Handmade playing card…

Between 1988 and 1990, in different corrective labour colonies, in different places around Russia, prisoners did a handmade playing cards to spend some time, but isn’t a normally playing card, because each one has a own meaning. Made in carton, and inclusive notebook paper, this cards show us a point of view from the reality of prisoners. Later I will write small stories about card games in the corrective labour colonies…


Igra na sakharok ili pederasta – ‘playing for a sugar-cube or your virtue’.  Cunning thieves lure inexperienced inmates into a card game, where the cost of losing can be the victim’s manhood.

A thief who lost at cards was made to have a penis tattooed on his face, pointing at his mouth. Minutes after the tattoo was finnished he used a hot poker to obliterate it, scarring himself for life.

Poimet faru – ‘to get a headlamp’. A barbaric card game in which the winner carves out the loser’s eye with a knife, or pulls it out with his fingers in the presence of other prisoners as witnesses.

Card games were taken extremely seriously by criminals, who viewed them as a means to demonstrate their cunning and bravado. They often bet, and regularly lost, all their possessions.

Thieves who had been ‘sunk’ or ‘lowered’ by others were punished by having diamond and heart knave card symbols cut into their buttcocks, using a razor. They became ‘untouchables’.

The main symbols of a ‘legitimate thief’ are the suits of clubs or spades. The most ‘noble’ cards in the Russian thirty-six card deck are the king of clubs and king of spades.

Gambling the possessions of innocent prisoners in a card game was common practise among thieves. Its appeal lay in the fact that the loser was made to force the wagered item from the victim.


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