a word about prison tattoos



“…some sailor in a North AFrican port had dug needles of blue ink into the marble flesh of his arm, and written there the indelible words – Enfant de Malheur…the face of a chocolate-box beauty done in colours decorated its smooth surface. Her silly blue eyes stared up from between his fine flat shoulder blades and her full red lips smiled on his spinal cord. She was a trashy creature, a plump, coarse morsel, no fit companion for this young prince of darkness…”

One of the defining physical components of Enfant is his tattoos. I found a comprehensive article on the significance of Russian prison tattoos, and the second article is about the French history of tattoos. Together, I think they both help explain the significance of prison tattoos, and why Enfant’s criminal status is so important.


1 thought on “a word about prison tattoos

  1. The notorious Boston mobster Whitey Bulger died in prison yesterday. May his soul rest in peace. I don’t condone violence but, the death of murderers are perhaps harder to reconcile with then the death of those who have not committed the crime of taking another’s life. I believe in an afterlife and that we are all sinners. Therefore, the Enfant de Malheur text really got to me. I wasn’t sure if Borden was trying to be overly religious but most criminals do have tattoos on their bodies and though she didn’t say it the tattoo the Enfant wore sounded like the Madonna, which is common among prisoners. This combination of sacred and profane is amplified when the convict is sweating slime so that it appears the woman is crying. To me this image takes on the symbolism of Mary crying for her Son or Veronica wiping the face of Jesus as he makes his way towards his death. However, it also holds the double meaning of many gang members getting tears tattooed on their bodies for multiple reasons, one of which is to represent the amount of kills they have made or attempted to make. This idea has parallels with the dying of the Enfant himself.

    The journey-like aspect of this reading is also interesting. We see the priest has trouble calming down the scared soul. Yet, I think his persistence is what brings the Enfant to peace. The priest is there the whole time comforting him up until his last breath. No one in our readings has really gotten that attention so far. Even if the men aren’t religious just the idea of not being alone when you die is powerful. Beneath the hard exterior and masking tattoos is simply a boy who is afraid to die and the priest sees this and is able to bring some relief in the midst of such great anguish.

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