Tattoos could signal wearers' crimes

Criminal justice experts say there are many tattoos that could signify the wearers committed murders and other crimes. Here are some examples:

• Teardrops: Have several possible meanings, including the number of people the wearer killed or the number of stints in prison they served. A clear teardrop can mean the wearer wants revenge for the killing of a loved one.

• Spider webs, clocks with no hands: Can mean the wearer served time in prison.

• Stars: They can be innocent designs. On some prison gang members, however, they can represent the number of people the wearer killed. The number of points on a star can correspond with the number of years served in prison.

• Three dots. Often inked near an eye or on a hand, it can refer to the “vida loca,” or crazy life, of a criminal.

• Penal code numbers: Some criminals get tattoos of the penal code numbers for the crimes they committed.

• Cats: Can refer to thieves, especially among Russian criminal groups.

• Masks and clown faces: These tattoos can represent a criminal’s “play now, pay later” lifestyle.

Sources:

Clairissa Breen, criminal justice professor, Cazenovia College, Cazenovia, New York; Kevin Waters, criminal justice professor, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, Michigan; Michael Phelan and Scott Hunt, University of Kentucky, 1998 article, “Prison Gang Members’ Tattoos as Identity Work: The Visual Communication of Moral Careers.”

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