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Prison Ink

Ralph Piezas | Cebu City, Philippines

An inmate who is a tattoo artist at the jail shows his homemade tattoo equipment, created from a toy vehicle’s engine, guitar strings and filled with ink from pens.

Tattoos, or ‘patik’ as the people from Cebu City would call them, have long been associated with a strong negative stigma in society. Yet behind this perception there are stories worth telling.

Isolated and behind bars, one of the only ways the prisoners can pass the days is to think. Inking their bodies using improvised tattoo equipment has long been something the inmates have turned to, as a more creative outlet from their often negative thoughts.

Inmates believes that pain is the best way to get their thinking back to normal, away from the thought of regrets and separation from their loved ones. For them, this art is more than just a visual image, it is an escape from bad thoughts, a sign of gratitude, and an expression of emotion.

A chilldhood friend just went out from jail because of robbery, he only served more than 2 years but a lot has changed from him. The way he talks and the way he carry himself. He shared many experiences but one thing he always takes pride is the tattoo on his chest. He exlpained the reason and the stories behind it. I was amazed on how simple his tattoo is and how meanigful it was for him.

It got me thinking that what could be the other inmates story behind their tattoo puting into consideration the years they served and the crimes they did.

I visited Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center and met with some of the longest serving inmates to listen about the stories behind their ink.

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