Tattoos have a legacy of being a symbol for belonging to a group. Everyone in the group sported the same tattoo. It was used as a way to identify a member of a gang, tribe, or club. A tool to identify members of your own and also to identify a rival gang member.
Gang tattoos are commonly inked by fellow gang members or an artist that may be affiliated with the group. Besides the symbol representing the gang affiliation, a popular choice is getting their own names in tall, large, letters on their chest and stomach area. Biker groups have a preference for large back pieces proclaiming their gang name. Hells Angels is probably one of the more well known groups for this style and many tattoo books feature the artwork that some of the members have gotten.
One of the biggest taboos amongst gangs is having someone outside of the gang get a gang related tattoos. This could be a dangerous choice and a very foolish move. There have been incidents of gangs literally burning or cutting the tattoo off a person guilty of doing this. This has been illustrated in an episode of the television series, Sons of Anarchy.
Police have to keep up with the gang symbols to keep on top of the underground world of gangs and gang violence. Knowing the gang affiliation symbol can enable them to identify members and gangs and possibly help them to curb gang violence.
Gang members wishing to leave the violence behind and turn over a new leaf, may find this more difficult if they have tattoos on part of their body that they are difficult to cover up. Due to this factor, various agencies have set up programs to pay for tattoo removal options to help these people start over and have a chance at a non-violent life.
Gangs use various tattoo symbols to represent a badge – such as a tear drop, or a spider web under the eye representing prison time served. The meaning of gang tattoos have changed and evolved over the years. Tattooing their names in a large old English style font, on a curved baseline is also popular with gangs in prison and out.
One of the key reasons for not getting a prison tattoo – the health factor. Often the needles are used repeatedly. There are no means to sterilize any part of the machine. Very dangerous. Although, I have to admit, I have seen tattoo work and it was surprisingly high quality. The artist had learned to work FAST, under pressure, and still did beautiful work.
In a rare case of common sense, Canada started a pilot program that basically set up a tattoo parlor prison program. It not only taught inmates a trade, had them using sterile needles with sterile conditions, which brought down HIV and other blood related diseases. It seemed like a win, win situation. But word got out in the public and everyone had a fit and the program was discontinued. Heaven forbid we use some common sense.
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