Although generally speaking, prison tattoos are meant for those who have already been incarcerated, a lot of people like to use these pieces to express a certain toughness they see in themselves. Prison tattoos are also rife with symbolism; this too may indicate why someone would get this style of body art. However, it is important to remember that many prison tattoos have very negative connotations, and it is essential to remain mindful of these if you prefer not to be associated with them.
Most prison tattoos relate to time served in incarceration. A spider web placed on a shoulder or elbow is indicative of being ‘stuck.’ In some instances, this particular style may include a small insect trapped within the web to signify the wearer. A clock face without hands or an hour glass can also represent time spent – or rather, time lost – in prison. Tombstones with dates are often used to indicate the time of imprisonment, the time of release, and all of the years spent in between. Brick walls, chains, and locks are symbols of a loss of freedom. Walls depicted with bricks breaking free indicate a desire to reclaim that freedom.
It is not uncommon to see prison tattoos that are meant to covertly convey certain attributes or preferences of the wearer. For instance, in many cases the number 13 printed in bold letters is meant to express the wearer’s use of marijuana (although it is also connected with certain gang symbols); a teardrop can represent either having murdered someone, or the death of someone close to the wearer; a string of numbers may simply indicate an inmate I.D. number. Tombstones are also used for this particular design; however, the dates may be of birth and death, to signify the passing of a loved one.
The majority of prison tattoos have some sort of gang connection. Many of these pieces have a particular racial slant, or a violent affiliation. However, some symbols such as crowns (meant to indicate a head of any gang), numbers (to show their regional territory), or skulls (a common symbol for death), are all very general, and common emblems for prison and gang related body art.
Every item has a particular meaning when it comes to prison tattoos. Although many of them relate to certain portions of a prisoner’s life — or even identity — many of them simply express a desire for freedom, and are a permanent reminder of where the wearer has been.