The underworld is not homogeneous in nature and is sufficiently organized. It has its own rules and regulations, its own division into categories, castes and groups. One of the criminal statuses that you often hear about from TV programs or from police reports are the so-called thieves in law.
In the thirties of the last century, a new and specific only for this country informal criminal association appeared in the Soviet Union, which ordinary people have long been accustomed to calling thieves in law. Individuals included in this category had an internal code of conduct that was distinguished by strict adherence to criminal traditions. The criminal world in which these authoritative thieves operated was distinguished by a high level of secrecy.
It is interesting that in the criminal environment the concept of "thief in law" is practically not used. This combination is typically used by those who are far from the underworld and know about it only from adventure films and books, where recently "thug romance" has been often highlighted and cultivated. Those who are authoritative in the criminal environment who have this status are called simply thieves in criminal jargon, or they say about themselves “I am in law”.
Thieves in law are those who keep criminal traditions and represent the elite of the criminal world.
The traditions of the thieves' world
The emergence of a special category of thieves was caused by the intensification of the fight against criminal crime, which was the result of the general repressive measures carried out in the USSR before the war. The main idea that drove the criminal authorities was to disobey the official authorities and resist them by means that were not considered political. The criminal elite nominated leaders from among their ranks who were entrusted with keeping the traditions of the thieves' world.
Every thief in law was obliged to strictly observe the unwritten code of conduct, traditions and customs adopted in the criminal environment. For example, a thief was not supposed to have a family, he was forbidden to cooperate with the authorities in any form. Assistance by the law enforcement agency was also not allowed.
Conflicts between adherents of thieves' laws and apostates arose even when certain authorities considered it possible to serve or help the army during the war years.
Not everyone can become a thief in law. This requires the surety of several reputable thieves and the passage of the coronation ritual, a kind of initiation. The gathering crowns the thief; if necessary, it has the right to deprive the authority of this high status. The most respected in the criminal environment are those who are crowned in prison. The requirements for a candidate are very strict, although in recent years, coronation for money has begun to be practiced. Such thieves are called "oranges" in the criminal environment.
According to the established tradition, only one who has a real criminal record and the corresponding authority among other representatives of the underworld is considered a thief in law. The community of thieves in law does not have a clearly defined structure and a single center. These people act on the basis of equality of rights and responsibilities. The community is run by the same gathering. All important decisions are made on it, including the decision to deprive a thief for a misdemeanor not only of a title, but sometimes of life.