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Prison Tattoos

Although many people entering the prison population are affiliated with the hate movement before their incarceration, prisoners from different ethnic backgrounds often join racist gangs once inside the penal system. They join these groups not only because they adhere to the gang’s racist ideology, but also for protection and as a way to participate in criminal activity within the prison. These inmates’ tattoos offer important information about gang affiliation, personal history and criminal activity.



One of the most common criminal tattoos is the teardrop underneath the eye. The most widely accepted meaning of the teardrop is the wearer has killed someone — this is reported to have originated among the Chicano gangs of California. The teardrop can also mean that the wearer has served a long prison sentence, or is mourning the loss of a family member. A clear teardrop, like the one pictured, can mean that the wearer has committed an attempted murder, or alternatively, that a close friend was killed and the wearer is seeking revenge.


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