Inked in the clink
Former inmate Victor Sandifer talks about the art of the jailhouse tattoo
Published: August 25, 2011
Who were your best customers in prison?
I tattooed everybody: Mexicans, Chinese, white, black, all kinds of people. I did them all.
What kind of tattoos would they gravitate toward?
Depends on the race. Black guys want gangster stuff: names, faces, gang affiliations, pictures of dead homies. Stuff that represents where they’re from. Mexicans like religious imagery, lowrider and vato stuff. Girls, cars, Virgin Marys, Jesus. White dudes go for anything: dragons, knives, guns, swastikas. All kinds of weird stuff like that. Depends on the white guy you’re talking to.
Lot of Aryan Brotherhood?
You got a lot of diehard ABers out there, but you also got a lot of old-school Southern rockers that just want a ZZ Top tattoo.
What’s the meaning behind teardrops?
Depends on the state you’re in. Some people wear them to count time under their left eye. Under the right, it signifies a dead homeboy. For some it’s the number of people they’ve killed. In Louisiana, it doesn’t mean as much – they just wear teardrops to be having them. In Texas, a lot of tattoos are gang-related.
Did doing tattoos help you pass the time in prison?
Yes. When they find out you can do tattoos, it’s a never-ending process. There is always somebody next on the list who wants to get tattooed. When you don’t have money or support on the outside that becomes your hustle and trade. It’s like having a job on the street. Regardless, I’ve always really enjoyed doing it.
Who is the best tattoo artist you’ve encountered in prison?
Uncle Pete at Angola. Been there 30-something years. Everybody knows him. He charges a lot, but he’s well worth it.
You’re a smart and well-spoken guy. How did you get started in the criminal life?
I got married at 17. Had a son at 18. Went to work for a petrochemical company making $27 an hour in 1981. Bought a new double-wide, a pickup, put my wife in a Trans-Am. I had a bass boat, a four-wheeler, a catfish pond, four acres of land, a dog, a cat and a horse. Even a horse trailer. But every day I did the same thing: get up, go to work, come home, watch TV and listen to the wife gripe. It got old. I got tired of it. Felt like I was missing something. You can have everything and it’s still not enough.
So I started riding with a motorcycle club in Texas. Got into the methamphetamine trade in the ’80s. Transporting from El Paso to Beaumont. But I didn’t get into real trouble till I started doing it. Drugs and girls. I lost my head. Went downhill from there. Sold to an undercover narc and got a slew of dope charges. Bang. Straight to prison.
Did the outlaw lifestyle suit you at the time?