Like gang culture, the culture of prison tattoos is circular. Convicts bring with them the fashions of the ghetto and barrio. The motifs of rural Mexican Catholicism have similarly influenced some beautiful prison tattoos. At the same time marks obtained in prison have a significance on the streets. It is almost impossible to go into a tattoo parlour without finding designs that emerged from the long, continuously evolving history of the Texas lock-up.
Some convicts change their life dramatically while incarcerated and are forced to serve out sentences at odds with their body art. There are no tattoo removal services in prison. Rasheed (left), a muslim serving 20 years in Huntsville's Wyn Unit, was a 15-year-old Houston Crip gang member when he killed two people in a drug deal gone bad. Now 21, he reads The Koran, prays facing Mecca and fasts during the month of Ramadan. But still displayed prominently on his chest is the barrell of a gun and the word "kill" tattooed directly above it.