Teardrop tattoo meaning

What Does The Teardrop Tattoo Mean?

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

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

So, what does the teardrop tattoo mean in reality? This article covers all the facts we could find on the teardrop tattoo origin, as well as the symbolism behind it. Further on, we answered some commonly asked questions about the teardrop tattoos, that you may have been interested in.

The Origin Of The Teardrop Tattoo

It is believed that the teardrop tattoo has a long history. However, the origin of this highly-controversial tattoo could potentially be lost in history. The reason for that is because, for the longest of time, it has been associated with prison life and all the potential downsides of it.

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

That’s the first time it was heard that the teardrop tattoo was used in prison, and it was drawn for various reasons such as sorrow, loss of an inmate, some criminal events that were taking place inside the prison cells, and others. The teardrop also represented the struggle inside the prison cells, but more about that later.

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

This occurrence mostly took place when the more dominant inmate would show the signs of violence and disrespect towards the less dominant inmate, by treating him poorly, abusing, humiliating, and even raping them.

In some other prisons, the most dominant inmates, who committed the most crimes, would be the proud wearers of the teardrop tattoos. Some that had many teardrops tattooed on their face, usually under the right eye, but sometimes under both of them were believed to have killed many people and were using this tattoo method to keep up with the count of murders.

The Teardrop Tattoo Meaning

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

The Teardrop Tattoo Meaning
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The Prison Life Symbolism

As mentioned earlier, for the last 40 to 50 years, the trend with teardrop tattoos has often been associated with the meanings related to the criminal record, street fights and murders, and the life inside the prison.

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

As mentioned above, violent inmates force their less dominant inmates to get a tattoo of the teardrop and oftentimes do it themselves to instill fear and show dominance.

Also, the symbolism of life in prison is determined by the color of a teardrop, whether it’s just outlined or filled in with the solid layer of the link or boasts some other color.

Some teardrops are red, but on most occasions, they are blue or green, so that they are closely resembling the actual tear. Some symbolism proposes that the outlined teardrop symbolizes that the prisoner was charged with attempted murder, for harming someone badly, or nearly executing the murder act.

If the teardrop is filled in, that means that the imprisoned person was charged with a degree of murder and is likely sentenced to life in prison. However, these vary from facility to facility and can be taken with the grain of salt before believed in fully.

Also, whether a person should ink the teardrop tattoo on their left or right part of the place rises a lot of confusion. However, that also depends on which facility the person is at, and whether there are some strict culture and policy between the inmates.

So, the teardrops located on the left side of the eye indicate that the person has conducted a murder of someone. Each teardrop represents one murder, which could make other inmates scared of violent and dominant inmates if they have some of those. However, this rule doesn’t apply everywhere. Some people may just have the teardrops on the left side due to sadness, sorrow, or pain related to being in prison.

On the other hand, inmates with teardrop tattoos on the right side of their eye aren’t necessarily associated with them murdering someone. In some prisons, inmates get teardrops on the right side of the face to mark remembrance of a friend or a family member that has passed away.

Certain gang members also ink a teardrop on the right side of their eye as a sign of honor for another gang member who was murdered or had passed away. In some gangs it could even hint at revenge for the lost gang member.

Then again, that doesn’t always hold, and a person that has the tattoo under their right eye isn’t always associated with missing the deceased one or murdered.

Now that we highlighted the key meaning of the teardrop tattoo, let’s take a look at other symbolism of the tattoos, that may be associated with the prison and criminal life, but isn’t limited to it.

The Prison Life Symbolism
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As we mentioned a couple of times throughout the article, the teardrop tattoo can be associated with the loss of a loved one, grieving, and mourning that person. There are a few celebrities that tattooed a teardrop to highlight the loss of a loved one.

Rapper Lil Wayne has made a tattoo of teardrops to emphasize the loss of life due to street violence between different gangs. The tattoos are supposed to mourn and honor those people. Lil Wayne is not the only person who tattooed this symbol for this cause. He’s also accompanied by The Game, as well as a few other rappers and artists.

Teardrop tattoo for Mourning
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Crying can be associated with both positive and negative thoughts. However, more often than not, we acknowledge that tears come out of sadness and tiredness. That said teardrop tattoos can also mark the hardship caused by different events, situations, and emotions.

Similar symbolism is painted by the prison inmates who occasionally tattoo teardrops to acknowledge and emphasize on emotions of hardships and challenges that imprints them during their stay behind the prison bars.


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 the ability of someone to stick to their plans despite the cost and challenges that they face.

It’s an emotion and strength for people who need to survive through some hard times and situations to be able to come out stronger. A similar symbolism can be applied for people who are accused of some crime, and have to spend time in prison, or have got a harsher sentence than they deserve.

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

teardrop tattoo means Perseverance
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Teardrop Tattoo: More FAQs

If there’s more you’d like to know about the teardrop tattoos, we dedicated a special FAQ section for the teardrop tattoos and additional meaning. If you missed something, here you could potentially find your answer.

Q: Do only people from prison make a teardrop tattoo?

A: That depends. Nothing stops you from getting a teardrop tattoo, and it’s not strictly limited to people from prison. However, in most occasions, the teardrop tattoo is there to manifest some conflict with law, justice as well as manifest some negative emotions like struggling with hardships, grieving and mourning, murder and more.

Q: What is the best spot for the teardrop tattoo?

A: Like its name suggests, the teardrop tattoo should be placed on face, and if possible close to the eyes. Of course, you can naturally put this type of tattoo on some other part of the body, but that’d rather be defined as a waterdrop in that case, instead of the teardrop.

Q: Does a teardrop tattoo mean that you murdered someone?

A: While the teardrop tattoo does not necessarily mean that someone has committed a murder, it can also hint at an event of such kind. Earlier we said that the left eye teardrop tattoo can mean that the person is convicted for a murder, but they could’ve also murdered someone in jail. If the tattoo is on the right side of the eye, it can mean that the person is mourning a family member or a friend from a gang.

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One Comment

  1. You totally left out the original meaning behind the teardrop tattoo. Back in the 70s when this started happening, men would get the tattoo to signify that he was turned out during his stay in prison. Once they got out of prison and went home, family and friends questioned the symbolism behind the tattoo. In an act of embarrassment, the convict would lie and say it meant he murdered someone. That is how the meaning behind the tattoo changed into killing somebody. It was all to save face.

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