From notorious tattoos, such as a filled-in teardrop that connotes a murderer, to the more heartfelt, including girlfriends’ names, prison tattoos are badges of inmates’ identities.
“Some people want to look the part, some people actually do get them to illustrate their life story and some probably get them just because it’s against the rules to get them done,” Grote, 42, a prison teacher, said. “Not too different from in the world.”
But unlike those on the outside, prisoners must go to great—and often ingenious—lengths to get tattoos, using broken spoons and deodorant labels to create the foundation for tattoo machines and burnt ash for ink.
Body artists and the people who manufacture tattoo machines are highly respected by other inmates, but they are viewed warily by guards and corrections officials who say tattoos carry health risks. (Nobody in prison has access to a sterilized tattoo parlor.) As a result, inmates who are caught freshly inked or making tattoo machines can be disciplined and put into solitary confinement, sometimes for days.
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