At first glance, some of the tattoos you are about to see actually seem like sentimental nods to family and loved ones, strength and perseverance, or even religion and faith. But upon closer examination, you will find that many of these inked works are actually rooted in gang life, hatred and violence.
These fifteen tattoos are among those most commonly found on the bodies of convicts and prisoners who have served time behind bars. While law enforcement officers are well versed in interpreting such symbols, now you can also identify them when you see them on former prisoners who may now be walking free.
“Heil Hitler” is an adage by which many racist skinheads live their lives. While some prisoners are brash enough to have Hitler’s name or image tatted on their bodies, others go for a more symbolic tattoo with the symbol “88.” Being that “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, a tattoo with the number “88” is a popular image among criminals who want to pay homage to the infamous Nazi leader in a more subtle manner.
Similarly, the number “14” is often found on prisoners’ bodies and has similar racist sentiments. This popular philosophy among white supremacists consists of fourteen words, a slogan that is obviously too lengthy to have tattooed on a small area of skin: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” While the number is often found on its own, it is more commonly inked alongside the number “88.”
Alluding to the famous “White Power Fist,” the letters “S-K-I-N” are often tattooed on the knuckles of Neo-Nazi extremists, many of whom end up behind bars. While some will also tattoo the letters “H-E-A-D” on their other hand, like the man that is pictured, it is actually more common for prisoners to just have the word “SKIN” tattooed on one hand.
Especially because of the popular Spiderman movie and comic book franchise, it’s important to note that not all spider web tattoos indicate that someone has done time behind bars. With that said, a spider web/cobweb is a popular symbol among racists that indicates the wearer is an ex-prisoner. While it can sometimes also be worn as a warped “badge of honor” that indicates the person has killed or harmed someone of another race, this is not always the case. When it has racist connotations, the symbol is most often found tattooed on the underarm.
While it has also been used in less controversial ways in advertising and marketing in popular culture, the valknut symbol is also among the most popular prison tattoos. Because it represents the afterlife, many convicts have it inked on their bodies as a symbol that they have been willing to sacrifice their lives for a cause they deem to be worthy of such an expense. This isn’t always the case, but the image is often associated with white supremacy and Neo-Nazism.
While a cross may seem like an innocent nod to religious reverence or redemption, an iron cross has a meaning that couldn’t be much different than that of a traditional crucifix. Commonly associated with Nazi beliefs, the iron cross was originally part of the design of medals issued to military heroes during the Napoleonic Wars.
While this tattoo might seem like an innocent nod to a friend or relative who has brought its wearer good luck, its true meaning is filled with hate. The shamrock part of the tattoo represents Irish pride, but the “AB” stands for “Aryan Brotherhood,” a hate group rooted in white supremacy and Aryan omnipotence. While the image of a four leaf clover and the “AB” initials sometimes stand alone, they are also often accompanied by a Nazi swastika or “666,” which pays tribute to Satan.
This fear-inducing image featuring the letters “NLR,” a Nazi swastika, and a skeletal eagle is common among prisoners who are affiliated with the Nazi Low Riders, a white supremacist gang that exists both behind bars and on the streets.
A common image in Russian prison tattoos is that of two cats’ heads, with one inked on each side of a prisoner’s chest. These aren’t just pretty kitties, though. The tattoos supposedly represent that the person wearing them is a cunning cheater who can make even the wisest and most perceptive men trust him, so he can in turn take advantage of them for his own benefit.
Nope, this prisoner isn’t missing a son named Mike or Maurice. A dark handprint tattoo featuring the initial “M” at its center is a nod to the Mexican Mafia, a widespread California prison gang that is steeped in racism and hatred.
Generally, teardrop tattoos aren’t indicators that someone has experienced a lot of sadness or has a soft, emotional side. Rather, teardrop tattoos have a variety of meanings that are all related to murder. Those with teardrop tattoos have either committed or attempted murder, are serving long prison terms for serious crimes, or are seeking violent retribution for the loss of a fellow gang member or loved one.
Not just an ordinary timepiece, a tattoo featuring a clock without hands is a popular choice with prisoners and ex-cons that have done serious time behind bars. Those who are serving life sentences or who know it will be many years before they reach freedom stop counting the days and minutes, so a clock without hands represents the futility of time in their lives.
It may seem as though this guy simply has a weird obsession with Dr. Maertens boots, but the meaning of this tattoo is deeper and much less innocent than it seems. While all skinheads don’t necessarily lace up a pair of Dr. Maertens each day, this style of shoe is very popular among Neo-Nazis. Not surprisingly, the image of a pair of Dr. Maertens is one that is often seen tatted on skinheads who have done time. In fact, skinhead gatherings are often referred to as “boot parties” because of the popularity of the shoe in their hateful subculture.
A tattoo featuring the initials “ACAB” alongside a violent symbol, such as this bloody pair of brass knuckles, is a common design among prisoners who have distaste for those who enforce the law. Especially popular in the United Kingdom, “ACAB” stands for “All Coppers Are Bastards.”
A simple five-dot tattoo may go unnoticed by those who aren’t looking for it, but those who have served time themselves know to watch for it on others. Inked in the arrangement that’s pictured, this design is an indicator that the wearer has done hard time. The inner dot stands for the inmate himself, with the four outer dots representing the confines of prison walls.