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Now and then on the Tattoo Blog, I’ve posted about various types of prison related tattoos. From South Africa to Russia to the United States, prison tattoos are about as hardcore as you can get – and by hardcore I mean that there is plenty of risk involved in getting one. For starters, there’s the simple fact that sanitary conditions aren’t exactly the first things that pop into mind when the discussion of prison arises. Prison tattooing is basically scratching under the worst possible conditions. Next, there’s the fact that prison systems around the world generally do not approve of tattooing and being caught either tattooing or getting tattooed can result in some serious consequences. Yet despite these sorts of setbacks, prison tattooing continues to boom and prisoners continue to declare their allegiance to gangs, families and homies through contraband ink.
Although I have written about the tattooed in prisons, I haven’t really touched on the subject of the prison tattooist – that is, the man who really takes the majority of risk and builds his own tattoo machine from a variety of items that could be found around most households. Victor “Versus” Sandifer is that person. Only recently released on parole, Sandifer has spent the past 21 years of his life in prison after prison and has done (by his own estimate), over two or three thousand tattoos.
‘If you don’t have money or family helping you out, you have to find some kind of hustle. Some legal. Some not so legal. You have to make the decision: How much trouble can I afford to get into? I got into tattooing in 1983 through a Mexican guy at Darrington who was short (near release) and fixing to go home. He taught me the trade.’
Though learning to tattoo in the way that Sandifer and others like him have is really not recommendable, Sandifer has been tattooing for a very long time. Yes, this is essentially scratching, but it is arguable that in the prison system, being a tattooist can keep an inmate out of the sort of trouble that could easily end up having even worse consequences than simply being caught tattooing. Furthermore, if Sandifer wanted to pursue this career path legally and responsibly now that he’s out of prison, he could perhaps land a real job tattooing and take what was once scratching to the level of professional tattooist. I wish him luck on life outside of the prison walls.
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