Prison Tattooing

tattoo gun

Prison tattoos often signal gang membership, form a code, or have hidden meanings. However, due to the lack of proper equipment and sterile environments in prison, the practice poses health risks.

Tattooing in prison is illegal in the U.S., but inmates find ways to create their own tattooing devices out of their belongings. Improvised equipment is assembled from mechanical pencils, magnets, radio transistors, staples, paper clips, guitar strings, and other common items.

The ink used also needs to be improvised, either from pens or made using melted plastic (such as checkers or chess pieces), soot mixed with shampoo, or melted Styrofoam. Prison tattooing is not generally done freely, and the tattooists are normally paid with anything from stamps and cigarettes to actual cash.

There are many different symbols and numbers that represent multiple gangs or groups. Certain images like spider webs can represent the length of sentences. One of the most well-known tattoos is the teardrop tattoo (which can mean the wearer has killed someone).

Tattoos are also used to communicate who the inmates are as people – for example, white supremacists will display prominent tattoos to show their beliefs such as the number ‘311’ (representing the KKK), the percentile ‘100%’ (a white supremacist indicator of racial purity), Valknuts (an old Norse symbol), and swastikas. Another common prison tattoo is the five dots tattoo, a quincunx usually placed on the hand, with different meanings in different cultures.

6 Comments to “Prison Tattooing”

  1. Do these prisoners think that it is cool looking or do you think they want to look scarey?

  2. look scary

  3. they do that to look scary in my opinion

  4. i always wanna no there story

  5. Doning 12 yrs in the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) very few WHITE BOYS have their whole face done, the one that do are “Skin Heads”. I guess you would have to be there to understand.

  6. my husband was in prison for 8 yrs and got all his there he has 15 and hes back in for 5 and getting more. to me that blue looking ink is hideous

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