The Hidden Meanings Behind 11 Prison Tattoos
While tattoos might be becoming as popular as pierced ears—in fact, Whole Foods might soon offer inking services—there are still certain ones reserved for select members of society. Jailhouse tattoos, also known as black-and-grays, are dangerous in more than one way: The process is illegal, so inmates end up creating their own equipment and ink, and studies have shown a connection between tattoos and high rates of hepatitis C among prisoners.
You won’t find any butterflies, tribal armbands, or wrongly interpreted Chinese characters here. Check out the hidden meanings behind these 11 prison tattoos.
1. TEAR DROP
Perhaps the most well-known tattoo associated with crime and prison, the teardrop can either be unfilled or opaque. There are many stories about why a prisoner would have this tattoo, but the most common is that an unfilled teardrop might symbolize the death of a loved one, while an opaque one might show that the death has been avenged. "Sometimes," the FBI notes, "only the wearer will know the exact meaning of the tattoo.” Teardrops might also represent mourning in general. For instance, Amy Winehouse’s were said to be for her jailed ex-husband.
2. CLOCK WITH NO HANDS
Such an emblem denotes “doing time” for long-time prisoners. Variations include a watch with no hands and an hourglass.
Emblazoned on the elbow, the spiderweb conveys the idea of being trapped, as well as perhaps the cobwebby passage of time.
4. BORSTAL MARK
A blue dot on the face, the borstal mark, also known as the borstalspot, proclaims a stint in a borstal, a UK system for delinquent boys that was created in 1902. Borstals offered education, meals, and regimentation—kind of like what Americans call juvie mixed with military school. But since borstals were abolished in the early 1980s, anyone who has a mark these days is more likely a person who wasn't locked up in one but just wants to seem tough.
The ACAB tattoo might be represented by four dots on the knuckles or the letters themselves on the knuckles or elsewhere. The acronym stands for All Coppers Are Bastards, or perhaps, depending on the situation, Always Carry a Bible.
This acronym isn’t necessarily specific to prison. Popular among biker gang members, it’s not surprising that the Evil Wicked Mean Nasty mark would make an appearance behind bars.
If the AB tattoo bearer tells you the letters stand for “Alice Baker,” you’ll want to stay clear: That's just a nickname for the Aryan Brotherhood. The white supremacist organization’s other nicknames include Alice, One-Two, Tip and Brand, and the Brand.
8. THREE DOTS
The three dots tattoo can appear under the eye or on the hand, and can represent, among Latinos, either the three words mi vida loca, “my crazy life,” or the holy Catholic trinity. Cultural anthropologist Margo DeMello says that the three dots might come from a French criminal tattoo, of which the trio of spots stood for mort aux vaches, or “death to the cows”—cows meaning the police.
9. FIVE DOTS
Five dots have a different meaning. Often associated with Russian prisoners, a quincunx on the wrist suggests a convict (the center dot) surrounded by four watchtowers (the surrounding four dots). Of course, a quincunx tattoo isn't always a sign of a stay in prison; Thomas Edison had one on his forearm.
Another ink job popular among Russian inmates is the grin. A flagrant sign of disrespect, grins often portray Russian and Soviet leaders in bawdy or crude positions, and imply that the prisoners, often locked up for the long haul, don’t give a flying fig about what authorities think.
11. KNIFE THROUGH THE NECK
If you think the guy with the knife through the neck tattoo looks dangerous, you’d be right: In Russian prisons, such a symbol shows the bearer is a murderer. And proud of it, evidently.
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The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the greatest bands of all-time, evolving their sound and the entire rock genre since their self-title debut album released in 1984. Frontman Anthony Kiedis and legendary bassist Flea have been members of the lineup for all 30-plus years of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ existence, founding the group while classmates in High School. Little did they know they’d be setting the foundation for one of the most influential groups ever.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers official logo was actually drawn by Kiedis in 1984. Label management asked the group to produce a logo, and Kiedis sketched the eight-pronged asterisk that fans associate with around the globe today. Kiedis didn’t have any specific reasoning or meaning behind the asterisk at the time, but it’s since gone on to be one of the most iconic band logos in music history. The bright red asterisk wound up being up the perfect logo for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, even if created on a whim.
Fans have also connected the logo to the “Star of Affinity,” which was designed by author Michael Moorcock in 1970. The “Star of Affinity” created by Moorcock was his own representation of chaos, beginning his sketch by drawing the four cardinal directions (North, South, East West), then adding the additional four arrows to represent the additional “possibilities” representing the chaos in choice and life.
Legendary author Kurt Vonnegut’s drawing of a similar asterisk in the preface of his 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions has also been associated with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ logo. Vonnegut’s explanation of his drawing is a bit more… colorful… to say the least. Vonnegut’s asterisk was not an asterisk at all, according to him, but his “picture of an asshole” meant to give readers a forewarning about the “maturity” of his illustrations in the book.
Vonnegut’s explanation is actually very close to what Kiedis explained about the logo in his 2004 autobiography Scar Tissue. Kiedis said that the the logo isn’t an asterisk at all, but that it’s “actually an angel in heaven’s asshole” viewed from below on Earth.
No matter the meaning behind the logo, its significance to the band is unquestionable. Both Kiedis and former guitarist John Frusciante have the asterisk tattooed on their left wrists. Fans have done the same, getting their own tattoos of the logo, wearing merch with the asterisk, and designing their own unique versions the legendary Red Hot Chili Peppers’ calling card.
Ultimately, the asterisk logo stands for one very important thing when fans see it: The Red Hot Chili Peppers. What was a quick sketch will forever be recognized as the sign of one of the greatest bands ever. From Fairfax High School to the history books, the Red Hot Chili Peppers carved their own path and brought their legion of admirers with them the whole way.
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Asterix and the Picts
Asterix and the Picts is the 35th book in the Asterixseries, and is the first book to be written by someone other than René Goscinny or Albert Uderzo. It was written by Jean-Yves Ferri and illustrated by Didier Conrad. The English-language version was translated by Anthea Bell.
It takes Asterix and Obelix across the Channel into Scotland, where they meet the Picts. This is the duo's second journey to the British Isles, after visiting the Britons in Asterix in Britain (1966).
One winter day, while searching for oysters, Asterix and Obelix find a young man frozen in ice washed up on the beach. They take him to the druid Getafix, who by the stranger's clothes and tattoos identifies him as a Pict, residents of Northern Caledonia (now Scotland). Getafix is able to revive him, but the Pict has lost his voice and is unable to express himself, even in sign language; a gold ring clenched in his hand is the only clue to his background story. A minor complication ensues when a Roman census officer, Limitednumbus, arrives at the village to record the Gauls' activities, which Vitalstatistix allows him to do.
Following Getafix's administrations, the young Pict regains only limited power of speech and the Gauls cannot understand him. One day, he chisels a map on one of Obelix's menhirs, leading to his home. With this clue, and additional enticement provided by the village women's increasing fascination for the handsome young man, Asterix and Obelix are tasked with taking him home, along with some healing elixir for the Pict's throat. As they leave in Unhygenix's fishing boat and encounter (and fight) the pirates, the Pict fully recovers his voice. He introduces himself as Macaroon and tells them how he was ambushed by Maccabaeus, the chief of the Maccabee clan, tied to a log and thrown into the loch near his home because Maccabeus is longing for the hand of Macaroon's fiancée Camomilla, the adopted daughter of Mac II, late monarch of Caledonia, in order to make himself king of all Picts. In an effort to consolidate his claim, Maccabaeus has pleaded for an alliance with Rome and secretly invited a Roman legion to his coronation.
After a playful encounter with Loch Androll's monstrous resident Nessie, who steals the gourd with the elixir, they land and go to visit Macaroon's family. However, Macaroon learns there that Camomilla has been kidnapped by Maccabaeus shortly after his disappearance, and that Maccabaeus is going to be crowned king the next day. Asterix motivates him to challenge Maccabaeus, but Macaroon loses his voice again. Asterix and Obelix attempt to retrieve the gourd from Nessie, but in the process they stumble upon a tunnel which leads them straight to the Red Picts' dungeon, where Camomilla is kept captive. They rescue her and escape through one of the tunnels.
The next day, all the Pict leaders assemble to elect their next king. As Maccabaeus advances with his Roman allies and promotes himself, Macaroon and his family arrive at the island and confront Maccabaeus; but the challenge is declared void because Macaroon has yet to recover the full use of his voice. Through a tunnel emerging right onto the assembly island, Asterix, Obelix and Camomilla arrive at the nick of time to defy Maccabaeus, and the sight of Camomilla restores Macaroon's voice. The Gauls and the Picts unite and fight the Romans and Maccabaeus (with some help from Nessie), crushing them. Maccabaeus and the Roman task force's centurion then suffer the same fate Macaroon did, being chained to a log and tossed into the freezing Caledonian waters, and Macaroon is made king of the Picts.
The Gauls return home in triumph. Meanwhile, Limitednumbus has become frustrated by the constant movement of the Gauls, which does not allow him to count them properly. Obelix is about to tie him to a tree trunk and send him to the Picts, when Asterix reminds him that there is an easy way of counting Gauls: the banquet at the end of the story.
- While his voice is impaired, in the English version Macaroon keeps spouting lines from several popular Scottish songs and poems, including Scots Wha Hae, The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond, and Waly Waly. He also makes references to some un-Scottish lyrics, including Jingle Bells, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Jabberwocky, and the Picts quote Bonnie Dundee at Macaroon's coronation. These citations do not exist in the original French version; instead Macaroon keeps inserting occasional taglines based on popular music titles into his speeches, including Jingle Bells, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, and Stayin' Alive.
On Goodreads, the book has a score of 3.63 out of 5.
25 Fabulous French Tattoos: Ideas For Men And Women
Known as a country that produces superior wine, incredible art and mouth-watering food; when it comes to French-themed tattoo inspiration, you‘ll never be short of ideas!
When you think of France, what comes to mind?
The ? A French baguette? Perhaps something less obvious like a sprig of lavender or a painting by Dégas?
Whatever images your mind conjures up when you think of France, they can easily be captured in a French-inspired tattoo- and why not? France has been the most popular tourist destination in the world for over 25 years.
So whether you’re a Francophile in search of immortalizing your love of France or simply like the look of an tattoo, here are 25 awesome French tattoos to inspire you.
French Map tattoos
1. Map of France Tattoo
Photo source: nicklesg
A cartographer’s dream tattoo if (s)he loved France. A tattoo of a map of France is not only a fun way to show your love for the country but also your wanderlust heart. It’s not overly obvious like the – most non-Europeans might not even recognize the famous hexagon shape, which all Children in France learn at a very young age. But that’s OK because it’s a great conversation starter.
Photo source: j_ed3n_art79
As one of the most recognizable flags on earth, no one will have to guess which country this blue, white and red striped belongs to. The number of designs that can be dreamed up to make your ink look individual and distinct is endless.
French-inspired bird tattoos
3. Swallow tattoo
photo source unknown
Swallow tattoos were originally made popular by British sailors of the past. French fashion designer Coco incorporated it in her designs, making it a chic fashion symbol.
Coco swallow necklace Tattoo Photo unknown
4. N5 tattoo
photo source of no 5 tattoos via Nyki Bell
Chanel No 5, Guerlain Shalimar, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent Parisienne- are just some of the classical French Perfumes that have long been synonymous with wealth, class and, of course, elegance! A tattoo of your favourite French or even a generic photo of a bottle is a classy way to elevate your tattoo style.
French plant and flower tattoos
5. French Lavender Sprig Tattoo
Photo source: nothingwildtattoo
Provence France is known for many things, but the most recognizable might be the colour, the texture and the scent of its world-famous lavender fields.
6. Lily Of The Valley Flower Tattoo: “Muguet.”
Photo source: leehumphs_tattooer
Lily of the Valley flowers, known as “Muguet” in France, has a very special place in French culture. You’ll find it in everything from perfumes to teas. It has long been customary to offer a sprig or bouquet of Lily of the Valley to friends and loved ones on the 1st of May to celebrate the arrival of spring and the excellent weather that goes with it.
See also: Why you shouldn’t go to France in May: 6 French holidays explained.
7. French Fleur De Lis Tattoo
photo source: lyxy666
Fleur de Lis means”flower of the lily” and is a lily composed of three petals bound together near their bases. French monarchs first used this classical French emblem on their shields. English kings later used the symbol on their coats of arms to emphasize their claims to France’s throne.
French animal tattoos
8. French coq tattoo aka Gallic Rooster tattoo
Coq tattoo photo source via David Hale
“Le Coq Gaulois” or the “Gallic rooster” is one of France’s most widely recognized and identifiable symbols. It has been used intermittently since medieval times on French engravings and coins and has become the hallmark of French country design. French brands that incorporate the coq in their logo include sports brand giant “” and “Pathé” cinemas in France.
9. French Poodle tattoo
photo source: daisybelletheheadtiltingpoodle
Despite its name, French poodles are technically not a French breed; however, the French were responsible for helping develop the breed and boost their popularity, which may be why most people associate them with France.
10. French Bull Dog tattoo
photo source: skinnysinktattoo
What could be more French than a super cute or scary French bulldog tattoo “Bouledogue.”
French art tattoos
11. French painting tattoo
Edgar Dégas ballerina tattoo photo source via Angie Leaf
If you’re into art from Famous French painters like Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall and countless others, there are thousands upon thousands of tattoo ideas out there waiting to be discovered. Just crack open an art book for inspiration.
12. Tattoos of famous cartoons and comics in France
Asterix tattoo photo source from LTW tattoo studio
If you’re into comics and cartoons, you have quite a few to choose from. There’s Astérix et Obelix, Les Aventures de Tintin, Lucky Luke and Les Daltons, to name a few. Although many of the classic French cartoons are from Belgium cartoonist, they are extremely popular in France and recognizable by all French people. Bet you didn’t know that the Smurfs was also a Belgium creation by the Belgian cartoonist Peyou. They’re called “Les Schtroumpfs” in French.
French Landmarks and Tourist Attractions
France is filled with famous buildings and beautiful structures – all good artists should be able to draw any of these magnificent monuments onto your body in any style and size of your choosing.
13. Paris city skyline tattoo
Home is where your ink is. If your love for Paris goes beyond any one thing or you can’t get enough of Paris, then a Paris skyline tattoo is a straightforward way to say it.
Paris city skyline tattoo photo source via Tatto.com
wrist tattoo photo source via Travel Each Day
photo source: lamarink
15. Notre Dame church tattoo
photo source: Black Ink Story
Tattoos for budding French chefs
Forget the stuffy clean-cut image you have of French chefs. Yes, they exist, but these days, there’s a new breed of tattoo wearing chefs. Tattoos have become a sort of status symbol, almost standard attire in professional kitchens. Just take a look at the famous French chef Ludo Lefebre who is covered in meaningful tattoos- like little badges of memory.
16. Butchers cut tattoo: beef, chicken or pork
A quaint way to express your inner chef is to dawn an antique-looking butchers cut tattoo. Take your pick, beef, chicken or pork.
photo source of beef cut tattoo: Juanita Mac Photographer
photo source: tattoosalonen
17. Chef Knife
photo source: summerfaith96
A chef knife is the perfect tattoo for home chefs and professional chefs with mad chopping skills. Take it a step further with a cooking term such as “Mise en place”- which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” It’s the preparation of dishes and ingredients before the beginning of service.
French food and wine tattoos
France is the founding country of dozens of famous foods and is known globally for its production of the perfect wines, brilliant cheeses and scrumptious breakfast pastries. If you’re a foodie, then the possibilities are endless when it comes to French cuisine-inspired ink.
18. French macarons
photo source: Raptorazor
The French , not to be confused with coconut macaroons are the delight of France. This sweet meringue-based confection is commonly filled with ganache, buttercream or jam filling in every flavour you can think of. The ‘s colour always matches the filling- Brown ones are usually chocolate or coffee, red ones are strawberry, blue ones are blueberry, etc. Get a tat in every flavour and in full colour to show your love of French confectionery.
19. Red Wine or Champagne tattoo
photo source unknown
No explanation is needed here. The French consume more wine per capita than any other nation of people- possible designs are endless. Just take a look at a wine magazine for inspiration. If you have a favourite bottle of wine or champagne, why not get a tattoo of that?
20. Croissant Tattoos
photo source: danetattoo
21. French baguette tattoo
Photo source: bitchinkworldwide
22. French Cheese
Photo source: jadee.ellen
The French produce over 450 different types of cheeses. Pick one- anyone for your next tattoo.
23. Escargot tattoo (snails) YUMMY!
photo source: bradywillmott
A pervasive cliché is that the French eat snails called escargot in French. Who doesn’t love escargot floating in butter and garlic?
See also: Weird French foods
A little-known fact about the French is that they’re responsible for many important inventions and technological advances, including (but not limited to): The hot air balloon, the bicycle and the submarine!
24. French HotAir Balloon & Submarine Tattoo:
Photo source: sarahktattoo
Two French brothers were the first to attempt a manned hot-air balloon ascent in 1783 successfully.
Although the French didn’t invent the submarine, the French Navy did create the first non-human powered sub in 1863 called le Plongeur, meaning “the diver.”
25. Bicycle tattoo:
Photo source: small.tatoo
And Much More
French smoking pigeon with Eiffel tower, wine and baguettes tattoo: created by Shaw Hebrank
The more you delve into French culture, the greater the chance of exposing even more fabulous tattoo ideas. If you’re still short of ideas after looking through the article above, then other French tattoo inspiration is never far away, with books, magazines and French-themed websites available in the thousands just waiting to light your imagination. Remember, though – tattoos are for life. Make sure you’re certain that you want something inked onto your body forever, and make sure you take care of your new tattoo as best as possible to ensure it looks beautiful for as long as you live.
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Thanks to Authority Tattoo for co-authoring this post with me.
.Best Comic/Cartoon Tattoos 2020
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