presser” was a nickname given to individuals of particularly sadistic and vile personalities, who would agree to work with the administration in order to break these “anti-social” and uncooperative prisoners who came into the prison with their own ideas of how things would go.
Often, groups of pressers would be put into a building, and the anti-social thrown in with them for days, or weeks at a time, during which they would be beaten, raped, starved, and tortured repeatedly. Sometimes, they would break. Other times they would be killed.
The pressers themselves ate well on the anti-socials food, and were afforded other special privileges as well in exchange for their foul work in service of the System.
If these collaborators were transferred elsewhere, however, and their status as a presser was discovered, they usually didn’t live long enough to regret their choices.
Those who dared stand against the system, via refusal to work, or get in line, or go along with program, or even, in some cases, for possessing a particularly offensive “grin” or tattoo, might find themselves isolated at best, punished or starved in some cases, or at worst, thrown to the pressers to break.
Our fates might not be quite so grim, but the tactics of the enemy have remained much the same in our present day. They are merely disguised as something else, but those of us who have run afoul of the System’s narrative and been labeled as “werewolves”or “satanics” or “anti-socials” have experienced them first-hand and are not fooled.
Their modern gulag permeates our reality, and the walls and barbed wire of the prison complex have given way to one that spans the globe – utilizing newer forms of surveillance and security in place of watch towers and spotlights.
Big tech, media, and big government form a writhing chimera – you can never quite tell where one ends and another begins, because our dystopia is fashioned from corporate interest as well as government interest, as they are one and the same. Shadowy cabals make back-alley deals that wield euphemism deftly with one hand while the other acts as a fist to enforce their own propaganda, masquerading their brute force and profiteering as “health concerns” or “public safety.”
Children are mutilated on the altar of progress, and they smile, and say everything is going according to plan.
Personal information, various collected data, flagged words targeted by algorithms and combined with more insidious and organic methods like social pressure and call-out or cancel culture become a snitch with a million eyes and a forked tongue that can reach across the world.
The goals are the same: destroy your resources – get you fired from work; ban you from doing business; get you kicked out of your apartment complex; convince your bank to drop you.
Isolate you – do their best to convince family and friends you are a “satanic” or an “anti-social” who cannot be corrected, and is dangerous to himself and others.
Attempt to turn you out into the world alone and disconnected, in order to make you lose hope.
See you beaten or worse via doxxing or other methods, a Hail Mary thrown out there in the hope that someone crazy enough or with nothing to lose will come after you physically in order to commit violence against you or your loved ones.
A modern take on the “presser houses” of the gulag.
It’s all how it’s always been – only the methods have, in some cases, become more sophisticated. Others remain as brutal and simple as ever.
There are other coded tattoos in that aforementioned underworld that existed as well:
One of my favorites means “I AM IN THE ZONE ALL THE TIME.”
Its meaning is made clear by the attitude of the bearer:
Wherever I may go, I am an enemy of the people who wish to see me dead or imprisoned. I live my whole life prepared, and my currency is in a world that the collaborators and co-conspirators of this whole system cannot access or destroy.
While they work to make the entire world into a prison filled with only the approved opinions and activities, where the eyes of rats and spies are constantly watching and ready to turn you over, where they put their own “pressers” to work in an attempt to break your spirit or your belief…
We continue to survive and to thrive.
Another popular slogan, tattooed on those considered to be a “Prince of Thieves”:
“Always for me, never from me.”
Take what can be taken. Relinquish nothing. Never give up.
For myself, I see the meaning behind the phrase “I am in the zone all the time” as twofold, both of them an inspiring and fiery call to a lifestyle of harsh action.
First, that although I exist in a world that seeks to make itself a prison for me and people like me, that I create my own freedom through the creation of this alternate culture, and through choosing the life of a “werewolf” even though the alternative might be more pleasant, or easy, or comfortable.
That there are others like me who will act as allies and confederates in order to continue to maintain a powerful society both “outside” and “within” their world, but that belongs wholly to us, which they can neither subvert nor eradicate – although they will attempt to do so at every turn.
Second, that I exist, and must continue to do so, in a state of being constantly “on” or “in the zone.”
I am aflame, creative, strong, skilled, certain, ready, steady and in a mental condition of fervor and fanaticism that produces an unkillable drive that burns unceasingly with a smokeless fire.
That I will allow no negative or defeatist thoughts into myself, as these are traitor thoughts, and the black seeds of betrayal and submission. They are the initial virus that ultimately leads to a slow death or suicide.
My mission is crystal clear, and it is important, and it is mine, and I am special, and so are you.
We cannot give up. We cannot be defeated. We cannot be stopped, nor silenced, nor broken.
We are in the zone all the time.