Preserved Prison Tattoo
These days the number of people who have elected to be poked repeatedly with a needle to form an image on their skin is quite high. It’s commonplace to walk around town and see tattoos on people, whether it be on their arms, legs or torso. The reasons that people decide to get a tattoo is as varied as the people who have them. While it is now generally accepted as a part of our culture, it wasn’t very long ago that tattoos were the domain of only very specific groups of people.
Prisoners in jails around the world have been tattooing themselves for a very long time, and for ages the designs were much simpler than the artwork seen on people today. Instead of the needle that we’re all familiar with these days, prisoners would use crude implements to create the designs on their skin. The skin would be punctured using things like razor blades, broken glass, paper clips or wires. Instead of ink being used to create colour, pencil refils, charcoal, water colour paints or crayons would be mixed with water, fat or urine. Due to the chemicals used, along with the unsanitary instruments used, the health risk of getting a tattoo was significantly greater than under today’s conditions.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, in Krakow, Poland, at the Department of Forensic Medicine at Jagiellonian University, a study of the prisoners’ tattoos began. While pictures could have perhaps been taken of the tattoos for further study, this was not the method that was employed. Instead, after prisoners had died, their tattooed skin was removed and preserved in formaldehyde.