The Hidden Meanings Behind 11 Prison Tattoos

iStock
iStock

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.

3. SPIDERWEB

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.

5. ACAB

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.

6. EWMN

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.

7. AB

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.

9FIVE 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.

10. GRIN

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.

Keep Hackers Out Forever With This Top-Rated VPN for Just $39

Poike/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Poike/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Think for a moment about how many private interactions you have on the internet. Saved passwords, credit card information, private conversations, medical records— almost your entire identity. Protect your privacy and identity across five devices for under $40 with a lifetime VPN from KeepSolid, which provides you peace of mind to continue using online conveniences without fear, bandwidth limits, or geographic restrictions.

Daily protection is extremely important when almost every transaction is made online. Groceries, movies, games, bills, and so much more are all paid for online with your personal and accessible information—but the concern doesn’t stop with others’ access to you. What happens when you’re restricted from accessing parts of the internet yourself? KeepSolid VPN Unlimited will also bypass censorship to allow you access to any site you’d like. This comes in handy when you’re traveling abroad in countries that restrict access to sites like Facebook.

More than 10 million customers globally have trusted KeepSolid VPN Unlimited with their internet access, identity, and privacy without compromised browsing speeds or the danger of leaving data exposed to theft and fraud. If the reviews of the general public don’t sway you, perhaps the military-grade AES 256-bit encryption will (that’s cybersecurity lingo for very secure).

While Keepsolid VPN Unlimited can't keep your fingers from accidentally sending that Snapchat to the wrong person (that’s on you), it can protect you from the privacy violations that are out of your control and often go undetected. Add the best VPN to your cybersecurity toolkit at the sale price of $39, and enjoy a massive selection of servers worldwide, a rich variety of VPN protocols, and much more to keep hackers out of your sensitive data for a lifetime.

 

KeepSolid VPN Unlimited: Lifetime Subscription - $39

See Deal



At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

The 10 Best Beaches in America, According to Dr. Beach

Grayton Beach? More like Blue-Ton Beach.
Grayton Beach? More like Blue-Ton Beach.
Jacob Boomsma/iStock via Getty Images

When searching for the perfect stretch of beach to laze away your vacation days, there are quite a few factors to consider. Some, like water clarity or sand texture, are more obvious than others; for example, you might not realize how much noise pollution a nearby highway generates until you’re already on the beach.

To help you choose your next seaside getaway, Florida International University coastal research professor Stephen P. Leatherman, also known as “Dr. Beach,” has released his annual list of the top 10 beaches in the U.S. Based on 50 criteria, ranging from the beach’s width at low tide to the presence of jellyfish, the data reveals the Florida Panhandle is home to the best beach in the country. Grayton Beach State Park boasts exceptionally fine, white sand known as “sugar sand”; shallow, warm water with calm waves; and a 2000-acre nature park with rare coastal dune lakes and a hiking trail. It wasn’t the only Florida beach to make the list—Caladesi Island State Park, off the coast of Dunedin and Clearwater, came in at number six.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks islands were well-represented, too, with Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach and Buxton’s Lighthouse Beach taking the second and fifth spots, respectively. Dr. Beach also bestowed top honors on two of Hawaii’s beaches: Oahu’s Duke Kahanamoku Beach and the Big Island’s Hapuna Beach State Park.

Even if you can’t make it as far as Florida or Hawaii, Dr. Beach’s metrics can help you decide what’s important to you when it comes to choosing the best beach closer to home. Maybe you’re not bothered by online reviews that warn about giant waves at a certain beach, but you’re unwilling to budge about overcrowding.

The list of criteria isn’t the only way that Dr. Beach is helping beachgoers plan the best, safest summer vacation possible—he’s also compiled a few handy tips for heading to the beach during the coronavirus pandemic. First and foremost, you should check the beach’s rules before you go; some places are only open for exercise, while others have made masks mandatory (even if yours doesn’t require a mask, however, you should still wear one). Dr. Beach also recommends having a backup plan, just in case your ideal beach hits capacity before you get there.

See the full list of top 10 beaches below, and find out more about them here.

  1. Grayton Beach State Park // Florida Panhandle
  1. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach // Ocracoke, North Carolina
  1. Coopers Beach // Southampton, New York
  1. Duke Kahanamoku Beach // Oahu, Hawaii
  1. Lighthouse Beach // Buxton, North Carolina 
  1. Caladesi Island State Park // Dunedin, Florida
  1. Hapuna Beach State Park // Big Island, Hawaii
  1. Coast Guard Beach // Cape Cod, Massachusetts
  1. Coronado Beach // San Diego, California
  1. Beachwalker Park // Kiawah Island, South Carolina