Gang, Prison and Gangsta Style Tattoos

A few generations ago, most tattoos were viewed as potential gang tattoos – whether or not they were actually gang related. That’s because tattooing was relatively uncommon among the mainstream public, and having a tattoo almost automatically meant that you had some sort of criminal association.

In other words, though most people didn't have the skill to identify symbols, it was more or less taken for granted that tattoos were connected to a criminal underworld.

Luckily today, tattoos are very common and have lost that kind of association. This doesn't mean that gang tattoos have disappeared altogether. There are still tattoo designs that are specific to the different ethnic gangs that operate in the major cities. Gang and prison tattoos have more in common with traditional tribal tattoos than they do with modern decorative body art: they are designed to mark an individual as a member of a group, as well as being an indication of status.


Gang Tattoos

This is Anthony Garcia, a gang member with a tattoo of a murder he committed


Click to enlarge...

Gang member with an East Side tattoo on his face Gang member with lots of tattoos in his face Mugschot tattoo
Gang member with tattoos on his face Gang member with lots of tattoos in his face Gang member with a 666 tattoo on his neck
Gang member, full of tattoos Gang member with neck and face tattoos Gang member with face tattoos
Mug shot Mug shot of a guy with tattoos Gang member with face tattoos
Gang member with face tattoos Gang member with multiple face tattoos Man with multiple prison tattoos
Gang member with Latin Kings tattoos on his face Gang member with face tattoos


Gang Tattoo Symbols

Gang Tattoo Symbol Gang Tattoo Symbol 2 Gang Tattoo Symbol 3
Symbol for the Latin Kings Symbol for the Latin Disciples Symbol for the Ambrose gang


Gang and prison tattoos work like a sort of code and speak a language of their own. Numbers and letters are important gang symbols. They indicate for example what status a member has in the group or what a prisoner is in for.

Here are some examples of numbers and their meaning used by various gangs:


Teardrop Tattoos

A lot of gang members have one or more teardrop tattoos under their eyes, especially if they've spend time in jail. The meaning of the tears is not always the same though and has evolved over the years:


Teardrop tattoo


Ethnic Gang Tattoos

For the average person, it is unlikely that you will encounter gang tattoos at a close enough range to try and identify them. They are a way for gang members to identify each other and members of rival gangs.


Gangster tattoo design


Gang or prison tattoos vary across different cultures, although some elements seem to be universal:


Mexican Gang Tattoos




Russian prison tattoos


The Equipment

Most gang and prison tattoos have fuzzy, unsteady lines compared to those of professional tattoos. That's because they are done with self made tattoo guns and ink. The ink used in Russian prisons for example was made with melted shoe soles, mixed with urine and blood.


Home made tattoo equipment


Gangsta Style Tattoos

Gangsta tattoos are getting mainstream nowadays, because they are idealized and popularized by rappers. When gang or ghetto tattoos are taken out of their context (the gang) they are not the real thing anymore.

Here are a few examples of gangsta style tattoos:

Click to enlarge...

Gangsta Tattoos Gangsta Tattoo Gangsta Style Tattoo


Your Comments