A teardrop tattoo is probably the most recognizable of all the prison tattoos. It typically means that the person has murdered someone. Sometimes, the outline of a teardrop will indicate attempted murder.
Clock with No Hands
Several prison tattoos have to do with serving a long prison sentence, and the clock with no hands is one of the more common ones. Some prisoners will even have it tattooed on their wrist, like a watch.
Cross on the Chest
A cross tattoo normally doesn’t have any special meaning in prison, but that’s not the case in Russia. There, if a prisoner has a cross on their chest it means they’ve achieved a high rank in the mafia.
If you see a prisoner with three dots, they probably are involved with a gang, but it can be hard to determine which one. The tattoo stands for “mi vida loca” (my crazy life), and is associated with the gangster lifestyle. However, it does not indicate membership in any specific gang.
A tattoo with five dots is a common tattoo that indicates you are serving or have served time. The four outer dots represent the four walls of the prison, while the middle dot represents the prisoner themselves.
“1488” is not specifically a prison tattoo, but you will sometimes see it on inmates with white supremecist ties. The meaning of the tattoo is actually broken up into two parts--14 and 88. 14 refers to the “Fourteen Words”--a quote by Nazi leader David Lane, while 88 refers to H, the eighth letter of the alphabet. So, 88 stands for HH, or “Heil Hitler.”
Prisoners who like to gamble will sometimes get playing cards tattooed on them to indicate their interest to other prisoners. However, in Russia, the specific suits will sometimes hold secret meanings that have to do with what kind of crime the prisoner committed.
Knife Through the Neck
A knife tattoo through the neck holds a special meaning in Russian prisons. It means that the wearer has killed, is unafraid to kill, or is available for hire as an assassin.
EWMN is a tattoo that lets fellow prisoners know exactly who they’re dealing with. It stands for “Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty”, and the people who get it generally feel the labels apply to them.
ACAB is a tattoo that stands for “All Cops Are Bastards.” It’s typically worn by criminals who have violently clashed with the police or have no fear of doing so.
The Latin Kings are a hispanic gang, and their official symbol is a five-point crown. This gang exists outside of prison, but it’s not uncommon to see members in jail sporting the tattoo.
MS-13 is an El Salvadorian gang with members in prison, and they will often tattoo themselves with the name of the gang. Typically, these tattoos are in prominent places, like the face or hands.
A Norteño tattoo indicates that someone is a member of the Nuestra Familia hispanic gang. Sometimes, members will instead sport a single N or a 14, since it’s the 14th letter of the alphabet.
While some gangs operate both inside and outside prison, the Aryan Brotherhood is a white ethnic gang that is exclusive to prison. Its members will sometimes have AB tattooed on them or some other Nazi imagery.
In Russian prisons, cat tattoos have nothing to do with the prisoners’ pets. Instead, this a common symbol that someone is a thief.
The Mexican Mafia is a prison gang that uses La Eme “The M” as their symbol. Prisoners who are members will often have a handprint tattoo with an M in the middle of it.
Lenin or Stalin
In the Soviet Union, prisoners would sometimes get a tattoo of Lenin or Stalin on their chest, thinking that a firing squad wouldn’t shoot at an image of their leaders. Unfortunately for those that got the tattoos, this was completely false.
It’s probably pretty clear that a prisoner with a hooded executioner tattoo has murdered someone, but it’s actually worse than that. This tattoo means they’ve killed a family member.
Madonna and Child
Prisoners with a tattoo of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus could intend several things. This tattoo can indicate that the prisoner feels like prison is their true home, or it could mean that they got involved in crime at a young age.
Prisoners with spiderweb tattoos on their elbows are often serving a long prison sentence. The tattoo is meant to represent decaying in prison and the passage of time.