When it comes to prison tattoos, some designs have been developed to symbolize specific meanings. In addition, many utilize certain codes that can actually be quite difficult to decipher and not easily recognized.
In North America, the following designs are commonly found in prison tattoos:
- Three dots arranged as a triangle – This design is most commonly found between the prisoner’s forefinger and thumb. The design stands for “mi vida loca,” which means “my crazy life.”
- Teardrop tattoo – This design is worn by the eye. It indicates the wearer has killed someone or that the person had a friend killed in prison.
- Shamrock – This design is worn anywhere on the body and is often found on those belonging to the Aryan Brotherhood. In this case, the shamrock often also includes the number 12, with the 1 standing for “A” and the 2 standing for “B.”
- Ace of spades – Worn anywhere on the body, this design is mostly worn by those belonging to either the Aco Town or Asian Boyz gang. The A, which is often placed in the middle of the spade, is meant to symbolize Asian while the spade symbolizes thievery.
- The number 13 – This tattoo indicates membership with the Mara Salvatrucha 13 gang.
- The number 14 – This tattoo indicates membership with the Nuestra Familia, which is a prison gang. This gang is affiliated with the Nortenos, a street gang.
- Area codes – Many gang members use the area code to their neighborhood as a tattoo, though this can become outdated as area codes are changed.
- Clock with no hands – Most commonly placed on the upper arm, this tattoo symbolizes “doing time.”
- Spider web – Generally found on the elbow, this tattoo is used by white supremacists to demonstrate that they have severely injured or killed one of their “opponents.” The design is also commonly found on people that have been in prison.