25 Common Prison Tattoos And The Associated Meaning
While the practice of getting inked goes back to ancient times, the craze of adorning tattoos has been on the rise among the millennial generation. Some get a tattoo made because it increases their coolness quotient and then there are some who consider getting inked to remember an important event of their life. Getting inked is an art in itself and different tattoos symbolize different things. From Sanskritic or Arabian verses to butterfly or star tattoos, there is a lot to choose from. Many of us may not be aware of this but tattoos are pretty common among prison inmates as well. If you notice, most of your favorite series based in prison, from ‘Orange Is The New Black’ to ‘Prison Break’ have characters adorning tattoos! Inmates usually tell their stories through tattoos. Upon looking closely, you will find that prison tattoos speak a lot about the respective prisoner revealing gang affiliations and involvements, the extent of his or her criminal activity, time spent in prison and more! Sometimes inmates even show their disrespect for jail authorities via their tattoos.
Prison style tattoos are conventionally made using crude pieces of equipment like staples, rudimentary needles, paper clips, molten rubber, ballpoint pens among other similar paraphernalia. This is the reason why prison tattoos look pretty rough when compared to their neat, professional counterparts! While some of you may find these tattoos not beautiful enough, if you ask us, this lack of beauty is pretty much compensated for by the narrative that comes along.
We have curated a list of 25 prison tattoos and what they signify! Get ready to be amazed as you read on!!
The Aryan Brotherhood
AB or The Aryan Brotherhood is basically a Caucasian male gang whose members believe in the scary neo Nazi ideology. These guys consider Hitler to be a hero and find nothing wrong whatsoever with propagating the cause of white supremacy. The tattoos belonging to the said brotherhood are actually pretty symbolic. They often consist of a swastika sign or the number 1488. So, if you come across an ex inmate with a tattoo like these, know that they are supporters of Hitler! We suggest staying away!!
A tattoo that you will find a lot of prison inmates adorning is ‘teardrop’. We are not kidding! This one is popular among inmates all around the world. Teardrop tattoos actually look like a small tear drop that appears to be falling from the corner of an eye. The meaning of this prison tattoo changes from one place to another. Sometimes this simple prison tattoo implies that an inmate lost a loved one. There are some prisons where the tattoo symbolizes a long standing revenge. A teardrop may even depict a lengthy sentence, murder conviction or loss at a personal loss.
Often guns tattoos have been associated with committing heinous crimes, more so in America. These dangerous weapons are life threatening and can be pretty tough to handle at times. As they are risky, it is important that all precautions are taken when using one! The unpredictability that is generated by a gun probably creates an air of mystery as well as charm about it. This associated sense of fascination has led to the emergence of guns as a popular prison tattoo! These tattoos range from pistols to rifles, semi automatics to Sig Sauers! Each of these gun tattoos give a different look and often draws meaning from the inmate’s personal history.
Cobwebs that stand for a lengthy prison term are another hit with prison inmates. It typically symbolizes prisoners caged inside bars and can be compared to spiders trapping their prey in the webs! You will usually find this tattoo on elbows. It is as if you sat around so long with your elbows on a table that a web was made by a spider around the area. However, some prisoners also adorn the tattoo on their neck. If you come across someone with a multi colored web, do not confuse it with a prison tattoo as tattoo artists inside prisons usually do not access to colored ink.
Five Point Crown
Ever heard of the Latin Kings gang? It is among the biggest Hispanic gangs in the entire USA. The gang is based out of Chicago. Five point crown symbolizes the Latin Kings gang! The crown is often accompanied by the following letters- ALKN which is an acronym for Almighty Latin Kings Nation. Wondering about the five points? These points point out to the Latin Kings affiliation with the People Nation gang, depicted by the numerical ‘5’! The presence of Latin Kings is actually pretty huge, both inside as well as outside prison with roots going back to the 1940s. The colored jewels at the tips have various hidden meanings too.
Three Dots Tattoo
Another pretty common prison tattoo is ‘the three dot’ tattoo. The tattoo stands for “mi vida loca” which translates as “my crazy life”. The three dot tattoo does not point out to affiliation with any gang or group. It is rather associated with the ‘gang lifestyle’. The tattoo may even carry a religious meaning, representing the holy trinity in Christianity. It can be usually found around the eyes or on the hands of the inmates and is often created through the stick and poke method which does not require any fancy tools!
Five Dots Tattoo
The five dot tattoos are very different from the three dot tattoos. The former stands for the time served in prison. Often referred to as the quincunx, the tattoo consists of four dots on the outside and the fifth one in the space between these four dots. The outside dots represent prison walls while the inside dot is the prisoner himself or herself. A lot of American as well as European prisoners can be seen with the five dot tattoo. The tattoo is most commonly found on the hands of an inmate, typically between the forefinger and thumb. The five dot tattoo on other body parts may mean a different thing altogether, like an affiliation with the People Nation gang!
A Clock Without Hands
This prison tattoo is again symbolizing serving prison time and probably a lengthy one! Most inmates who have to serve a long sentence in prison are often seen with the ‘clock without hands’ tattoo. Inmates get the clock with straps inked usually on their wrists, making the tattoo resemble a real watch. The face of the clock comes in a couple of forms. While some have the face of a grandfather clock, there are others which have the face like a wall clock.
The Nuestra Familia gang is reepresented by the Norteno prison tattoos. The Nuestra Familia gang has connections with Hispanic gangs of Northern California. These tattoos include the word Norteno along with Neustra Familia. A sombrero symbol and the numerical 14 (which stands for the 14th letter of the english alphabet) or the letter N are also to be found. The Nortenos have rivalry with Suernos, another Hispanic gang with roots in Southern California. The the former are identified with red bandannas and are known to be involved in smuggling and distribution of heroin, cocaine and meth.
Blood Gang Tattoos
A lot of contemporary gangs have their own unique identification marks which are adorned by their members. These marks not only reflect their ideology but also bring together the gang members, giving them a sense of belongingness with the gang. The Blood Gang is said to have originated from the West Piru street of LA in USA. The gang has also been influenced by the tattoo culture. Usually the gang members wear a tattoo that consists of three alphabets which are M, O and B which stands for Members of Blood, along with the cipher 13/13 or the letters OYBBQ which is short for Blood! This prison tattoo can be found on any body part with forearms being the favorite among members.
Prison Brake Tattoos
An attempt to break out of prison depicts the valor and bravery of an inmate. It is an act that is seen as defying the authority of priosn officials and going rogue within the confines of prison walls. Irrespective of what this tattoo may suggest, it has nothing to do with breaking out of a prison! Ever heard of the TV series that goes by the name of ‘Prison Break’? These tattoos can be traced to the show. The protagonist of the show gets inked with the blueprint of the prison in which he is locked on his body so as to come up with an escape plan. Most of these consist of signs, images and symbols from this popular series.
Prison Face Tattoos
As suggested by the name of the tattoo, the prison face tattoos are those tattoos that adorn the face of the inmates. These tattoos point out how hardcore a prisoner actually is. Those inmates with a lot of tattoos on their face are the ones who have committed a large of number of crimes. However, there are some inmates who use a prison face tattoos to just showcase their personality. There are others who get inked on their faces just to make a point! These tattoos come in a wide range of designs. So, you may get to see skulls, numbers, crowns, names, totems, teardrops and more on the face of some convicts.
Russian Prison Tattoos
Russian prison tattoos have become quite popular form the early 20th century in different parts of the world. These tattoos that were actually used to brand convicts soon gained huge popularity among the inmates and were seen as an indicator of vigor, valor and aggression! Inmates who adorn Russian prison tattoos are usually respected and feared in a lot of cultures. The Russian tattoo designs has a wide range too. From chest crosses, barbed wires, Lenin’s images, spider webs, eight pointed stars to one-eyed eagles, Russian prison tattoos have it all!
Black Guerrilla Family Tattoos
Black guerrilla family tattoos emerged as an emblem of solidarity back in 1966 during the Civil Rights Movement. It was during this time that the African American citizens of USA were fighting for getting equal rights and just laws. A plethora of organization like the United Blood Nation, the Black Liberation Army, the Black Vanguard among others came out in the movement’s support and people began to get inked to give an expression to their ideology. The Black Guerrilla group usually wears tattoos that have the numerical 276 inscribed within the same.
Black Gang Tattoos
The prison tattoos usually adorned by the inmates that belong to the African-American community are normally referred to as the black gang tattoos. The black gang tattoos act as a unifying symbol and play a crucial role in integrating the African-American inmates. These tattoos provide the required motivation to the people of color encouraging them to fight for their cause! Although these tattoos differe from prison to prison, they are often linked by common symbols like keys, locks, weapons, chains, wild animals, knives, guns, area codes and artillery. The black gang tattoos effectively function as a source of communal cohesion and identification.
La Eme also known as ‘The M’, symbolizes the Mexican Mafia. They are among the largest as well as the most ruthless prison gangs in the entire United States. ‘The M’ or La Eme is said to be affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood or AB! Both these gangs have enmity with the Nuestra Familia. Although, it represents the Mexican Mafia, La Eme did not originate in Mexico. It traces its origins to Mexican-Americans inmates who were incarcerated in prisons of America! A sureno gang, La Eme also has connections with the Hispanic gangs of Southern California.
This prison tattoo is representative of the Mara Salvatrucha gang which can be traced back to El Salvador! Sometimes MS 13 is adorned as just an MS or a 13. The tattoo can be inked in any part of the body but most inmates prefer to wear it where they are easily visible to others. So, hands, neck and face are most preferred body parts for getting MS 13 inked! Mara Salvatrucha emerged in the Los Angeles area and was started by immigrants from El Salvador. Today, there are innumerable MS 13 chapters across USA. Some even exist in Canada. They are known to deal in drugs as well as child prostitution.
The letters ‘EWMN’ stand for ‘Evil, Wicked, Mean and Nasty.’ This widely popular prison tattoo does not have association or affiliation with any particular gang. It simply represents the general mindset of different convicts. Commonly found on the knuckles, such prison tattoos gained popularity back in 1955. Robert Mitchum is responsible for making it a hit among inmates. If any of you have watched “The Night of the Hunter” you already know what we are talking about! Robert’s character is a sociopathic preacher who has the words ‘hate’ and ‘love’ tattooed on each hand’s knuckles! This has inspired variants like ‘Stay/Down’ and ‘Rock/Roll’.
Playing Cards Tattoos
Playing cards are also quite popular prison tattoos. Suits of the deck or playing card tattoos are representative of convicts who like to gamble. This does not differentiate between gambling games inside and outside the prison. Some inmates get this tattoo inked on themselves as they view life itself as a gamble. This particular prison tattoo is a hit among Russian prison inmates and each deck comes with its own set of meanings. Clubs represent criminals in general, a spade stands for a thief, diamonds symbolize informants or stoolpigeons and hearts are reserved for those on the lookout for a romantic partner within the prison!
ACAB is the short for “All Cops Are Bastards” and is obviously loved by prison inmates. We can not say the same about the jail staff though! This prison tattoo is a hit among British convicts as it is a commonly found acronym on different parts of their body. There are some who argue that ‘ACAB’ actually stands for “Always Carry A Bible”! However, these claims are mostly believed and propagated by those inmates who regret getting themselves inked with this tattoo. Usually found on knuckles, this prison tattoo symbolizes the willingness to serve prison time for your gang.
Prison Wrist Tattoos
You think all convicts are dead serious and boring? Well, that is not true! While it is highly advisable to take them seriously, sometimes inmates show their coolness quotient through their tattoos! Yes, you heard it right. Wrist tattoos is amongst some of the cool prison tattoos worn by convicts on their wrists, as the name suggests. These tattoos have a story to tell too. They may indicate the prison time to be served by the inmate or carry particular symbols he or she identifies with among other things. They are a piece of art and can range from a clock with no hands to hanging man and everything in between.
History speaks for itself and when you turn back its pages you will find prominent presence of racism at different points of times across human societies. Needless to say, racist art also became quite popular and continues to maintain that popularity even as humans have become more accommodative and acceptable of each other’s differences. From the Asian jungles and African deserts to the American shores and European cities, racist art has made its presence felt everywhere adapting beautifully according to different cultures! So, racist prison tattoos feature numerable designs today like runic alphabets and Celtic crosses. These may represent the KuKlux Klan or neo-Nazis!
The jail time assigned to each inmate is in accordance with the gravity and seriousness of the crime they committed. The minimum prison time to be served for committing a felony is an year. If they are found guilty of committing first degree murder, they are sentenced to serve a jail time that ranges between 15 years to life imprisonment. Some criminals, mostly those who are to stay in the prison for a long time, get the prison time they have to serve inked on their sleeves! These prison tattoos are mainly inked as numbers in Arabic, Roman, English or Latin.
Crown and Ring tattoo
A crown and rings tattoo is another popular prison tattoo. The tattoo also called a crown ring tattoo traces its roots back to the 17th century. The tattoo is basically a modified version of the traditional Claddagh ring. Compare if you want to! Members of a particular gang who are locked up in one prison often wear this tattoo. The tattoo can also be adorned by a group of convicts who while serving their prison time developed a rather close bond. The crown stands for loyalty and heart for love and hands for friendship. It is usually inked on the ring finger but any other finger is just as fine as well.
Tribal Prison Tattoos
Any prison tattoo that carries a tribal symbology is referred to as a tribal prison tattoo. These designs have also been an object of amazement and fascination for convicts around the world. These tattoos are pretty artistic and are representative of different cultures while effectively expressing various rituals. The tribal prison tattoos often consist of Apache totems, Mapuche patterns, Aztec art or Inca symbols. These tattoos can be differentiated according to geography, race and region. Adorning this tattoo indicates that an inmate identifies with or belongs to a particular tribe.