Texas Prison Tattoos
By Andrew Lichtenstein
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Rasheed (Below), 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.
Almost all prison tattoos are made by artist convicts using homemade tattoo "guns" (Right). The work is done quickly and secretly. To be caught in a cell shakedown with either a tattoo gun or the fresh ink of a new tattoo results in a "major case". If, after a disciplinary hearing, the prisoner is convicted he may lose privileges, be moved to a more resrictive wing or even be denied parole. In the regulated world of the maximum security penitentiary the handiwork of the tattoo artist is the most respected skill amongst inmates.

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.


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