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The 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
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