Rapper Lil Wayne with teardrop tattoos below his eyes

The teardrop tattoo or tear tattoo is a symbolic tattoo of a tear that is placed underneath the eye. The teardrop is one of the most widely recognised prison tattoos[1] and has various meanings.

It can signify that the wearer has spent time in prison,[2][3] or more specifically that the wearer was raped while incarcerated and tattooed by the rapist as a "property" mark and for humiliation, since facial tattoos cannot be concealed.[4][5][6][7]

The tattoo is sometimes worn by the female companions of prisoners in solidarity with their loved ones.[8] Amy Winehouse had a teardrop drawn on her face in eyeliner after her husband Blake entered the Pentonville prison hospital following a suspected drug overdose.[9]

It can acknowledge the loss of a friend or family member: North American rappers The Game and Lil Wayne have teardrop tattoos signifying the death of friends[10] and basketball player Amar'e Stoudemire has had a teardrop tattoo since 2012 honoring his older brother Hazell Jr., who died in a car accident.[11]

In West Coast gang culture (USA), the tattoo may signify that the wearer has killed someone[12][13] and in some of those circles, the tattoo's meaning can change: an empty outline meaning either the wearer attempted murder or that a fellow gang member or friend died and when filled in, the wearer sought revenge.[14][15]

Sometimes the exact meaning of the tattoo is only known by the wearer:[13][16] Portuguese footballer Ricardo Quaresma has never explained his teardrop tattoos nor whether they have been covered up, removed via laser surgery or simply weren't permanent is yet to be revealed.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "15 prison tattoos and their meanings: Corrections One".
  2. ^ Macdonald, John Marshall (1987). The confession: interrogation and criminal profiles for police officers. Apache Press. p. 83. ISBN 9780961823009. A teardrop tattoo below the corner of the eye represents five years in prison
  3. ^ "Prison Tattoos Tell a Story | Prison Legal News".
  4. ^ "Why getting a tattoo in prison is a really bad idea | Metro News".
  5. ^ "Four Days in the Oaxaca State Prison: Mexico Living". mexconnect.com. Retrieved 3 November 2016. the victim of rape is tattooed with a tear drop below the eye by the offending party and his accomplices
  6. ^ "What does teardrop tattoo mean?". dictionary.com. a dominant inmate forces the tattoo on a submissive one after being extorted, abused or raped — a form of public humiliation
  7. ^ "Teardrop Tattoo Meaning: Tattoos With Meaning". tattooswithmeaning.com. this was a way of “marking” an inmate as the property of another person or humiliating the inmate while in jail, as a tattoo on the face cannot be covered up or hidden
  8. ^ Santos, Xuan (Fall 2009). "The Chicana Canvas: Doing Class, Gender, Race, and Sexuality through Tattooing in East Los Angeles". Feminist Formations. 21 (3): 91–120.
  9. ^ Lee, Chris (July 13, 2017). "Amy Winehouse's Marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil: Dark Love Affair". Winehouse appeared in public with a tiny teardrop drawn in eyeliner beneath her left eye.
  10. ^ Binelli, Mark (April 16, 2009). "Life on Planet Wayne". Rolling Stone. pp. 43–47, 73–74.
  11. ^ Lorenzo, Tom (2012-02-14). "Amar'e Stoudemire Honors His Late Brother By Getting A "Teardrop" Tattoo". Sports Grid. Retrieved 2012-02-28.
  12. ^ Smith, Brendan (April 25, 2008). "Tattoo Regret". Washington City Paper. Retrieved 2010-09-20. the tattoo’s ‘West Coast’ meaning
  13. ^ a b Poljac, Bakir; Burke, Tod (August 2008). "Erasing the Past: Tattoo-Removal Programs for Former Gang Members". FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. 77 (8). pp. 13–18.
  14. ^ "What 15 common prison tattoos mean - Business Insider".
  15. ^ "Teardrop Tattoo Meaning | herinterest.com/".
  16. ^ WOLF, SONJA; Logan, Samuel (August 2010). "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang". Journal of Latin American Studies. 42 (3): 627–629. doi:10.1017/s0022216x10000994.
  17. ^ Butler, Andrew (15 June 2018). "No-one knows why Ricardo Quaresma has two teardrop tattoos on his face".