Tattoos are a common part of prison culture. In my experience, most inmates have ink before they start working, but some don’t finish their artwork until after they are in prison.
No, there are no tattoo parlors in prisons where you can get professional work done for some money. Instead, it’s filled with talented prisoners who get super creative with random tools at their disposal. It’s a common side hustle for inmates who need extra income, but it’s a risky one.
Today, we’re going to dive into the world of prison tattoos. How did they do it? What do those prison tattoos mean?
In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- How do inmates get tattoos in prison?
- What Are the Meanings of Prison Tattoos?
- teardrops are common
- Other Common Prison Tattoos and Their Meanings
How do inmates get tattoos in prison?
The method of prison tattooing has changed over the years, but it always involves tools available to prisoners. Back in the 1990s, an inmate who shined a police officer’s shoes said he would use the heel of his prison boot for ink. But this extremely dangerous method resulted in constant infections among prisoners.
“We would scrape debris off the shoes with a razor blade—not so obvious that you get caught. We burned the debris under some glass and dissolved it in pee, turning it into an ink,” says a prisoner of marius told vice.
“Then we would use thread from a towel and dip the sewing needle into the ink. Tattoos are drawn by ripping out the skin. After a while, your skin can’t take it anymore. But I keep doing it because other people Both.”
A popular method in prisons today is to make a tattoo machine out of the motor of an electric toothbrush or razor and the coil spring inside a pen. Alternatively, the inmate will use a needle from a sewing kit and ink from a pen.
All of this is against prison rules and there are serious consequences if you get caught. You may be sent to the hole for several weeks, sometimes longer. This could happen if a prisoner is captured in action, or if officers discover a tattoo kit during a search.
What Are the Meanings of Prison Tattoos?
There are many reasons why people get dirty in prison. Some people just get tattoos as a form of body art and expression, and they get tattoos whether they’re in prison or not.
Some of those who get prison tattoos are gang members, who use them as identification marks for other prisoners and guards. The design or picture they choose is usually something they identify with, but it could also just be a random picture.
Others try to look dangerous, thinking that getting a prison tattoo will cause people to brush them off, but that doesn’t actually work.
American inmate tattoos do vary from East to West, and federal prisons from state prisons.
Unless the inmates are getting gangsta tattoos, the ink they get can have many different meanings. This is actually very similar to tattooed people in the free world. However, some images have a fairly universal meaning in the prison world.
teardrops are common
A teardrop under the eye is a common prison tattoo and usually signifies that one person killed another. Whether or not the teardrop is filled usually depends on the time the prisoner has spent for the crime. If it’s not filled out, it could be a sign of attempted murder.
A single tear could mean that the prisoner is seeking revenge. When it became clear, revenge had not yet been completed. When it’s full, it’s fulfilled. The two teardrops may refer to someone who was raped in prison.
The meaning of a teardrop has changed over the years and varies by location. A prisoner in his 60s can have a completely different meaning than a prisoner in his 20s. As opposed to Los Angeles, the same goes for people in Chicago.
Other Common Prison Tattoos and Their Meanings
Another common prison tattoo is a clock without hands. Sometimes this means that the person is living without parole and will never get out of prison. Other times, it’s just a sign of a long sentence, and time means nothing to prison inmates.
The Five Points is a common tattoo that is usually worn on the hand between the thumb and index finger. The four outer dots represent the walls of the prison, and the inner dots are the prisoners.
Five-point tattoos can also signify gang affiliations with gangs identified with the number 5, such as the People’s Ethnic Gang. At the same time, the three-point tattoo can represent “Mi Vida Loca”.
The five-point crown is a symbol of the Latin Kings and has been around since the 1940s. One of these gang members might also have the ALKN tat, which stands for Almighty Latin King Nation. In Women’s the New Black, ALQN stands for Almighty Latin Queen Nation.
The image “13 ½” refers to 12 jury members, a judge, and a half-ass chance of being acquitted.
White gangs in the American West often have the number 14 tattooed somewhere on their bodies. That’s the 14 words these gang members were taught to obey.
I’ve been told, but I’m not sure because I’ve never been a part of a white gang.
Apparently white nationalist David Lane shared his white supremacist philosophy in just 14 words – “We must ensure the survival of our people and the future of white children.” Amazing.
I’ve never met 14, but I did meet a girl who had an “AB” tattoo with lightning. This is a representation of the Aryan Brotherhood. Sometimes AB is replaced with “1 2”. White gang members have also been known to tattoo swastikas on themselves.
Mexican number 14 in West Coast prisons usually represents the 14th letter of the alphabet, the letter N. Represents the Neustra Familia, a Chicano American gang that doesn’t get along with the AB.
The 13 or Sur 13 worn by Mexican prisoners is the emblem of the Mexican Mafia and is known as “La e Me”. This is common in California prisons. Another common image is a spider’s web on the elbow, with five years inside.
The list could go on and on…as inmates come up with a lot of prison tattoos. Some simply had the names of important people tattooed on their chests above their hearts to keep those people close to them while they were incarcerated.
Some may have images of clowns to represent crimes committed against police officers, or roadrunners to represent them getting caught while transporting drugs. The Tasmanian Devil was also a popular animal, but I was never told exactly why.
The meanings of some prison tattoos are kept secret, and if they were made public, the consequences could be dire. So, I stop there.
What does your prison tattoo mean? Let us know in the comments below.