Prison Tattoos & Their Meanings

The term ‘prison tattoo’ can refer to both tattoos done in prison and tattoos in the style of prison tattoos. Both however can indicate criminal activity and the related emotions that they represent.

Prisoners often get tattoos to affirm and convey gang membership, state their ranking and prove that they can endure pain. Some prisoners even have tattoos to represent their crimes and their time in prison.

Prison tattoos look rougher than professional ones as they are more risky as they don’t have the correct equipment and aftercare. Tattoos artists in prison also rarely have colour ink so it is common prison tattoos are in black. Although they may not look as good, they definitely make up for it in their indepth meanings. Here are some examples of prison tattoos and their meanings-

In some prisons a teardrop tattoo can represent loss of a loved one, whereas in others it may represent that an inmate has killed someone. Some also believe that a teardrop can also show remorse and is a reminder to the person of a mistake that they have made.

Either outlined or filled in, the teardrop design has become popular in recent times by celebrities and become a more mainstream prison tattoo. Many celebrities have chosen to have teardrops tattooed on their fingers instead.

Spider webs

Spider webs are a representation of long prison sentences. These designs are usually found on the necks or elbows of prison inmates. Just like a spider catches its prey on the web, they have also been caught. Also cobwebs have an element of lack of activity when being stuck in a cell. The larger and longer the web, the more time is spent in prison.

Three dots

Having a three dots tattoo can signify numerous meanings. Firstly, It is commonly related to the Mexican mafia and can be a mark of identification and ranking for the Surenos gang. Many gang members who have been to prison will have them on their face at the side of their eye.

It can also represent the Spanish concept of ‘mi vida loca’ also known as “my crazy life”. Rather than being linked to a certain gang, it often signifies the gang lifestyle instead. However, it can be connected to Christianity and symbolising the holy trinity. This tattoo is easy to do, especially with the stick-and-poke method.

Clock with no hands

This tattoo can be simply understood as being a symbol of “doing time”. There isn’t just one design for these tattoos; it can be any type of clock, from wrist watches and pocket watches to grandfather clocks. The lack of minute and hour hands indicates how time stands still when you’re in prison.

Playing Cards

This body art represents both life in prison and outside of it. It shows how life can be a gamble and how the criminal has been dealt a bad hand. They are also very fitting for inmates who are in prison for gambling, or enjoy gambling in general.

Barbed Wire

Although the barbed wire across the forearm is a popular design, some people have it tattooed across their forehead to show that they are serving a life sentence without a chance for parole. It can also show how many years someone has served, with it being added to as years go by.  One noticeable example of a barbed wire prison style tattoo in mainstream media is Post Malone who has it across his forehead.

If you are thinking of getting a prison style tattoo, try out the TKTX Tattoo numbing creams. We are the only official distributor of this tattoo numbing cream in the UK. With a mix of strengths and deepness, the tattoo numbing creams are ideal for numbing the skin before tattoos to have a pain-free appointment.  We recommend the Yellow TKTX numbing cream for all tattoos as it is the strongest deep numb in the collection. Make sure to follow the application leaflet for optimal numbing.


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