Prison Tear Drop Tattoo: Meaning and Symbolism

The prison tear drop tattoo, also known as a “jailhouse tear” or “tear under the eye,” is a common tattoo motif with various meanings and interpretations.

Origin and History:

The origin of the prison tear drop tattoo is unclear. It is believed to have originated in the prisons of the United States,where it was worn by inmates as a sign of mourning and loss. The tear symbolized the lost freedom, the lost time, and the longing for family and friends.

Meanings and Interpretations:

The meaning of the prison tear drop tattoo can vary depending on the context and the wearer. Here are some of the most common interpretations:

  • Mourning and loss: As mentioned before, the tear often symbolizes mourning and loss. This can refer to the loss of freedom through incarceration, but also to the loss of a loved one or the loss of a phase of life.
  • Remorse and penance: The tattoo can also be interpreted as a sign of remorse and penance for committed acts.The tear then symbolizes the tears of remorse and the longing for forgiveness.
  • Toughness and resilience: In some circles, the prison tear drop tattoo also symbolizes toughness and resilience.The tear then stands for the fact that the wearer has gone through difficult times and has survived them.
  • Group affiliation: In some prisons and gangs, the prison tear drop tattoo can serve as a sign of belonging to a particular group. The tear then symbolizes the cohesion and loyalty within the group.


The prison tear drop tattoo is not without controversy. Since it is often associated with crime and gangs, it can lead to negative stereotypes and prejudices.

The prison tear drop tattoo is a complex symbol with multiple meanings and interpretations. The meaning of the tattoo can vary depending on the context and the wearer and should therefore not be interpreted hastily.

Additional Information:

  • The prison tear drop tattoo is usually tattooed in black and white, but can also be done in color.
  • The tattoo is often placed under the eye, but can also be tattooed on other parts of the body.
  • There are different variations of the prison tear drop tattoo, e.g. with an additional blood drop or a knife.


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