Criminal and Prison Tattoos

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The symbolism of prison and criminal tattoos is an area of real esoteric interest to some and of real interest to the police. An article written by Sergeant Ken Whitley called Tattoos: Recognition and Interpretation" claims that a tattoo can tell you three things about a convict: "who he is, where he has been and what he has done."

As these kinds of tattoos are usually done in prison, freehand with ink from a pen. A sewing needle is used to form a picture or a word. Prisoners also make a homemade tattoo machine out of a ball point pen, a guitar string and a nine volt battery.

Police often use the images in a tattoo to identify parolees and suspects. For instance, a gun pictured downwards means the man prefers to be armed. Images of walls, towers and barbwire signify he has been in prison for some time.

A tattoo any criminal would be proud of by Tim Hanan

Below is a list of some of the symbolism associated with classic prison tattoos.

Clock faces without hands = Doing Time Spiders or cobwebs on shoulders = Doing Time

Tombstones with numbers on them = The number of years they were in jail' Tombstones with R.I.P. on them and numbers = Mourning the death of a friend who died on the inside

Eight balls = Means being "behind the eight ball" or bad luck.

Play Now Pay Later

Flaming 8 Ball found at

♦ One laughing face, one crying face = member of a gang, "play now, pay later."

♦ The anagram SWP = Supreme White Power

♦ The word Peckerwood = Male White Pride

♦ Featherwood= Female White Pride

♦ Granite block walls + Time in Old Folsom Prison

♦ Cell Window with sun or bird = Waiting to get out.

♦ Face of female crying = Has loved one waiting for him to get out.

♦ Norteano = Northerner

♦ Prison block wall with bricks falling outward = On the inside wanting to get out.

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