111 Scandalous Prison Tattoos And Their Meanings

One of the most interesting aspects of tattoo art is the fact that some believe that the art traces its roots in prison culture. Tattoos were primarily inked on gangsters and prisoners long time ago, before they became popular as fashion symbols. Long before tattoos became acceptable for common people, they were associated with crime and criminals in several cultures. In fact, prison tattoos were borne by prisoners back in the 1920s and 1930s. There are some captivating facts about these prisoner tattoos, which have now made them alluring for common folk too and even they want to experiment with such tattoo designs to make themselves more interesting for others. They literally shout rebellion and tenacity, implying that the bearer refuses to accept anyone’s dominance.


The story of origin of prisoner tattoos is a very intriguing one. They were not inked with the conventional tattoo guns but with the equipment which was available to the prisoners in their confines of the jail. These were improvised needles and tattoo guns, with a guitar string or even a staple being used as a needle, which was fitted in something as rudimentary as a ball point pen. It was fitted with a small motor and the system was used as a homemade tattoo gun. Prisoners would use ink from a ball point pen or make it with burnt plastic or Styrofoam. The method of tattooing used by the prisoners was not a safe and hygienic ones, and had a number of health hazards associated with it. At present, those who want to have prison tattoo designs inked, rely on professional methods and trained tattoo artists for the same.

Prison Tattoo Symbols and Designs

There are a number of prison tattoo designs in various cultures and each one has its own symbolic meanings. People who want to have such tattoos inked should first carefully make research about these symbols and meanings before getting their skin inked with them, because of the irreversible nature of the process. Here are some well known symbols and designs:

  • Teardrop Tattoo – Teardrop design is featured on the face of the bearer, which means that it is practically impossible to hide it once inked. Another thing that makes this tattoo design a serious issue is the fact that, according to prison culture, it implies that a person is a killer. So think hard before you choose this design.
  • Gang Tattoos – Some prisoners have their gang name inked on their bodies and the reason behind such tattoos is to profess their loyalty towards their gang. Instead of the name, they may even opt for a special or secret symbol chosen by their gang, which makes them instantly recognizable by their gang members in the prison. Certain gangs use some numbers as tattoos to express the affiliation of people belonging to them.
  • Racist Tattoos – Tattoo designs such as double lightning bolts and the number 88 throw light on the racist beliefs of the prisoners as they are associated with the Nazis and Hitler, respectively.
  • Mexican Mafia Tattoos – Mexican Mafia tattoos are a type of gang tattoos, which are associated with a gang operating in Los Angeles. The design makes use of blue and gray colors and are based on the number 13, which may be inked in Arabic, Roman or Aztec numerals. Some people have them in the form of dots inked on the face, which indicate a prison sentence or rank of the bearer in the gang. Similarly, another Mexican mafia style tattoo is linked with the gang called the Nortenos, and they show affinity towards the number 14.
  • Jail Time Tattoos – They use such elements which indicate the time period the bearer has been sentenced for. Clock, hourglass and chains and locks are some common elements used for jail time tattoo designs. Cobwebs make another cool element for prison as they indicate drug addiction as well as passage of time. A ship tattoo was favored by those prisoners who were looking for escape routes.
  • Russian Prison Tattoos – Russian prison design are garnering a great deal of interest amongst tattoo lovers these days, because of interesting as well as meaningful designs. Some of these are barbed wire tattoo which indicates life imprisonment without parole, daggers which symbolize sex offenders and Baby Jesus and Mary tattoo, which is borne by a person involved in crime since a very young age. Cats, snakes, tigers and skulls are some other elements used.

Most of the prison design tattoos are usually done in single color ink, blue or grey, because other colors were non-existent in prisons. Getting a prison tattoo is a serious matter and needs a great deal of research and commitment; therefore, think twice before having one of these designs inked on your body.

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