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People choose to get inked up for variety of reasons. They’re not always good reasons, but hey, some folks just aren’t good at making rational choices when it comes to permanent body ink. Aside from some unfortunate alcohol-induced decisions, most tattoos are chosen based on their individual meaning and what they symbolize.
Tattoos Have Coded Meanings
Criminals are infamous for being “tatted up,” but have you ever wondered what all those letters and numbers mean? What about the tattoos that just look like random shapes or symbols? Welp, criminal tattoos are far from random, and their coded meanings can be pretty disturbing.
Criminals frequently adorn themselves with tattoos that symbolize their affiliation to certain gangs. In fact, many gangs have specific tattoos that all members are required to get as a sign of their permanent loyalty. In prison, particular markings can help inmates spot fellow gang members in order to increase their presence within the prison walls.
The problem with tattoos is that they’re permanent, so even if someone is fortunate enough to put their dark past behind them, they’re always going to be branded as an outlaw or former gang member. Here is a list of tattoos that might as well spell out “criminal.”
1. The Teardrop
A teardrop just below the corner of the eye is tattooed to show that the wearer has killed someone. Some criminals have multiple tear drops to represent multiple victims — yikes! Some criminals have an alternate explanation for their tear drops, but assigning another meaning to a tattoo might just be an attempt to cover up their murderous past.
2. AB Or 12
The letters AB and the number 12 symbolize affiliation to one of the nation’s most dangerous prison gangs — the Aryan Brotherhood. AB clearly stands for Aryan Brotherhood, and the more subtle number, 12, symbolizes the first and second letters of the alphabet — A and B.
3. HH Or 88
These tattoos symbolize white supremacy and the honor of Adolf Hitler, whose ideologies are still admired by countless racist criminals. HH stands for Heil Hitler, and since H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, 88 holds the same meaning. Swastika tattoos are also a symbol of loyalty to Hitler’s cruel philosophies.
EWMN stands for “Evil, Wicked, Mean, Nasty.” These tattoos are frequently given in prison. The placement of this tattoo varies, but the letters are commonly inked across the inmates knuckles of their dominant hand so it’s the last thing someone sees before they get knocked out.
5. Three Dots
Three dots in the shape of a triangle represent the saying “My Crazy Life,” or “Mi Vida Loca.” This tattoo is often a sign of Hispanic gang affiliation, and is usually placed beside the eye, or on the top of the hand between the thumb and pointer finger. This pattern is also said to symbolize the Holy Trinity, but this explanation may just be a way for them to hide their gang affiliations.
666 is a number sequence which represents evil. It’s known as “The Number of the Beast,” and is often associated with Satan. Those with 666 tattoos are proudly proclaiming their worship of the devil and their desire for anarchy.
7. SUR 13
Inked felons who sport tattoos reading, “SUR 13” are members of the Sureños , a Southern California gang controlled by the infamous Mexican Mafia. The SUR stand for Sureños, meaning southerners in Spanish, and 13 represents the letter M, the 13th letter of the alphabet.
8. MS 13
MS-13 tattoos are found on members of the Mara Salvatrucha, a gang that’s notorious for extremely violent and ruthless criminal behavior. MS stands for the gang’s name, and the 13 represents the letter M, just as it does in SUR 13 tattoos.
9. Five Dots
The five dots is a pattern known as a quincunx, in which four outer dots form a square, and the fifth dot is positioned in the center. This tattoo represents a criminal’s time spent behind bars, with the outer dots symbolizing the four prison walls, and the inner dot representing the inmate. Like the three dots tattoo, the five dots are often inked onto the top of the hand in between the thumb and pointer finger.
For decades, the coded meanings of certain tattoos remained confidential, only known by the criminals themselves. However, with so many well-established gangs, and an increased interest in the study of criminal activity, this information is now available to all. Knowing the hidden meanings of these various tattoos can help you instantly spot dangerous individuals.
What if you’re on a date and notice the person you’re with has five dots tattooed on their hand? Hello, jail time! No need to background check that person, their criminal record is permanently inked onto their hand. Luckily, now you know the meanings of these tattoos, and you can stay far, far away from anyone who has them.
Ashley Welter is a blogger from San Diego, CA. She specializes in writing about crime and gang violence.