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Decoding Prison Tattoos: What Do Some of These Cryptic Tattoos Mean?

Prison tattoos are something of a bad stain on the tattoo industry. Depending on who you ask, they’re also a good source of income. After all, many of the individuals who decide to take their life on a different path want to rid themselves of these shameful marks on their bodies, but that's a topic for another blog entry. 

Prison tattoos are the most easily identifiable pieces because of their crude nature and simplicity. Here are some of them and their meaning:

1. 1488 tattoo

This number carries a load of negativity with it. People who have this tattoo are usually Nazi/racist sympathizers. The numbers 14 or 88 on their own can also be used and tend to sometimes create confusion. The number fourteen stands for fourteen words quoted from Nazi leader David Lane: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.” The 88 stands for the 8th letter of the alphabet twice, HH, which represents Heil Hitler. Typically, these tattoos can be found anywhere on the body. It’s probably a good idea to stay away from people who wear this tattoo proudly, because we all know Nazis are one of the worst people on this earth.  

2. Teardrop tattoo

It's one of the most recognized prison tattoos around. In some places, the tattoo can mean a lengthy prison sentence, while in others it signifies that the wearer has committed murder. If the teardrop is just an outline, it can symbolize an attempted murder. It can also mean that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and that they are seeking revenge. The teardrop has been popularized recently by rappers and other celebrities but remains a staple in prisons.  

3. Tattoo of three dots

This tattoo represents “mi vida loca.”  It isn't associated with any particular gang; instead it signifies the gang lifestyle itself. This tattoo is typically found on the hands or around the eyes. It can also carry religious significance, such as representing Christianity’s holy trinity. The three-dot tattoo is often created using a stick-and-poke method; a very simple, yet effective prison tattoo method.  

4. Aryan Brotherhood

This prison gang has a variety of tattoos to look out for, ranging from ‘AB’ to Nazi symbols like a swastika or SS bolts. The Brotherhood makes up 1% of the inmate population but are responsible for 20% of murders inside of U.S. prisons, so identifying these tattoos are extremely beneficial. The tattoos can also be referred to as Alice Baker, the One-Two or The Brand. 

Decoding Prison Tattoos: What Do Some of These Cryptic Tattoos Mean?