Although the majority of people with tattoos have never seen the inside of a prison in real life, and never would wish to, there is nonetheless a history around the tattoo which links several designs to the prison community. Different sections of the community may be represented by different tattoos – and the really confusing part is that similar tattoos can mean radically different things to different people.
A spider web tattoo, for example on one’s arm, can mean any one of various things. Most innocently it means that the bearer is stuck standing still in time while life goes on outside, but it can also mean an addiction to drugs. Additionally, it is a popular tattoo among members of the extreme racist Aryan Brotherhood. A fellow white supremacist gang, the Aryan Circle, often have tattoos bearing the number 13 (“A” being the first letter of the alphabet and “C” being the third). It is, however, also worn by some Hispanic gangs, thus creating some confusion.
Of course the best solution to this problem of confusing ink is to stay far away from prison, but it is important to remember that however cool your tattoo may look to you, there may be a person to whom it has another meaning. By no means everyone with a spider web tattoo is a racist, and not everyone with a “13” is a gang member – 13 is after all also considered to be a symbol of bad luck. But how much of a chance you get to explain your tattoo depends on whom you are explaining it too.