Texas Prison Tattoos
By Andrew Lichtenstein
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Convicts of all races frequently have teardrops tattooed directly below their eyes, giving them the appearance of permanently crying.

These tattoos take on different meanings depending on the place and time they were acquired. Originally each tear drop represented a murder committed. More recently they have begun to represent each of the family or gang members who have died while a prisoner is locked up. Because of the location of the tear on the face, these tattoos are about commitment, an unabashed declaration of the inmate experience.

Prison has literally scarred the convict, a sad fact fittingly expressed with a teardrop.

Members of the Texas Syndicate (Right), one of the oldest prison gangs in the state, conspicuously wear a giant TS on their forearm.

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.


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