12 grim things you didn’t know about prison tattoos

Lil Wayne's teardrop tattoos
  1. Teardrop tattoos
Credit: AP:Associated Press

This is probably the most well-known and recognisable of all prison tattoos and although most people believe that it symbolises that the prisoner has killed someone, it actually has different meanings around the world. Sometimes it represents the serving of a long sentence, that they’ve attempted murder, or that one of their friends was murdered and they’re seeking revenge.

For those with the tat to show they’ve killed someone, each drop represents one murder victim. Many are unfilled if it was an attempted murder and filled if they were successful.

Some prisoners do get this tattooed though to make people think that they’ve killed, so people don’t look at them the wrong way… Like Lil Wayne, who hasn’t killed anyone, well, as far as we know anyway.

  1. Cobweb tattoos
Spiderweb tattoo around elbow
Credit: Imgur

LOADS of people have cobwebs in their tattoos but they often don’t know that if they get one on their elbow, it could give someone the wrong impression about them. A cobweb on the elbow may be tattooed onto a prison who is serving a long sentence. It signifies that the inmate has been sitting around for a long enough time that a spider could create a web on their skin. It also represents the fact that they are trapped behind bars.

  1. Dagger through the neck
Dagger with blood through neck tattoo
Credit: unknown

In Russian prisons, one of the most infamous tattoos is of a dagger which crosses the shoulders and comes out the other side of the neck, usually with red drops of blood. It represents that the inmate has killed someone whilst in prison and/or that they’re available for hire.

Many inmates who know they are serving a life sentence have no deterrent from extending their sentence and will become a prison hit-man in return for their family receiving money, or for them to receive certain privileges such as drugs while inside.

  1. The handless clock
Clock without hands tattoo
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A clock with no hands usually represents that the inmate is serving a long sentence. Sometimes the clock is broken and cracked, while sometimes it just looks like a tatted wristwatch.

  1. Three dots
Three dots tattoo next to eye
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This common prison tattoo is usually found on the hands, wrist or around the eye and means ‘mi vida loca’, which in English is ‘my crazy life’. In most countries, it isn’t associated with any specific gangs, but it generally represents that the inmate has led a gang lifestyle.

In Puerto Rico, however, it is a prison gang sign for the gang which is known as ‘Los Ñetas’ which loosely translates to ‘The Best’. The gang actually began in the Puerto Rican prison system and spread to the United States. Puerto Rico has hundreds of small street gangs in its poorer neighbourhoods, but Los Ñetas is the largest and most dominant with an estimated 40,000 members on the island, 20,000 members in America and almost 30,000 members in other parts of the world. The gang controls the illegal drug trade across the island.

  1. Five dots
Five dots tattoo on hand
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Prisoners who have five dots on their skin are letting people know that they have served a five year sentence. It represents the four walls of the cell, and the fifth central dot represents themself as the trapped prisoner.

  1. Barbed wire
Barbed wire on forehead tattoo
Credit: unknown

This is a surprisingly common tattoo in Russia and it’s usually a forehead tat which generally means that they are serving a life sentence without parole. Barbed wire tattoos in other countries can show how many years someone has served in prison, with an extra section of wire added each year they are inside.

  1. Five-point crown
Five point crown A L K N tattoo
Credit: unknown

This is the symbol of one of the biggest Hispanic gangs in America. The Latin gang members sometimes have the letters A.L.K.N tattooed with the crown, which stands for ‘Almighty Kings and Nation’.

  1. The Black Hand of Death
The letter M inside a black hand print tattoo
Credit: Getty Images

This usually represents that they are in ‘La Eme’, or the Mexican mafia. They usually have a lot of influence both on the streets and within the prison system, as so many members have been put behind bars.

The highly organised criminal organisation actually originated in a US prison where 13 Hispanic street gang members were imprisoned together and the Mexican Government officials believe that there are an estimated 350 – 400 official members of the Mexican Mafia but there are around 990 associates who carry out its illegal activities in the with the hope of becoming full members. Their most controversial rule is ‘La Eme comes first. Even before your own family.’

  1. The letter M
La Eme tattoo
Credit: unknown

This tattoo also lets people know that the inmate is in the Mexican Mafia, with the ‘M’ representing ‘La Eme’, which literally translates to ‘The M’.

  1. The letters AB
666 AB tattoo
Credit: unknown

The Aryan Brotherhood makes up just 1% of the inmate population in America, but they are responsible for an estimated 20% of all murders inside prisons. The letters ‘AB’ are often paired with designs such as a three-leaf clover, the swastika and even the number ‘666’ – the number of the Devil.

  1. The Nazi code
1488 tattoo
Credit: Imgur

‘1488’ is tattooed on many white supremacist / Nazi prisoners, and some have 14 or 88 on their own. These tattoos can be found anywhere on the body, including on foreheads… although they’re sometimes forcibly tattooed by other inmates who want to make sure everyone knows they have horrific Nazi beliefs – plus those not serving life sentences will have to walk around the streets with the ink emblazoned on their heads.

The number 14 represents the fourteen words of a quote by Nazi leader, David Lane: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” 88 is shorthand for the 8th letter of the alphabet twice, HH, which represents Heil Hitler.

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