Drug addicts tattooing during imprisonment

Marilena Chatzaki[1], Charalampos Poulopoulos[2]

[1] MSc, Social Worker at KETHEA, e–mail: hatzaki@kethea-ariadni.gr. This paper is part of the master thesis within the master program “Criminal Law and Addictions”

[2] Professor of Social Work, Department of Social Work, Democritus University of Thrace, e–mail: chpoulo@sw.duth.gr

DOI: doi.org/10.57160/JGTK2592



The aim of the study is to understand the phenomenon of tattooing noticed in the case of drug addicts during during the time of their imprisonment. The main purpose is to reveal how imprisonment conditions together with addiction had influenced their initial decision to have themselves tattooed, the selection of the pattern and body part as well as their interrelation to their current status.

The study was based on the qualitative research method and the processing of data was completed with content analysis. With the method of deliberate sampling 14 respondents who underwent rehabilitation at one of KETHEA settings, 11 males and 3 females, participated in the in-depth interviews. Participants were asked to have their tattoo photographed and tell its story.

The mental pain and the configuration of social identity seem to be a pivotal factor in the decision to have themselves tattooed. Thus, the imprint of the person bearing the tattoo is indicative not only of their imprisonment, addiction and opposition to the penal system but also depicts intense biographical moments. Additionally, the phenomenon of drug use in penitentiaries is strongly highlighted when the decision of tattooing and its process take place. The selection of the pattern and the part of the body are subjected to the process of interaction that together with social reactions they encounter, seem to be important factors that determine the meaning of the tattoo at the time. Thoughts of modification and complete removal of tatooing are also recorded, probably as a result of the rehabilitation processs but mainly due to the problems that are encountered because of the nature and the origin of the tattoo.

Keywords: tattoo, drug use, confinement, act of modification

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