Getting tattoos while serving time in the penitentiary has always been a big part of prison culture. Offenders get tattoos for a variety of reasons. Some choose to festoon their bodies with prison tattoos as a way of expressing racial pride and gang affiliation, while other offenders do it as a way of repelling bullies or sexual predators. Prison Gang Intelligence Officers identify gang members by their tattoos and segregate them.

Tattoos are in high demand behind prison walls. Tattoo art is a fairly lucrative business and many incarcerated tattoo artists are cashing in, aswell as spreading diseases. Tattoos in prison pose a serious health hazard to both inmates and staff since HIV and Hepatitis C is commonly spread through infected needles.
There are 2.2 million offenders in U.S. jails and prisons who are infected with Hepatitis C and over 29,000 are infected with HIV. Such prison environmental conditions pose a grave risk on correctional officers who must deal with inmates on a daily basis.


How are Prison Tattoo Guns made?

Offenders make tattoo pistols with parts taken off of AM/FM clock radios and headphones sold in prison commissaries across the United States. The clock radios are dismantled and its transistor is removed. The transistor is gutted for it’s hair-thin spool of copper wire which is then wrapped around a metal bolt or screw. A simple negative and positive relay is made to power the tattoo gun.

A magnet is then removed off headphones and then attached to the tattoo guns armature bar made from a scrap metal pallet strap. The empty plastic housing of ink pen is then attached to the home made relay which serves as the guns cylinder. Prisoners cut pieces of window screen off of their cell windows and use the wire as needles when straightened out and sharpened.

Last but not least, ink is made by simply burning Baby Oil, plastic razors or Vaseline, then collecting the black powder soot. With a little soot, soap and water the ink is ready to be tattooed into skin.

For More Information on Prison Tattoos

PRISON TATTOOS: Ever wonder how inmates are able to tattoo while behind bars?



PRISON ART: Learn how prisoners with art skills are making money behind the walls.