Ex-cop Mark Bullen has spent a lot of time in prisons. That means, he knows a lot more about Russian prison tattoos than most, and was arguably the best person out there to put together a guide on this interesting subject.
His new book, Thief in Law, is out now, and Inkluded has one free copy to give away to one lucky winner. Details at the bottom of this interview.
Hi Mark. Tell us about your book.
I’m an ex-cop with a fascination with Russia. I lived there when I was in my late-teens for a couple of years and learnt the language. On getting back to the UK and eventually joining the police I found the language really useful. I was the only copper who knew Russian so was quite in demand.
It found me some quite interesting jobs. I travelled a lot too through the International Police Association, spent time with the Russian police and began to learn about prison tattoos. I became a sort of specialist back home. To cut a long story short, I ended up writing the UK’s training package on dealing with Russian organised crime, and teaching it all over the world, in Germany, the Czech Republic and even America.
I interviewed tattooed Russian prisoners in the cells and photographed their tattoos. I built a huge collection of photos, bigger than anything outside of Russia. I left the police in 2014 and now live in America. I thought I’d turn my unseen photos and the police training into a book. Thief in Law is the real name for what we call the Russia Mafia.
Do you have a stand-out moment from your career so far?
Once I was called by my colleagues to deal with some guys on the street. One was a Lithuanian man, covered in petrol in a shopping centre and holding a lighter. I managed to talk him out of it in Russian and took control of him. It turned out he was a double-murderer and prolific criminal back in the Baltics.
Another great moment was being flown to Seattle to train the FBI, DEA and regular American cops on the subject. It was amazing. I was shocked by the things they have to deal with over there. I got to be part of their gang training and it was scary.
Do you have any tattoos of your own?
Yeah I’ve got a few and planning the next one at the moment. None of them are anything like the photos you’ll see in the book, although there are a couple I do think would look quite cool on me!
After one of my talks, a cop on a riot squad went out and got himself a big Russian prison tattoo on his chest – the orthodox church, where each spire represents a term in prison.
If you want to see mine you’ll have to look for me on a California beach!
We have one free copy of Mark’s book to give away. To enter: email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “RUSSIAN TATTOOS” and we will pick a winner on Tuesday 7 March.
If you can’t wait, the book is available to buy on Amazon (paperback and kindle edition).
Words: Beccy Rimmer and Mark Bullen
Photos: Mark Bullen