The Meaning Behind Prison Tattoos

Have you seen someone with any of these tattoos and wondered what they meant? We have all the answers for you. Feel free to comment if you can think of any we are missing! 


“1488” actually has a very specific meaning. The number 14 stands for “14 words” or the mantra of the Aryan Brotherhood – the 14 word phrase “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The 88 is the equivalent of HH, or “Heil Hitler.”


A cobweb tattoo on the elbow usually represents a long prison term, as if the person with the tattoo is caught in the web of a spider and will never get out. Cobwebs can also have racist connotations, usually if applied under the arm and worn by someone with other race-based tattoos.


A common and easily applied prison tattoo, the teardrop, has a number of different meanings. Traditionally, it means  they have killed someone, but this is not always the case. It can mean a lengthy prison sentence, or, when simply the outline of a teardrop, can mean the person is in prison for attempted murder. Or it can mean the wearer had a friend murdered and will be out for revenge.



Three dots around the eyes usually signify some kind of ties with a Mexican gang – the  Spanish meaning, “mi vida loca” or “my crazy life.” They can also have religious significance, standing for the Holy Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).


 The five dots tattoo is worn between the thumb and forefinger and is also called the “quincunx.” It signifies that the wearer has done time, with the dot in the center representing the wearer, and the other dots the prison walls.


Twin lightning bolts tattooed on a prisoner usually signify allegiance to the Aryan Brotherhood or another white power group. They’re meant to represent the dual lightning bolt runes of the SS, the elite soldiers of Nazi Germany – as well as the enforcers of racial purity laws.


A set of playing cards inked on a prisoner usually signifies that the person either enjoys gambling or feels that life itself is a gamble. In the intricate world of Russian prison tattoos, they have a slightly different meaning, with each suit signifying a different rank or status. Some of these are forcibly applied, such as a diamond, usually meaning the prisoner is a snitch and the other prisoners are meant to know that.


Usually put across the back of the neck or on the knuckles, ACAB stands for “All Cops Are Bastards.” They’re seen more in British prisons, and usually signify that the person went to prison to protect his friends.


Many prisoners serving long sentences view time as non existent. When you’ve got years or decades to go, what’s one hour or one day? Hence the number of prison lifers who have a tattoo of a clock with no hands. It signifies that the inmate has nothing but time.


While a barbed wire tattoo across the forearm is a popular affectation for many young people, they have a different meaning in prison culture, especially in Russia. Barbed wire across the forehead usually means the wearer has a life sentence without possibility of parole. Barbed wire in other places can signify the number of years one has served.stone-valknut-3d-guys-hand-tattoos

Three interlocking triangles representing the afterlife, the valknut is an important symbol in Norse mythology. As such, it’s a popular tattoo in prison, particularly with neo-Nazi and white power prison gangs.


  Based out of Chicago, the Latin Kings are one of the biggest street gangs in the US, and the five-pointed crown is their main symbol. Anyone tattooed with one, particularly a large one on their back or neck, is almost certainly affiliated with the gang.


When applied in prison, a shamrock tattoo often represents the Aryan Brotherhood, and will often include other letters or symbols, including the letters AB, the number 12 (for the first two letters of the alphabet) or 666.


Variations on tattoos featuring the letter M usually signify the wearer is in the Mexican Mafia. This is a huge prison gang, with members all over the country and weilding enormous power both on the street and in the jail system.


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