Prison Tattoos and Their Meaning

Prison tattooing is the practice of creating and displaying tattoos in a prison environment. They are often used to portray gang membership, prison status, family bonds, spiritual beliefs and are often used as a form of code and have hidden meanings. Tattooing is forbidden in most prisons and therefore is done in secret, with makeshift tattoo equipment. Within the expanding prison system, tattoos are taken seriously by the inmates and their guards alike. Tattoos obtained while locked up in prison have special significance both to the prisoners themselves as well as back on the streets.

Methods of Tattooing in Prison

There are two standard type of prison tattoo pistols, the spinner and the relay. The relay pistol is much better than the spinner rig-up and is now more widely used. An inmate breaks down his most prized possession, a radio, and removes the transistor. The thin copper wire is then removed which is wrapped around a screw which provides an automatic relay when powered up. The inmate must then somehow acquire bristles from a wire brush from maintenance, and sharpen them to provide the needle. The cylinder is made from a quality mechanical pencil and the armature bar is made with a piece of flexible pallet band and dime size magnet. The tattoo gun is then powered by the transistor of another radio. So owning one of these tattoo “pistols” is quite costly and in prison, “money” can be hard to come by.

Obviously without this equipment, the ole pick and poke method with some type of pin works too.

Prison tattoo ink recipe

Get a metal container, a cut in half soda can is best, and put baby oil and cotton into the can. You then will need a flat piece of metal that can be put over the opening of the can, without covering it. Burn the baby oil and cotton allowing the smoke to hit the metal sheet and blacken it as darkly as possible. You will then scrape all of the black powder off, and repeat. You want to use a credit card or something similar to do this, as razors and other metal scrapers might leave shards in the powder. Put your tattoo powder in a small container, a toothpaste cap is what I recommend, and fill the cap about halfway. Then add a couple drops of clear, scentless, shampoo. Stir thoroughly. Your completed ink should have a pen’s inks consistency, or maybe slightly thicker. To thin your ink, add shampoo, and to thicken it up, add more powder.

Some inmates will simply use the ink out of a pen. There are various methods of concocting an ink recipe and they have all probably been used at one time or another.

Due to the lack of proper equipment and sterile environments in prison, the tattooing in prison poses health risks, such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. However, prisoners are ominously aware of this and take as many precautions as are possible given the conditions under which they are operating.

Many inmates in prison who do tattooing are very talented artists. Having quality tattooing skills is prison is a very lucrative skill to possess. Seasoned tattoo artists in prison stand a far better chance of making “money” than say the inmate who is trying to sling drugs behind the scenes. They also gain the admirable respect of other prisoners as well as the correctional officers themselves. Unlike other mind bending activities such as gossip or gang related stimuli the tattoo artist occupies his mind with skin and art.

Some Prison Tattoo Meanings in North America

Three dots arranged as a triangle – this design is most commonly found between the prisoner’s forefinger and thumb. The design stands for “mi vida loca,” which means “my crazy life.”

Teardrop tattoo – this design is worn by the eye. It indicates the wearer has killed someone or that the person had a friend killed in prison.

Shamrock – this design is worn anywhere on the body and is often found on those belonging to the Aryan Brotherhood. In this case, the shamrock often also includes the number 12, with the 1 standing for “A” and the 2 standing for “B.”

Ace of spades – Worn anywhere on the body, this design is mostly worn by those belonging to either the Aco Town or Asian Boyz gang. The A, which is often placed in the middle of the spade, is meant to symbolize Asian while the spade symbolizes thievery.

The number 13 – this tattoo indicates membership with the Mara Salvatrucha 13 gang.

The number 14 – this tattoo indicates membership with the Nuestra Familia, which is a prison gang. This gang is affiliated with the Nortenos, a street gang.

Area codes – many gang members use the area code to their neighborhood as a tattoo, though this can become outdated as area codes are changed.

Clock with no hands – most commonly placed on the upper arm, this tattoo symbolizes “doing time.”

Spider web – generally found on the elbow, this tattoo is used by white supremacists to demonstrate that they have severely injured or killed one of their “opponents.” The design is also commonly found on people that have been in prison.

Clock faces without hands – doing time

Tombstones with numbers – the years they were inside

Tombstones with numbers and RIP – mourning the death of a friend

Face of female crying – has someone on the outside waiting

SWP – supreme white power

100 % pure – pure white or anglo

Cell window with sun or bird showing – waiting to get out

Other countries such as Russia, Australia, France, UK, China and others all have prisons with inmates who bear tattoos with significant meanings. As a matter of fact, Russia and it’s former republics have a very elaborate array of tattoo meanings.

One very major point inmates consider while getting tattooed is getting caught. If an inmate gets caught getting a tattoo they are subject to a penalty of 15 days of solitary confinement. Being suspected of getting a tattoo as perhaps is indicated by the reddening of the skin where a fresh tattoo has been inked can still bring repercussions, such as being charged. But hey, if your doing life without the possibility of parole does this really concern you a whole lot?

The concept of prison tattoos is hardly a modern one. There is evidence to suggest that prisoners were tattooed as early as Egyptian times. As with many of the tattoos worn by prisoners today, these tattoos also had significant meaning. For example king or pyramid tattoos were worn by those that were very dangerous, such as assassins, head bosses, and masterminds.

Greyhound Ear Tattoo Meaning

Ever wonder what the tattoos mean and why they tattoo your greyhounds ears? All greyhounds who are racers must have this done and be registered with the NGA (National Greyhound Association). They are usually tattooed between the ages of 2-1/2 to 3 months old. The actual tattoo for each puppy must be on a “Litter Registration” form and turned in to the NGA by the end of 3 months. The NGA then assigns a new litter registration number with each new litter.

The left ear tattoo is the litter registration number.

The right ear tattoo is a combination of letters and numbers that identify that particular dog. On the right ear, looking from the rear of the dog to its nose, the first number is the month in which the dog was born (2=February, 11=November, etc.). The second number is the last digit of the year the dog was born (1=2001, 3=2003, etc.). A letter then follows that identifies with how many dogs are in the litter. So for example, if there are 5 puppies in the letter, one puppy would have the letter A, another would have the letter B, another C, another D, and the last one E. Different breeders have different methods of picking who gets tattooed first, second, last. Some choose it on personalities of the dog, others I have heard as to which was born first, second, last.

The tattoos on your greyhound, however, are useful after you have adopted your greyhound in being able to check where he raced, ancestry, and litter mates. You can find this information at http://www.Greyhound-Data.com. It is a lot of fun and very interesting to see where your greyhound came from.

Facts and Care for White Ink Tattoos

When you hear people talking about getting a white ink tattoo, they usually mean a design which is in all white ink with no other colours. These tats are typically more subtle than the blaringly loud designs you would get with black ink or coloured marks. A white ink tattoo will more often than not, look more like a scar/brand. It is a great way to get inked in a more private way. These marks are usually only really visible when you deliberately show it someone. It is the best of both worlds. You can have your very personal art, without getting any kind of negative attention at formal gatherings or at work.

Simplicity is key when it comes to white ink tattoos. Keep in mind that your tattoo artist will be working with ink which is a little bit trickier to see. Simplistic art has a solid shot at showing up more clearly than a complicated one. Trendy selections include shooting star tattoos, dragons, writing, key tattoos, Kanji symbols, hearts, and basic tribal patterns. These are so much easier to ink and way less likely to end up as a confusing and disappointing blur. All white tattoos will require to be inked over a few times to make sure the finished pattern is as noticeable as possible. Also, darker coloured skin tends to dampen the brightness of white ink.

With a typical tattoo, the design is usually stenciled in before shading begins. The outlines are done with a dark ink, usually black. This provides a very noticeable pattern the artist uses to keep on track. Tats without any dark ink tend to be a bit more blurred. It is more difficult to follow what you have inked when using only white ink. If a different coloured ink is used with the white, it can result in blended mess.

The ink used is completely different from base white inks which tint other colours. When used as the primary ink, you get a much thicker, top quality mixture which is created solely to stand out as much as it can.

White ink tattoos will lose a portion of their brightness and clarity if they are constantly in the sunshine. If you get this type of design, be sure to keep it out of the sun as much as possible. The easiest way to do this is to get inked in an area which you normally cover up. Your back or chest make for ideal areas. If you normally wear clothes with a bit more cover in the summer, you could also try using your shoulder or just below the ankle. (Keep in mind – any tattoo applied near a bone will hurt more than one that is put on muscle).

If a stencil is used on your white ink tattoo, the artist can either make the outline in your own blood or with purple dye. As a warning, your blood can sometimes tint the ink pink, and the purple can also mix. Your best bet is to have a pro do a simple design without a stencil. Ask your tattoo artist if he or she has much experience with white ink before you let them draw on your skin.

Sometimes people have some bad reactions to white ink. Reactions can also happen with black ink, but they are happen more often with white. Reactions include itching and swelling. In some cases the ink can also turn yellow if it mixes with sweat. As a prevention method, there is nothing wrong with asking for a small sample ink in the area you are aiming to have the full design. This way you be more confident that you will be left with a great tattoo instead of an ugly scar.

As with any ink, if you do not put in the effort to take special care of your new tattoo, you might end up with something that only barely resembles the art you wanted. Don’t scratch or touch the area. Always keep the gauze on for the minimum of 2 hours. Never ever cover up a new tattoo with plastic/saran wrap. Use only lukewarm water, mild liquid antibacterial soap, and your own hands to clean the area. Lightly dab with paper towel to dry it off. Do not put anything like sunscreen or Neosporin over the area. Lastly – take extra care to not let your new tattoo to get too much sunlight until it heals.

Just follow these steps and you will have the best chance of having a clear yet subtle design you can show of to your friends.