At no time do I condone any illegal actions that may have been committed by anyone either incarcerated or free, but only offer the fact that each person is still a human being. I was once told by an incarcerated friend of mine that "the only difference between those who are 'in' and those that are 'out' is that those that are 'in' got caught". How many of us have never done anything for which we could be standing before a court of law?
Tats, Tacs or Ink, whatever slang term you use to describe tattoos there’s one thing you can’t get around. Tattoo recognition and interpretation is a valuable tool when dealing with state prison parolees. A convict’s ink will tell you three sweet pieces of info about him.Who he is, what he’s done and where he’s been. Lets first talk about joint tats in general.
Joint ink starts out as one color. Blue. It may turn black or purple according to the sun and the skin pigment but it usually starts out blue. If you see other colors besides blue, or it’s variations, the tat probably is not a true joint tat. There are two ways of giving a tat. Free hand, which most are, or machine. Free hands a no brainer. You get some ink, usually out of a pen, and you dip a needle, usually a straight pen, and you use the Polynesian method. That is a series of dots to form a picture or word. These tats are crude and sloppy and very noticeable. The second method is the machine. A home made tat machine consists of a slot car motor, a hollowed out ball point pin, some guitar string and a 9 volt battery. Oh ya and the ink. The hollowed out pen is wired or taped to the motor facing away from it. The guitar string is wrapped around the arm of the motor and run through the pen so it sticks out about a 16th of an inch out the end. Hook up a flashlight battery and its tat time. When the battery is hooked up, the motor arm vibrates which moves the guitar string back and forth rapidly in and out of the end of the pen and as long as you keep dipping the end in the ink, you can create a tattoo. Machine ink jobs are more detailed because of the method but also because they are usually done with stencils. Getting caught giving a tat or getting one in the joint is a serious crono. You remember, a 115. A write up. It spreads decease inside the institution.
OK, lets talk about the three things the ink tells you. First of all, who he is. Many times the convict will have his name or street name on him. I have even heard of having one’s CDC # put on. Also a loved ones name may help you ID him. What he’s done often relates to his crimes. For example if he carries a gun, a picture of the weapon maybe on him. If the gun is pictured from the side this means he carries a gun. If the weapon is pointed outward, this means he is a shooter. Where he’s been has to do with the joints he has called home. The ink in relation to the joints he’s been in will be landmarks. Landmarks such as walls, gun towers, cell doors or windows and bob wire. Remember to take your time and read the ink.
Lets talk a bit about some common ink you may see and what it means.
Tattoos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and their Meaning
|Clock faces without hands|
Tombstones with numbers on them
Tombstones with numbers and RIP
Spider or cob webs on elbows or shoulders
One laughing face, one crying face
Granite block walls
100 % pure
Cell window with sun or bird showing
Face of female crying
Prison block wall with bricks falling outward
The years they were inside
Mourning the death of a friend
Behind the eight ball or bad luck
Play now, pay later or my happy life, my sad life
Supreme white power
White pride ( males )
White pride ( females )
Common Caucasian tat
Time in Old Folsom Prison
Pure white or anglo
Waiting to get out
Has someone on the outside waiting
Inside wanting to get out
PRISON GANG TATS
Eagle with snake in it’s mouth sitting on the letters EME.
A black hand.
“ EME “
A black hand with the letters EME in the palm." Mafia Mexicana "
“ MM “
“ NF “
“ NS “
A sombrero covering a machete dripping blood
Swastika covered with a three leaf clover. In the leaves of the clover are “ AB “ and “ 666 “
“ SWP “
100 % pure
“ AB “
“ Peckerwood “
Picture of a bluebird
Black Guerrilla Family:
Dragon attacking a prison gun tower
Two hands chained over a rifle and a sword crossed
“ BGF “
The new trend with prison gang tats is not to get them because it ID’s them as a gang member. Remember to read tats like a book. From left to right and from up to down. Don’t just list a few on the face sheet to keep the nasty Sergeant of your leg, take your time and look at them carefully. There are stories within stories. We are seeing more and more Vietnamese parolees getting inked. They seem to like tats that show their birthplace. Like maps of Vietnam on the back. "Vietnamese Pride" under the neck and four dots or T’s which can mean many different things from wealth money and guns to prison. Oriental convicts are not using joint geography like the other groups we have mentioned. OK, remember what the ink says to you, slow down, read it completely and as always, be careful out there.
Gangs and Prison Tattoos
Bloods & Crips, Norteños & Sureños
Tattoos have always been used as a means to identify members with particular gangs. Members use tattoos for several reasons. Some members will have numerous tattoos, particularly if they have spent time in prison. These tattoos may include one or more symbols that has been adopted as something unique to identify it’s members.
Tattoos such as a tear drop under an eye or a spider web represent prison time. Many members will have their name tattooed in large bold letters so that rival members will be intimidated. For the uninitiated wearing an unauthorized tattoo could be very dangerous particularly in prison. Prison inmates have been known to remove unauthorized tattoos from non members by literally cutting the tattoo off the person’s flesh.
Some members in particular take pride in branding themselves as outside of the boundaries of conventional society. Tattoos are also used to express their often nihilistic philosophy. Gangsta style tattoos popularized by rappers are often done in a black and gray style and depict firearms, bullets, secret letters and numbers, in old English or gothic script. It is common to have the name of the person tattooed on the back of the neck or have a motto tattooed on the chest.
It is clear that tattoos have been adopted by mainstream society even though not too many middle-class wannabes are willing to get facial tattoos, or tattoos on their hands - practices common amongst members.
But although gang members try to use tattoos to separate themselves from mainstream society, the effect it has had on the young hip middle class is undeniable. Teenagers who may have no idea of these symbols' original meaning are now wearing tattoos which were originally worn by gang members as badges of honor.
There are many prison gangs in California, the two main ones are:
The Sureños which is Spanish for Southerners. They are a group of hundreds of Hispanic street gangs with origins in Southern California. They are connected with the Mexican Mafia prison organization. The Sureños were the first California gang to make use of gang colors to distinguish themselves from other gangs.
The state of California prison system provided railroad handkerchiefs to inmates in one standard color: blue. Hispanic inmates from Southern California selected or claimed the blue bandanas to identify themselves. Once a member of the Sureños graduates off the street and into the prison system they are designated a part of the Mexican Mafia organization.
The Sureños identify themselves with the color blue and sometimes gray, mostly with Los Angeles Dodgers (the baseball team of their home town), Duke University and Dallas Cowboys apparel. Their gang number is thirteen, using Arabic or Roman numerals, or a combination of both: 13, XIII, or X3 and other creative means of symbolism. This signifies the 13th letter of the alphabet, the letter M, meaning La Eme or The M; the Mexican Mafia.
Numerals are also incorporated into the tattoos, such as Tres Puntos (Spanish for Three dots) or X3 for the number 13 (see also: Three Dots Tattoo) which is the representation for the number three within the Aztec numeral system. An additional significance of the LA Dodgers lies in the numbers corresponding to letters of the alphabet: L (12) + A (1) = 13.
The Norteños which is Spanish for Northerners. They are also called Nuestra Familia (Our Family), are a coalition of Hispanic gangs in North America, based in Northern California. A member of these gangs is a norteño (male) or norteña (female); based on Spanish usage, these names are often not capitalized when referring to individual members. Mexican Americans who are not gang members, but feel a strong cultural affiliation with others in Northern California, may also call themselves norteños/norteñas or simply Northerners.
The traditional rivals of the Norteños are the Sureños (Southerners). The dividing line between Norteños and Sureños has traditionally been Bakersfield, California. In the late 1960s, Mexican-American inmates of the California state prison system began to separate into two rival groups, Norteños (northerners) and Sureños (southerners), according to the locations of their hometowns; the north-south dividing line was near Bakersfield. Part of the motivation for the split was the desire of the Norteños to be independent of La Eme, a.k.a. the Mexican Mafia.
As with many other gangs, Norteños have been involved in trafficking of drugs and contraband, and armed conflict with other gangs and with police. According to police investigators, a requirement for full membership in Nuestra Familia is committing at least one murder for the gang.
Federal law enforcement agencies, long unable to infiltrate the group, began to step up their investigations in the late 1990s. In 2000 and 2001, 22 members were indicted on racketeering charges, including several who were allegedly serving as high-ranking gang leaders while confined in Pelican Bay. Thirteen of the defendants pleaded guilty; the other cases are still ongoing. Two of the defendants face the death penalty for ordering murders related to the drug trade.