Prison Tattoos

California State Prison
Solano, CA
Hardcore Prison Tattoos - Interview

Explain something to me, why are tattoo is so important to so many inmates?
Clarence Ashby: You know it is really hard to say, sometimes I think maybe it is a you know a status symbol maybe or a fashion statement where people wear their attitudes on their arms like you just saw in a lot of cases. You have, you have people who are proud of their neighborhoods you know families, here the job you know all kinds of things, some people just want the art other people don’t care what they get you know so it is just for sitting in prison, you know the tough guy you need to know who they are.

Can you give me a little bit of understanding as to how you do it, what you use, what your tools are?
Well, we make our, we make tattoo guns you know out of like Sony walkmans or radios you know a little tape playerss you know we use the motor using paint, needle likes paper clips and chart stream, the, you know the tapes and rubber bands. A lot of make our own ink because real ink is hard to find.

You hear a lot of concern about health issues when you talk about prison tattoos
You know the health issues unfortunately not a lot of people practice any kind of sterilization of, which causes you know, hepatitis and so forth. I worry myself about contracting things or passing on there is you know it stand down my liver is in pretty bad shape it is failing on me and I don’t want to pass anything I may have on to somebody else you know and vice versa. So I use, you know I use equipment on one person only you know and then if I work on somebody else I use some, or bring setup. You know I use the same motor and so forth but install different needles and barrels. I never re-use ink.

And I was talking to you before about payment and you were saying you know it is kind of a poor man’s operation here
Yes, you know we are all in low income bracket in here and you know you can’t really tax people in here like you do out there, you know I will catch you and you know because most of us, most of us come from a poor background, for families and a lot of children and they are being supported by wives you know because we are not there so you know, I work with all monies you know on the base that all money is good money.

I accept stamps, cosmetics, whatever you know looks available to me you know. Know whatever and bring work with and I am easy with people, I am not out to rob people you know. If I do a back piece like a full back piece you know here I am charging anywhere from a hundred to two hundred dollars you know and that works out pretty much for people you know, easy on everybody.

If they see you doing it, if they know you are doing it, you are in trouble right?
Well, if they are yes, and sometimes in practice it all depends on your staff. You have to kind of pick your shots you know when you tattoo and when you don’t. Sometimes you know sometimes they turn a blind eye to you.