How to Make Jailhouse Ink

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Create the tattoo ink convicts use.
Create the tattoo ink convicts use. (Image: prison image by Albert Lozano from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>)

There is a long history of tattooing in American prisons. Tattoos are used to make statements, identify allegiances among the prison population and create a sense of unity among groups of prisoners. One of the key aspects of jailhouse tattooing is the ink. Inmates have shown considerable ingenuity in finding or making their own ink, and creating your own ink is a fairly simple process that can be done anywhere there is something to burn and a heat source.

Things You'll Need

  • Flammable material
  • Pan
  • Sheet of glass
  • Small square of plastic
  • Heat source
  • Small container
  • Mouthwash or rubbing alcohol

Place your flammable material in the pan and begin heating it. Place the sheet of glass over the pan, and continue to slowly heat the material. Collect the smoke from the smoldering material onto the glass. Watch your fire carefully to ensure it does not get out of control, and watch the glass carefully for any signs of melting or heat warping.

Remove the glass from the top of the pan and flip it over. There should be a large amount of soot from the fire on the glass. Carefully run the plastic square across the glass, scraping up the soot. Condense the soot into one large clump, and carefully scrape it toward the container. Run your plastic around the glass to gather any remaining soot, and then set the glass and pan aside.

Add a small amount of the alcohol to the soot and stir carefully. Continue stirring until the ink has reached a consistent color and texture. Add small amounts of alcohol to make the ink more watery or to give it a paler color, but only add one or two drops at a time, making sure they are thoroughly stirred before use. Use the ink immediately upon mixing, and throw any unused portion away.

Tips & Warnings

  • Never reuse any ink. It can spread diseases such as hepatitis and HIV. Carefully consider what a jailhouse tattoo will say before you get one.

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