Whether out of pure curiosity or out of necessity, you may find yourself wanting to be able to identify gang tattoos and symbols. If this is the case, then let me guide you through how to do just that.

Become familiar with popular prison tattoos that clue others into gang membership. Watch out for a spider-web tattoo located on the arm or under the arm. This tattoo generally stands for a disdain for minorities. Sometimes it means that the person sporting the tattoo has killed a member of another race. The initials NLR (Nazi Low Riders) or any related symbols, such as eagles, swastikas and skulls, could signify racial beliefs or membership in the Nazi Low Riders. A tattoo with AB worked into its design may denote membership in the Aryan Brotherhood, a white-supremacy gang. AB combined with a clover, however, denotes Irish heritage.The initials BGF along with crossed sabers, shotguns and black dragons taking over prison towers may be a sign of membership to the Black Guerilla Family, a gang started by a former Black Panther that promotes black revolution.Any symbolism affiliated with Nazis, such as double lightning bolts or 88 (H is the 8th letter in the alphabet, so a tattoo of “88” stands for “Heil Hitler”), marks the wearer as belonging to a white-supremacy gang.

Look for teardrops. Sometimes the number of teardrops denotes the number of people someone has killed; other times teardrops mean that the wearer has lost a loved one.

Read the fancy print. Ornate letting may be used to spell out someone’s gang name.

Visit Department of Corrections websites to get a better idea of the specific gang tattoos that occur in your area.

Read the book “Gangs and Their Tattoos: Identifying Gangbangers on the Street and in Prison,” by Bill Valentine and Robert Schober. This book will give you all kinds of information on gang tattoos, as well as gang structures and rules of conduct.

References and Resources

Gang tattoos
Prison tattoos