PRISON TATTOO ART!<br/>Live Now Laugh Later<br/> by September 12, 2012 7 comments

Art is like a weed; it can grow anywhere and flourish in even the harshest conditions. One place this is evident is in the US prison system, on the bodies of the inmates in the form of tattoos. On the “outside,” people get inked for many different reasons, but inside the belly of the beast, convicts tell each other stories about themselves with their ink. This post is not meant to glorify the crimes that some of these people may have committed, but to show how these people have chosen to claim their tribes through the art of tattooing. The fact that their body art claims their gang or click is in its own way a prison. When you look at their work, you can see as much beauty in it as you do pain. I wish we could do away with the prison industrial complex, but keep the art that grows inside it! Check out this gallery of life and death after the jump…

All photos by Robert Gumpert except where noted*






  • sleepy

    thats my homie d-rock 4th from the bottom w/ the 4q tattoo on his neck and the dwarves tattoo. he is not a violent person and is not in jail on violent charges. he is a good man and i hope our system changes so we dont punish drug users any longer, we can treat them or teach them harm reduction so they can lead better lives. decriminalize drugs now!!!!! self medicators are still human beings!!! our society makes us ill.

  • Tye,D

    Well done

  • umberto

    yeah getting rid of prisons would do wonders, just don’t cry when some ms-13 thugs hack up your whole fucking family for no reason because there wouldn’t be any real legal retribution.

    typical insular, detached, self-righteous suburban dipshit pontificating.

    • Meghan

      A little research would show that in states like California, most prisoners are not imprisoned for violent crimes – only 1/4 of people in American prisons have committed violent crime against another human being. The vast majority are in there for drug offenses or property crimes. Not only that, but a quick look at stats would show you that since the War on Drugs (aka the War on Poor Communities of Color) began in the 80s, the prison population has massively increased, and 70% of that population is made up of people of color. While white Americans are the ones using the drugs most of the time, it is mainly black and Latino Americans who are punished for it. The Prison Industrial Complex is not just a system of “justice” or “punishment” of “bad guys” – it’s a system of dirt cheap and/or free labour for large corporations (aka the New Slavery). And rather than being fixed, prisoners come out branded not only by prison tattoos, but also by their criminal status, and its almost impossible to become a functioning member of society after their time in jail. You can’t vote, you can’t get housing, you can’t get a job. You end up back in prison, working to clean fish for Whole Foods.

      We live in LA, not suburbia, and have friends/relatives who are in or have been in jail for nonviolent crimes, and suffer emotionally and physically from their time inside. So I think rather than pontificating, we were expressing an opinion that is very much based in reality.

  • noxael372

    I don’t agree with the statement of wishing away the prison industrial complex but keeping the art because without one, there wouldn’t be the other.

    And yes, unlike everybody who get’s a tattoo for the novelty of it, convicts have actual reasons that has to do with identifying themselves to and from one another.

    This is a nice idea and would like to see more posted up if you can.

  • jamie christ

    no russian stuff! poor show!

    • Meghan

      This one was supposed to be about American prison tattoos…we have a special Russian prison post in the works!