Dangerous Tattoos That Can Get You Into Serious Trouble

There are lots of tattoos you should avoid. Let's examine the meanings of tattoos that can get you in trouble.


Tattoos are a great way of showing off your personality, but sometimes a design can have a deeper meaning than you first thought. Famous examples include Arianna Grande's ‘7 Rings’ tattoo, which actually meant "Japanese barbeque finger", and Jennifer Lawrence’s botched H20 tattoo.

But unlike these fails, some tattoos have a closely guarded history that can get you into a world of hurt if you don’t do the proper research. Let's investigate the meanings behind tattoos that can get you into serious trouble.

History of Tattoos

Before we delve into why tattoos can get you into trouble, it's important to know how and why tattoos have become so popular, so let’s start from the beginning. The practice of tattooing is so old that no one is really sure when it first began. The oldest example known to science is from Ötiz, a 5300-year-old mummy thought to have been alive around 3300 BC.

The corpse had 61 tattoos of vertical and horizontal stripes as you can see in the following image. Scientists believe these were made by rubbing fire ash into thin incisions and letting the skin heal over them.


As we advanced, tribal designs and ancient piercing techniques evolved the world over to engrave the skin with ink by hand, some of which are still used today. But fast forward several thousand years to 1890, and the "perforating pen" was invented by none other than Thomas Edison! This inspired New Yorker Samuel O’Reilly to make the first-ever tattoo gun.


From then up until the 1930s, western society saw tattoos as a novelty, with tattooed men and ladies appearing on the stage in circuses and shows. Around this time, the Russian criminal castes began to use tattoos to define rank and reputation amongst fellow inmates, which eventually transferred over to American prisons as well.

But then Western sailors adopted tattooing as a method of storytelling. Different styles of tattoo indicated different ports and places visited, and helped sailors tell stories of their exploits: for example, swallows indicated they’d traveled 5000 nautical miles, and a shellback turtle meant they’d crossed the equator.


Nonetheless, mainstream society at the time still associated tattoos with the undesirable underside of the nation, with the trend popular among people like carnies, hobos, and criminals.

After the second world war, tattoos became a more common trend, but still not a mainstream one. People living on the fringes of society adopted tattoos as a symbol of rebellion and empowerment. Hippies, bikers, anarchists, and other counterculture types began to bring out the art in the ink.

Then the 1990s hit, and everyone and their mom was getting tattoos. By 1995 America had over 10000 tattoo artists, and in 2019 that figure was closer to 45000. Tattooing is now an industry valued at $1.5 billion.


But just because tattoos are now mainstream, doesn’t mean that the history and symbolism behind a lot of their designs has been completely lost. Around the world, some designs can still get you into serious trouble if you don’t know what they mean.

Meaning Of Tear Drop Tattoo

Tattooed tears under the eyes have a variety of meanings, but what you need to know is that all of them stem from the US prison system. It can signify that the wearer has spent time in prison, acknowledge the loss of a loved one, or indicate that that person has killed someone.

Hip Hop trailblazer Lil’ Wayne has famously sported two tears under his right eye, one on his left and one by his mouth. Supposedly these represent four people close to him who have been killed. Supposedly.


Rapper Kevin Gates who has been in and out of jail since he was 13 also dons similar tears with a total of three under his eyes, which he says represents him being forever in sorrow. But another, slightly darker meaning may put you off getting this tattoo.

Some claim this tattoo proves the wearer has been the victim of sexual abuse while serving time in prison. Dominant inmates have been known to brand submissive inmates in this way to declare ownership. It’s placed on the face as it’s an area that cannot be easily concealed.


The exact meaning and its origins are unknown for this reason, with released inmates sometimes lying to their family and friends about why they have it. So, for all wannabe rappers and Jeremy Meeks fans out there, remember this tattoo goes further than being skin-deep!


Cobwebs used to be specifically linked to sailors on long voyages. On the elbow, it metaphorically meant they had been leaning on the side of a boat for so long that a cobweb had formed, as you can see here on tattoo icon Lyle Tuttle.


But the meaning has been transformed to also represent long stints in prison. It’s commonly seen on the elbow, neck, or knee, but its placement doesn’t make any difference to the meaning of the tattoo itself. Though it certainly adds a new layer to the phrase Web Design.

Three Leaf Shamrock

If you have a three-leaf shamrock tattoo, you should consider adding a fourth leaf on ASAP. This tattoo is closely associated with the Family Affiliated Irish Mafia. They’re an American-Irish peckerwood gang with ties to the Aryan brotherhood.


Indian Warrior Dream Catcher

Woke culture alone shouldn’t be the only reason you decide against that dream catcher tattoo. According to the Canada Border Service Agency, which has detailed most tattoos in this article and their meaning for training purposes, a dream catcher tattoo can represent an "Indian Warrior".

Not the conventional warrior, however, but a Native American who has served prison time, often worn on the neck or skull with the number of feathers at the bottom indicating how many crimes they have committed against white society. So maybe think twice about getting that rip-off, Etsy dream catcher image as a full-back tattoo.


Barbed Wire

Historically in Russian prisons, a string of barbed wire was tattooed on inmates who had been given a life sentence without parole. With nothing left to lose, many of them inked this definitive symbol on their forehead. Do you want to tell Post-Malone, or shall I?


Cats & Scarab Beetles

There’s nothing fine about these felines. A cat tattoo in Russia represents a prisoner’s life as a thief and different variations can tell different stories. For example, the head of a tom cat on the chest signifies a dangerous criminal who hates the law; A single cat anywhere can mean the criminal worked alone, but multiple cats indicate they’re part of a gang.


Similarly, a tattoo of a scarab beetle is considered good luck for thieves, pickpockets in particular! If you clock anyone with either of these tattoos, keep a steady hand on your wallet and lock your doors!


Star Tattoos

In prison, star tattoos aren’t a symbol of hope, they’re a symbol of incarceration. Russian inmates in particular use the number of pointson tattooed stars to represent how many years they’ve been behind bars. So, the bigger the star, the more seasoned the inmate.


Depending on where these are, they can also reveal a lot more about their wearer. Found on the knees, these tattoos mean the individual will never submit to the police. On the shoulders or clavicle, these indicate the inmate is a high-ranking criminal. Some scene-kids of the early 2000s might be regretting their life choices now.


For the real edge lords among us who feel shackled by society maybe think twice before getting any manacle tattoos. Each tattooed manacle can indicate you’ve served five or more years behind bars.


So, an individual is showing the world they’ve been incarcerated for at least ten years with a manacle on the ankle and on the wrist. That imprisonment length could mean they’ve committed a severe crime, or many crimes all adding up. Either way, it’s not a tattoo to consider unless you’ve served serious time!


Never try to pull rank on someone who has epaulettes tattooed on their shoulders. It isn’t a military fashion fad! Among gangs and prisons, these markings denote a high-ranking criminal, akin to the rank of a senior official in the army. Epaulettes can also feature smaller markings such as skulls, which tell you if the wearer has murdered someone or not.


Five-Point Crown

We’ve all seen cringe couples with matching crown tattoos that read "king & queen" under them. Aside from being a crime in and of themselves, what they may not know is that the number of points on those crowns could land them in some seriously hot water with one of the biggest criminal networks in America.


The five points in the crown indicate their affiliation with the People Nation Gang, which is represented by number 5. The Latin Kings Gang identify its members by the five-point crowns they sport about their body.

The gang’s roots date back to 1954 in Chicago, Illinois, where this Latino progress movement established itself at the heart of the criminal underworld through drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, and murder. If you do want a crown tattoo, get one without 5 points instead, it might save you from a lot of trouble.

Three Dots Tattoo Meaning

There seems to have been a spate of millennials getting simple, small, basic tattoos. Three small dots in the shape of a triangle may seem harmless enough, but it has a different and universal meaning to those in gang life. This symbol stands for ‘Mi Vida Loca’, or the crazy lifestyle that crime syndicates are born from.


When joining a gang, this tattoo will usually be the first an individual gets to show their dedication to this new way of living. Normally it’s marked around the eyes or hands so that members of this lifestyle can identify each other on sight. So, for anyone just trying to be cool like Zoe Kravitz, maybe connect the dots and save yourself from this faux pas!

Clown Tattoo

If you like many other nerds have gotten yourself a joker tattoo in the last few years, do not show it off in Brazil by any means. It may look cool as you flex off in the bedroom mirror, but in Brazil clown masks or clown tattoos symbolise that you have proudly killed a policeman.


And this is no laughing matter; Brazilian Police officers have boasted about their tactics for dealing with these individuals, like making them scratch their clown tattoos off with sandpaper and knives before being rubbed down with alcohol.

Hells Angels Death's Head Skull

Skull tattoos are pretty common in alternative social scenes, but certain skull designs should be steered clear of at all costs! In particular, the Hells Angels Death's Head Skull. With long colorful wings, you can see why it might be a tempting choice for some. But unless you’re a member of this dangerous outlaw biker gang, be sure to stay away.


On more than one occasion, bikers in bars have offered to help out unworthy tattoo-bearers by removing them with nothing more than a hot iron! But they don’t stop there. The outlaw symbol is protected so heavily by its members that they’ve threatened legal action against anyone using their branding.

I hope you stay away from these dangerous tattoos that can get you into serious trouble. Thanks for reading!

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