I was doing a liver biopsy on a patient yesterday. He's about 58 or so, very nice guy. His arms were covered in tattoos, from shoulder to wrist. His abdomen and chest were also covered. I told him I was going to be getting my first tattoo, and I asked him what he thought. He said, "I think you're crazy!"
I laughed and said, "I'm crazy? After you've got all these??..." He countered with the most logical answer: "Well, I got mine in prison."
I did not see how that answered my question at all. Regardless, I pushed him on it, and he said he spent about 10 years in jail in Indiana. I told him I went to college near his jail. I figured this made us something akin to blood brothers. He didn't seem so moved.
He said that in jail, they would sharpen down the E string on a guitar to a sharp point. Then they'd rig that up to a tape cassette player and turn it on. The mechanism that would spin the heads somehow fashioned an amateur tattoo gun. I said, "Wait, you got most of these in jail - even the colored ones?" He said yep. He said, "I don't know how they do it now a-days, I haven't been in for awhile, but that's how we did it."
I guess if you've got 10 years to kill, painfully marking your body is one way to pass the time. I was mostly impressed at the resourcefulness of these convicts. I was also mostly convinced that was how he got Hep C. Regardless, he has some beautiful pictures that I'm sure represent the many people and many situations he's lived through.