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What Does The Teardrop Tattoo Mean?

Teardrop tattoos can often be seen on TV shows, celebrities, and even some crime stories. However, their meaning and origin have a much deeper story than shown in pop culture. Teardrop tattoos are most commonly found on the face, near one of the eyes, and sometimes both. The teardrop tattoo has long been controversial, as it is associated with the criminal life and criminal record of some people.

However, the true meaning of the teardrop tattoo varies depending on how one perceives it. Certainly, some primary meanings are associated with life in prison, serving a sentence, or even a sad, negative life event.

So what does the teardrop tattoo actually mean? This article covers all the facts we could find about the origin of the teardrop tattoo, as well as the symbolism behind it. Below, we have answered some frequently asked questions about teardrop tattoos that you might be interested in.

The origin of the teardrop tattoo

The teardrop tattoo is believed to have a long history. However, the origin of this highly controversial tattoo could potentially be lost to history. The reason for this is that for a very long time it has been associated with prison life and all its potential drawbacks.

However, the potential first appearance of teardrop tattoos in mainstream media made headlines in 1970s New Yorker magazine. The popular magazine later ran an article about a member’s life. of a Mexican gang who was sentenced to a certain term in the prison of the United States.

This is the first time that the teardrop tattoo has been heard of being used in prison, and it was drawn for various reasons such as grief, loss of an inmate, some criminal events that occur took place inside the prison cells, etc. The tear also represented the struggle inside the prison cells, but more on that later.

According to some stories about tear symbolism in tattoos, it was believed that prison cell inmates who are more dominant, aggressive and impatient and want to impose their dominance would force the most submissive inmate to get a teardrop tattoo.

This event occurred primarily when the more dominant inmate showed signs of violence and disrespect towards the less dominant inmate, treating him badly, abusing him, humiliating him and even raping him.

In some other prisons, the most dominant inmates, who committed the most crimes, would be the proud wearers of the teardrop tattoos. Some who had many tears tattooed on their faces, usually under the right eye, but sometimes under both, were believed to have killed many people and used this method of tattooing to track the number of murders.

The meaning of the teardrop tattoo

Now that we’ve detailed the potential origin of the teardrop tattoo, it’s time to look at some meanings, both those related to prison life, as well as the meaning not entirely related to. life in prison and a heavy criminal record. .

The meaning of the teardrop tattoo
Instagram: @mauricio_evox

The symbolism of prison life

As mentioned earlier, over the past 40 to 50 years, the teardrop tattoo trend has often been associated with meanings related to criminal records, street fights and murders, and home life. interior of the prison.

However, different rules for the teardrop tattoo apply from prison to prison. In most cases, getting a teardrop tattoo in prison is associated with struggle, pain and often loneliness when it comes to being in prison, longing for freedom, family , friends and loved ones.

As mentioned above, violent inmates force their less dominant inmates to get teardrop tattoos and often do so themselves to instill fear and show their dominance.

Additionally, the symbolism of prison life is determined by the color of a teardrop, whether it is simply outlined or filled with the solid layer of the link or sports another color.

Some tears are red, but most of the time they are blue or green, so they look a lot like the actual tear. Some symbolisms propose that the teardrop depicted symbolizes that the prisoner has been charged with attempted murder, seriously injuring someone, or nearly carrying out the act of murder.

If the tear is filled, it means the imprisoned person has been charged with a degree of murder and is likely sentenced to life in prison. However, these vary from establishment to establishment and may be taken with a grain of salt before being fully believed.

Also, there is a lot of confusion about whether a person should ink the teardrop tattoo on their left or right part of the spot. However, it also depends on the institution the person is in and whether there is a strict culture and policy between inmates.

Thus, the tears located on the left side of the eye indicate that the person committed the murder of someone. Each tear represents a murder, which might scare other inmates of violent and dominant inmates if they have some. However, this rule does not apply everywhere. Some people may simply have tears on their left side due to sadness, grief, or pain related to their time in prison.

On the other hand, inmates with teardrop tattoos on the right side of their eye are not necessarily associated with murdering someone. In some prisons, inmates are given tears on the right side of the face to mark the memory of a deceased friend or family member.

Some gang members also ink a teardrop on the right side of their eye as a sign of honor for another gang member who has been murdered or died. In some gangs, it might even refer to revenge for the lost gang member.

Again, this does not always hold, and a person who has the tattoo under the right eye is not always associated with the disappearance of the deceased or with murder.

Now that we’ve highlighted the key meaning of the teardrop tattoo, let’s take a look at other tattoo symbols, which can be associated with, but are not limited to, prison and criminal life.

The symbolism of prison life
Instagram: @charlottebergmantattoo


As we have mentioned several times throughout the article, the teardrop tattoo can be associated with the loss of a loved one, bereavement and bereavement of that person. There are a few celebrities who have tattooed a teardrop to mark the loss of a loved one.

Rapper Lil Wayne got a teardrop tattoo to highlight the loss of life due to street violence between different gangs. Tattoos are meant to mourn and honor these people. Lil Wayne isn’t the only person to have this symbol tattooed for this cause. He is also accompanied by The Game, as well as a few other rappers and artists.

teardrop tattoo for mourning
Instagram: @tamas_alexandru


Crying can be associated with positive and negative thoughts. However, more often than not, we recognize that tears come from sadness and fatigue. That said, teardrop tattoos can also mark difficulties caused by different events, situations, and emotions.

Similar symbolism is painted by prison inmates who sometimes tattoo tears to acknowledge and emphasize the emotions of hardship and challenge imprinted on them during their time behind prison bars.


The teardrop tattoo doesn’t always have to come with bad meanings, sometimes it can mark something brave and courageous. Perseverance is a symbol of strength and a person’s ability to stick to their plans despite the cost and challenges they face.

It is an emotion and a strength for people who need to survive difficult times and situations in order to come out of them stronger. Similar symbolism can be applied to people accused of a crime who have to spend time in jail or who have received a harsher sentence than they deserve.

Perseverance is also patience and the ability to work hard until your dreams come true.

teardrop tattoo means perseverance
Instagram: @blxckink

Teardrop Tattoo: More FAQs

If you want to know more about teardrop tattoos, we have dedicated a special FAQ section on teardrop tattoos and additional meaning. If you missed something, here you could potentially find your answer.

Q: Do only people in prison get a teardrop tattoo?

A: It depends. There’s nothing stopping you from getting a teardrop tattoo, and it’s not strictly limited to people in prison. However, in most cases the teardrop tattoo is there to show conflict with law, justice as well as show negative emotions like struggling with hardship, grief and bereavement, murder and more .

Q: Where is the best place for the teardrop tattoo?

A: As the name suggests, the teardrop tattoo should be placed on the face, and if possible near the eyes. Of course, you can naturally put this type of tattoo on any other part of the body, but it would rather be defined as a drop of water in this case, instead of the teardrop.

Q: Does a teardrop tattoo mean you murdered someone?

A: Although the teardrop tattoo does not necessarily mean that someone has committed murder, it can also allude to such an event. Earlier we said that the left eye teardrop tattoo can mean that the person is convicted of murder, but they could also have murdered someone in prison. If the tattoo is on the right side of the eye, it could mean the person is mourning a family member or gang friend.

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