If we understand Alvarez’s decision to tattoo as a direct response to the soldiers’ threats, his story elucidates the limits of state power. Where death squads in Guatemala repeatedly executed civilians and deprived their families of closure, Alvarez’s tattoo might have thwarted such efforts had he died. If the army killed him, or Felipe, or Alberto, their markings might have rendered them more recognizable to their families regardless of the military’s brutality. Their mothers and fathers could then recite the Lord’s Prayer and give them a proper burial. In this sense, Alvarez’s tattoo embodies rebellion against the Guatemalan government’s authority to deprive families of the ability to grieve. His indelible ink, even in death, may have prevented the state from terrorizing his people and denying them this right.
Discipline and Punish, subtitled The Birth of the Prison, is Michel Foucault’s reading of the shift in penal technologies from torture to imprisonment that took place in Europe beginning in the eighteenth century.