10 Prison Tattoos and Their Meaning

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Tattoos, which have been used for years by prison inmates to express themselves, are now mainstream. It’s no longer safe to assume that mean-looking guy covered with tattoos is an ex-con. And although many tattoos used by convicts are symbolic, you cannot even be sure if someone spotting a prison-style tattoo is actually a “bad guy” or just some punk trying to look tougher than he really is. It’s unlikely that bona fide gang members would take kindly to an “outsider” sporting one of their tattoos, so wanna-be tough guys should carefully consider any notion of getting inked with gang tat just because that want to look “bad.” Some of the guys seen sporting prison ink are the real deal, and although there are likely many variations on the meaning of various tattoos, here are some general guidelines. A kind of illustrated guide to prison ink, if you will.

1. Cobwebs

Here’s one that actually makes a lot of sense, which is kind of nice, since so many prison tattoos involve weird symbolism that’s not readily deciphered by the layperson. Cobwebs indicate that the prisoner or ex-con in question is facing, or has served a lengthy sentence behind bars. This tattoo is often found on the elbow, which hints at the boredom endured by inmates, since being propped up on one’s elbows is presumably a position assumed by someone who has time to kill.

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